How to Build Great Brands in Cleantech

GreenBiz logo jpeg A new report and article from the UK highlights some of the brand challenges and opportunities inherent in the clean tech sector.

  • Challenge – The sector is highly scientific and complicated.
  • Challenge – Getting the story right for investors and customers.

Posted May 1, 2009
By Dorothy Mackenzie, GreenBiz

The UK government recently announced a £250m pilot project for an electric vehicle
in several UK cities as part of a broader plan to make green
innovations a major part of its green budget. This is only the latest
in a plethora of recent green technology pledges by world leaders,
which have been difficult to miss, most notably President Obama's
election campaign promises for a U.S. "green-style" New Deal.

At Dragon Rouge
— we're a brand strategy, innovation and design agency by the way —
we've followed the rise of this cleantech phenomenon (as the sector is
known) with equal measures of fascination and hope. We're convinced
that, if handled in the right way, new clean green and low carbon
technology companies have the potential to become some of the world's
biggest, most successful and recognizable 21st century brands — and
help save the planet AND the economy. We'd go further and argue this
may be critical to the success and growth of the sector itself.

We explore this in detail in our new report "Clean Technology: Tomorrow's Brands."
This lays out the case for brand development as an integral, even
central, part of the growth and development of cleantech companies. It
talks through specific issues the sector faces where good branding and
marketing can help, and it spotlights some examples of high-performing
companies we think are doing this well.

The cleantech sector holds a number of branding dilemmas. This
fantastic, but highly scientific and tech-driven (many argue geeky)
sector involves often incomprehensible and seemingly unglamorous
technologies: Algal biofuel, carbon capture and storage, dye sensitized
thin film nano-enabled photovoltaic materials, anyone? This can be a
particular issue for investors — who want to understand the commercial
potential of the proposition, but need to work quite hard to do so,
thus may turn to something easier — and for end-users. It’s also been
noted that cleantech companies are often poor at making their
technologies accessible and understandable to end-user applications,
which paradoxically seems critical to ensuring a technology becomes
more mainstream.

Needless to say, we also found that good branding and communication are
not always on the sector's radar and that cleantech companies don't
always do this especially well.

Cleantech finance specialist Alice Chapple explains:

"We found there was often a mismatch between what
cleantech start-ups say and what investors are looking for. They don't
always get their story right and can often over emphasize the
environmental benefits of their technology or focus on saving the
planet rather than on them being a sound business proposition."

In an emergent sector like cleantech, especially in current times,
there will be much competition for funding within and across sectors
and for the eye of potential customers. It will be critical for
companies to get aspects like the communication of a core proposition
(rather than a technology) right. There are obvious parallels with how
strong branding helped customers and end-users decipher new digital and
information technologies in the dot-com boom at the turn of the
millennium. The companies that have survived and flourished are those
with strong brands like eBay, Amazon and Intel.

On completion of the report, we'd argue quite strongly that any
cleantech company that isn't simultaneously developing its brand in
parallel to having proven technology, a clear business model and
proposition, and a strong management team is at serious risk of
failure. Brand and cleantech may seem, at first glance, an
uncomfortable combination. But we need to ensure these businesses look
like and become the exciting, energetic, progressive, optimistic,
efficient, forward-looking, business-like, high-growth and profitable
companies that they really are and help them develop the brands that
make up the most significant industrial revolution of the 21st century.

Dorothy Mackenzie is the chairman of Dragon Rouge in London.

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