#MarketingSolar Podcast: Website Development

Introduction

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, designed to help solar contractors reduce their marketing and customer acquisition costs.

This program topic is: Demystifying Solar with Consumer Friendly Website Fundamentals.

It features two guests who can speak with authority to these important aspects of website development, Marci Marshall and Ben Waldron of Pollinate. Located in Portland, Oregon, Pollinate works with Energy Trust managing their website presence. They have been demystifying solar and energy language for consumers since the inception of Energy Trust. The online presence of the non-profit has been a critical key to their amazing success in the state. Pollinate is an Advertising Age National Small Agency award winner.

This program covers:

  • Success Stories – A Strategy to Demystify Solar
  • How Solar Contractors Can Educate Consumers More Effectively via Their Websites
  • Shaping Effective Website Content Using Customer Profiles
  • Tips for Commercial B2B Website Content
  • Brand Consistency Online
  • Website Tool Tips
  • Testing Strategies to Ensure Website Content Resonates with Targeted Prospects
  • Tool Tip: UserTesting.com

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

Pollinate logoGlenna: 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. It’s designed to help solar contractors reduce marketing and customer acquisition costs.

As we developed this program we had many questions related to the role websites play in educating consumers about solar and how solar installers can translate their brand identity most effectively online. So it’s no surprise that our topic today would be Demystifying Solar with Consumer-Friendly Website Fundamentals.

Today we have two guests who can speak with authority to these important aspects of website development. I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome to the Marketing Solar podcast series, Marci Marshall and Ben Waldron of Pollinate. First, let’s do a quick introduction to Pollinate.

Located in Portland, Oregon, Pollinate works with Energy Trust managing their website presence. They have been mystifying solar and energy language for consumers since the inception of Energy Trust. The online presence of the non-profit has been a critical key to their amazing success in the state. Pollinate is an advertising age, national small agency award-winner.

I’m so pleased to have Marci and Ben on show today. Welcome. Marci, please say hello and tell us about your work with Energy Trust.

Marci: Hi! Pollinate started working with Energy Trust of Oregon back in 2008 as part of a website redesign project with them. One of the primary goals with that redesign was really to start speaking with customers in their own language. Up to that point it’d been pretty program-specific communication and they were really trying to be more friendly with all of their audiences.

In the process of working through that website redesign we were exposed to a wide variety of people that Energy Trust of Oregon serves, from business and commercial customers, people who live in rural communities and urban communities, people who want to save money and people who want to save the planet.

Over the years we found ways to leverage the web to automate processes with Energy Trust of Oregon from online forms and content management system development. Overall their goals are the same as any business. They want to reduce their overhead and streamline their process and use the web to do that. It’s a much larger scale than small businesses but overall same goal.

Glenna: Awesome. All right. Ben, let’s hear from you. Thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit more about your role with your firm’s Energy Trust work, and how does it relate to speaking consumer-friendly solar language?

Success Stories – A Strategy to Demystify Solar
Ben: It’s great to be with you. We’ve been working with Energy Trust for, really since the beginning of Pollinate. They were one of our first clients and it’s been great to be a part of their growth over the last 8 years. They’ve been around for about 11. My role is mainly on the technical side, so that’s my background. And where we really get in with Energy Trust and bring things in terms of the consumer is to appeal to them in different ways. Some of those are that more rational side, and we do that with tools. Some external great tools like Clean Energy Works (Editor’s note: this is now Enhabit.org), calculators out there that really compute. From a residential consumer, given my address, what can I expect to actually get back from solar? And that really appeals to that rational side of somebody’s decision-making process. But then there’s the more emotional side, and the way that we do that is mainly with success stories.

With the trade ally network of contractors that Energy Trust has and all of the successes that they’ve had over the past 11, 12 years, they have a ton of great stories that appeal to that more emotional side of, “What actually happens when I can make these changes?” And that’s been a great success as well. So appealing both to that rational side of the brain and then that emotional side as well, and knowing that solar decision-making usually comes from more than just one person in the family, covering all those bases really helps out that process.

