In the last couple weeks, I’ve spoken to three residential solar installers from Long Island alone. They’re telling me that with new NYSERDA incentives for home solar, New York State is a hot market for solar these days.
And they’re right. Because of generous state support, Solar Power Rocks now ranks New York #1 for home solar power, ahead of California.
And what all the local solar contractors told me is that with the market heating up, big national installers like SolarCity and Vivint are coming to town.
That’s good and bad news for the local installers.
More Awareness but More Competition Too
The good news is that the large companies have big marketing budgets which allows them to run ads that raise awareness of solar among homeowners. That helps the big national installers but it also helps the local guys by creating more demand for home solar overall.
The bad news is that SolarCity and other national companies bring zero-down financing and other offers that local solar contractors can’t always match.
These offers and the big companies’ marketing makes them attractive to homeowners. So, the big question I get from local installers is, when SolarCity comes to town, how can I compete?
Don’t try to beat SolarCity at their own game, I advise. They can always buy more ads and send out more direct mail than you can. And if Vivint wants to send out armies of salesmen to knock on doors, their army of canvassers will probably be bigger than yours.
Local Installers Need a Story of Why They’re Better
I tell local installers that if they try to compete against the big companies using their tactics, they’ll lose. Here’s what I tell them to do instead. It’s painfully simple:
Come up with a unique selling proposition, known in the marketing world as a USP, that distinguishes you from the big companies. A story that shows how you’re different and why you’re better for home solar in your area.
This short video from Copyblogger explains what a USP is and why every company needs one.
SolarCity already has a USP. It goes something like this:
We’re big, we’re experienced, we’ve put up millions of solar panels across the country, you can trust us, and we’ll give you solar for free.
Can a local installer beat that? Yes, I believe they can. But they have to do it right.
A local installer can’t beat the big national installers by being Almost-Solar City. Or the Pretty Big Local Solar Company that Will Give You the Same Thing As SolarCity for About the Same Price.
Me-too branding is not a USP. A USP for a local solar contractor needs to talk about why they’re different and why that’s better.
Don’t try to convince anybody that even though you’re local, you’re still pretty big, so there’s really not much difference between you and SolarCity’s operation in your area. Instead, embrace being smaller and really local — that’s your secret weapon.
Messages for Local Solar Contractors to Stand Out
Here are some USPs that a local installer might use to set themselves apart when the big guys come to town:
- “Free” solar isn’t really free. It’s better to own than to lease. A PPA or solar lease can lock you into a contract for 20 years that may not work out well. Costs can be higher than you expected. You’ll get more benefit from solar if you buy your own system. And we have financing to make it very affordable. (Use this infographic to explain to homeowners the advantages of owning over leasing).
- We’re not the cheapest. We’re the best. Check out our reviews on Yelp or Angie’s List. See the number of satisfied homeowners who gush about our friendly, prompt service and the worry-free operation of their rooftop array. We’ll still be your neighbors when the installation is done, so we’re committed to quality. And we’ll always be around to help.
- We’re fiercely local. And we’re proud of it. Since we’re your neighbors it also means we know our area better than some big company from out of town. If it’s Long Island, we’ve got customers from Freeport to Huntington to Riverhead. If it’s Southern California, then for years we’ve been working in Orange and San Diego counties from Newport Beach and Irvine to San Marcos and La Jolla. We’re not solar for anybody anywhere — we’re solar for you, right here. We DON’T have an office on the opposite coast. And we never will.
As a marketer, I admire SolarCity and the other big national installers. With their excellent websites and active blogs, the big companies actually follow the kind of advice I give to solar marketers more than the local guys do. Basically, that advice boils down to 1) do more marketing online and 2) once you’re online, do more than just buy Google and Facebook ads.
But as someone who cares about the health of the solar industry, I also want to see local installers, from Long Beach to Long Island, continue to thrive. Small, entrepreneurial companies are where solar got its start, and where some of the highest quality solar is done today.
Do I wish local solar installers had better websites and that they used them more, like the big guys do? You bet. Some local installers, like this one in Atlanta, already have built great websites on their own.
For those who want help, my company is working on a solution to that problem right now, to offer beautiful websites for solar companies that even small local contractors can afford. It’s called Solar Sales Rocket and we expect to launch it soon.
In the meantime, for their value proposition: if local installers embrace what makes them different from the national companies — that they’re your neighbors — they can not just survive when SolarCity comes to town, but they can thrive.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group