Sustainable energy is the new playground of the rich and famous. Recently the sector has received strong endorsement from two of the world’s biggest private energy companies.
Both Total and Shell dressed up in April to outline their future plans in the sector. But even the biggest in the industry will face questions about their competence and reputation when they move in to a new sector, and it is fair to say more than a few people were willing to point out that Shell and Total were oil majors.
The response to the oil majors announcements can hold lessons for other companies as to what to expect when they alter their strategy to do business in the clean energy sector. There are a few questions businesses will likely be asked, by their clients, their prospects, the media and even their employees. Being aware of these questions and prepared with some answers will mean that strategic decision doesn’t get hindered by poor communications, and it will help a new entrant establish its reputation, raise its profile and win new work to justify this decision.
4 questions your business should be ready to answer when entering the renewable energy industry
1. Why the renewable energy industry?
This question is about your business, not about the sector. To win an audience over, the answer to this question needs to be more about fit, and less about growth opportunities. Focus why the industry is a good fit for your company.
If they haven’t got out of oil & gas entirely, energy companies want us to know they are resource agnostic, so their skills can work with renewable and non-renewable energy sources. For instance, when BP made a return to solar energy, it claimed to bring “relationships and resources” to the deal. Read: after so long in the oil & gas industry, we know how to get energy projects built.
Don’t close the door on your past. Talk about the experiences that can be used to positive effect in renewable energy. This demonstrates that the business is serious about working in the industry, and it helps it to stand out from a crowd of offerings begging the same question.
2. What experience do you have?
To win new business, you’ll need to answer questions about your expertise, but building expertise takes time, and acquiring it is expensive. Providing reassurance to your customers about your expertise will mean boring them to death with it.
Talking about what you know will put you in good stead to win business in the industry. There are dozens of opportunities to do this in the media. A great example of persistent messaging is the solar and battery storage developer Anesco. Regular media announcements by the five year-old business stress its achievements and highlight its expertise to drive the message home.
3. How will you move the industry forwards?
The wind energy sector prides itself on its knowledge and is packed full of people eager to learn. New entrants will need to explain not only what they do, but what difference they will make. This sets a high bar for businesses to showcase their understanding of the industry and how their services will drive it forwards.
To do this, think carefully about what to say and when to say it: if you are a specialist, you don’t want to share something as generic as RUK’s Haynes’ manual for offshore wind, clever as it is.
Within your specialism, find something valuable to talk about to highlight a problem only you can solve. The opportunity cost of getting your first big comment on the industry wrong is high, not only in wasted effort, but it also makes the business look like it hasn’t done its homework on the industry.
4. Why do you want to make a difference?
Lastly, it is worth bearing in mind that the wind energy industry is driven by the passion of the people that work in it. For many working in the wind sector is an active choice to deliver something that looks like a better and fairer world. For new entrants, articulating why they are passionate about a growing industry, will help to attract new opportunities and win new work.
For instance, Shell's ‘Make the Future’ campaign focuses the message that "Access to cleaner energy can help change lives." To promote this Shell is running a number of initiatives ranging from an eco-marathon to a full music video alongside a media campaign.
A move into renewable energy is an important decision for any business working in related industries. Careful planning and a good strategy can ensure the operational side of the move pays off. But if this isn’t supported by a sound communications approach to establish the reputation of the business, there is a real risk the opportunities presented by the new venture won’t be fully realised.