Are you an installer marketing solar?
Are you working to increase the effectiveness of your marketing solar program?
Working to reduce the customer acquisition “soft costs” in your overhead?
Welcome to the first podcast in the “Build It Bright: Crafting Your Solar Marketing Program” facilitated by me, Glenna Wiseman of Identity3. We’re working with Energy Trust of Oregon to help solar installers craft more effective marketing programs.
Glenna: Hello, and welcome to the “Build It Bright Marketing Solar Training” series working with the Energy Trust of Oregon. I’m Glenna Wiseman with Identity3, and today is the first of our series podcasts. We’re going to focus on the graphic fundamentals with Ms. Aimee Tuck of Corbae Creative.
Let’s meet Aimee with a brief bio, so that you can have a little bit of familiarity. You won’t know her as well I do because I’ve worked with her for several years. But we can tell a little bit about her background. She’s actually been in the solar industry for 15 years, wow, starting in 2000, and starting in her own company in 2002. She has worked with such industry clients as Fronius and Magnum. She’s been on the installers’ side, working with large installers including HelioPower in California. And she works with us on work related to AllEarth Renewables out of Vermont, and she is collaborating with me on the Energy Trust of Oregon project.
This is the first of our topic in the series for Energy Trust. It’s called “Taking Stock: Assessing the Condition of Your Marketing
Foundation.” So we thought we would start out by a look today on the podcast on graphics. We’ve got a few questions for Aimee. Aimee, welcome to the show.
Aimee: Well, thank you. I’m excited to be here. This is a great topic to start with. I love it.
Glenna: All right. Well, let’s start out with a question. When you walk into a new client, tell us how do you go about taking an inventory of that client’s graphic assets?
Aimee: That’s a really great question. It depends on how the client has approached me. If the client has approached me to do a specific piece, typically, we’ll take a step back and say, “Okay, how does this piece fit into their larger design strategy?” If they’re asking for a complete overhaul, then we need to look and see what they have to begin with.
Specifically, one of the biggest hurdles that I face is working with photography. A lot of clients have a huge stock of photography that has never been inventoried in any way or filed in any way. They might say, “Oh, so and so has pictures on their computer, and so and so takes a lot of pictures out on the site.” One of the things I always ask clients to do at the beginning is to try and get all of their photos that they think might be useful into one central location. And then we can go through those photos and actually pull the photos that make sense for the pieces that we’re working on.
And it makes a huge difference to actually have those all in one place, and not have to go back again and again, asking for a photo for this or that piece. Or, “Hey, do you have something that looks like this”? If we know what we have to work with, we can start with that from the beginning.
We also need to address the basics. What logos do they have? Do they have a logo? Do they have it in various formats? What advertising have they done? Do they have access to that? Or is it something that’s been done externally and they don’t have access to that? What about their website, what about their brochure? Who created these pieces? Do they have access to the source files? Or are we looking at something where an outside creative agency has not given them these source files? Those basic questions. This is where I would start on a very tangible level.
Glenna: I think you bring up an incredible point. And as much as solar installers want to have lots of pictures of their solar installations and time lapse video and all of that, it’s just such a disciplined effort to get those visual assets from the jobs.
Aimee: Oh, I agree. Something I always suggest to people when I work with them on creating a photo library is make it a habit, when you take pictures, to immediately upload them to a specific location. Get a Dropbox account, a Box account, Google Drive; whatever it is that you can immediately upload those photos to one central location when you get back and it becomes a habit.
And they may not be photos that you’ll ever use again. But they’re in one location and it makes it so much easier, as a designer, walking in, knowing what’s available. And we may see something that we could use as a great little iconic piece that will work really well as a background image that they haven’t noticed. And we may not be using an entire photo. But it’s a habit to get into.
