The Solar Customer’s Hero’s Journey

 By Fred Greenhalgh, ReVision Energy

About Fred: Fred is the Digital Marketing Manager of ReVision Energy, which serves ME, NH, VT, and MA. Revision Energy was featured on the Cover of Solar Pro magazine, in no small part due to their ‘viral’ music video, “The Cover of the Solar Pro,” performed by the ReVisionistas and produced by Fred.  Naturally, Fred lives off-grid in the woods of Maine.

Note that this article was originally published at Renewable Energy World on February 4th, 2015. Republished by OnGrid (because we really like it) with the author’s permission.


Most of us in the solar field see ourselves as renewable energy warriors, working every day to thwart the dastardly deeds of fossil fuel energy, to disrupt utility monopolies, and to provide our customers with the gold from the slain dragons’ coffers – free solar electricity!

But are we doing a good job making our customers feel like heroes?

Inspired by the work of the Content Marketing Institute and thought-leaders like Seth Godin, I’ve retouched the thinking of Joseph Campbell’s mono-myth to form the “Solar Customer’s Hero’s Journey” – and thought that you, too, might need to hear its call.  Mighty solar warrior… you are but the Obi Wan Kenobi, and your customer is Luke (or Lucille) Skywalker.

Grab a walking stick and join me for the adventure.



The Call to Solar

Picture3In our world, we live and breathe ITC, dual MPPT, SRECs, bypass diodes, rail-grounding and understand the vast difference between nameplate ratings and real-world performance – yet the average homeowner still doesn’t understand what the heck a kilowatt is.

But then… Luke Skywalker didn’t know about the Evil Empire, lightsabers, or The Force, and maybe he still doesn’t know exactly what midi-chlorians are, but by the end of his journey he was able to transform from farm-boy to hero.  While we don’t exactly expect our customers to single handedly take down the forces of The Empire of Fossil Fuels (though that would be kind of cool), we do expect that by the end of their sales journey that they’ll be transformed. They’ll have gone from people generally unaware of how electricity is made and financially exposed to the vagaries of utility energy markets. After interconnection, they will become potential solar heroes who will champion our cause—your cause—to their friends and neighbors.

This solar customer journey starts with the moment of truth: The Call to Solar.

In Campbell’s monomyth, the classic ‘call to adventure’ involves some initiating event where the world of normalcy is stripped away.   A stranger comes to town.  A letter arrives in the mail.  A bunch of random robots show up in the desert.

For our solar customers, it’s not so different.   Maybe that letter in the mail is an unbelievably high electric bill – something that inspires them to type ‘help with high electric bill’ into a search engine.  Maybe it’s a booth at a tradeshow that catches their eye.  Maybe it’s a solar energy truck that’s showing up on their street to install for a neighbor.  A photo on Facebook or a Vine video of a friend’s solar install.

There are dozens of ways for someone to first encounter the world of solar, but what we as marketers need to understand is that it is the unknown.  We are not selling Campbell’s Soup or bars of soap.  The vast majority of the populous has never had to think about energy except in the ‘turn it on, there it is’ way, and the concept of going solar opens up a whole world of possibilities, myths, and questions.

Don’t think “We need customers how can we get customers let’s pay to get customers” think – “How can I be the most valuable and trusted advisor someone will find when they are ready to embark on this solar journey?”

Some pro tips:

  • Make it easy to find you – “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear… Unless of course the teacher has a terrible website that ranks poorly in Google.” Know that SEO black magic no longer works but Google is happier than ever to rank quality, educational information about solar’s benefits.
  • Make the first impression of your company positive – The solar heroine will be looking for a good mentor. Everything from your website, the dress and professionalism of your install crews, to the way you answer your phone says either “Yes you can trust me” or “No this is scarier than you think run away.”
  • Cast a wide net – Future customers may initially refuse the ‘Call to Solar,’ so be sure that you have ways to stay in touch for when they are ready to start their journey. We use monthly newsletters and social media as a way to stay in touch with people who are still 3-5 years away from going solar the first time we meet them.

