Why Tesla Buried SolarCity

Image via GeekWire

It wasn’t that long ago that SolarCity was the 800-pound gorilla of solar power brands. When Tesla brought the company into its fold, however, the name quickly vanished as it was absorbed into the automaker’s bigger story.

The move shouldn’t be viewed so much as a value judgment against the SolarCity moniker as proof that Tesla understands the power of storytelling better than SolarCity or most other clean tech brands ever have.

Most cleantech brands spend too much of their marketing efforts on the speeds and feeds of their products, thinking that potential customers care as deeply as they do about engineering accomplishments. In reality, consumers seek out brands they resonate with, and then largely trust the technical decisions to those companies’ engineers.

Customers want brands that understand their challenges and then provide them systems and solutions that fit into the bigger picture, rather than stand-alone products.

Where stand-alone products can be sold via datasheets to customers who will invest the time to understand them, systems and solutions are sold via strategies that communicate how they fit into the customer’s perceptions of their identities and lifestyles. For example, it’s more likely that a consumer would say something like “I want to move away from relying on fossil fuels by driving an electric car and putting solar on my roof,” than “I’m not sure if I should buy a 4.5 kW inverter with a 99% rated efficiency or a 4 kW inverter with 98.5% efficiency.”

Sell Solutions, Not Products

By absorbing the SolarCity brand and telling a single-solution story, Tesla—like Mercedes Benz—is leading the way with compelling stories focused on ready-made solutions. Both brands have parlayed their big bets on an electric vehicle future into larger visions about how their integrated systems can provide their customers with a simple and robust path to embracing “clean energy lifestyles” via their respective Powerwall and Energy Storage Home in-home units.

System solutions like these, offering energy production (via Tesla’s Solar Roof and Mercedes’s rooftop solar collaboration with Vivint Solar), and consumption (via their respective automobiles), have the potential to alter the way consumers consider home energy, and who they trust to help them manage it.

Both brands are endeavoring to elevate their stories above technically complex independent components that are intimidating for consumers to select, integrate, install and maintain. Instead, they are focusing on the bigger solutions that transcend specific products and speak to customer lifestyles. THAT is why Tesla mothballed its SolarCity name and focused on amplifying Tesla into a flagship brand that represents innovation and the ability to assemble compelling solutions spanning multiple product areas in the pursuit of a clean energy future.

Change the Customer Experience

When brands shift from leading with datasheets to bold stories, consumers begin to bring their hearts into the purchasing decision. They choose brands that resonate with their perceptions of themselves, that speak to them.

Brands that make this leap become the badges that consumers use to identify themselves and to measure their place in society. Think: Coke vs. Pepsi. Mac vs. Windows. Ford vs. Chevy.

When shopping for a home energy solution starts to feel more like shopping for a home theater system, and less like shopping for a furnace, the marketing game has changed. Consumers let go of the desire to examine technical minutia and look for brands that’ll deliver an experience in line with their values. When a company establishes that level of trust, the process of selling new products, functionality and upgrades becomes a much more straightforward affair.

It is important for companies of all sizes to step back from their technical specs and view their brand and their products within a bigger picture.

Company leaders, keep an eye on the values that brought you into the market in the first place. Make sure that marketers and designers have a strong voice in product and overall strategy. This will help keep the focus on compelling solutions and the accompanying stories that customers can truly fall in love with.

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