Glenna: And I think the discipline of how it’s all set up… so many of us in the industry have walked into situations where, as you said, the photos are all over the place. They’re not consolidated into one place. And I think that’s a really important part of this taking stock, this sort of inventory phase. And also, I would say… you brought up, “Where are the source files”? I would also add what are the hosting credentials? Where’s all of the passwords? Everything that the company owns, that the online assets should all be in one file, all safeguarded, of course. So that if you do want to do a new website, you don’t spend a whole lot of revs on “Where is this hosting information? Who owns it”?
Aimee: Exactly. And the other thing that it also applies to social media as well. I’ve stepped into situations before where one person is manning their Facebook page, while another person is manning their Twitter account. And yet, a third person is dealing with their blog, and all of three of them are very separate logins. And nobody else has that specific login.
And so, having all of that in one location, that makes it easy to be able to… if you’re dealing, say, with the social media experts, say, “Here are our logins.” So that they can actually take those and integrate them into an actual strategy.
Creating a Style Guide to Save Time and Money
Glenna: All right, so let’s talk… this graphic and visual assets category of the marketing discipline is really a huge category. You’ve got a lot of rich experience that we can tap into here. Let’s talk about something that contractors don’t always think of in terms of something that will save them time and money, which is a style guide. So talk to us about the difference between a style guide and a brand guide, and how the graphics style guide can help save time and money.
Aimee: That is a great question. I’m really glad you asked about a style guide versus a brand guide upfront. Because I often find that people use them interchangeably as terms and they really are not. A brand guide is a guideline that addresses how your brand is perceived. Your persona… Apple has a very different brand perception than Google. And they have a very specific way they talk. They have a very specific way they present themselves. And that’s all addressed in a brand guideline.
A style guide, on the other hand, takes all of those brand pieces and takes that brand persona, for lack of a better term, and gives you very specific concrete details on how to present that. A style guide, it’s a reference document. It gives you an overview of the company, it talks about logo usage, font usage, color usage, your tone of voice. How do you use images, photos, illustrations? It talks about how pieces will be produced. Printing something in-house versus something external, you may use two different fonts, because an internal computer is not going to have all of the same fonts than, say, somebody who works in graphic design. How are these pieces represented on your website, and in online sources like Facebook or Twitter?
And the style guide will address these very visible, visual, relevant pieces of your brand. And a style guide should be very straightforward, it should be easy to understand, it should be flexible. It should tell you how to use these pieces very specifically. Something that we’ve done in the past is we may actually have two style guides. One that is a longer style guide for external creative agencies that a company may work with, and a shorter document that goes over just the basics of creating an in-house document for in-house people… say, your administrative person is creating letters for your company and understanding how that’s done in-house.
To address your point on how this will save time and money, this is done once. And yes, it’s a bit of an undertaking, and I’m not going to lie about that. If it’s done well, it may take a little bit of time, and nobody wants to hear that. Because everybody wants it done now, and they don’t want to take the time, they just want it done. But it does take a little bit of time.
Once it’s done, however, the amount of time that you spend with other creative agencies is significantly smaller. They’re not recreating the wheel. They’re taking these guidelines and they’re creating a piece. Say you have this style guide created and you have a brochure done. But the next thing you want to do is create a video. The style guide, you hand it to your video person, and they know exactly what the style is. And so, what you’re working on at that point in time is the content. They’re not taking a lot of time to create visuals again and again. Because it’s done. And it’s going to save them time and money. One, you’re not going over this over and over again with an outside source. Number two, the outside source has these basic building blocks, and they don’t need to charge for it. Which is a significant cost savings.
Glenna: So in other words, you spend the time and effort to create it once upfront, and then you can use it as a foundation to save time and money every time you go to create something either internally or externally to the company? Or you rev on that every time you want something new?
Aimee: Exactly. And the other thing that it does is it gives you a place to work from. If you walk into, say, a meeting, and two people have very different visual styles, this is our style guide. This is how we need to address these pieces. We’ve already created this piece, and it saves time. It’s like, “Refer back to the style guide.” And there needs to be enough flexibility that it works across the board because no designer on the planet is going to be able to tell you what’s going to be the necessary pieces in the style guide in five years. But if it’s a well done style guide, you can take those pieces and address that.
