Monthly Archives: March 2010

Going off the Grid

Taking a long-overdue holiday until late next week. Can’t wait to see what transpires with the grid, wind and sun upon my return!

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The Power of Telling Sustainable Stories

With a nod to Park Howell, two news items from this week reinforced for me the power of telling the right story in order to energize sustainability initiatives.

* GE proactively started to help explain how the FCC National Broadband Plan – which on its surface would seem like a TV/Internet-centric initiative – actually had important long-term impact on the smart grid and individual energy consumption.  As Smart-Grid.TMCNet.Com’s Jon Arnold very keenly points out,

“…mainstream brands like GE are in the perfect spot to tell this story to the public, and show utilities why broadband has an important role to play in the smart grid. The stimulus funding has been welcome news for utilities, and part of the message here is to show that broadband will help them get a better return on this investment. In my view, if other major smart grid/energy players follow suit – IBM, Emerson, Cisco (NewsAlert), etc. – the message will become that much clearer, and more difficult for utilities to dismiss.”

Jon’s exactly right.  If these major brands get their marketing muscle behind this, utilities will have to take notice.

*The Governor’s Wind Energy Coalition publicly announced a call for a National Renewable Energy Standard.   They chose to focus their “story” on competition for jobs, a powerful message to rally their states and timely with Obama being called on to spur jobs instead of health care.

“The lack of a long-term renewable energy requirement in the United States is resulting in the loss of wind-manufacturing investments in our states to Europe and other areas,” the governors said in the report.”

Both of these examples boiled down diverse complex issues for different energy styles, trimming national storylines down to easy to digest messages for individuals:

1) Broadband= short and long-term benefits in all areas of your life

2) National standards can = jobs

And that’s the power of strong and clear marketing in sustainability.  Taking what can be overwhelming for average citizens and making it not only more understandable, but relevant and meaningful.

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Green Marketing – Entering the Wonder Years

In my day job I’m a VP at SHIFT Communications, and we’re diligently working to build a sustainable/green practice in our Boston office.  Through networking and good fortune we’ve had a string of interesting conversations with various prospects across the spectrum – wind, solar, electric and even sustainable research.  What’s stood out without fail in these meetings is:

* Boston is one of the hubs for green and sustainable innovation.

* Everyone is early stage, either in their development or their marketing.

This week was a big one with the Bloom debut and ARPA-E.  ARPA-E was especially interesting since it focused on market momentum and funding,  and you can find great write-ups by Rob Day here, Earth2Tech here and the NY Times here.  Many of the stories out of the conference focused on the call for “home runs” and what John Doerr called the “Netscape” moment where green goes mainstream through a very successful public company in energy.

All of this got me thinking – where exactly is green and sustainability in its marketing life cycle? Early?  Mid?

I entered high-tech PR 10 years ago, right before the apex of the tech bubble where napkin business plans and VC cash flowed into PR and marketing firms like wine.  Frankly, that experience was very disorienting.  Many times I had no idea what the companies we were working with stood for – their business plans made no sense to me.  However, it did  give me some good perspective on the evolution in markets.

Take for instance ASPs.  I had 5 different ones on my roster at various points in my first year+ in PR.  They all died off, but gave rise to the hosted model about 3-4 years later, which was fraught with security and management issues.  Fast forward and cloud computing is all the rage, and rightfully so.

Given this prism, I feel green technology is actually in its wonder years.  We’ve moved pass the cutting edge start-up phase.  (Bloom came out after 10+ years of development)  Now we’re on the ground floor of phase II, where companies are starting to make market moves.   Land grabs will emerge as companies start to establish themselves amongst a host of slightly differentiated competitors.   One of the biggest companies in the Boston are is EnerNOC, which I heard has 400 or so employees – that’s the top end of the S bucket of SMB.

Although it feels early since many of these technologies aren’t household names yet, the energy, excitement and funding are all coming.  But this time the business plans are tighter and the expectations are more grounded, while the visions are still large and inspiring.  Leaders will be the ones who start their marketing now.  We’re out of the gate and the race is on…..

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