Why the ****?
04 November, 2022
You’ve got a great product. The need is there. Why is it so hard to get those deals, and how can communications help?
We recently visited the Climate Tech London show – full of brilliant, low-carbon, planet-repairing ideas promoted by smart people. Sadly, the thoughts that came to mind as we walked around admiring electric planes and images of silent, zero-emissions power plants (based on gravity!) were ‘if we have such brilliant minds with great green ideas, why is the planet in such a mess?’.
What does it take to get people to buy into something new? Green tech has its particular issues but, in our experience, in going to market with any offer at any stage – start-up, funding round, IPO - there are some traps that are far too easy to fall into.
The first trap is talking too much about your product. Don’t do that! Talk with the right voice to the right person.
Define who your decision maker is, and what keeps them awake at night (here’s a term that sounds sexist: the M.A.N.… the person with the Money, the Authority and the Need). Speak directly and clearly to those high-level needs: financial targets met, emissions problems solved, stress reduced … and don’t forget that in 95% of your communications, the M.A.N is the one you need to get your message to – their problems are the ones you must solve even when you’re communicating via others.
So, everything about your communications: the message, the media you choose, the place and time, should be geared to that. Agri-based carbon removers Undo seemed to have most of that right with their broad-based offer to farmers and anyone looking to offset carbon emissions, whereas electric-motor innovators Molabo to us seemed off the mark: if your target is narrow – in their case boatbuilders and new-boat buyers, as per the website – then go where the boaties live, for example a boat show, rather than a general climate-innovation trade show. Airex seemed to have it mostly right with their clever ‘smart airbrick’ targeting larger developers and landlords, (and they have a retail offer so any of us with a house could be first buyers) but their stand could have emphasised the key ‘’12% energy saving” message much more.
Another common trap is assuming too soon that your audience trusts your offer.
With a genuinely new offer, or an entirely new space (Neboair’s electric two-seater plane), your first communications goal is simply awareness, then a viable product for trial and building trust in your offer, with the communications emphasis shifting slightly once you have managed to land that critical first reference customer. Neboair seemed to be a bit off-key too, since their main flight-trainer market is nicely defined but narrow, while the audience at this show were only likely to be the secondary leisure market.
Critically, we ask clients in new spaces like this about the potential buyer’s current purchases – how does your prospect currently address these needs they have, why do they invest as they do? What will it take to disrupt this with your offer? And remember, the big players selling traditional solutions will be investing heavily in marketing to convince buyers to ‘stay with the known’ and maybe stoke fear of the new - Neboair need to spend a lot of time on that.
Habits and fears have quite a role here, especially in the transport and energy sectors, because the need is basic but pretty primal: ‘get me home reliably’, ‘keep my kids warm’. Businesses, pilots and homeowners want trouble-free service and are fearful of the new: for example, range and charge-time anxiety is still very real for electric planes, cars and boats, and will only be solved by a combination of rising trust in the tech and more, faster charging points. It’s possible electric cars have just about gone over the tipping point (also helped by tax incentives and the Tesla marketing magic making us all want one) but this anxiety is the number one issue for Neboair, more than the reliability of the plane itself, so their messaging needed to focus a bit more on that too.
In older sectors, like grid-scale electricity generation, the market has come to expect extremely high reliability, since it must be ‘always-on’. At the ‘wow’ end of Climate Tech, London EPC’s gravity-powered electricity plant had us very excited but it’s extremely early-stage and not market tested. In theory a failure of mains electric supply could mean a factory or hospital shuts down, and we all fear the vulnerable being left in the cold (in fact if they built it there would be several protections that should mean a blackout is very unlikely) so there is huge resistance to anything more than incremental change for core power generation. Right now, EPC’s first messaging focus has to be awareness, education, improving the perceived viability of their offer, and blatantly seeking that all-important pilot project to get it up and running …so their comms needs to address objections around those.
So, in your business you may also need to be wary of thinking ‘this prospect is a believer’ too early.
I fear a lot of climate tech innovators edge around these kinds of issues without addressing them head-on. If you sell anything where failure threatens the very bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy (warmth, food, shelter), or for example, your solution needs a certain support infrastructure to work, you will meet some serious inertia which they may not talk about at first, and your messaging needs to address that. Prospects can change their minds but may take some convincing: as various gurus say, ‘Change happens when the fear of the change is less than the fear of staying the same’.
So, when do you explain those patented technologies, the magic in your process, your amazing tech that does something no one else does?
You might when your audience is a clear stepping-stone to the decision maker: someone whose role is probably to recommend, to narrow the options for the Board… maybe not the person doing financial due diligence, but to those involved in pressure-testing your offer or ultimately integrating it into operations … but for all of these you should also help them with how to recommend your solution upwards, how to sell it to the true buyer (your M.A.N messages). I would cover it briefly in any investor pitch of course, but even then, the ‘about our tech’ slides should be one slide around the tech and two on how it’s better than the competition and how your IP is protected.
So, we wish the exhibitors every success, because many seemed to have truly sustainable answers using market forces to help the planet, which is the best route - but Climate Tech was another reminder of where to really focus your communications.