Why Cleantech Marketing Can't Be Overlooked In Today's Market
We've already discussed the influx of investment dollars into the cleantech sector over the last couple of years. And though savvy cleantech investors understand the patience required for their dollars to yield dividends, that patience isn't unlimited.
The green economy is still capitalist, and investors know your cleantech business is still a business. That means your startup needs to find customers and sell something your company makes if it's going to stay in business.
To be profitable, cleantech companies need to be as methodical about their marketing plan as they are about their business plan and scientific and engineering exactness.
Identifying your ideal customer is the foundation of every successful cleantech marketing plan.
Understand Your Cleantech Market.
When I work with a new cleantech client, one of the first exercises I perform is asking all of the different executives in the company (separately) a series of questions that include:
- What Is Your Reason For Existing?
- What Problem Do You Solve?
- Who Do You Solve It For?
- Why Would They Care About Your Solution?
I ask these questions because I want to know if they know why they are in business (as opposed to an ongoing R & D company) and if there is strategic alignment amongst the key executives. Rallying around a single, sharp answer to all these questions is crucial before proceeding to the next step.
Create a Value Proposition That Will Attract Your Ideal Customer.
Before the concrete foundation dries, it needs a unique value proposition to hold it together over the long haul.
What's a unique value proposition, and why does it matter to cleantech companies? It explains how you will improve your customer's life in a way that no competitor will ever be able to match. When articulated correctly, it usually expands your market. I've written about this subject here, here, and here if you'd like to understand the concept more deeply. If you'd instead frame it as a question to other executives in your company, ask:
- "Why should I buy from you instead of my competitor?"
- "What makes your product or service unique?"
Here's the key to answering those questions correctly. Your focus needs to be from your customer's perspective, not yours. Instead of telling them what you do, ask what you do FOR THEM.
Know The Wishes and Wants Of Your Ideal Customer
Cleantech startups changing market direction happens as often as the sun rises in the east. Whether that's because of investors pushing them or executives realizing their IP would be more useful in a different market sector, the result was millions in burned cash because the founders weren't thinking clearly about the markets their inventions would serve.
Cleantech marketing in the early stages is more about marrying the right UVP to the pain points of the market sector your company wants to serve than building websites, establishing a social media presence, or product packaging.
Your company may have a novel and sustainable solution to a climate or waste problem. Still, if your customers or end users are happy with the status quo, there's an inevitable mismatch unless you're willing to lower your prices and cut your profit margin to gain market share. But if that's the case, is your technology targeting the right market in the first place?
What Pain Point Does Your Cleantech Startup Address?
Another exercise I perform when determining the ideal customer is interviewing potential buyers of a cleantech solution. I'll ask them questions like
- What are the choke points in your processes?
- What are your cost drivers?
- Are there regulations hampering your business?
- Where are you losing out to YOUR competition?
Selling isn't about your solution. It's about finding someone else's problem and giving THEM the solution.
And to be clear, your customers' pain points might not lead them to a greener or more sustainable solution. The performance of your technology or the cost savings may very well be their reason for buying, while your altruistic notions of making our planet more habitable may be, at best, ancillary to the two entities consummating a transaction.
Understand What Motivates Your Ideal Customer To Act
I often get side-eyed glances from scientists and engineers when I tell them humans make irrational decisions, even other scientists and engineers. Their hair starts smoking when I say that cost and performance are mere table stakes in the sales process.
Neuroscience has made clear what parts of the brain are critical in decision-making. While the frontal lobe separates us from other primates, the limbic (or reptilian) brain lights up the MRIs in laboratory testing.
Human beings are biased, and self-interest is one of the most apparent biases. Before you launch that website, a smart cleantech company will figure out:
- Who are my key audiences?
- What do they wish?
- What do they want?
- What do they gain by buying from us?
- What do they lose if they don't buy from us?
Your sales team will need to know the answers to these questions to close deals, but not knowing the answers at the outset of your company's journey is akin to skipping the pilot facility and going straight to commercialization.
It takes time to understand the buyers' motivation. I've found, for example, in the water reuse industry, better solutions lead to recognition and financial rewards for facility managers, plant managers, and engineers. They are willing to take chances on new and potentially better-performing technologies because it highlights their value to their employers.
The spreadsheet got you in the door, but their limbic brains saw a reward for themselves, and that's why they signed the contract.
This transactional approach is ultimately driving the billions of dollars of investment into cleantech, so while your raison detre may be saving humanity from extinction, your marketing strategy needs to meet your customers where they live.