Writing a Smarter Smart Grid Ad

marketing-muse_cv9l_voyfBy Marc Bane, Bane Marketing & Communications

In the midst of the online advertising revolution, the full page print ad can still be one of the business-to-business marketer’s most valuable communications tools. Here’s the place where you own the page, you control the copy, you control the graphics, and you have about 75 to 250 of your own words to explain exactly what you offer and why it is so important to do business with you instead of the next guy. Why then do so many smart grid vendors squander this opportunity with vague, feel-good promises of a brighter or smarter future? With so much at stake in this lucrative market, why do these ads so often make it difficult to understand how one vendor differs from another?

Deep Pockets . . . Shallow Copy

Some companies in the smart grid space have big ad budgets and a well-established reputation and product offering. They can afford to spend their money on developing a positive emotional response to their logo at the expense of explaining what they actually offer and why it is crucial to the customer’s success. Big consulting organizations, for example, already have a strong relationship in the C-suite. They can pair the image of a celebrity with platitudes like “vision, commitment, or leadership” to capture hearts in the corner office. This is a good ad approach for companies seeking to encourage brand loyalty with top management. Vision, commitment and leadership are commendable attributes for any vendor. However, they are not line items on a smart grid project budget. If your strategy is to make the short list, get included in that RFP and build your sales pipeline, my advice is to worry less about the prospect’s heart and start getting into his head.

Risky Business . . . Solid Opportunity

Smart grids are built one project at a time, and most of these projects have one thing in common –risk. Large capital expenditures, regulatory uncertainties, evolving IT and communications standards, and questionable consumer resolve can all combine to make a smart grid project a dicey proposition. Utility companies don’t like dicey. Utility project managers don’t like dicey. Above all, they don’t like to fail. That’s why they hire the vendors who they think can best mitigate risk and reduce the odds of failure. A trained salesman knows how to surface pain points in his sales pitch. A good copywriter can take “fear, uncertainty and doubt” and transform them into an art form. Here’s how . . .

Point out the potential speed bumps or pitfalls that a smart grid project might encounter – not only the obvious ones, but the ones they might not even have thought of yet.
Describe the worst case scenario if these barriers are not dealt with correctly.
Explain how your technology or service can reduce the risk of these problems occurring.
Explain why other solutions (discretely mentioning your competitor’s solutions without using names) won’t work as well – or at all.
Explain what your solution is and how it will be delivered.
Emphasize the potential consequences of not engaging your solution or service.
Explain why your company is the best choice to provide the solution.
If possible, offer proof or testimonials to your competence.

Songs of Praise are Sweeter When Another Does the Singing

Third-party testimonials are not always easy to come by. Many utilities have strict rules which prohibit vendor endorsement. But if you are fortunate enough to have a customer that will vouch for you in an ad, testimonials offer tremendous credibility. There are about a half dozen types of testimonial ads and some are definitely stronger than others. In order from weak to strong here’s what they look like:

1 – Implied Endorsement – No Names (Weakest)

Here the vendor establishes an association with a group of companies that are like its targeted prospects implying that they are satisfied customers:

XYZ Software offers the best performance and the lowest total cost of ownership. That why more than 50 of the top utilities in the U.S. rely on XYZ software.

2 – Implied Endorsement with Names (A Bit More Credible)

Following a positive declaration about his product, the vendor mentions several of his high profile customers implying that they are happy with the product:

XYZ Software offers the best performance and the lowest total cost of ownership. That’s why leading utilities like PG&E, Duke Energy, and Southern California Edison rely on XYZ software.

3 – Indirect Endorsement – No Quote (Reasonably Strong)

This is where a vendor makes his own endorsement on behalf of his high-profile client:

XYZ meters offer the best performance and the lowest total cost of ownership. That’s why Austin Energy decided on XYZ meters for its biggest Smart Grid project.

4 – Direct Endorsement with Direct Quote – Title But No Name (Reasonably Strong)

This is where the vendor’s customer offers a positive, verbatim quote and provides, title and company only:

“XYZ Software offers the best performance and the lowest total cost of ownership.” — CIO, Duke Energy

5 – Direct Endorsement with Name, Title and Company (Very Strong)

Here a customer puts his name and reputation on the line for the vendor:

“XYZ Software offers the best performance and the lowest total cost of ownership.” – John Smith, CIO, Duke Energy

6 – Direct Endorsement with Name, Title, Company, and Quantifiable Outcome (The Best!)