But it also, again, saves time, because it’s done. There’s no argument, it’s done, it’s there. There’s the piece.
An Increasingly Competitive Field for Solar Installers
Glenna: And I think that we’ve got all kinds of evidence including the new recent EnergySage study that this is becoming an increasingly competitive field for solar installers. Even with the, thank goodness, five-year extension of the solar ITC which gives us some room to grow and have that stability of that. We are in this phase where it’s a very competitive industry, and if we’re taking stock of our marketing assets right now and we don’t have a style guide, we don’t have a brand, we’ve not defined the brand… and we will be addressing as well, working on your three strongest value propositions, your three strongest competitive strengths so that you can clearly articulate who you are as a company, your identity in the market.
And you can do that and be true to the DNA of your identity, and that gives you a stronger place from which to compete. The graphics are the personification, the visual presentation of your company to the industry and to the market, to your customers. And you want that to be consistent all the way across the board, right?
Aimee: Oh, 100%. I often see companies who create different pieces for different media in very different ways. And what that does is, number one, it doesn’t help the consumer. We’re busy people. Everybody is busy. And if the consumer is looking at a piece and it’s not very clear that this belongs to this company, it gets confusing, and it’s the age-old adage, “Don’t make me think.” And a clear graphic identity is… it doesn’t make them think. It’s like, “Oh, that’s that company. I understand them.” It’s clear, it’s straightforward, and it’ll give them a competitive advantage.
Because you’re right. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to people recently how much more competitive the solar industry is becoming. And having to address these pieces and making sure that every dollar that you’re spending, it makes sense. And making sure that it fits in with your strategy, and making sure that these pieces are effective. Because the people that aren’t doing that are going to get left behind.
Using graphics in their brand and marketing efforts the most effectively?
Glenna: Well, I think a rather very interesting thing that we’re seeing more and more of, both within the industry and in social media in general, is the creative yet consistent application of a brand style to social media graphics. You can come up with clever ways to implement and use the company’s colors and fonts, and the construction of a social media image. Whether you use cartoons or you use photos, whether you use infographics or you use animated pieces. I think that’s another area where graphics becomes really important, because social media is driven by visual elements.
And so, the graphics have to really be consistently portraying your company’s brand in the market over and over again for wherever the consumer is going to see you.
Aimee: Yes, definitely. And it comes back to having a really well-written style guide. A company who has taken the time to do this upfront, those graphics will fall from that. Your company, it may make sense for you to have illustrations, and it makes sense within your graphic identity. And so, those social media illustrations are going to reflect your company, and it’s going to be very clear that it came from your company. And it’s going to draw the eye in. And another company may use really strong visual photos, or one company may choose to use just strong, bold colors.
It really depends on the style guide. But having that be consistent across the board, again, draws you back in to this company being one cohesive front across all media.
Glenna: And I think if you go through an inventory, the contractors participating in this series, this training series, have an opportunity to really self-examine, self-direct. Really move through their own process in a guided, step-by-step way. And some of them may see that they don’t have a modern logo. The logo isn’t consistent across all of the places where the logo needs to be seen, all the marketing channels, and the logo may not translate well in a social media world.
So let’s talk about something that came up in several of the interviews that we did to prepare for this program with Oregon state contractors, their difficulties in working with outside talent, and getting the results that they really wanted, or that they envisioned. So maybe if you’ve got a series of three or four, maybe five things that if you’re on the contractor’s side and you want to work with a graphic person or an outside agency to bring your logo and brand up to 2016, what are some of the things that you could do that would help you get the result that you’re looking for?
Aimee: Okay, so it’s a good question. You can approach this in two ways. Number one, really make sure that you’re interviewing design firms. And you need to feel comfortable with them. I often find that how design firms get chosen is “So and so’s brother worked at a design firm.” And then, ultimately, what happens is that that design firm and the company have very different ideas of what the ultimate result is.
