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A well-defined Brand is a major asset in the alternative energy industry

By Carmen Swartz

As we talked about in the previous column in enerG, effective brand communications can deliver a definite advantage to companies in the alternative energy sector.

Effective execution of brand communications is in the details.

Brand definition involves significant research and information gathering. The organization must know and understand its purpose. Why do employees come to work each day (besides making money)? What are the company's natural strengths and competencies? What is the essence of the business-the core truth? This must be true and organic-a brand is not a veneer.

Understanding the company's audience(s) is critical. Many companies neglect to do this simple task: talk to their audience. Find out what their perception is of the organization's value. Understand their decision-making processes. Know their position and the threats that they face, as well as identify opportunities.

It is not enough to merely know demographics such as who the audience is, where they are, their age, gender and other details. Knowing how they behave and why they behave that way is critical. It is important to study customers in their environment and learn their attitudes, values, knowledge, interests and preferences.

Many companies try to compete on features and benefits, especially in the alternative energy industry. Every company says they are available 24/7, professional, deliver on time, results-oriented, experienced, innovative, safety conscious, experienced, and on. But what truly makes a solar or wind power company unique? It is not features and benefits. Instead, it is what the company stands for, or the positioning of the company.

What position does the organization own in the minds of the audience? Done right, the company will be preferred, or chosen, before it ever knows that it is in contention. In other words, with a trusted brand, companies win business before the sales pitch. The prospect will spend his time during the pitch confirming what he believes to be true from his perception of the brand, rather than deciding between alternatives.

This happens because of the position the brand owns in their mind. Buyers make decisions based on emotional (non-rational) feelings. That's why people choose brands they trust.

In an industry like the alternative energy industry, full of engineers and technical salespeople, most want to use specifications and facts to sell. The reality, though, is that we are all humans-and we make decisions based on emotion and relationships. The majority of us want to do business with people we like and a company we trust.

It is also important to know the company's competitors. Keep friends close and enemies closer. Learn about their communications, positioning, and competitive advantages. This is not to react to or follow them, but rather to outsmart them with a strategy built on the true and organic foundation of the company's brand.

A great brand not only drives sales, it adds material value to the business. Brand is as much an asset as employees, facilities or computer networks.

According to estimates, the average market value of well-branded companies is about 70 percent greater than the value of their tangible assets.

A well-defined brand is clear in its focus: When a customer thinks about a specific product or service they want, the brand is at the top of the limited list of options. This mindshare, or position, has significant intrinsic value*, as illustrated below:

IBM $57.1 billion brand value
GE $51.5 billion brand value
UPS  $12.0 billion brand value
BP $3.8 billion brand value
Shell $3.3 billion brand value

Why do distributors proudly display the Sharp or Uni-Solar brandmarks on their booths at a solar trade show? Because Sharp and Uni-Solar are trusted brands in the industry and distributors know there is significant value in being associated with them. This is brand value and you can bet that Sharp and Uni-Solar understand the value of their brands. Their brands are so valuable that their customers actually advertise for them.

The bottom line is this: To gain an advantage in the marketplace, don't be afraid to put stakes in the ground. Define your brand and communicate it well and consistently. Make communications a priority and execute with precision.

Carmen Swartz is a principal and brand strategist at ELEMENTS, a renewable energy brand communications firm. She can be reached at [email protected].

* Interbrand and BusinessWeek, Best Global Brands 2007 Report. Retrieved February 1, 2008 from www.interbrand.com.

January/February 2009