Part 1--Research

This column is the first of a five-part series on the critical elements necessary for a cleantech company to successfully market itself, regardless of the budget.


Do I Have To Pay For Marketing?

One of the most frequent questions I hear from companies in the cleantech world, whether a pre-revenue startup, growth stage, or in competitive niches like solar, battery storage, or water treatment is, "What are the essential things we should be doing to market our company?"

Often, this question is posed from a scarcity mindset from those who are worried about making it through the next month, those who don't believe in marketing in the first place, or those more concerned about protecting short-term profit margins. For many of these people, marketing is seen anywhere from a loss leader to a flat-out revenue loser, and I'm never going to convince them otherwise. That's OK. We all have our biases, and there's no single road to success.

But for the companies who are interested in building a marketing platform because they see the longer-term benefit, but who might be resource-constrained, here's how I would recommend you prioritize.


Story First

I've written about this extensively about the need for cleantech companies to base their marketing on the story here, here and here. Suffice to say; the story is the foundation of your marketing efforts. It's challenging to build an edifice on top of something less stable than stone, marble, or concrete. Marketing flows from your company's narrative, and that narrative isn't what you do; it's about what problem you are solving for your audience and why.


Define Your Audience

Before you invest in any marketing tactics, your cleantech company needs to know who it's trying to inform or convince. You need to understand:

  • Who are they?
  • What problem does your cleantech company solve for them?
  • Why do they need your cleantech solution?
  • Why would they buy your solution instead of a competitor's solution?

Your team should be able to answer these questions on no more than one sheet of  8 1/2 x 11 paper.


How Are You Going To Communicate With Them?

I win the award for Master of the Obvious 2019 for writing there is no shortage of ways to communicate with your audience today, but you need to know who are the key decision-makers who are going to either recommend or purchase your technology.

Some decision-makers are kinesthetic, that is, they want to touch and feel your solution, while others are Joe Fridays and only want the facts. Do those people care whether or not your company is on social media? Are they more impressed with scientific journals and university studies? Most importantly, how do they get their information?

And if you're cleantech company is at the stage of prototype building or in the pilot phase, is there any group more important than your investors? How are you going to keep them in the loop and committed to your cause?

It's not difficult to research if your audience is on Twitter or any other social media channel. If they aren't there, you don't need to be there. If they are there, however, your company needs to make an effort to meet them where they live.


What's The Buyer's Journey?

If there's a more extended buyer's journey than for startup cleantech companies, I'm not aware of it. Most early-stage investors get behind companies knowing they won't see a return for six to ten years. While subsequent rounds of investors see shorter timelines, they are still looking at years, not months.

While some of these companies are selling solutions like demand-side software in which the scale-up is modest, there are those in niches like fusion energy who've been searching for the Holy Grail for decades.

And if that hurdle wasn't steep enough, customers for cleantech solutions are notoriously conservative about adopting new technologies. There's no line outside the Apple Store waiting to buy the latest iPhone here.

As a result, your marketing and communications tactics in the cleantech sector have to mirror a much slower curve. I refer to it as the Chinese Water Torture method of marketing in which the drips your customers can hear are steady while getting progressively louder. So that splashy new website that's now two years old is diminishing in impact as is the 2015 profile in the Wall Street Journal and the LinkedIn blog post you submitted 18-months ago.


So What's The Plan?

Purists will tell you B2B and B2C marketing are distinct animals. I prefer to categorize them as evolutionary cousins that require the same amount of care and feeding. While it's true a cleantech company in the B2B space isn't going to be emailing coupons for a July 4th sale to their list of subscribers, they are going to need many of the same tools to build their brand.

And since 90% of all web traffic begins with a search, whether your company is B2B or B2C, if your audience can't find you through a search engine, in all practicality, you don't exist.

One final thought: no one spends as much time thinking about your company as you do. That means in an era saturated in information and data; you have to be a regular part of the cacophony. When your company stops communicating, your audience moves on to the next shiny object.

In next week's column, I'll discuss how and why search engine optimization is such a fundamental part of any cleantech company's marketing efforts.

CleanTech Focus