#MarketingSolar Podcast: Building a Social Media Strategy on a Limited Budget

Introduction
Welcome to the marketing solar podcast series, part of the “Build It Bright: Crafting Your Solar Marketing Program.” This solar training program is facilitated by Glenna Wiseman of Identity3 working with Energy Trust of Oregon.

Today we are tackling, “Building an Online and Social Media Strategy on a Limited Budget” with Kent Lewis, president of Portland, Oregon based Anvil Media. Founded in 2000, Anvil Media, Inc. is an award winning integrated marketing agency specializing in search engine marketing, social media and analytics.

In this podcast, Kent offers solar installers a rich depth of tips and insights including:

  • Getting Measurable Online and Social Media Marketing Results
  • Measuring Online Effectiveness with the Anvil Marketing Index
  • March 3 Webinar: Building a Social Media Strategy with Limited Resources
  • Social Media on a Shoestring
  • “Facebook Loves to Change the Rules”
  • “Your Website is the Sun in Your Online Marketing Solar System”
  • Why Your Blog is More Important Than Ever
  • A Metrics Based Approach for Hiring Outside Marketing Resources

We want to thank Energy Trust of Oregon for their vision and support helping solar contractors reduce customer acquisition costs through more efficient marketing.

Podcast Transcript

Kent Lewis, Anvil Media

Kent Lewis, Anvil Media

Glenna: Hello and welcome to the Marketing Solar podcast series. I’m Glenna Wiseman of Identity3. We are working with Energy Trust of Oregon on this Solar Marketing Training Program. Today we are focused on a really important topic for solar installers in Oregon and actually throughout the US. Building an online and social media strategy, okay here it comes, with limited resources. Today we could not have a better voice on this subject than Kent Lewis, President of Anvil Media. I’m going to just give you a brief introduction to Kent and his company and then we will just dive right in.

Anvil is located in Portland, Oregon, and has been awarded multiple times as one of Oregon’s most admired companies and actually is one of America’s fastest growing firms. They actually work with Energy Trust of Oregon as well. They were founded in 2000. Anvil is an Integrated Marketing Agency specializing in search engine marketing, social media marketing, and analytics. Kent is the president of the company, he is very much in demand as a speaker, a professor, and a marketing expert in this key area of digital marketing. So we’re really fortunate to have him with us today. So hello, Kent.

Kent: How are you, it’s a pleasure to be part of this session.

Glenna: I am great and we’ve got a lot to cover, so let me just dive right in but first a little personal note. Maybe give us a little bit of a reference point of why you entered into this field and what makes it so exciting for you?

A Background in Measurable Marketing

Kent: Well I started my career in public relations out of school and I thought the idea of third-party persuasion was a really interesting idea, the hardest sell of all, but I had opportunity just to, within two years, to move from a PR agency to a sister web development job where we were building websites for like Tektronix and Intel and Microsoft. This was 1996, it was just starting to pick up. It wasn’t until my boss, the creative director, sat me out for lunch and said, “Meta-tags, go figure them out,” that I really started my career in digital marketing, because I had to research and found out that you could manipulate some code within websites to rank in the 14 search engines back in ’96, none of which were Google at that point. It just started going from there, started building teams and social media became an aspect of what we needed to do with our clients to help them. And that’s involved working with brands like SolarWorld and some of the SolarWorld vendors and were working with Energy Trust. I’m a big fan of solar and there’s so much that needs to be done and a lot of the installers and vendors in this space have very little resource or bandwidth to to do this properly. So we thought this workshop would be very helpful.

Glenna: Tell us a little bit about this philosophy behind Anvil. You started Anvil in 2000 so you’re 16 years old now. Tell us a little bit about why you started the company and the philosophy that you bring to your client work.