How Solar Contractors Can Educate Consumers More Effectively via Their Websites
Glenna: I heartily agree all of the success stories that folks can find in EnergyTrust.org are just amazing. You really do humanize the whole energy efficiency and solar purchase, and I think it’s really great to see all that. Since we are to help the solar contractor allies up-level their website effectiveness, let’s talk a little bit about how solar contractors can educate consumers more effectively via their websites.

Marci: The best way solar contractors can educate consumers on their website is really to just anticipate those customer barriers and be really proactive in addressing the concerns that customers might have on their website.

We know that solar contractors are talking with people often either at events or on the phone, and there’s a set of questions that people probably ask on a really regular basis, and the web is a great place to answer those proactively. Such as, “Is there enough sun in Oregon? What’s the price range for a solar project? What will it look like on my house? And how will my relationship with the utility companies change?” What this does is it gives people confidence when they look on the website that they have the information they need to really take that next step and get in touch with the contractor.

Glenna: So you’re really talking now about sort of the buyer journey questions, really understanding what those questions are at every stage of the purchase and answering them proactively on the website.

Marci: Right.

Ben: We talk a lot about that, is when you are a solar contractor you’re having a lot of conversations day-to-day on the phone, at people’s doorsteps if you’re going out and spec’ing out a job. And so you have a lot of the…the contractors have a lot of this information just in their head based on experiences talking with folks. The challenge is how do you really take that content and put it on the web in a way that speaks to what the consumer is looking for? And the challenge on the web is that it’s not a two-way conversation, it’s a one-way conversation that you have to guess at what your audience wants. And, ultimately, that’s the challenge to really resonate with folks in a meaningful way.

Shaping Effective Website Content Using Customer Profiles Identity3Shaping Effective Website Content Using Customer Profiles
Glenna: Since we’ve been talking about the buyer journey questions here, let’s talk a little bit about how important it is to have clear customer profiles in place for website content and design. And if so, if that’s an important aspect of website development how can you use these tools to shape the web?

Marci: Sure. Customer profiles are very important on a website and it’s something that Energy Trust of Oregon has been focusing on for the past couple of years. We find that happy customers are generally the best spokespeople for your work and they can help answer those questions that people have when they come to your website. They allow the solar contractor to provide saving information for past projects they’ve done which helps with some of those financial questions. And it also helps humanize what might otherwise be a pretty technical product investment for a business owner or a home owner. We find that success stories help prospective customers really identify with people that are out there. And once they see themselves in those people, it makes it easier to take that next step to getting in touch.

Ben: I think those success stories they really line up with the user profiles that a contractor either knows that they’ve done business with in the past, or potentially those that they really want to resonate with. And you asked about tools of how to develop customer profiles, and I wish there was a push button way to really develop those. A lot of that is just experience and knowing who you’re currently resonating with. And a good way to do that is actually with Google Analytics. Looking at the folks that are going to your website, currently those that are taking actions to maybe request further conversations or quotes. But that’ll only give you a picture of who you’re resonating with right now. The challenge is there might be a market that you’re trying to hit that you’re just not right now, and that’s where really it’s kind of roll up your sleeves type of work to understand, “Okay, we need to be talking to this particular audience so we need to shift some of the content on our website to speak directly to them.”

Glenna: Well, that’s just like a perfect lead in and I didn’t even pay you to say that. A perfect lead into our March 24 webinar where we’re going to be talking about how to develop those customer profiles, and I think you bring up a great point to sift through and filter out that Google Analytics data. A really important note there for everyone listening, is make sure you’re tracking your Google Analytics. Make sure that your website has that coding in it. Make sure your website is connected to Google Webmaster. Make sure that you’ve got all these free tools out there to lock into and gather data for you, and then you’ve just got to figure out how to spend some time and figure out the best way to translate that data so that it helps you to make meaningful decisions.

Commercial B2B website content Identity3 TwitterTips for Commercial B2B Website Content
And I think when we’re talking about customer profiles, you’ve made a great point, Ben, that you’ve got your groups, your demographic groups that you’re focusing on to increase the number of customers that you have that you’ve already had success with. And these success stories, I think, are a great way to translate in a very human way content that people will find appealing. And then you’ve got commercial as a big area. Any tips on the commercial client content that you think maybe differs from the consumer content?

