Category: Energy

Doing Good Is Good For Your Business: Communications Tips for Framing Sustainability to Consumers

sustainable marketing campaign tips

“Tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century (and it’s also the right thing to do.)”

The above statement was from a different time—five years ago, to be exact. BICEP, Ceres’ business division, was working on a campaign* to rally the private sector to influence public sector action on climate change. BICEP opted for a no-nonsense sustainability marketing campaign and message about the economic benefits of sustainable business (of which the above sentence was the opener) and a shareable medium (a digital Declaration of beliefs). Within months of launching, hundreds of CEOs of companies from Mars to Starbucks to GM signed, shared, and even replicated the Declaration. It made it to Washington and into President Obama’s speech at Georgetown University, ultimately providing the President with ample political cover for pushing through legislation to limit fossil fuels and consequently supporting businesses with responsible agendas.

I’ll say it again—what a different time we live in today.

The good news is that this statement is no less true than it was five years ago, and that sustainability commitments—of the environmental, social, and economic varieties—have become embedded into modern business practices. The bad news is that the rift between the public and private spheres means that receptivity to a sustainability-centered agenda at the national level is unlikely. Now, it’s imperative that business leaders double down on talking the talk as well as they are walking the CSR walk to influence the ultimate power player: the American consumer. After all, the conditions are perfect. 63% of Americans are looking to the private sector to take the lead on sustainability going forward, and 87% are ready to support the businesses that step up.1

Borrowing from our work with Challenger brands in the clean energy and social sectors as well as best practices from the consumer brands that we admire, here are some high-level tips for furthering your sustainability-driven value proposition with communications.

The best way to talk about sustainability may be to not talk about sustainability at all.

64% of consumers who would otherwise be your evangelists will ignore the entirety of your communications if they include difficult-to-understand terms.2 After decades of overuse and misuse, “sustainability” is one of those terms. While basic education can help to fill the understanding gap, showing what sustainability means to the consumer speaks even louder than the word. For example, GE and Unilever are two heavyweights that integrate impactful proof-points around their sustainable innovation and food waste reduction programs directly into product communications and packaging.

Prioritize your sustainability marketing campaign around the top 10 emotional triggers.

A recent Harvard Business Review study3 surfaced hundreds of motivations that drive purchasing behavior across industries. In particular, 10 “high impact” motivators significantly affected customer value across all categories—and all are emotional triggers. Communications around corporate sustainability efforts don’t need to be ‘corporate’ to convert. Case in point: our recent work with MIT to market their sustainability initiative took an intellectual argument—capitalism as the engine for sustainability—and brought it to life in a conversational, power word4-filled narrative that conjured a cleaner, fairer world and compelled our audience to buy into MIT’s solution to get there.

Be okay with being real in communications.

Most Americans today just want a reality check—in fact, 90% of them say that it is okay if a company is not a perfect, as long as it is honest. Patagonia has long been heralded for a brand-level commitment to “radical transparency” and nowhere is this clearer than in the Footprint Chronicles. Launched in 2007, the multi-year campaign reveals stories of the company’s work to create a sustainable supply chain, and the practices—good and bad—that go into each of their products. Today, the Chronicles are woven into the shopping experience, inform product improvements, and fuel customer engagement. Proof that being real has business benefits (and it really IS the right thing to do).

Speaking of, there has never been a better time to be committed—as a business leader—to doing what’s right. And there’s never been a more important time to keep the conversation around sustainability going. Here’s hoping that this provides a bit of inspiration to keep moving in the right direction.

*Captains served as marketing partner to BICEP on the Climate Change Declaration.

Ted Page presents at the Clean Tech Open

On June 27th, One of our Founders & Principal, Ted Page, presented a talk on clean energy branding and marketing at the Clean Tech Open’s East Coast Academy. Ted was invited to talk about storytelling for clean energy companies – focusing on how startups like those in the Clean Tech Open’s program can better tell their story to get funding, new customers, and build market share. Ted spoke during a full day of presentations from clean energy and sustainability leaders, providing valuable information to help promising clean energy startups develop their products and successfully enter the market.