Kent: So having worked at nine agencies, being the co-founder of two and the founder of two and having no more than three to six months’ experience outside of agency when I was full-time, one was an energy company and the other was a dot com electronics company, is that I really love moving the needle and I realized that digital marketing, which happened to be my skill set, was highly measurable. And so Anvil is known as the measurable marketing agency. We don’t do any marketing that can’t be measured. That comes with a lot of accountability, clients expect good things to happen when you’re being measured. We don’t do Super Bowl spots. Not to say those can’t be measured but they can’t be bought or measured effectively. Most of our clients don’t have $5.5 million to spend on a Super Bowl ad. That may be their entire marketing budget for the year if it’s a big client. So you have to get really creative. Our mantra is to delight and elevate our client. I really enjoy making people happy and that’s the delight, and then that’s the experience. The journey part of making a difference for the impact to move their business forward is the delight, or sorry, the elevate.

Measuring Online Effectiveness with the Anvil Marketing Index

Anvil Media logoSo we delight and we elevate, and that’s our day-to-day. But our actual purpose is to be the amplifier for our clients who are purpose driven companies. It seems weird to have a purpose that involves purpose, but that’s exactly it. We don’t make things; we just make them more visible. We’re the enabler to take a company like let’s say, Tom Shoes, or Energy Trust, or whoever, and if they’re truly a purpose driven organization, it becomes very easy to get the team to rally to take their message out there and have make a greater impact in general. How we do that is primarily through digital or measurable marketing. That’s paid and organic search marketing, social media, which there’s the paid and the organic side of social, and both involve content strategy and a layer of analytic or measurement. And we have a whole process around that, of course, but the end result is, the client comes up to the challenge, “I would like more awareness, more leads, or more sales,” or they have some other initiative or project, that’s fine. We build out a campaign or process to get them there over time but we don’t like to tie our clients down with big annual contracts or scary ownership, intellectual property discussions and it’s just, we earn their business every day, every month, and we clients who have been with us many years and that’s why we like it is a long-term strategic partnership and that’s how we see really truly making, helping our clients go to the next level.

With that said, there is a slight difference with a, let’s say a solar installer who has limited dollars and bandwidth but has more bandwidth than dollars, we’ve developed a product for them which is the AMI Snapshot or Anvil Marketing Index, and it’s literally, the output is 20+ specific actual recommendations across any companies online presence of what they need to do to be more credible, be more visible, and covert more phone calls and emails from leads into customers, and this road map through the snapshot is what gets those type of clients… they’re more of a project style engagement. Although any client can come back and say, “Do this for us. This is all great but we can’t do it.” And so we give the client always an option to do it themselves, have us do it, or have anybody else do it, it’s really up to them.

Glenna: There’s a couple of things here that are really exciting for me. In our polling and our discussions with the Oregon Contract Allies, Contractor Allies for Energy Trust, one of their areas of frustration that they voiced to us is their online presence, that they don’t seem to be getting what they need out of this and so talking with you is really helpful to them, and this index that you’re talking about actually qualifies for business development funds from Energy Trust, isn’t that correct?

Kent: That is my understanding which is a very unique and phenomenal opportunity.

Glenna: Right. So they can get this index, they can get this snapshot of all the key performance indicators that you’re talking about here that will really help them to understand the baseline from where they are at with all of their social media in their online presence. Do I have this correct?

Kent: That’s exactly right. Yeah, we basically look at five key elements. The installers brand, like overall consistency and visibility. We look at their website performance. You know, again that implies they have a website. I’d say the majority do despite the level of complexity or beauty of them, it could be arguable, but this would touch on what needs to be done to make the website more effective as a place for prospects to go to get more information to then make a phone call, fill out a form, or contact them through email. Then there’s the organic search presence, how visible are they in relevant keyword searches? Portland Solar Installer, etc., whatever terms. Then we look at the paid search side or paid media, that includes paid search and social. What is the level of visibility with their digital advertising? Many of these folks should be prepared for a low score because they probably are not spending much of anything on Google AdWords or on Instagram or Facebook, but these are big opportunities so we will benchmark and identify where those opportunities may lay. And then the social media/content strategy is are there any conversations out in social, and then we basically compile those into a single sleep number type score to say, “You’re a 5 out of 20 or a 15 out of 20. You’re are doing phenomenally well.”

