Six years ago, pioneering solar market research showed that women often function as the chief purchasing officer at home. The implication: solar companies should improve our understanding of female buyers and tailor customer experiences for women.
The need to understand what women want has grown more urgent as we’ve seen links between interest in solar and related technologies, like electric vehicles, home energy storage, and smart thermostats.
But recent research raises more questions than answers.
In October 2020, TerraCurrent hosted a roundtable discussion with researchers who have some of the best insights about demographic effects on residential solar adoption.
The event reinforced the pivotal role of female solar consumers. It also helped unearth a roadmap that solar companies can follow to develop buyer personas for the women we should be marketing to. Keep reading to learn about our next virtual event, a webinar where we’ll dive deeper into the female solar buyer’s journey.
While we can generalize to a point about how women think differently than men about residential solar, it would be more effective to further segment the group, considering social factors affecting the chances of converting female leads to customers and eventually brand champions.
Social context matters
Chelsea Schelly, a Michigan Tech sociologist, found a key difference between men and women in a study of residential solar adopters in upstate New York.
When forced to rank the most important decision factor, women noted impacts on the environment while men reported expected energy bill reduction, Schelly said.
Notice the qualifier there. When forced to rank the most important decision factor. Schelly says after-the-fact justifications taken out of the context of household decision making have limited value. “They’re the story that people come up with in their head for the choices that they’ve already made,” Schelly said.
Reintroducing social context creates opportunities for future research. Instead of looking at women as one overarching category, compare women who make financial decisions among partnered couples with women who lead single-parent homes and female homeowners in single-adult homes.
Similarly, consider whether women have paid off the home mortgage or the loans for other people’s college tuition.
“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.
Thousands of online solar-related surveys from residents of the US and Canada led Jessica Bailis to a slightly different conclusion. Bailis, an associate solution director at E Source, a research, data science and consulting company, said there aren’t large differences between men and women when it comes to residential solar. Instead, she called it a matter of nuance.
For one thing, “women really are truly advocates of solar,” Bailis said. Women are more likely than men to support the transition to renewable energy. Women strongly agree that their utility should source more renewable energy. Women are also not as concerned about solar’s return on investment (ROI).
Bailis’s findings provide several takeaways for solar marketers. When you are talking to women, focus on savings rather than ROI, she said.
Also, while email and websites remain top communication channels, women are more in favor of postal mail with information about solar options than men. If running a direct-mail campaign, consider addressing the female head of household.
Lastly, note that women are more likely than men to find out about on-site solar from friends, family and word of mouth.
“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.”
A web traffic challenge
How do differences between men and women show up in web traffic for EnergySage, a residential solar and energy storage marketplace?
The site with 10 million unique visitors per year, tops in the industry according to EnergySage manager of market strategy and intelligence Spencer Fields, shows increasing web traffic among women, but women continue to account for basically one in three visitors overall.
Content about energy efficiency sees an above-average percentage of visits from women. Solar-specific content sees a below-average percentage of visits from women.
Meanwhile, with women representing about 30 percent of visitors, EnergySage mirrors digital media traffic on electric vehicles as analyzed by Erika Myers, who leads the transportation electrification research team at the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA).
The gender gap represents a barrier to market growth, one that the industry is motivated to resolve.
“If we’re not answering the questions that women have about solar or about electric vehicles, or about energy efficiency, or whatever the case may be, then are women going to find our website?” Fields said. “We need to know what question we need to answer in order to be able to speak to different demographics.”
Myers is also looking at how to make information about EVs more accessible to a broader audience. SEPA, a co-producer of North American Smart Energy Week, introduced Electric Vehicle International alongside Solar Power International in 2020 as one way to connect the dots.
EV marketing that speaks to women would help too.
“Tesla, for example, is very male dominated. 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?” Myers said.
Women who enjoy science, technology, engineering and math are, of course, another type of buyer persona for companies in solar, energy storage, and electric vehicles.
Brands should identify female personas that best match the customer base. Then you can go about developing key messages for these consumers and engage them based on a unique set of interests.