Business Strategies For Renewable Energy

I attended the Renewable Energy Markets (REM) show in Atlanta in September where influential key players in renewable energy including power marketers, developers and manufacturers, large purchasers, retail and wholesale green power suppliers, electric utilities, and government agencies have gathered annually for 15 years to discuss the major issues facing the industry. I also took three teenagers to the global premier of the film, “Age of Stupid” September 21st, which included a live simulcast to over 500 theaters in 45 countries as a tie-in to climate week and the UN climate meetings in New York.

As I reflected on the two very diverse views: dedicated, highly-educated, successful environmentally-oriented business professionals and three engaged, intelligent 13-year olds, the views could not be more similar: greenhouse gas emissions are a complex topic with simple ‘demand – supply’, ‘problem – solution’, ‘got it – need it’ deductive reasoning answers. As a marketing executive who has spent a career branding complex topics to simple “Oh I get it!’, it was educational to absorb these two groups in their elements.

The need for message simplification and creative loyalty-based tools that encourage and motivate consumers of all ages is clear and I’m currently discussing a professional association with leaders at REM to reach that goal quickly. The PR rhetoric, scientific analysis and misinformation era is past; 2015 is a real environmental metric, GHG emissions cause climate change and smoking really does cause cancer. Because ‘the time is now’ is true, several successful business strategies came to mind: coop-etition and channabalism, to address the need for speed.

Coop-etition has been a core component of technology firm growth for decades. For example, IBM and Oracle have to coexist so they cooperate and compete. Visit IBM’s website and review Oracle as IBM’s largest partner, visit Oracle and see how many partner success stories feature IBM.

Channabalism, explained by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg in Waiting for your Cat to Bark, is a basic fear felt by many executives and managers that one channel, or line of business, will steal business away from another. There are two facets to this fear: one tied to fears of consumer confusion and loyalty and one tied to managerial salary structures. Amazon is a brilliant execution of channabalism; they understood that brand alignment is stronger than channel alignment and created the brand that you could buy anything online. But Amazon also understood that books for example, were channel specific, people buy books in stores, online and at collector locations.

Amazon knew that 80% of books purchased were not available in stores. Imagine the warehouse manager’s reaction when he realized that Amazon customers would be able to buy from thousands of book dealers, cutting his thoughts of ‘But my bonus!’ To answer consumer demand, Amazon created a profitable channel for book dealers allowing consumers to purchase 100% of books through their brand.

If ‘Build it and they will come’ worked, then all those established channels would have never signed up as Amazon AWS partners. Amazon understood ‘Brand simply’, ‘Answer consumer demand’, ‘Make it easy!’ and ‘Align the channel.’

Ultimately, influential key players in renewable energy will understand that their biggest competition is lack of consumer understanding and action. Consumers want renewable energy but they don’t understand how it works and how they get it in their home. Renewable energy is an emerging market; it is not relevant in a consumer’s decision making process. Granted issues with capital, regulation and additionality are complex, but the path of least resistance will include coop-etition of best marketing practices across regulated and deregulated lines of business. Consider licensing market development kits. What if Janice Boman of Seattle City Lights Shrinking Bigfoot and other educational programs were packaged and licensed to thousands of local utility companies?

In today’s environment, a national brand with simplified messages and loyalty building tools will align consumer segments bigger better and faster than individual power suppliers influencing the purchasing decisions locally or regionally in a purely competitive or regulated environment.

Becoming a multi-channel business starts with renewable energy leaders starting to think like a multi-channel company and that starts with bringing people to their team with unlike backgrounds.

Branding and channel strategists will never make energy leaders money on the trading floor, but we will bring successful methodologies and experience from other industries.

It’s time for innovative thinking; the clock is ticking.


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