No matter what the score is, they’re going to have a minimum of 20 very actionable specific recommendations that are prioritized by impact and difficulty, and then we recommend a timeline on those. So typically an average installer will have 20 to 25 recommendations that can be implemented over the next 12 months and we break them out into quarter based on the degree of impact and difficulty. Then that way it empowers the installer to determine, “Wait a sec, this has more impact? I’d rather spend a little more and make this a priority.” But they’re empowered to make those decisions based on their goals and their cash flow.

So that’s the snapshot and it’s a $1,500 plan that’s very actionable. Again, it’s outlined in a way that the installer, who may know little to nothing about digital marketing, can literally figure it out themselves through some of our resources or give it to somebody else to implement if they have a friend that is a web type person, or we can provide a specific recommendation or a proposal to implement certain aspects that are high priority. So that way they have total empowerment to figure out how they want to do it, and then we’ll say, “It’s a anti-sales move on my part, but I’m all about helping the installers.” I encourage installers to get smart about digital marketing, whether or not they want to have a career in it, they still are more passionate about solar, that’s fine, but they need to be smart enough to know that they’re empowered to run their business smartly, hire the right vendors or do it themselves. It just makes it smarter. So the goal is really for having to have these installers implement these recommendations themselves to a degree. That’s the goal.

March 3 Webinar: Building a Social Media Strategy with Limited Resources

Glenna: Our conversation is really perfectly seated within the fact that we just did a webinar all based on in an inventory of all of the marketing assets, so they just went through an interactive process there and they miss that they can pick it up online. If they put that together with the score that your…and the baseline data that you create, they could move into the February 25th webinar about strategy really armed with a lot of information and actionable…they could come out of the February 25th event with, “Okay, here’s what I’m working on, here’s where I’m going, and here’s what I need to get there.” And by the time we’ve got this on they will have tuned into your webinar, on March 3rd, (editor note: Webinar is on March 3, RSVP here) and I’m sure they can get the recording of that if they haven’t picked that up, so really a lot of great content and Kent, maybe you could give us a few highlights of what you presented on your webinar and what they can get on that recording that would help them fulfill a strategy with limited resources.

Social Media on a ShoestringSocial Media on a Shoestring

Kent: Sure, absolutely. So there’s a couple of tips in developing social media basically on a shoestring, and one is that the most common objection or concern that is voiced by smaller businesses, like installers, is, “I’m not a writer, I don’t even know what I would write, I don’t even know where to start.” So one of my first easy recommendations is, utilize interviews. Interview your head installer, interview other people in the industry that you know, and it can be as easy as…it doesn’t have to be video or audio, it can be just be emailing them 3 to 5 questions that then they answer with 1 or 2 or 3 paragraphs, and you can post that on your blog and you now have a page to 2 pages worth of content that took you upwards of 30 seconds to create, because somebody else spent all the time to write the content and you’re giving them acknowledgment and visibility for that. But that’s a great way to start.

The other way is to quickly set up on that Google loves multimedia. All the smartphones of today have HD cameras built-in and you can sync up with Instagram or YouTube directly from your phone and upload on-site highlights of an installing process, customer testimonials on site of their homes, then you can deal with all the waivers and all that stuff, the legal aspects on your own, but assuming that you get a waiver, the customers are happy to talk about their experience, they love the exposure. “Oh look, I’m on so-and-so’s website now, isn’t that cool?” So you can literally record a 15 to 60 second testimonial and upload it directly from your phone, so it’s not expensive equipment, you already own it. But you can also upgrade, spend a grand on a camera, light, and remote mic, and do some really nice work and then a little more money on editing software, but that’s down the road.

The other beauty of recording video, which is another tip, is that it can be sliced into four form factors. There’s the 30 second HD video, there’s the 30 seconds of audio you could upload to iTunes as a little miniature podcast, there are the images that come from HD video, hundreds of thousands of images, even from a 30 second video to choose from, to put up on Pinterest and Instagram and your website and your blog. And then lastly you could have an interview or a testimonial transcribed relatively quickly and easily and affordably to put up on your blog or your website. That’s all from one 30 second recording. So there’s no excuse not to be doing this stuff and creating great content. The other reason why is, video’s the most engaging form factor. It tells stories better than any other form factor. It has higher engagement rates, higher retention rates. When people experience video they remember it, they cite it, they forward it, they share it.

