Six years ago, pioneering solar market research showed that women often function as the chief purchasing officer in their homes. The implication: solar companies should learn more about female buyers and tailor more customer experiences for women.
The need to understand what women want from solar has grown—and could be more impactful—as links emerge between consumer interest in rooftop PV and electric vehicles, home energy storage and smart thermostats.
But a recent roundtable discussion hosted by TerraCurrent found that available research, while suggestive, raises more questions than it answers.
Noting that women think differently than men about residential solar only takes us so far. The next step is to consider social factors involved in converting female leads into customers and brand champions.
In one study, Chelsea Schelly, a sociologist at Michigan Technological University, found women solar adopters cited environmental impacts as their main reason for going solar. Men more often based these decisions on expected energy bill reduction, Schelly said.
But there’s a bigger point. Reasons for going solar, like “environmental impacts” and “energy bill reduction,” do not always fit neatly within the context of household decision-making. “They’re the story that people come up with in their head for the choices that they’ve already made,” Schelly said.
Instead of looking at women as one overarching category, future research should drill down to compare financial decisions by women in partnered couples with those of women in single-parent homes or single-adult homes.
Women interested in science, technology, engineering and math are another, mostly unexplored market segment.
“To really make sense of the data, we need to be interpreting them through the lenses of those social factors that might shape how somebody’s motivations can turn into an actual behavior shift,” Schelly said.
Women are really solar advocates
After digging into data from thousands of online solar consumer surveys, Jessica Bailis, an associate solution director at research and consulting firm E Source, says differences in how men and women think about residential solar are actually quite subtle.
“Women really are advocates of solar,” Bailis said. They are more likely than men to support the transition to renewable energy and strongly agree that utilities should source more clean energy. Women, however, are not as concerned about solar’s return on investment.
While women use email and websites, they are also more likely than men to prefer direct mail—addressed to the female head of house—and word-of-mouth from friends and family.
“Anecdotally, this does ring true for me,” Bailis said. “I worked as a director of marketing at a solar company, and a huge portion of our leads came from referrals.”
The one-in-three web traffic challenge
Still another source found that digital marketing data in solar also skews heavily toward men.
At EnergySage, an online residential solar and energy storage marketplace, women account for about one in three of the site’s 10 million unique visitors per year, according to Spencer Fields, EnergySage manager of market strategy and intelligence.
Traffic varies with content. Information about energy efficiency sees above-average traffic from women. Solar-specific content draws fewer visits from women.
These findings mirror the gender split in traffic for content on electric vehicles (EVs), said Erika Myers, who leads transportation electrification research at the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA).
The gender gap represents a barrier to growth.
“We need to know what questions we need to answer in order to be able to speak to different demographics.” Fields said.
Myers is also looking at ways to make information about EVs more accessible. Marketing that speaks to women would help.
“Tesla, for example, is very male dominated,” she said. “Just how they present the vehicle, it’s all about the torque and the power and the technology and all these male-oriented themes, versus how do you actually use this car? How does it impact your day-to-day life? How does it make it better?”
More research is needed to better understand and design solar marketing to women. Companies can take the next steps by collecting data, analyzing current customer demographics and looking for the gaps. Once you know who your messaging is not reaching, you can find the most effective ways to connect and engage with these new audiences.
Matthew Hirsch is chief marketing officer at TerraCurrent
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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