Ted provided several examples of Captains work—including a valuable comparison of wind company branding and marketing strategy—and shared some important strategies and frameworks for clearly communicating value to potential partners and customers. After the presentation the audience of clean energy startup founders shared their questions and concerns on building their own brands, and joined in some group critique of example pitches, energy website design and messaging, and company naming.

In addition to Ted’s presentation, Captains has two of our leaders currently acting as mentors for the Clean Tech Open. Ted Dillon, Managing Director is advising QBA on marketing strategy and audience development. Zoe Moutsos, Group Director, is working with COMPANY on storytelling and marketing strategy.

Clift Jones addresses energy executives on the importance of brand strategy

energy executives on branding

On May 16th, our President & CEO, Clift Jones, presented and moderated a panel in front of several hundred of the country’s most prominent energy executives. At DNV GL’s Energy Executive Forum in Orange County, CA, Clift discussed the importance of communications and brand in the energy sector.
In his talk “Your Next Customer: Building a narrative-driven brand strategy,” Clift shared his perspective from having worked with large multinational organizations/corporations like General Motors, Anheuser-Busch, The Gates Foundations and dozens of consumer brands like Converse, Cadillac, (RED), Palm, and TIAA-CREF. According to Clift, “In a space ripe for re-invention, a strong energy brand can be a strategic weapon for engaging the newly-empowered energy consumer. It can mean the difference between keeping your customers, and losing them to new and unexpected competitors.” After the presentation, Clift moderated a panel of energy executives discussing how customer communication and brand perception will help some companies stand out, and cause others to fail.
DNV GL’s Energy Executive Forum brings together energy executives from utilities, renewable energy, Internet of Things and energy retailers to discuss the future of energy. The conference centers around energy Convergence – or the dynamic shifts occurring in the energy landscape as new technology and new products allow the energy consumer to have a voice and choice like never before. According to DNV GL, bringing executives together under one roof for open dialogue and debate is the best way for energy companies to innovate. Executives spent three days in Orange County. Other presenters included Apple, Gap and Tesla innovator George Blankenship (credited with inventing the Apple store), Carole Barbeau, President of Energy Advisory for DNV GL, and Lawerence Makovich, Chief Power Strategiest at IHS.

5 ways solar energy companies can crush it with their marketing

Yesterday, I received another direct mail letter from a solar company.

Massachusetts set a record for new solar capacity in 2014, with more strong growth on the way. But with this growth has come increased competition among installers, both commercial and residential.

How can any one solar company use marketing to stand out and capture more of this hot market?

The challenge is daunting because of the nature of solar energy itself:

Nobody owns the sun, and one company’s clean electrons are identical to another’s. Remember that oil companies have spent billions of dollars over a one hundred year period to effectively brand their supposedly unique kind of fuel. Every time we pull into a gas station, we’re making a subconscious decision to choose one brand over another, when the reality is that gas is gas.

But Shell has ‘V Power’!

The solar industry, by comparison, is still relatively new, and many companies are searching for their own version of ‘V Power’.

shell v power - energy marketing

Based on Captains of Industry’s experience in branding and marketing for renewable energy companies, I’ve put together this guide.

NOTE: I’m focusing specifically on Massachusetts because, as you’ll see, the local aspects of solar energy marketing are important, although these tips can be customized for any state.

1. Research the customer’s mindset in each local market.

A lot of companies jump into making direct mail pieces and websites before they really understand who they are talking to, what matters to them, and what they think is true about solar energy.

Many of these beliefs are local in nature.

When my company conducted focus groups of consumers in the Northeast, we found that people thought the solar panels were prohibitively expensive.

They liked the idea of solar, but didn’t want to jump into making a $40,000 investment.

I suspect that research of the California residential market’s consumer mindsets would be very different, because there’s simply more awareness there of the fact that these days, there’s no need to actually purchase the solar panels. All kinds of lease options are available.

But does someone in your target market know this? Maybe not so much.

Understanding your customers’ beliefs and desires, locally, is an essential first step that will lead towards creating your key message.

2. Nail your message.

Ever see an American tourist in Paris speak English louder in the hopes that the French will understand them? That’s the same dynamic employed by most marketers: keep shouting your message and enough people will get it. A better path is creating a message based on what will work with consumers in one local area.

Let’s take my town, Lexington.

I received a mailer from a solar company yesterday with an envelope teaser headline that read, “Use the sun to lower your electric bill.”

