Thursday, November 12, 2009

Marketing the new-new v.s. the old-new: clean tech v.s. high tech marketing

By Mark Helfen

The new-new was on display Monday, as a panel of marketers from clean tech businesses described clean tech marketing, and compared it with marketing the old-new - high tech products.

The panelists, both with high tech marketing backgrounds, said that clean tech marketing has similar tactics, but different strategic thinking - with a different language, a different technology, different customer motivations, and a different eco-system.

The panel, held Monday November 9, included Kate Gerwe, COO of Lucid Design, and Marcia Kadanoff, Vice President of Marketing at Sustainable Spaces. Moderators were Kathleen Gilligan and Karen Janowski of the EcoStrategy Group.

Before Lucid, Gerwe had been in marketing leadership positions at Yahoo, and Netscape. She also led the volunteer "Green Team" at Yahoo, which was a factor in her move to Lucid.

Lucid describes itself as "The pioneer in real-time resource use feedback technology." They offer instrumentation and software to help evaluate building energy use and other factors of environmental impact. Gerwe says that universities are one of their principle markets.

Kadanoff held marketing leadership positions at Zannel, a social media company, and had positions in marketing and management at other technology companies, both startups, and Apple. Her company, Sustainable Spaces does "green energy remodeling," both to reduce a homes energy footprint, along with making it a more comfortable place to live.

So how does clean tech marketing compare with high tech marketing?

"At some level, marketing is marketing," said Gerwe. The hardest part is figuring out what customers are looking for, and how you solve their problems. But from that point, the tactics fall out and are similar to high tech marketing.

Kadanoff had a similar view.

"I was hired because I knew the technical side of marketing." The company wanted her background in social media, knowledge of how to build a web site to drive business, and strategic pricing.

But at a deeper level, the marketing is different. For one thing, it's a "different language, a different ecosystem," said Kadanoff. Instead of dealing with computer scientists, you're dealing with building scientists.

And the customer drives are different. Return on investment is lower on the requirement list. It's less an economic decision, or the coolest product. It's more about sustainability and improving the global environment.

Moving from high tech to clean tech marketing requires some extra steps. Both panelists said that current tactical marketing skills, while a requirement, were not enough.

"I don't think I would have been hired without some previous experience in clean tech,' said Kadanoff. In her case, she had been a customer of the company some years before, and had her house remodeled to be more energy efficient. It would be fair to say that she was happy with the results. In addition, she had done a consulting project looking at franchising a home remodeling company.

Gerwe concurred. Her time managing Yahoo's volunteer Green Team made the difference.

Knowledge and demonstrated passion for clean, green products and ideas need to be in your background.

"Take a pro-bono, or low-bono project in clean tech," said Kadanoff. "I know I would not be sitting in this chair if it were not for that experience."

Seek out people in the business, and learn the language. And you need to be really committed.

"I'll be honest with you, clean tech pays 20 percent less" than comparable high tech jobs, said Kadanoff. "The salary scales are lower."

Gerwe had a similar answer.

"We used Linkedin when we post jobs, and we do want to see some sort of commitment to something in the green space," said Gerwe. "If I hadn't been on the Green Team for a couple of years getting into that mind space I wouldn't be here."

"We recently hired someone who had a couple of different volunteer things where he was interning for free, and was really passionate about it. You could see that. It comes through."


Mark Helfen is a freelance writer, journalist, and marketing consultant. He can be reached at:



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