Your creating all these other form factors, but the other thing to note is Google loves multimedia. So by creating images, audio, text, and video, giving you’re giving Google more to eat and enjoy and you’re more likely to rank higher. And lastly, YouTube is the second largest search engine by volume. To not get in on the game of educating DIYers and other prospects about solar do’s and dont’s and install and how to choose an installer and all that, it’s just really good awareness and branding opportunity. YouTube is a really good conversion tool for a target audience like residential and commercial building owners looking to cut their energy costs down. So those are to just a few of the sample recommendations that have been and will be touched on in the seminars and webinars.

“Facebook Loves to Change the Rules”

Glenna: So I have a question, because we’ve heard a lot about the algorithms that Facebook keeps changing and that if you’re not advertising, you’re not going to get organic ranking, and that video posted directly is better than video posted from YouTube. So maybe give us a few little tips for Facebook, if the installers don’t have a huge budget to throw at non-organic.

Kent: Well, it’s a good question. I think really what I would say is that organic is the best place to start to optimize your website, your blog, your social media profiles. To own your own visibility is key. Then on the paid side, on the advertising, setting up Google AdWord you can literally just put in $50 and see what gets you. What kind of impressions and clicks, again it’s highly measurable. Google analytics is free, put the analytics on your website so you can see where people are coming from, are they converting to a contact form or whatever conversion rate you have set up for a newsletter, those are pretty standard for an installer type business. You can even put in $50 into Facebook to create ads or to boost posts. But again, the reason why I’m not a huge fan of social is for the reason you mentioned; Facebook loves to change the rules, they are basically making you by your fans every time you interact with them because they’ve cracked down their feeds so that when you post an update about your business, less than 10% of your followers are fans or likes will ever see your update, unless you pay to boost the post. That’s how they make billions of dollars. But it’s really lame that you have thousands of followers you’ve worked hard to get, but less than a hundred see any new posts.

Your website“Your Website is the Sun in Your Online Marketing Solar System”

So that’s why I’m a big fan of the center of your solar system, literally, the sun is your website because that’s what you control. So creating your blog and your website all in one place and have your social profile drive to that site improves your organic rankings but it really gives you control so you can control the experience, control the information you collect, and then really frankly, develop relations over email which sounds counter intuitive because it’s an old technology but it’s still be most effective way to nurture a relationship.

Glenna: I absolutely agree. I’ve been a solar marketer since 2007 in the industry and I absolutely agree with…and I love your analogy that your website is the sun. Okay, come on, did you think of that just now? [laughs]

Kent: It’s funny, I’ve been using that analogy for years but never specifically the SolarWorld. In fact a joke I say is that if the sun is your website, then Facebook is Uranus, because it’s a terrible place to…you have very limited control over your brand. While you technically own your content that you post there trademark wise, Facebook really cranks down who can see it, and Google doesn’t like to rank Facebook because they’re a key competitor. They will rank your profile but they’re not going to rank any deep content on your Facebook profile so why bother? But so many installers and small businesses rely on Facebook as their primary webpage and I’m saying, no, that’s a distant plane. You need to really build a cohesive…even though it’s small and punchy and affordable, your website should just be the primary place where your brand lives online.

Why Your Blog is More Important Than Ever

Glenna: If your website is your sun, to which I heartily agree, what is the role…now I have…we’ve got installers in Oregon and otherwise who do not maintain active blogs. And I personally don’t think that you can really have a comprehensive inbound marketing program without an active blog. So some type of magazine, some type of content marketing that you have rightfully said that you owned, that you can control, that you can measure, that you can create landing pages off of, that you can derive all of your social media efforts back to. Is that your philosophy? How do you see the importance of a blog in the solar system?

Kent: Great, I believe…this has changed. I used to believe that the blog was another planet or the moon to your Earth, let’s say. Not to muddy the analogy too much, but where Google has pushed us, and it makes sense, is that the blog lives on your website. So then it becomes the nuance of your service pages are descriptions of your products and services, your about us page, your project or portfolio pages, those are all standard, essentially evergreen content. It’s going to always need to be there and isn’t going to change as much as you’d probably like it too. If you’re lucky, you’re changing it monthly, but probably more likely quarterly. So the blog is your challenge, it’s the gauntlet being thrown down by Google and your customers and prospects to say, “I want new content at least weekly.” Ideally two to three times a week, but in this industry I would say once a week, you’re ahead of the game. And that’s your timely content that is not evergreen, it is topical, it is fresh.

