More than one local solar installer has told me that they don’t mind when SolarCity comes to their state for the first time.
They’re not really worried about the competition. Mostly, local installers tell me that they see it as a positive when SolarCity enters their market.
Because when Elon Musk comes to town, he does a lot of marketing — especially buying TV ads. That raises awareness of solar for consumers and creates more demand for solar from other companies. So, local installers feel like they get some spillover benefit. That could mean more customers for them, but without having to buy their own ads.
Sweet — thanks Elon!
Or not. You might want to think this one through for a couple minutes.
Free-riding on somebody else’s huge marketing budget might sound like a good deal for a local installer with no marketing budget of their own. But letting Elon Musk do your marketing is definitely a sword with two edges for local solar installers. Here are three reasons why:
1. Elon Looks Out for Elon, Not for You
SolarCity’s marketing can make more homeowners aware of solar in your area. But it can also make customers fixated on products from Tesla or SolarCity that you don’t sell. For example, how many customers have asked you recently about the Tesla Solar Roof? Even if you think it’s a good product (and many people don’t), are you able to sell it? If not, what’s your alternative?
By creating demand for sexy new products from Tesla and SolarCity, Elon is hoping to make your tried-and-true grid-tied solar panels look frumpy and out-of-date. It will be harder to sell black or blue PV panels if homeowners decide they’d rather hold out for Elon’s slick roof tiles.
2. The More Famous Elon Is, the Less Famous You’ll Be
However much spillover other solar installers get from SolarCity ads, in the end, if the name SolarCity gets repeated enough, homeowners are going to start to think that it’s the only name in town. Just think of how certain brand names have become generic terms. Consumers don’t ask for an “adhesive bandage” or a “cola drink” — they ask for a BandAid or a Coke. In the same way, in areas where Elon is the only marketing game in town, homeowners won’t ask for a “solar installer” anymore. They’ll ask for SolarCity — if their reputation remains positive. Of course, it could go the other way. See the next point for how to deal with that.
3. Not all Elon Publicity is Good Publicity
The opposite is also a problem. If Elon’s reputation rubs off on your solar company, it could help…or it could hurt. Many people criticize Elon for milking the federal government for subsidies. Or they think that ideas like colonizing outer space are kooky. Or they’ve read customer complaints of SolarCity’s bad service and high prices on SolarReviews. Or they’ve heard about the federal government investigating SolarCity for lying about how many customers cancel contracts.
In any event, so much bad news about SolarCity makes the whole industry look bad. SolarCity’s negative PR can help turn off homeowners to other solar companies too. That could hurt you as much as it hurts Elon. The only difference is that, as an international man of mystery, Elon will be just fine if he doesn’t make many sales in your local area. But you — not so much.
Turn Elon’s Negatives into Your Positives
Local installers can make Elon’s negatives work for them. But only if they bother to get the message out there that they’re different from SolarCity and Tesla and that they’re not Elon Musk — and that this is a good thing. To get that message out, you’ll have to do your own marketing.
Fortunately, you don’t have to buy expensive ads on TV or billboards like Elon does.
Local solar installers can do effective marketing themselves online (download our free ebook to see how). But they have to do it. It takes a little money and a lot of time to do it yourself. Or, less time, but more money to hire help with marketing. Depending on your situation, either way can be a good choice.
But it’s never a good choice for a local solar installer to just sit back and hope that Elon’s rising tide will float their boat too. Remember that Elon’s tide could just as easily become a tsunami that floods and sinks the boats of small competitors.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group