First off, the message is generic.

Any solar company could say the exact same thing. But just as important, the message itself didn’t take into account the reality that most residential customers in my town still think they have to make a big up front investment. If a consumer thinks they have to spend a lot of money, then cutting their electric bill as a message isn’t enough. It could take ten to twenty years to get payback, so why do it? Having explanatory copy on a website is one step too far for most consumers: that’s why the key message has to be the first message. It’s the one thing your customer must know in order to drive them to seek out your content.

Here’s an example of a message that would get the attention of someone in my town:

Your Lexington electricity rate jumped 39% in 2014. Here’s how to lower it—without buying solar panels.

So, right off the bat, I know this company is talking directly to me, in my hometown. This feels relevant and timely. This company has done their homework. While a lot of people have experienced sticker shock when they’ve opened their electric bills recently, many are not aware that their rates have in fact gone up this much (it’s crazy, actually). So the message feels startling and gets my attention.

Then they pay off their headline:

Inside this letter is information that can help me save money. Everybody wants to save money. And I won’t have to invest in solar panels? Tell me more.

3. Use valuable content to show your difference.

If all clean electrons are the same, you have to give your brand a halo that helps you be different and more attractive to just the right audience.

But how can you give your brand a halo?

I suggest that you make this difference something other than a 2015 version of ‘V Power’, the standard ad industry gloss that worked in the 20th century.

What works today is to share your company’s values in a way that is genuine, deep, and transparent.

Consumers want to buy from companies who share their beliefs. They want to see your people and what makes them tick. They want to see your vision and mission, not just a piece of junk mail. For example, a solar company could state their mission as “to lower electric costs for every American.”

The company can live this mission by (as just one idea): having a customer referral program based on providing free solar power to low income people in underserved communities.

When a current customer in Lexington refers a neighbor to the solar company, the company makes a contribution towards a fund that goes towards installing free solar panels for a family that’s having a hard time making ends meet. The company’s website can share a whole range of content that shows how this mission is being carried out in Massachusetts, including videos of the families participating in the program.

Suddenly, what at first appears to be a generic electron becomes something much greater: the embodiment of a mission.

That’s today’s ‘V Power’.

4. Stop selling and start educating.

Before consumers buy, they seek knowledge.

They ask their friends, and they go on the web to do a search. But most solar companies are still in the business of selling, forgetting that there is a big knowledge vacuum. So when a web search happens, what comes up (more often than not) are sales offers.

This is the Speaking-English-Louder-in-Paris (SELP) phenomenon, updated for Google.

When I did a web search just now for “Solar Lexington”, not one residential solar company appears on page one of search results.

Not a single one.

This is a huge opportunity for a solar company to create and publish content that appeals to people in their local communities.

Picture this: an eBook (basically a .pdf file with copy, illustrations and web links), that’s customized for my hometown, with timely, in-depth information on my solar options.

Sure, it’s published by a solar installer, and has their contact information on it, but there’s nothing “salesy” about it.

The knowledge is provided as a service.

And by the way, there’s a mention in the back of the book about a solar company’s referral program to help poor families get free electric power.

This is the company I would choose to work with, versus the one that just sent one more generic sales flyer to my house. Content of this nature can be published without the cost of postal mailings, or the cost of paid ads.

And, it has the added benefit of actually working.

5. Ride the locavore movement.

My hometown, like an increasing number of similar towns in Massachusetts, is into the idea of locally grown fruits and vegetables. There’s actually a weekly farmers’ market down the street from my house.

I love it.

My wife and I get a chance to not only buy amazing produce, but we get to meet the farmers and artisans as well – and they are great people. This puts a face on each company, a personality that matters when we’re choosing what to buy.

You know what else is local? Clean energy.

Solar companies should consider setting up their own booths at local farmers markets, positioning their brand of solar as another kind of local, green, affordable produce.

Call it “fresh energy.”

This creates a close link to the values of customers who want to save money and help the environment at the same time. And it demonstrates that the solar company understands how to make solar work in their town, and that they care about the local environment.

This is how change happens.

In Closing…

These five tips are by no means meant to be comprehensive. There are many other important ways for solar companies to stand out. Some companies are already rising to the top due to their sheer size and marketing muscle, like SunRun and SolarCity.

