Empower CES — Consumer Marketing

The direct-to-consumer marketing for Empower CES could really use a lot of help.

The design remains amateurish, however we will not focus on that component, which can be easily improved if the right resources are hired.

The messaging, and the lack of calls-to-action, however, need to be addressed. A potential customer arriving to the site has to figure out on their own what the next steps would be if they wanted to purchase anything from Empower. The landing page is simply a side-by-side comparison of installed residential solar systems along with a few bullets highlighting benefits and values of a solar-powered home.

Empower should further highlight the benefits, and have links providing more detail to each of them. In simple terms, how much will the average household save? The finance examples used are too advanced for the average visitor, and can be provided as a deeper link.

What will be the environmental impact? Carbon footprints are becoming a fairly common measure, why not use it? Better yet, why not partner with a non-profit and have them validate the claims? There are many, including Carbon Fund, the Nature Conservancy, or Conservation International.

How will the investment increase property values? Are there studies that prove this? This would be especially interesting, and it is disappointing that more information is not available.

Ultimately, the worst aspect of this portion of the site is the complete absence of any calls to action. In spite of the poorly designed and phrased benefits, if someone wanted to purse Empower further, it is not easy to do so. The only way by which the web site visitor can deepen the relationship with Empower is via the ‘Contact Us’ section. There need to be considerably more call-outs than the one in the navigation bar. Within each section there should be links. For example, ‘Want to learn more how you can save money and increase the value of your home? Send a message to one of our representatives.’

The Contact Us Page is also horribly designed. There needs to be some header text and imaging to spur visitors to complete the form. Typically, this includes a re-affirmation of the company’s privacy policy. The submit button is below the fold for most screen sizes, which sure reduces the conversion rate. Also, the button itself has a staid label ‘Submit Query’. Best practices would have a different label, such as ‘Learn more now!’ or ‘Get Solar Now’.

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Empower CES

Empower CES has a number of areas for improvement. The site is lacking in navigation, discoverability, and most significantly, engagement. The company is relatively young, yet upon arriving at the website you feel as if it was designed in the mid-90s. The homepage, while thankfully not a wasteful landing page a la Sunpower, has too many navigation points, with gigantic buttons, and no mention of what Empower actual does.

Design and architecture of a website such as Empower CES should consider the following questions:

  1. Who will be visiting our site? Typically, prospective clients is one answer, but current customers, partners, suppliers, and even competitors will also be visiting.
  2. What do we want them to do at our site? This will obviously depend on the answer to the first question. For example, we may hope for prospects to join a mailing list or request additional information, while partners may be directed to a special log-in area.
  3. What is the image we want to project? Should the focus be on engineering excellence or ‘green’ marketing? This goes to the core of the company, what are its primary values?

Reviewing the site, it does not appear the EmPower considered these questions when it undertook its design. Navigating deeper, it is clear that the company wants to speak to a wide swathe of customers: residential home owners, commercial property owners and institutions. At the same time, it is promoting the benefits of leveraging solar technology, but does not speak to each of these constituencies in a separate voice. The result is a confused, amateurish site.

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SunPower continued

I have started to take a closer look at the residential section of SunPower. It was one very interesting feature wherein they estimate the savings a residence will receive by switching to solar power. It is an excellent mash-up, pulling in satellite imagery from Google maps. I question their math, because if it were true everyone would sign up for solar! The tool lets you see your lifetime savings, monthly utility cost reduction, along with the reduction of your carbon footprint. It clearly is targeting the ‘green’ consumer and the tool does a fairly good job.

After that however, things fall apart; there is not enough follow-up. I just revealed where I live, and the calls to action after viewing my results are sedated at best. There is a button to get a free solar assessment, but there could be so much more. Creatively, the button is not nearly prominent enough. The link directs someone to a separate section that then re-asks the same questions. Ideally, email should have been collected at this point for follow-up.

There is also an emphasis to call a 1-800 number which is bizarre to say the least. Someone is already engaged, on the website, why direct them to a phone? At a minimum collect email first, ideally have something lick a live chat.

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SunPower

Our next website to review is SunPower, a producer of solar products. We will focus on its residential business.