I think one great use of a blog, for instance, and again, putting this into efficiency is, if you’re doing a big install on a nice property, a flagship property, again, getting permissions and waivers and so forth, external pictures of before, during, after, testimonial, but throughout is like how did you solve specific problems, because the way I look at it is, you’re not going to read that blog and think I’m going to do your job just because I read your blog and how you specifically solve the challenging problem on an install. I’m just going to have more respect for you. You are not going to lose business to a DIYer anymore than you would anyway, so what you try to do is build trust and awareness and interest so that when people say, “Wow, that’s a beautiful house,” you will also have a very modest cottage type house so you’re not alienating the lower end of the market which is a larger part of the pyramid, perhaps, by appealing to the broadest markets that you can solve any problem, and just approaching it through storytelling. I think that’s a great way to do it, talking like on this day we had this challenge. So the blog might document that in 250 to 500 words per blog post, but the entire project might be half a dozen or more blog posts to become a long form article that then also has a different life elsewhere perhaps, a syndicated article within an industry publication or it just is a long form portfolio piece with embedded video and images, that’s far more compelling than just one headshot and one photo. Written testimonial and one shot of the after doesn’t tell the story of what went into the install and doesn’t help you appreciate the artistry that these installers are creating and the challenges that they face. That just generates more trust. So the blog is a way to literally…it can be literally driven by images and video where just basic captions could be the blog posts, but then you stitch them into a longer story and put them in your portfolio section and you’ve got some really meaty content.

Glenna: And that’s what Google want now. Google wants…

Kent: Absolutely. They will go bananas over fresh blog posts with really interesting content. High-res camera…make an effort to clean your lens or buy a $300 camera at Costco with really nice video capabilities and a decent lens and everything can look beautiful. That’s what really sells, you don’t be like Tim Cook taking a blurry shot at the Super Bowl and everyone making fun of him. You want to have some really nice high-res shots but even my Samsung Galaxy S6 takes better shots than iPhones and some point and shoots. People were amazed at the quality of images I can take with just my my phone. I keep forgetting to bring a camera anywhere because the quality is that good, but it’s still a tiny lens so it distorts a little bit, but just bringing a little point-and-shoot camera on your on your job site can make a huge difference.

Glenna: I also think that if the company, the solar installer is savvy enough to have developed some level of client persona work and they’ve documented buying questions along that purchasing journey, they can use the blog to create content that answers, either through the interview questions of their current customers, the testimonials, they can create all kinds of great content that relate to those buying questions. Because the consumers are doing their search, they’re doing their own search, they are doing their own education process so why not give them the information they need to pre-qualify that solar installer before they even pick up the phone? Or answer that…

Kent: Absolutely.

Glenna: …email? So thank you for that discussion on the website is the sun, and the blog exists as a critical part of that sun universe. So I’ve got another question for you Kent, okay?

Kent: Yeah.

A Metrics Based Approach for Hiring Outside Marketing Resources

Glenna: We’ve got a lot of feedback from solar installer’s, again, contractor allies in Oregon but I am absolutely sure based on conversations with others in the industry that this is the case across the country, that solar installers reach to outside resources, they get all excited about working with an outside resource, and then they get disappointed that it didn’t come to fruition in the way that they had envisioned or with the analytics that they had, the results that they had in mind, so maybe just give us a little bit from your point of view, are there metrics, or how do you approach working with a new customer to help them realize the success and what would you give as an advice to solar installers when they’re looking to hire outside help?