But, there’s still a tremendous opportunity for challenger brands who want to think about marketing differently to take on the giants and win.

If you want to learn more on renewable energy marketing: download Captains of Industry’s free e-book – Branding & Marketing for Clean Energy Companies.

The Energy Marketing Agencies List

energy marketing agencies - captains of industryThe energy landscape—particularly in the Unites States—is going through a profound shift. This requires companies to communicate differently.

Enter an energy marketing agency.

Over the past five years we saw a rise in smart meter implementation across the country, wind and solar energy are now at a place where they’re financially self-sustaining, and we’re beginning to see growth in the use of electric cars and advanced battery practices. With all this change there’s an increased need for smart, sophisticated marketing and communications to speak to energy consumers, utility managers, project developers or financiers.

There are some great energy marketing agencies out there to help you do this.

I’ve complied a list of all the energy sector communications specialists I know of and admire in the US.

Truth in advertising disclaimer: one of these companies is my own (Captains of Industry), but the reality is that ALL of the agencies I’ve listed here bring something different to the table and are worthy of your consideration as you start to look for a partner to help you communicate effectively.

If you’re a company in the energy sector looking for communications or marketing help, here’s some places you can go.

Energy Marketing Agencies

  • Captains of Industry
    Captains of Industry (that’s us!) is a creative content marketing firm that works with challenger brands. We specialize in energy sector communications. We’ve done successful marketing for companies focusing on wind, solar, demand response, energy consulting, electric cars, battery technology and more. Check our more details around our energy sector marketing case studies.
  • The McDonnell Group
    As the leading integrated marketing firm for the energy industry, we provide a full range of marketing services designed to build the value of your company. With actionable research, powerful strategy, dynamic branding, and creative marketing and communications, we can help you build an integrated, results-driven marketing program to know more, do more, and be more.
  • FleishmanHillard
    Secure. Sustainable. Affordable. Society increasingly demands energy that is secure, sustainable and affordable. FleishmanHillard can help energy clients manage stakeholder expectations created by these often competing demands. FleishmanHillard’s global energy and utilities team provides the counsel today’s organizations need to successfully operate in an environment demanding transparency and high levels of accountability.
  • Antenna Group
    Antenna is a full-service, strategic communications firm specialized in emerging and established energy technology and high technology companies. Widely recognized within media, financial and industry circles as the go-to firm for public relations.
  • The Energy Agency
    As the first firm focused exclusively on the energy industry, we develop creative marketing solutions to facilitate meaningful brand interaction.
  • Edelman
    In 1952, Dan Edelman planted the seed for a new kind of company – one that would redefine the role of public relations. Sixty years later, we continue to push the boundaries of what PR can do. Grounded by our core values and strengthened by our independence, we help clients communicate, engage and build relationships with their stakeholders.
  • Shelton Group
    Are you trying to build a brand around energy responsibility and sustainability? Shelton Group understands your marketing challenges like no other agency. We’re the nation’s leading marketing communications firm focused exclusively on energy and the environment – you’re the reason we exist.
  • Saxum
    Our experienced energy communication strategists understand what it takes to break through. We can help your organization inspire change among internal stakeholders, build awareness and demand for products and services, navigate the unique pressures of investor communications and win the hearts and minds of stakeholders in critical areas of operation.
  • M/C/C
    We’ve provided complete, integrated marketing communication services both for energy companies and for clients needing to reach energy companies, in areas ranging from traditional energy resources to today’s clean energy options.
  • The Merritt Group
    The energy industry will continue to evolve and therefore businesses must be ready to clearly articulate their vision for the industry and differentiate their position in the marketplace. Merritt Group provides a voice for innovative energy companies. We take complex technologies and services and make them accessible to the consumers, investors and policy makers that organizations must communicate with on a daily basis.

If you’re working with other marketing or communications firms in the energy sector that you think are great let me know, share in the comments section, and we’ll add them to the list!

Deepwater Wind VS. Cape Wind: The Power of Wind Company Branding

Cape Wind has been stalled for years and recently lost its contracts with utilities, a potential end to their dream of being (as their site currently claims) “America’s first offshore wind farm.” Deepwater Wind, however, recently got a green light on a major financing deal and will begin construction in 2015. Deepwater will in fact be America’s first offshore wind farm.

