Groundbreaking cleantech ideas don't guarantee eyeballs.
I track dozens of cleantech companies on Google, subscribe to all sorts of newsletter lists, and follow even more cleantech companies on LinkedIn so that I can keep up with industry news. I spend hours each week sifting through the inane and irrelevant to find compelling announcements worth reading. And while it's a good thing I only have to get past the title in about one in twenty articles and news releases that show up on my feed or inbox, it also means 95% of the announcements cleantech companies wanted to share gets overlooked or ignored--and I'm a junkie who lives for my next hit of news. Imagine what the hit rate is for less enthusiastic readers?
The reality is that even if your cleantech company is creating groundbreaking technologies to solve the climate crisis, it still exists in a cluttered environment filled with cat videos, graduations, vacation pictures, and other ephemera. So, how do you break through to ensure you're connecting with the right audience at the right time with the right message? The short answer is that it's a process, not a one-time tactic.
If your cleantech company is serious about attracting investment and building credibility, here's the spadework you need to do to ensure your brand pollinates the ecosystem.
1. If You Build It, They Will Come
Since it's the middle of summer, I'm risking the Field Of Dreams cliche to make the point. Attracting attention isn't about hitting the one 600-foot homerun, but rather it's about making consistent contact with the ball (your audience). Again, your competition isn't the scientists in Silicon Valley, it's every crazy tweet authored by the President at 3 a.m., Nike's latest marketing campaign, and the most recent hurricane to hit the coast.
Your cleantech company can't compete with that news deluge, but you can help yourself by continually pumping out the news. This requires an infrastructure to support a constant peppering of your audience to extend your brand and share news to promote your brand story. What do I mean by infrastructure?
- A web portal that's robust enough to become the hub of your communications efforts
- Subscription templates to build your audience
- Email broadcast software
- Social media accounts to follow
- An SEO strategy so you know what keywords your audience uses to find you
- Website blog to create content
- Brand icon
- Branded templates for emails and news
- Visuals to enhance your brand across media channels
- Contact information for reporters who cover your niche
2. Serve Multiple Food Groups In Moderate Portions
Too often, I see cleantech companies run by scientists, engineers, or MBA's attempt to spread their news like peanut butter with the assumption if we throw it out everywhere it will stick somewhere. Following this strategy will make your story increasingly irrelevant over time while putting you in the dog house with reporters who hate spam.
One of my first communications rules for understaffed growth stage companies is "do a few things well rather than do a half-assed job trying to be everywhere." Using social media as an example, your company doesn't need to have an account on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Snap Chat, and What's App. Pick one or two (at most) channels where your knowledge can make you an influencer, and be active on those channels through sharing industry news, commenting on others' posts and updating your followers on your project.
The same strategy applies to the content your company is creating. Repetitive sharing of the essential news yields more tangible results for brand recall than inundating your audience with a dozen unimportant bits of information.
Not every threshold achieved deserves a megaphone, so while new patents might be worth the cost of putting out a press release on a media wire service, less engaging stories like the latest hire or the move to a new building would be better suited for a newsletter or blog post to a narrower audience.
3. Connect Directly With Your Audience
One of the benefits of media disaggregation over the last 15-20 years is any company can become a media channel if it produces enough quality content. News is no longer dependent on a media filter or assignment editors who get to decide what stories to cover.
If your company built a reliable communications infrastructure, you should have lists of interested parties who want to hear directly from you, whether it's via email, social media, video, or an RSS feed. This is especially important in the cleantech world if your company is seeking investment. Investors want to get to know a company before he/she is willing to write a check, and your company's public face is either going to increase or decrease their confidence. That constant water drip of news output is another data point to them that suggests your company has the talent and savvy to scale and commercialize.
4. Use Fewer Words And More Visuals
It's not exactly a secret that Americans don't read, and yes television and the internet have had something to do with it, but those mediums are piggybacking on something neuroscientists have long known: visuals stimulate different parts of our brains. There's a reason research papers don't appear on the New York Times Best Seller list, and it's not because you aren't a good writer.
Cleantech relies on sophisticated knowledge of engineering, chemistry, and physics in most cases, but if you can't explain your idea's essence in seven seconds, you're likely to lose your audience. Pictures and video should accompany and sometimes outright replace any copy because most people don't care about what you are doing below the waterline; they want to touch your final product and understand how it impacts their lives.
5. It's Not About You
No matter which channels you use to share news and insights, your company's content must be audience-focused. Before offering anything for public consumption, your company needs to ask itself, "Why would my audience care about this?" And unless your audience is chock full of PhD.'s, the way your widget works is the least of their concerns.
- Here's what your audience wants to know:
- How is this going to solve the climate crisis?
- How much is this going to cost me?
- Is there something I can do to make this invention a reality, such as purchase one or invest in it?
- Will it work?
- How will it benefit me?
If your news can't answer at least one of those questions, it's not news.
6. Don't Use 10 Words When 3 Will Suffice
This goes under the heading of "Dispense With The Non-Essential." One of the ways I know whether a news release was authored by the CEO of a company or by a communications professional is by the length. If I see boilerplate in the order of the paragraphs, overly dense copy and 1,500 words, it screams to the audience, NEXT!"
Whether it's a news release, blog article, or social media post, the goal is to communicate one idea in as little time as possible. Over the years, I've put speeches, articles, and every other form of communication there is to what I call the Gettysburg test.
In short, my rhetorical question to your attempt at communicating a message is this:
Lincoln's entire Gettysburg Address, perhaps the most famous speech in American history, was 270 words and took two minutes to deliver. Why should your audience give you more time and words than that? Are you going to say something or write something more profound than Lincoln did?
Editing should be about addition through subtraction. If there's more than one idea present, break it into two different posts and give yourself an extra opportunity to communicate with your audience. Your job is not to cram as much information as possible into each outreach; it's to leave a single imprint on your audience. Anything extra is vanity or a sign your company is too bureaucratic.
Communicating complex cleantech ideas is challenging enough, which is why the first hurdle of cleantech marketing should be to make it easier for your audience to understand.