There’s a lot of discussion in the solar industry these days about how to reach consumers. With less than 1% of power in the U.S. coming from solar, we’re talking about a huge untapped market. And most people still have misconceptions about solar power.
So how do we get the good solar word to the American consumer? The first step is to identify the American consumer. Raina Russo of #SolarChat and Glenna Wiseman of Identity3 are convinced that when it comes to solar, that consumer is often a woman.
Women as consumers
Russo and Wiseman had a strong suspicion that women were a key part of the market. They knew that:
- Women control 80% of household spending and initiate 80% of home improvements.
- Women are “digital divas,” with 89% using the Internet at least twice a day and 84% visiting social media sites.
- 70% of women feel misunderstood by marketers.
At Solar Power International last week, Russo and Wiseman unveiled their preliminary findings. After reaching out to 150 women in solar, they looked outside the industry. In just a couple weeks they heard back from 200 women consumers.
Their survey posed 20 questions based on Marti Barletta’s five stages of buying. Answers in so far confirm that women are crucial to the solar market:
- Stage 1: Deciding when to enter the market. About 63% of women surveyed said that if they’d had the discussion about going solar, they were the ones who initiated it. About 27% of discussions were initiated by both partners, with only about 11% by men alone. The numbers were similar for doing the legwork and research.
- Stage 2: The short list. Over half -- 56% -- of respondents who had pursued solar for their homes talked to 2 – 3 companies once they were serious about it. While this result is not specific to women, it shows that we need to start by selling consumers the idea of solar, not a specific company.
- Stage 3: In-person meeting. Choosing a contractor was more of a joint effort, with 67% of respondents doing that with their partner. When just one partner made the decision, though, it was far more likely to be the woman: women picked the contractor by themselves in 30% of cases, compared to 3% for men.
- Stage 4: Paying bills. As noted previously, in most households, women are the ones who pay the bills and track the budget. That was borne out in this survey: 83% of respondents said they’re the ones who pay the bills.
- Stage 5: Word of mouth. Women like to share information with their friends, family, and co-workers. But we don’t like to do it for money. When asked to rank the gifts they’d prefer as a thank-you for going solar, 76% of women said they'd like a check back, while only 26% preferred a check for each friend they referred -- numbers were even lower for non-monetary gifts (the numbers reflect that each woman could rank multiple options). Given that women are such an important part of the market, solar companies may want to rethink giving referral checks.
Russo and Wiseman didn’t stop at presenting their survey findings. To round out their session, they invited a few women from the solar industry to give their thoughts on marketing to women:
- Jill Hansen of Talesun Solar urged us to put imagery of women on our websites. And she emphasized the importance of hiring women in solar – especially on the sales team, to sell to women. She also suggested we segment the market further to better target different audiences.
- Joy Hughes of the Solar Gardens Institute described the model she advocates, which lets people who can’t put solar on their own roof – a big part of the population – subscribe to solar installed elsewhere. As far as commitment goes, this is more like being an aunt than being a mom. She imagined a woman subscribing to a solar garden telling her partner, “Oh honey, by the way, we have solar power now.”
- Jennifer Runyon of Renewableenergyworld.com suggested we look to their almost 200,000 registered users for marketing. Women love to talk to each other and get together in groups, so good places to market solar are book groups and neighborhood associations. The Tupperware party model, she noted, is also effective for selling solar.
- Kathryn Schwartz of Solar Energy International emphasized the importance of actively involving women in the industry – salespeople, installers, designers, executives. When we use photos of women, they should not be of booth babes. And she added that electricity is not easily understood, so women need to help take the mystery out of it.
This is just the beginning. The survey will be open till the #SolarChat on November 13, so we can expect to hear more after that. Russo and Wiseman plan to continue gathering information, to build a solid data set on women solar consumers. Women are not all the same, so we need to work on segmenting the female market to identify the major demographics.
But it’s already clear that when marketing solar, we ignore women at our peril. So we’d do well to heed these words of wisdom from Russo, Wiseman, and the panelists:
- Be present where women live, work, and play.
- Partner with brands that matter personally to women.
- Engage in straight talk, convey trust, and have women talk to women about solar.
- Engage women on issues important to them: a legacy, the environment, and future generations.