Ben: Commercial is definitely a much different audience. Typically, you have a more, let’s say, educated consumer that is actually looking for more financial benefit. So I think when we go into the commercial side you shift from less emotional to more of a rational benefit. And while you can’t say specifically, “This is what we’re going to do for your business,” you can outline in a process that will get there, and that’s what’s more important to those commercial clients. Success stories resonate really well on the commercial side also, but they’re more focused on, “What’s the steps? What’s my return on investment? And what’s the overall process that gets us there without affecting my core business?” And I think that last point on the commercial side is they want to save money but they’re not in the solar business. They’re in the widget-making business, or what have you. So I think that on the commercial side it’s really just more of a shift from emotional to more rational.

Glenna: I think there’s another kind of interesting pivot with commercial, too, because unless you’ve got a consumer who’s actually referring, and I think the websites really need to have strong mechanisms for referrals to create easy referrals, the other side of it is that commercial is maybe more open to public relations, events like ribbon-cuttings. They’re interested in that bottom line but the triple bottom line also then explores more sustainability and they want to bring promotional exposure to their businesses.

Brand Consistency Online
And so there’s an opportunity for contractors to do a better job with PR around that, then that means that their website has to incorporate public relations and social media and those kinds of mechanisms for that kind of content. How do you see that?

Ben: That entire ecosystem all fits together. You mentioned something, Glenna, about for the commercial business specifically, is the person, the decision-maker within that business is typically not doing research first on the web to find businesses. They’re asking friends, they’re going to trade shows. So the website and social media become reinforcements to that initial interaction for interested parties. So you want to have that website reflect exactly what you’re talking about at trade shows, what you’re putting out on social media. All of those things really have to fit together in a cohesive manner.

Website Tool Tips
That sounds hard and it can be. It can be hard to start but there are a lot of tools out there to take blog posts that you put on your website and streamline that to social media, or automatic ways to tweak things out to social media so that you can setup this ecosystem in a way that is more automated, create content once and distribute it multiple places so that you’re really getting that bang for the buck.

Glenna: So we’ve been touching on some website fundamentals related to success stories and making sure that your website consistently presents your company in line with where else the prospect might be seeing you. What other website fundamentals would you recommend to the, can I steal it, ecosystem of solar contractors in Oregon and the northwest?

Ben: There are a ton of great tools out on the web speaking specifically about websites. Gone are the days where you had to hire a website developer to create your online presence. We say that, we’re in that business too, and on the smaller end, if you’re a contractor just starting out there are tools like Squarespace or Wix or WordPress that allow anyone, and I mean anyone, to go on and create a professional-looking website. And as long as you can write the content that resonates with them, you have 90% of the job done including SEO optimization, connecting to social media accounts. They do make it really easy to do that.

So if you’re just starting, some of those tools, again the Squarespace, Wix, WordPress, those are great tools to start with. And then as you evolve going to a content management system, WordPress is certainly our favorite here, and have somebody managing that on a day-to-day level if you go from small to a medium size, those tools out there really do help shape those best practices you should be doing and give you the guardrails to allow you to kind of follow on that path. So those are great tools just to start. And I know you guys have talked about WordPress in previous podcasts and we would wholeheartedly support that recommendation.

Glenna: We want to make sure that we delivered on our promise to give the solar contractors tips to demystify the sort of solar education process via their website, and we’ve touched on success stories. I think in the commercial space case studies are a great way to show how even if you’ve only got one so far. Start with that, get it up on your website, use it to help commercial clients understand that you “You do this kind of work. You do understand this space.” That’s kind of a success story version for commercial.

Ben: Right.

Testing Strategies to Ensure Website Content Resonates with Targeted ProspectsTesting Strategies to Ensure Website Content Resonates with Targeted Prospects
Glenna: Or public sector for that matter. What other kinds of recommendations would you have to help solar contractors use their websites to educate prospects and speak in consumer-friendly terms?

Ben: We mentioned on the upfront that the sales folks or the leadership within the solar contractor space really are the ones having those conversations with consumers or commercial clients. So that’s the best source of gathering that data or content.

From there, really shaping that in a way that’s meaningful is the second step. But the third step, and one that we haven’t talked about, is testing that. Testing that content the way that you wrote it, or the visuals that you’re using, with either actual customers or potential customers to make sure that it resonates. And I can’t say this enough that that is probably the most important step before ever really releasing this content, is to make sure that it’s going after getting to the core of the audience that you want it to.