The landing page is an odd choice.  It is a head shot of an average white guy with the quote “The most powerful solar on the planet is ready”. This is very abstract, in fact so abstract I do no understand it. Is there more than one ‘solar’ on the planet? I am envisioning the two suns shot in Star Wars, but last I checked there is only one ‘solar’ for planet Earth.

The main purpose of the page is to direct the reader to his/her specific region. I now view this as an opportunity to see what, if any, localized marketing they executed. It also gives me a chance to practice my Spanish.

Unfortunately, to achieve this once I select my region I need to erase my cookies and start over. The repeating theme of a head shot of an individual is making a bit more sense, perhaps moreso because we are focusing on the residential business.

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Aventine Renewable Energy

Aventine Renewable Energy, a producer of renewable energy recently filed for bankruptcy protection. The website did not help the situation. Granted the problems within the ethanol industry is more a product of overall diminished demand, thanks to our deep recession, however the corporation could have used its website to inspire more demand for its product, rather than focusing on operational issues of the corporation.

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Community Energy – Iberdrola Renewables – Part II

Navigation and Design

Community Energy’s website has an excellent, easy-to-understand navigation; it certainly helps guide the reader to the appropriate sections. Unfortunately, there are significant gaps with the site that belie its professional look. The depth, surprisingly, is lacking. The marketing materials section promises an update, but until then why are they providing a link at all? This gets even worse, their link to sign up for clean energy today actually failed! The press releases are also dated, with the newest one listed as December 2008. One would hope their PR department created at least one new press release each quarter.

The design, while a bit trite for renewable energy companies, works. It elicits a positive vibe and keeps information intact.

SEO

This site fares poorly as far as SEO is concerned. The basics, such as meta-tagging, are not covered well. Often the <title> tags do not include keywords. There is clearly no link building being attempted, less than 300 external links to the site exists. At the very least, Iberdrola, the parent company, should have links to it. I could not even find that…

Before we conclude, we’ll take a look at their blog. A promising addition to the website…

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Community Energy – Iberdrola Renewables – Part I

Admittedly this has taken longer than I originally intended. I do have a full-time job and there had been some excitement lately. Publishing is indeed in a dire situation right now, hopefully renewable energy is progressing in the opposite direction.

Community Energy has a professionally designed website. It has clear calls to action and quickly segments the various types of visitors that may come to its site. However, the homepage is not frequently updated (it features news releases from December) and there are cetain aspects that are a bit amateurish. Nevertheless, they do employ some interesting, and I think compelling, techniques to maximize the utility (pun-intended) of the site.

Ecommerce/Transaction Features

The most innovative aspect of Community Energy is its ‘Gift’ feature. The site actually allows visitors to ‘Give the Gift of Wind Energy‘. This is an excellent twist for Iberdrola to expand its market and raise revenue. Most likely a significant number of visitors are interested in renewable, wind energy. They may already have opted into utilizing wind energy from their own home, this gift certificate enables them to expand on its adoption.There are some areas where this section can be improved however:

  • The ‘Buy Now!’ link should be a button rather than simply text. It makes the call-to-action clearer.
  • The introductory text should focus on the gift aspect more than the science. An interesting twist for a Mother’s Day promotion may be something like this: “Don’t just give mom flowers this Mother’s Day, give her something that helps flower grow every day.” Clearly I am not a copywriter, however by the time someone is on this page, they are already bought into the idea of wind or renewable energy, at this point the value proposition should focus on why the gift recipient will love to get this gift.
  • Clarify what the gift recipient will actually receive. From the design, it looks like some kind of certificate will be sent to the recipient. However, there is nothing stating that in the text. It is only after you click on ‘Buy Now’ that you realize a gift card is mailed to their home. The details (what does it look like?, what does it say?) should be readily available. Also, considering that the audience is especially environmentally conscious, they may prefer to simply send an e-card rather than print the information on paper.
  • The wind energy gift order page should be optimized. The reader should not be able to change the amount charged, that will confuse them. Instead, allow them to purchase various quantities of wind energy credits. You can only order one gift on the order page, so why is it asking how many gift cards to send? Supplemental information, not necessary for the transaction should be removed from this page and added later. These include: current electricity provider, billing phone number, and how did you hear about us. Those questions can be asked after the transaction. Finally, the submission button is terribly subdued. It should be louder, with more vibrant colors, larger, more positive text, along with simply being a bigger button.

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