Marketing clean technology like we mean it

From a marketing and communications standpoint, 2011 should have been a wake-up call for the cleantech industry in the U.S. We are getting our collective butts kicked in the national conversation. Yes, individual companies did well. Enough good to outweigh the bad. But, the narrative in the media has been relentlessly negative, and it's having an effect.

In the latest Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll (March 19, 2012), support nationally for alternative energy (a proxy for all of cleantech) has fallen significantly, by 11 points over just the past year, with support eroding further in the west, with men and with Republicans.

Meanwhile, throughout the cleantech ecosystem we are witnessing a renaissance of innovation. Technology, materials, processes and services are being reinterpreted and turbocharged by an increasingly sophisticated information technology infrastructure -- the internet of things -- which is magnifying benefits up and down the food chain. Old records for efficiencies are being blown away while costs are coming down as generational improvements ricochet off design and manufacturing improvements.

And yet we face a public that is losing faith, or simply doesn't understand that the cleantech future is here and how it will benefit them.

So here is the challenge to us all: Can we go to market as though we share a future?

A Big Enveloping Program

If we want to market cleantech like we mean it, we have to create as sophisticated a marketing apparatus as the oil, gas and coal industries. We need a unified front -- making a very compelling argument that the ecosystem of clean technologies will reshape our markets in such profound ways that it will make the IT revolution look like a throat clearing.

Engineering a massive market shift like cleantech must take the form of a big, enveloping program that frames the goals of a major transition to cleantech while methodically laying out the benefits. This has to be coupled with a constant string of announcements of compelling new products, core technologies and services and real, on-the-ground examples of technologies already in action.

A marketing effort for the nation's cleantech industries has to be evidence-based, persistent and absolutely everywhere -- and it has to be relentless. From paid media to press to social media -- images, examples, and interviews need to be racked up like flights out of JFK. Beyond green blogs, science pages, and the slices of ephemera used as filler on cable, communications need to be in the business pages, hard-core news, and reaching into red states and blue states.

A Unified Front

Right now, various cleantech sectors (solar, wind, EV's, smart grid, biofuels, building materials, lighting, etc.) are going to market independent of one another. This disregards essential synergies created when two or more clean technologies are coupled. And it's slow. Separately, discrete clean technologies are invisible. Together, they are a force.

Next page: The three objections to marketing as a unified front