And there’s no better way than just an in-person conversation, “This is what we’re proposing putting up on our website. You, as somebody who’s a part of our target audience, give us some feedback. Are there things that, if it’s an actual customer, are there things that we did for you that we should highlight? Are there other things that you thought about when you’re making this purchase decision that we need to incorporate?” And that is at the core.

There is nothing better than getting people who line up with your core audience to test your website, and you’ll get amazing feedback that will ultimately make it better. And I think that too often people will just put up content on their website and that’s it, and maybe will revisit it a year later. That isn’t the case or shouldn’t be the case. It should be tested often and making sure it’s ringing true.

Glenna: Well, I think you make an incredible point here, Ben. So you’re talking about get prospects into your office, or take your laptop out to their home or their office and sit with them, but them a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie, and sit with them and go through the website together before it goes live.

Tool Tip: UserTesting.com

Ben: That is the easiest way to do it, but there are also other tools. If you’re a medium-size or larger business there are tools like UserTesting.com that will allow you to do that in an automated fashion. So if you really want the broader rich to areas that you don’t have right now, I would check out that tool. It allows you to actually watch somebody navigate your website and give verbal feedback on what they’re seeing, and that’s a tool that we use quite a bit here at Pollinate, and just enables you to automate those as close as you can to those in-person conversations.

Glenna: So you’re really talking here about a tool that will take sort of the Google Analytics, because you can learn a lot about how someone is navigating your site, how long they’re staying on a page, are they dropping off the page, you can setup goals, if you’ve converted them to, say, subscribe to a newsletter or fill in a form. So you’re talking about building on that Google Analytics data and taking it another step forward.

Ben: You’re right. Google Analytics will give you really the objective version of what somebody is doing on your website, like what did they click on, where did they go, where did they drop off. But what’s missing there is that subjective analysis, is what did they really think when they were going through your website. And that in combination with the objective side will just give you a complete picture and give you the confidence to know that you’re resonating or not.

Glenna: Well, and I think you bring up an excellent point because it’s kind of analogous to sending out a survey via Survey Monkey and then doing phone interviews.

Ben: Correct.

Glenna: Solar contractors of all sizes can use those tools, right? Those are not tools that are expensive, and certainly time to either hire someone to ask objective questions and get feedback and record those answers so that you can actually learn a lot of information, and then marry that to, “Okay, who filled out the survey? Or what’s going on related to the feedback that we’ve gotten?” You’re talking about the same kind of put together the objective data that you get with Google Analytics and UserTesting.com and marry that with the subjective content that you get in one-on-one calls or appointments. Do I have it right?

Ben: You get it. You have it right. And, ultimately, I think most people’s goals are going to be exactly the same whether it’s a residential consumer or commercial. We want a lead, and so we’re optimizing our website to just have that next step in-person conversation or email to really get the ball rolling. So, ultimately, that’s likely going to be the objective for somebody whether it’s the first time somebody visits the site or the third time. Ultimately we want to get that lead and follow up on it.

Glenna: And I think the points that you make about spending time with your prospects, your customers and getting their feedback on, “Does this language of this site, does it really communicate all of the value benefits of solar in a way that appeals to me that it makes it easy for me to understand?” You’ve talked about calculator tools that help me calculate without any pressure from a salesperson whether or not solar is viable for me. Certainly those are tools that solar contractors can use to create a customer-friendly environment on their website. Is there anything else that you might want to mention here while we’ve got you on the podcast?

Ben: Well I think that we covered a lot of ground in this short amount of time. I think, for us, we definitely hit the highlights.

Glenna: All right. Well, Ben, please tell us the best way for our listeners to reach the Pollinate team.

Ben: The best way is our website Pollinate.com.

Glenna: Excellent. I’m Glenna Wiseman with Identity3 working with Energy Trust of Oregon, and today we’ve had the distinct pleasure of talking with Marci Marshall and Ben Waldron of Pollinate, an award-winning agency in Portland, Oregon. Thank you so much.

Ben: Thank you, Glenna.

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.