So if you walk into a meeting and you’re not comfortable with this designer, and it’s like, “Well, this is the only designer I know,” don’t use them. And I know that sounds kind of basic, but again, it’s such a referral world that being comfortable with who you’re working with and being excited… if you don’t walk out of that meeting excited about working with this company, they’re not the right company. You’re not going to get a great result. And that’s a number one basic.
Number two, understand two things. One, you don’t necessarily know what you don’t know. And so, trust that these designers are going to help you walk through this process. Number two, do understand what you want your ultimate result to be. If you want your ultimate result to be a strong, cohesive brand identity across your company, then articulate that. If you want your ultimate result to be, “I need this done as inexpensively as possible,” understand that you may have to actually implement a lot of the strategy on your own. And you’ll need to understand what all of those pieces are, and you’re going to have to spend a lot more time doing research on your own. So really knowing what your ultimate goal is going to help that designer or that creative agency quite a bit.
Number three, understanding what you’re asking for, and what type of agency you’re going with. Going to an agency, a creative agency and they do primarily video and you’re asking them to recreate your brand… yeah, they can probably do it, but it may not be well thought out. Versus going to an agency that has a lot of brand experience. And if they say, “Yes, we do primarily video, but we work with this creative agency quite a bit,” listen to what they’re saying. And work with the kind of agency that does the work that you’re asking for initially. And that will give you better results.
Glenna: A lot of people start with the design part, the graphic look of the website. And the graphic look and the design needs to follow the strategy and the company’s place, the company’s identity in the market, not the other way around. So that’s where if a solar contractor does not have a marketing lead… and like so many of our dedicated, amazing, wonderful, hardworking contracting companies in Oregon and beyond, that their owners who are wearing multiple hats, then they’ve got to carve out somehow, the time to go through the steps. And we’re going to work on this in our series in analyzing the competitors, looking at who they are in the market. Who are they as a company in the market? What do they value the most? What are their competitive strengths? How do they need to articulate that?
And then retool whatever does not reflect that in the market. Including website. Website was a big issue in terms of the discussions and the research that we did around creating this series. People are not happy. And I think it’s a good creative frustration, that they want to have websites that better articulate who they are in the market. But it starts with this strategy.
And then the graphic person such as yourself or another firm has a place to start. There’s a difference between hiring a graphic artist to bring your logo up to the current time frame, and completely really looking at everything related to your brand, and is this who you want to be in the market, and is this the foundation upon would you want to grow in the future? Big difference.
Aimee: Huge. Having that basic strategy in place and having that drive… any piece that you create, it makes a huge difference. And you’re going to be so much happier with the results. If you know that, “Hey, I need this website to attract this customer,” then your designer is going to be able to help you articulate that. If you know that, “This is my spot and I understand that my clients refer me to their friends because I am responsive,” I call back the same day. If there’s an issue, we’re out there within an hour. Or, “We understand this, we don’t talk down to our customer.” Whatever your specific value is that you bring to your customers. Having that articulated upfront so that your designer can create pieces that actually reflect that, it makes a huge difference. And you’re going to be so much happier with the results.
And there’s so many ways to actually articulate that with technology. And ultimately, your designer’s responsibility is to take those pieces and use that technology to your best advantage.
Glenna: Well, that is, I think, comes from a lot of experience on your side. You obviously started when you were very young. And so, let’s just end on… because we need to wrap up here. If you’ve got some graphic trends that you’re seeing in the market that you think would be helpful to the contractors as they’re looking at and evaluating their graphic assets?
Aimee: Yes. First, I’m going to talk about a couple that are just in general, that they may have not thought about in the past. And then we’ll talk about a couple that I’m seeing fairly strongly in 2016 if we have the time to do that. As far as in general, one of the things that I’m seeing that is coming up more and more often is logo usage, and having a responsive logo. And what that means is that logo that you had created by 99designs or your brother’s friend five years ago that works on your van is not necessarily going to work today. So the van logo is not going to necessarily work on your Twitter page.
