Are you a utility company with a community solar project in development? Setting a community solar project up is one thing, but communicating the intricacies of the project to the community is another. How will you make sure your customers are aware of the benefits of community solar, understand what’s required of them, and know how to enroll?
A community solar framework will require extended messaging built on inclusivity that accounts for community engagement at every level of development. Because of the unique nature of community solar projects, it is imperative that all members of a community understand the framework of the project, and get behind the promise of the more inclusive, sustainable future it will provide.
Start from the Beginning
Utility companies should begin developing their messaging plans as early as possible to ensure buy-in from their customers. It’s important to have a community solar plan that isn’t too complicated. When you’re setting up your incentives, keep the marketing of the plan in mind even at the beginning phase of planning. Think about how much easier it is to explain to your subscribers about a flat rate, rather than one that fluctuates based on many variables. The key to any successful community solar program is consideration of the utility customer from the get-go, rather than building a model that focuses solely, or even primarily, on the utility’s needs.
Keep it Simple
What is the most important message, and how can you communicate it clearly? Part of what utilities need to do when marketing community solar is very clearly and simply explain to customers what this means for them and their relationship with the utility and the impact this will have on their monthly statement and bill. Even customers already familiar with the benefits of solar power as a clean energy source may be confused about how committing to solar will impact their bill, what being “off the grid” means, etc.
Use Your Data to Speak Directly to Your Customers
Everyone can benefit from a community solar program, so the communication efforts and messaging should be tailored to various customer segments based on income level, home ownership and utility history. There will be many questions from your customers at every stage in the buying cycle. Most utilities have vast amounts of customer data, so channeling that data into targeted messaging will be key for crafting the right, personalized messages. If a customer receives a message that isn’t catered to their specific situation, your company’s authority and trust could be damaged. Customers expect targeted, personalized content now. Most utilities haven’t been able to master that, but when it comes to community solar, the ability to harness data to target messaging will be key.
Find Your Low-Income Customers
A community solar project is a real opportunity for utilities to provide affordable clean energy to low-income customers. The resulting energy savings are a considerable benefit for the customer group that needs it most and who typically aren’t candidates for more traditional roof-top solar offerings. This customer segment will need an enhanced communications strategy so they can clearly understand the benefits and trust the savings they’ll be able to realize.
Distilling the message and explaining those benefits is only half the battle. Utilities will likely need to find new ways to reach these customers. That includes finding community partners who can help get the message out. We’ve seen developers and utility companies partner successfully with local churches, community centers and nonprofits like United Way to help disseminate the details about community solar projects. There is a strong community incentive in these programs, and partners have a shared vested interest in marketing the program.
Personal Relationships Matter
Community solar projects are more complicated to understand than most utility offerings. To get buy-in from customers, the process will require hand-holding throughout all marketing stages. Community partners that have a strong presence in the area and have already built trust with your community can help build relationships. This is where a more personalized approach to communication will be important. Consider a series of public meetings, designated liaisons and an open line of communication to develop a personal relationship with all customers, especially low-income customers, to guide them through the subscription process.
Enrolling your customers in a new community solar project will be an ongoing effort that may evolve over a long period of time. It won’t happen overnight. Have patience, find the right partners, and keep your messaging personalized and clear. Utilities don’t need a fancy messaging formula, and it won’t require much convincing to enroll subscribers if the point is clear. The thing about community solar projects is that once a utility gets the messaging right, they start to sell themselves.
To discuss how Mower can help your brand, contact Stephanie Crockett.