In this best of all testimonials, the customer endorses your product by specifically quantifying the results obtained:

“With XYZ Communications Systems, we have been able to reduce truck rolls by more than 67%.”– John Smith, VP Florida Power & Light Company.

Keepin’ it Real

Experienced marketing communications professionals know that testimonial writing isn’t high on the customer’s priority list. To speed the process, copywriters will sometimes create a placeholder quote for the customer to approve. Here a good copywriter will shoot for credibility rather than hyperbole. The quote shouldn’t sound like the customer was paid to provide it. The least credible testimonial quotes are those that sound like the vendors elevator speech or contain language from the advertising headline or corporate tagline slogan.

Smart Grid is a Big Pie – Choose Your Slice Carefully

Often it seems that smart grid vendors feel they are leaving money on the table if their ads are too specific. Their ads speak in generalities rather than describe specific offerings. A common result is that prospects can’t figure out what they do at all. Every vendor wants to be their customer’s strategic partner. But utilities don’t buy partnerships, they buy solutions. Be clear on what you are offering. Don’t simply describe the end benefits of your offering.

In this age of information overload, you’re ahead of the game if readers of your ad remember one selling point. Is that selling point going to be that you’re the company with “vision,” or the company that offers the best meter data management system?

Client Testimonials

Trusted Advisor

Marc is a highly experienced corporate marketing and communications professional with the skills and talent to execute a wide range of quality marketing communications programs quickly and cost effectively.  But more than just his skills, Marc is a trusted advisor who placed the best interests of our company first.

– David Delasanta
Executive Vice President

ThermoEnergy Corp.




Driving Force; Adjunct to our Executive Team

Marc is a seasoned marketing professional with an exceptional combination of energy knowledge, hands-on marketing skills, and creative talent. His marketing campaigns were the driving force behind our highly-successful “Build Our Brand” strategic business initiative. Marc is a team player, and we were proud to have his marketing leadership as an adjunct to our executive team.

-Michael Peterson
Former Managing Principal –
The Structure Group
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Builds Brands; Penetrates Markets

I’ve watched Marc work his magic at both GreenFuel Technologies and Excelergy Corp. I’ve never met anyone else who could penetrate a new market or build a brand faster.

-Cary Bullock
Former Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder
Excelergy Corporation
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Former CEO –
GreenFuel Technologies
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Exceptional Abilities

Marc’s exceptional ability to articulate the value proposition and vision of new technology is a valuable asset to any company looking to capture mindshare in the media and market share in the industry.

-Larry Dinkin
Board of Directors and Cofounder –

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Quickly and Cost Effictively Launchs Quality Programs

“Having worked with Marc at several organizations over the past 20 years, I have always been impressed by how quickly and cost-effectively he can launch quality marketing programs.”

-Dr. E. Ted Prince
Founder and CEO –
Perth Leadership Institute

Builds Customers

Marc’s direct marketing support for the Information Builders sales seminar programs put our sales team face to face with more than 9,000 customers and prospects in a single year.

-Marc Koppelman
Former Director,
PC Software Sales –
Information Builders

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Ability to Simplify Complex Technology

Marc’s unique ability to present complex technology in simple and easily understood terms, combined with his talent at transforming product attributes into clearly defined benefits, quickly builds market visibility and generates sales leads.

-Martin K. Goldenblatt
Former Vice President Sales
Greenfuel Technologies

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Talented and Experienced

Marc not only has the experience to develop effective marketing strategies, he has the talent to execute them quickly and cost-effectively.

-Steve Swenke
Former President and CEO
Metrum Technologies


Unquestinalble Difference in Quality

There is an unquestionable difference in the quality and effectiveness of your marketing campaigns when a professional like Marc is running the show.

-Chris Cazer
President –
Osprey Systems
Former CIO –
Excelergy Corporation
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Delivers Cost-Effective Results

Marc Bane is an excellent tactical and operational marketer of energy software and technology. He delivers cost-effective results by increasing brand awareness and a predisposition to a company’s value proposition.

-Kevin Monagle
Associate Partner, Energy & Utilities
IBM Global Business Services

Former Sr. VP and Founder
Excellergy Corp.
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