And so, what a lot of designers are doing these days… and actually, and if they’re not… if you’re not being presented with this option, then you might want to actually step back and say, “What’s going on here”? is a responsive logo. And what that means is that it’s going to work in multiple sizes. And the logo may not be exactly the same across the board. That little tiny favicon that shows up when you’re looking at your website up in the tab, is not necessarily going to be the same thing that’s going to show up on your trucks and your vans and your signage.
But there should be some sort of consistent element that is representative so it’s immediately recognizable. And you’ll see that across the board with responsive logos. And if you don’t have a responsive logo, it may be time to think about one.
Some of the other things that I think are very strong… you talked about a lot of your solar contractors’ websites being a huge issue in 2016, and I agree. In 2015, we saw the leap from more people looking at mobile sites versus desktop sites. And what that means is that they’re looking on their phone. And if your site is not responsive, it’s time to make it so. Because more and more people are looking at their sites on their phone, and we saw that in 2015, and it’s not going to go away anytime soon.
2016, we’re seeing quite a few different design trends. One of the big things is that people are looking at information from different sources. And so, having as consistent message across the board with multiple touch points… somebody may get your information from Facebook, another person may get it from a business card. Another person may get it from an ad. Another person may get it from Twitter. Somebody else may get it from an e-mail. And having those multiple touch points so that it’s a consistent message is huge. And making sure that it’s consistent and they’re going to get a similar message in these different ways.
2016, I really think you’re going to be seeing a lot richer color palettes than we’ve seen in the last few years. I think it’s going to be much bolder colors versus the more muted ’60s kind of retro colors.
I’ve also seen this over and over again where people are talking more about making something much more engaging. It’s not necessarily perfect. It’s human, there’s a story involved. You’re getting involved in it. How are you telling your company’s story? And coming back to that, what’s engaging about this? Is the technology engaging, or is it the story about how you helped somebody save money? What is that story?
And finally, I think that this is very important for solar contractors to really keep in mind is that more and more people are very much focused on sustainability. And that doesn’t just mean… I mean, you’re a solar contractor. There’s an environmental aspect to this. But that doesn’t necessarily just apply to installing solar. It’s talking about what do we do with the boxes that the modules came in? How are we addressing our sustainability across the board and installation? Do our salespeople drive electric cars?
But also having the sustainable story about what your company is doing, not just how you’re helping them be sustainable is also, I think, going to be a stronger and stronger trend across the board, especially as more millennials get into the market.
Key Graphic Points – Responsive and Consistency
Glenna: All right. Well, Ms. Aimee Tuck from Corbae Creative based in the Northwest, this has been a very great opportunity to really take a deeper dive into the importance of your graphic assets as you’re taking stock in your marketing program, and it looks like we’ve got a couple of really key messages here, which is responsiveness of all of the elements, and consistency. So thank you so much for joining us today. And can you give us just real quick, the name of your website so folks can come and visit you?
Aimee: Certainly. It’s corbaecreative.com, which is C-O-R-B-A-E creative dot com. And yeah, if you have any questions, please let me know, and I really appreciate the time you took to talk about this. It’s been wonderful, Glenna.
Glenna: All right, very good. Thank you so much for joining us today, everyone. Bye-bye.
This podcast has been brought to you by Identity3, working with Energy Trust of Oregon. For more information, go to identity3.com.
Your #MarketingSolar Podcast Host
Glenna Wiseman is a solar industry marketing veteran who brings the installer’s point of view to marketing communications. Her solar marketing expertise dates from 2007. For five of those years, she led the marketing initiatives for a California based solar installation firm. Glenna Wiseman has worked to build integration companies for more than 10 years, resulting in a holistic and enterprise-level perspective on marketing for solar installers. She is the principal of Identity3, delivering vibrant marketing to empower a sustainable world. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.