Helpers and Mentors

Picture4Once the would-be solar hero crosses the threshold from the known (high electric bills, fossil fuel dependency) into the unknown (clean, reliable electricity, fixed long-term costs of energy), there is a journey ahead of them, fraught with perils that will lead them astray (‘Will it cost too much!’ ‘What if I need to sell the house!’ ‘Is it really going to work the way you say it will?’).  There are electric bills to dig up, technology to understand, paperwork to sign and file.

Here your team – and your marketing materials – form the whole supporting cast of Star Wars… Your sales team is both Obi Wan and Yoda, guiding the young hero towards understanding the power of solar and how to resist the temptations of the evil fossil fuel side (do nothing, doooo nothing!).  Your website can be your R2D2, ready to help out with whatever information is needed to support the efforts of your heroes – reliable, searchable, and, while robotic, does have a sense of personality.  And the Ewoks, eh… well the Ewoks maybe are the cute furry things you post to Facebook or bring to trade shows to get people to stop by your booth.

How to support your customers with Helpers and Mentors:

  • This is about them, not you. You should not be ‘selling’ solar, you should be inspiring people to go solar.  Solar sells itself.  Trouble coming up with blog topics? Listen to the questions your office staff is answering and write blogs about them.
  • Sales teams should have awesome websites, flyers, videos, photos, and other collateral so they can slash down trolls and ogres when they appear in your customers path (“I heard all about Solyndra, does that mean solar sucks?” “I heard going solar will make it harder to sell my home, is that true?”) It is much easier to send a link to an article or show a video than it is to train 50 people how to answer the same question well.  Plus, all that content helps people who discover you for the first time.
  • Be human. Even though the money needs to work, people ultimately make most purchasing decisions for emotional, not rational, reasons.  You think you can’t sell a product that costs more than the other product?  Then why do people line up before dawn to get the latest Apple gadget?  Be the company that people want to do business with.

The Moment of Revelation / Transformation

Thanks to your awesome solar mentors and helpers, the road to solar is a lot easier than the stuff of legend, and the heroine of the solar journey makes the call to your sales rep and says – “Yes, let’s get this thing started!”  Congrats!  You have done well today.

Your solar hero will never be more excited than she is today.  Capture that energy and help facilitate it.  You have the opportunity to help them become your greatest marketing force or to sour the whole experience.

We’re lucky in that our product is not just a new color paint on the wall or that new deck.  This is a purchase that means something –for some, a tangible way to slow the advance of climate change; for others, the opportunity to shuck the reins of the utility company and generate their own energy.  Know your customer well, and help them tell their story, which is, in turn, your story.

  • ‘Nudge’ customers to use social media and talk about you. I mean, they already are talking about you, whether you like it or not, so you might as well be part of the conversation.  Heroes are often eager to show off installed photos or to be profiled in case studies.
  • Ensure the customer experience of the install team is incredible. If you have promised a fantastic journey and then your new solar hero is let down when they’re finally about to experience their own solar, this will negatively shape their perception of the entire process.
  • Keep up the excitement. Now is a great time to make an ‘ask’ for referrals or follow-up marketing events, like open houses. We have recently discovered the social site Generaytor and are eager to get our solar heroes on it, chatting with each other, fostering connections within the tribe.  Going solar is not just about being the hero of your own story, it’s about joining a community of fellow warriors on the path to a cleaner planet.


Marketing is storytelling.  Story is the narrative structure that we humans use to make order out of chaos.  Never underestimate its importance.

The status quo has both a powerful story, and the power of inertia.  Even though it’s painful to pay for electric bills, it’s still easier to just go ahead and pay them.   People are always trying to make a better life for themselves, but they are also just trying to get through the day.

It surprises me just how bad solar marketing can be sometimes. Most often, the reason is because marketers make the product or service the hero, not the customers and their experiences going solar.  Make the customers the heroes.  Celebrate their desire to go solar, empower them with information, and give them the tools they need to slay the dragons – and your army of solar warriors will soon be great in number.



Originally published and featured at Renewable Energy World on 2/4/15

Evan Nicoles, 3/18/16