Kent: It’s great question. I’ve even posted an article on how to choose an SEM vendor but it can be on how to choose any service provider, especially in marketing. We start with the selection process first. If you feel like you don’t…let’s start one step back. The big question is do I do it myself, or do I pay somebody else to do it? That’s a pretty simple answer if you want to go mathematical on it, and algorithmic. Which is what your average hourly rate, effective hourly rate, based on what you charge an average job and if you were working instead of doing marketing, assuming it’s typically daylight hours and you’re not doing marketing at 2:00 AM while you should be sleeping, let’s say it was 50 bucks an hour; well then, can you have somebody do it for less than 50 bucks an hour? Not usually that somebody that’s not a brand new freelancer out of a college. A lot of the organizations that are of our size and sophistication are north of $100 an hour, but the other way to look at that, “Well, I can do it for cheaper, the question is do you want to and are you capable of doing it?” So typically the average installer is going to say, “I’m willing to spend a couple hundred or even a couple thousand dollars because I only need two installs to pay for this.” And I think that’s the way you need to look at. The metric is how many new customers do I need to pay for this? And the $1,500 snapshot is priced the way it is to provided sufficient value that one to two jobs will pay for it.

The beauty of the snapshot, however, is that the recommendations will last the life of the site, the life of the time that those recommendations have been implemented, for 90% of the recommendations are going to be timeless. Google and social media platforms are knocking on radically changing their rules, 90% of the time to make our evergreen white hat best practices irrelevant. So we’re talking amortizing it over years. So can you get 2 or 3 customers even over the next 3 to 5 years based on our implementation? 20 years in the business has proven the answer is absolutely yes.

So the number one block or hurdle is companies, or individual installers, or clients, not listening, not following directions, and not implementing in a timely manner. That’s the only thing that that hold us back. It’s not that our implementation or recommendations don’t work. They always work. At the same time, we don’t guarantee it because there are too many factors out of our control, we just have never had a problem with it because we’ve had so many years of refining the message on that. So it becomes a question of not how much does it cost, but what will be the return on that investment? You should look at a 3 to 5X return so I should…you should expect 6 to 10,000 worth of work in the next year to 2 years off this investment.

Specifically, if you are a full-service client spending 5,000 a month or 10,000 a month including online advertising, we have to send a lot more business your way, well you’re a larger company at that point. That would be a Peterson Dean type of client who we’ve worked with in the past that’s a nationwide or 10 to 12 states and they need hundreds of leads a day. So we’ve worked that large and we’ve gone although quite a bit smaller as well. So hopefully that meets…but in terms of once you evaluate it and you need to work with a contractor, freelancer, or an agency, it’s looking at do they have any relevant industry experience? That can be overrated, but it’s generally means there’s less of a learning curve and that’s important to keep costs down. Do they have success, not just experience but actual success in that industry or across any industry that’s relevant, that’s important. How are they thought of out in the industry? Do they have awards or recognition, case studies, testimonials from their clients? Those are some of the fundamentals. Then what you had asked earlier, philosophically, do you agree with their approach to business and to client engagement, is another thing to look at, in their articles or on their website that touch on these very issues to help you understand or vendors, installers, how to selected a vendor.

Glenna: I think being very clear about what your expectations are…

Kent: Absolutely

Glenna: Being very clear about what will make this a success is, in my experience, a critical component of having a happy client. So that’s all very awesome and I really am excited that Energy Trust is giving me a 30% business credit which means the return on their investment with this baseline tool snapshot from Anvil Media is even more valuable, I would think. And I’m hoping that solar installers will jump on that opportunity and do that before our February 25th webinar on strategy. Kent, please give us the URL that people can find more information and get in contact with your team.

Kent: Yes. anvilmediainc.com or anvilmedia.com, they’ll both get to the same place. If you go to the Insights section which is at the very top navigation, that’s our resource section, we have white papers, cheat sheets, webinars, articles, blog posts, about everything digital marketing, that any installer would, time allowing, be able to read and get a good sense of parallel philosophy in general best practices but really how we work and what they should expect any high-quality vendor.

Glenna: All right. I’m Glenna Wiseman with Identity3 working with Energy Trust of Oregon and today we’ve had the distinct pleasure of talking with Kent Lewis, president of Anvil media in Portland, Oregon. Thank you so much.

Kent: Thank you.

This podcast has been brought to you by Identity3, working with Energy Trust of Oregon. For more information, go to identity3.com.

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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.