Why was one wind company brand successful while the other may fail? While many factors were at play, it’s clear to me that the power of wind company branding played a significant role. Full disclosure: my company created the brand for Deepwater Wind. I point this out not to boast, but to share with you some insights gleaned from the brand’s development that can help other companies be successful, whether they be in clean energy, automotive, or dog food.

First, take a look at the names and logos of each company. The Cape Wind name includes “Cape.” What does that name evoke? Sunny days at the beach. Relaxing by the water. Beautiful scenery. Now add “Wind” to “Cape.” Just the juxtaposition of the two implies the intrusion of wind turbines into our mental image of the Cape. The Cape Wind logo rubs beach sand into the wound by including a graphic of a big wind turbine. The project itself, which has been planned for Nantucket sound, hit a firewall of protest from day one, which continued for over a decade. Lawsuit after lawsuit, delay after delay. Why? The name and logo and the project had one thing in common: visibility. The turbines would be highly visible, and most people – rightly or wrongly – don’t find the turbines to be an appealing addition to the skyline.

Now look at the Deepwater Wind name and logo. The name “Deepwater” came about because the company had a technology that allowed them to erect turbines farther from shore, in deep water, where they would be less visible. “Deepwater” does not conjure images of a national treasure. It conveys a sense of, well, deep water. Places farther from shore. When you site a turbine in deep water farther off the coast, they tend to be in places with the wind is stronger, allowing for greater energy to be gathered efficiently and at lower cost. And most importantly, they’re less visible from shore. Note that there is no wind turbine in the Deepwater Wind logo. The word “wind” says enough, without emphasizing the one thing most people don’t like about wind energy – the big turbines. Note also the logo is in various shades of blue, a color that instills a sense of financial solidity and trust. In addition, the font we used is bold, conveying power. The upturned lines above the word “wind” convey a range of positive associations, such as waves cresting, and the rush of wind across the deep ocean waters. Everything about the Deepwater Wind name and logo mark makes you feel good about them. This is no accident. It’s by design.

Customers will only say “yes” to your company if they like you. To make this happen, your brand has to be engineered with as much thought and care as your technology. And the essential value of the brand has to run like an electric current through your whole company and culture. A great brand isn’t a label, it’s a true and compelling representation of what your company believes and values right down to your core.

To be clear, Deepwater Wind is a success many years in the making; they did a lot of things right, and their brand was only one of the things that played a role in their success. But what’s significant is that it was one of the first things they did right. They were able to build on this solid foundation to tell their story to the world and become a trailblazer in American clean energy.

If you’re interested in more information about wind company branding, check out our Branding & Marketing for Renewable Energy Companies eBook.

Content Marketing Tips for Clean Energy Marketing Segmentation Campaigns

Big data-fueled market segmentation is by no means new marketing strategy, but it is increasingly being exploited in sectors beyond consumer goods (e.g. clean energy marketing) to serve up targeted messages and content to niche audiences. Despite this positive shift towards brands providing more than coupons and product ads to consumers, the majority of segmentation infrastructures are still reliant on push marketing tricks—not adapted to a new era where people are savvy information seekers, resistant to being interrupted with generic directives. As content marketers, market segmentation is key to all of our content development efforts. But we do it—and think of it—differently.

Though there is always economy of scale to consider, our version of “market segmentation” is best represented in targeted message roadmaps and executions that help our clean energy clients reach their hardest-to-reach microswaths not by interruption, but by influence; providing material that is tailored to their distinct needs and designed to ameliorate their crucial pain points, wherever they are at on their conversion journeys. Our approach isn’t reliant on algorithmic wizardry, but rather on deeper storytelling—fostering authentic client-to-consumer conversations with distinct value adds, whether for wind and solar developers who are simultaneously cultivating investors while trying to get community buy in, or for utilities trying to incentivize energy efficiency updates for niche demographics. After all, the common push for reach and frequency only works if you are shooting in the loose direction of awareness and have low expectations. If you’re a clean energy brand seeking to move markets and change the world, you are going to need a tack that runs deeper than data to ensure that the right customers return to your brand, again and again.

Culled from our work with clients across the sector, here are some of our tips for crafting effective segmented messages and campaigns.

