6 lessons for marketing sustainable tech

Tesla’s Powerwall sold out before it hit the shelves; Patagonia’s used clothes are a must-have item globally; and the SolarImpulse Project has been deemed a success – even though it is yet to complete its maiden voyage. How have these three companies managed to build such a loyal following? Strategic marketing is the key, and although these cleantech leaders are vastly different, they have all built their success on some basic principles. Lets take a look.

To bring you up to speed…

imgresIf you don’t know already, Tesla disrupted the vehicle market with not only its electric vehicles, but its B2C business model which caused angst for car salesmen everywhere. More recently, Tesla announced a renewable (solar) energy compatible Powerwall battery system that solves the issue facing other battery options: they suck and are ugly.

imgresPatagonia is a US outdoor clothing brand that has been around for 40+ years, and is well known for high quality as well as a social and environmental conscience. More recently they focused on ethical supply and reducing their carbon footprint with upcycled clothing – Worn Wear

imgresThe SolarImpulse Project is a groundbreaking zero-fuel solar aircraft project, with a mission to circumnavigate the globe only using solar energy. Having been in development for 13 years, the SolarImpulse 2 is on its way around the globe, currently waiting for the right weather conditions for a record flight across the Pacific.

Become an agent of revolutionary change.

All three of these organisations are built around the ideal of change. Whilst completely different, they all embrace the idea of sustainable development, and are actively trying to make the world a better place. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has set a vision for sustainable energy, free from fossil fuel dependency; Patagonia wants a lower carbon footprint and to lead a more socially responsible apparrel industry; and the SolarImpulse Project works towards a world where we can fly on the wings of the sun – transport through unlimited solar energy.

We often think of social enterprise as a small grassroots not for profit, but these three organisations have shown it is possible to make global profits whilst acting as a radical agent for social and environmental change. This reputation is gaining more and more traction with younger audiences, and generates enough goodwill around the brand to engage consumers and keep them loyal. A global corporation with a truly socially conscious vision that permeates its entire operation is one that can lead monumental change and bring others along for the ride.

Focus on people over product.

This is the real nitty-gritty stuff. Brand recognition and reputation is buoyed by becoming a change agent, but engaging consumers over how you personally will be affected is the key to increased sales and brand loyalty. Tesla offers early adopters a chance for ownership of a unique product; Patagonia offers its consumers a wild, rugged and life full of adventure; and SolarImpulse sells the opportunity to say “I was there” and to engage with a world first event.

Its very easy to excite techheads with specs and features, but in selling a product you must care about how it affects their life. This is the best way to frame your marketing in any industry; talk about how your product is going to make consumers lives better. Luckily its easier to do this with sustainable tech because it is designed to make everyone’s lives cleaner and healthier.

Onboard thought leaders early.

Getting people interested in your product can be difficult, so why not get others to do it for you? For Tesla, Patagonia and the SolarImpulse Project, geek enthusiasts and fans of sustainable development (in all its forms) are a saving grace.

Tesla already had legions of tech nerds foaming at the mouth by the time it announced the Powerwall, and Patagonia has an army of amazing rock climbers, snowboarders, surfer and trail runners as brand ambassadors. SolarImpulse however, garnered early support through industrial and engineering circles. A large number of academics and scientists providing robust conjecture on the verisimilitude of the project’s thesis led to more interest from corporate partners whose influence entitled it to early media attention.

All three companies have built a following from media and social media users; they employed experts and popular thought leaders to endorse their brand and allow the network to do its job.

Turn your product launch into an event.

A product launch can be much more effective if incorporates more than just a press release or an announcement. Consumers and the media need to be able to use all their senses to engage with a product. Tesla’s Powerwall launch was perfect; they held a (live-streamed) media event at their headquarters followed by a product demonstration allowing guests and media to fully interact with the Powerwall in person.

When Patagonia released its Worn Wear initiative in Patagonia stores, it offered new customers a chance to swap old Patagonia clothes for store credit, ensuring a positive experience for customers and media alike. Many people travelled from across America showed up in person as multiple outlets opened simultaneously across the US in 2013.

The Solar Impulse Project is different again. Their product launch IS a demonstration. This process gives the brand access to a constant stream of social media interaction , growing interest in a record-breaking attempt, and live stream updates on our milieu’s biggest solar tech breakthroughs. The closer the team gets to circumnavigating the globe, the more the world watches on.

Take advantage of momentum.

Targeting social media with suspenseful updates (pre-launch) is a way of building momentum before a product launch; maintaining that momentum afterwards is just as important. At the end of the Tesla Launch that the Powerwall system was immediately available to preorder online. In less than a week, the product was sold out until mid-2016, bringing in over $800 million in just under a week. Tesla capitalised on the hype immediately with very strong short term gain.

Conversely, SolarImpulse has maintained less momentum, but over a longer period. For three months the team has used live video feeds, regular social media updates, and in-country clean energy awareness campaigns to maintain and increase its audience. This journey has ensured an audience of 60,000 Twitter scholars, 111,000 Facebook addicts, and 802,000 Google+ users who regularly engage with and share the content across the globe.

Patagonia is a different beast again; it is so entrenched and established in the ethical clothing paradigm that its array of programs and collaborations are implicitly trusted and accepted. Still all three behemoths remain in motion, and don’t let their communications lapse, leave gaps or slow down.

Collaboration is key.

Becoming a part of the sharing economy adds legitimacy whilst expanding brand exposure and reach. Aligning with compatible brands (with similar values and mission) enhances reputation with target markets. To this end Tesla has partnered with Treehouse – a sustainable Home Improvement company, as the first external retailer of the Powerwall; it has also announced a collaboration with SolarEdge who have designed a solar PV inverter system to work with the Powerwall in a grid-connect scenario.

Patagonia has done some amazing social enterprise/ethical collaborations in the last few years, partnering with Ebay to create Common Threads, an online marketplace for trading Patagonia’s upscaled and pre-loved merchandise. Similarly they partnered with Yerdle to sell their Worn Wear and most recently collaborated with New Belgian Brewery to create Patagonia California Route Organic Lager – the clean crisp beer of outdoor adventurer types.

As SolarImpulse is a longer term (yet single focused) project, it allows for deeper collaborations with sustainability focused businesses. Major Partners  Schindler, Omega, ABB and Solvay give the project access to funds skills and technology, whilst using the project as a means of improving their image and reputation. This enables the Project to piggyback on large and trusted corporates to reach a wider audience than it might otherwise reach under its own steam. Furthermore it has branched out into a clean energy social movement: #FutureIsClean collaborates with scientists and leaders around the globe to promote clean energy to the UN and other global organisations.

What we found…

Its easy to review how these large and well established brands disrupted the market with their ideas, but these are things that any size business can do to improve their market share, or at least build up a potential market base.

  1. there is a growing consumer base internationally that now want radical social change, and will engage with a brand that can promise a sustainable future, whilst also offering them a personal and profound experience.
  2. Marketing through non-traditional means like social media and highly tactile engagement events are a fantastic way to make your brand stand out.
  3. Use your time wisely to plan your strategy, your events, and your sales channels. Partnerships are a great way to build brand awareness and they can add more to your organisation than money or skills; their value chain may provide different and scaleable opportunities for growth.

Don’t be afraid to try these tips out, but planning is paramount. Give yourself the time to build a community, to maximise your social infrastructure and marketing spend (financial or otherwise). Finally, never underestimate a good story. Take the time to take customers on the journey towards a brighter future, and it will be the best investment you’ve ever made.

Comments? Questions? Queries? Let me know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s