1) Make room for the “why”—even when you’re selling the “what”. In clean energy marketing, it’s tempting to talk to your end users in terms of what you do (whether that’s providing cost-par clean power, harvesting the inexhaustible resources overhead, or designing better panels and turbines) in order to highlight your competitive value proposition. But emphasizing the economics of renewables or technology innovations fails to recognize the bigger picture that fuels brand loyalty among niches of consumers—hungrier than ever for the big “why” behind “what” you do. As we were helping one of our wind clients articulate the value of their smaller, more efficient turbines among community audiences, we took their product-focused position on an infographic journey, matching needs and pain points to community health-focused messages to “bring clean, affordable energy home”. The result was that our client was able to sell out of their product for the subsequent year.

2) Harness good, ol’ fashioned, word-of-mouth sharing. Especially in the epoch of cross-channel campaigns, there’s significant power in the human distribution engine. When your brand is trying to reach valuable players with messages to augment awareness or close sales, it’s key to have representative stakeholders on your team—empowered, they will evangelize on your behalf to their peers (who are disproportionately likely to be your microaudiences, according to numerous social studies in “sorting”). Having an external advisory group who helped vet, refine, and share targeted brand messages amongst their networks was a crucial component in how we helped an energy consulting firm become the global thought leader among audiences interested in the smart grid (and grow their business by 15%) in one year.

3) The platform should serve the message (not the other way around). As new platforms and channels for sharing information are launched by the day, it’s easy to get swept up in snake oil promises of deeper engagement and more conversions with less effort. In our experience, the best way to increase conversions among niche audiences is to stay platform-agnostic and reallocate focus on getting the message right first—then determining the platform which has the lowest barrier for entry for its delivery. For a client looking to move the political gridlock in Washington around climate change, we crafted a strategy to entice a moderate-to-conservative set of global business leaders to rally behind tackling climate change. This came to life framed as “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities in the 21st century (and simply the right thing to do)”, served up in declaration form on our client’s website for quick and easy sign-ons. The result was that the declaration was signed by CEOs at over 800 global brands—plus consumers around the world—and made it to Washington, where President Obama referenced it to underscore the business community’s support of new rules to limit carbon pollution nationwide.

Want to learn more about how we help our clients in the clean energy space reach and influence niche audiences? Visit

News flash: Data visualization shows climate change denier’s million dollar estate under water

On Wednesday the Obama administration announced a new website created with data visualization tools to make it easier for Americans to see the effects of climate change on their communities ( ). True to a government made website, is very clugey to use, but after a bit of tinkering I was able to find an interesting mapping tool that showed the likely impact of sea level rise on coastal communities. But why pick just ANY coastal community to visualize? I zeroed in on the location for billionaire Bill Koch’s sixteen million dollar waterfront compound estate on the toney island of Oyster Harbors in Cape Cod. Koch, who made his money in the fossil fuel industry, thinks climate change is a liberal fiction, and will do whatever he can to stall the adoption of clean energy in America.

Well, I have bad news for you, Bill. According to the latest projections, sea level rise is happening even faster than scientists previously thought. Along the Massachusetts coastline projections show between a 3 and 6 foot rise between now and the end of this century. Using the data visualization tool, your estate is in serious jeopardy of being under water. I’m not talking about a mortgage being underwater – the kind of problem that hits regular folks. I’m saying your whole estate will very likely be under the Atlantic ocean, a kind of billionaire Atlantis.  I make this point not only because I strongly disagree with Mr. Koch’s climate change-denying beliefs, but also because the Climate.Data website needs to make it much easier for people to see how the un-checked changes hitting our atmosphere will affect us personally. Our houses, not just our regions or towns.  It would work like just enter your address and see if you’re property will be under water. An interactive map of this nature would be relatively easy to make, and would go a long way towards making climate change a real and urgent issue for more Americans. Maybe even Mr. Koch – although I doubt he’ll believe in climate change even with the waves are lapping at his leather armchair.

Check out what sea level rise could do to the Koch estate:

Mean Sea-level Rise | Boston, MA


sea level rise projected large_tcm3-27683


Projected Sea-level Rise | Boston, MA

Projected sea level rise by year 440_tcm3-27687