Marketing with the mining playbook

The clean energy sector has plenty to do to get the general public on side with clean energy policies. It's time to take a leaf out of the mining sector's textbook.

Last week I wrote (Marketing clean energy to Kath and Kim, April 12) about how the clean energy sector desperately needed to convince those in the mortgage belt that policy to support clean energy represents an affordable and prudent investment, not a major cost of living impost. What’s important to the mortgage belt is priority number one for politicians – witness politicians endless and mindless bank bashing as evidence.

The reality is that the clean energy sector cannot take anything for granted. The strong electoral support for addressing climate change in 2007 has largely evaporated as the rain fell in record quantities across the eastern seaboard and the global financial crisis hit.

The proportion of the population that believes humans are influencing the climate and needs to be addressed has noticeably declined. The campaign waged by the tabloid media on cost of living pressures (even though wages growth has outpaced inflation) and against the carbon price, in combination with huge increases in network expenditure, has made the mortgage belt highly sensitive to electricity prices.

Interestingly, this has actually helped sales of solar PV, which have boomed in many mortgage belt regions, and this provides considerable insight into what’s required to build support for clean energy sector in these areas. These people appear to be heavily motivated not so much by environmental concerns, but also by:

1. Financial considerations – solar PV was seen as providing attractive returns

2. A desire to have greater independence and control – installing solar has been partly about thumbing their nose at their electricity company and also insulating them from the uncertainty of changes in energy prices.

To convince these people that government support for clean energy is worthwhile it’s not enough to show that it will help address climate change.

The campaign must encompass energy efficiency measures to offset cost of living criticism

Those within the mortgage belt are incredibly concerned about the perceived cost of living. So even if you tell them government support for renewable energy will only work out to a cost of a few dollars per week, in the hands of the tabloid media this can be converted into an outrageous injustice. Witness the media coverage around the carbon price. An additional $10-$20 per month on electricity bills, even though it will be entirely offset by tax cuts for six in ten households, has been blown up into a ‘massive, unfair slug on battlers’. This means that any marketing campaign for ongoing policy support must incorporate energy efficiency measures for households. These can be used to help households offset additional costs associated with renewable energy and other abatement activities, such as carbon forestry.

Mortgage belt households must be able to directly benefit from a government support program

Mortgage belt households need to see they will be direct beneficiaries from a support program, not just big business or the less fortunate. Wind farms, as an example, may be the cheapest way of producing zero emissions electricity, but it’s not something these households can readily take a stake in.  So the campaign must seek policy that will support household-scale interventions, such as solar PV, in addition to large-scale projects, such as industrial co-generation and wind power.

The campaign must emphasise benefits beyond addressing climate change

A major industry marketing campaign needs to illustrate benefits that extend well beyond reducing the risk of dangerous climate change. This is because large segments of the mortgage belt struggle to understand how this affects them and their children or they see the main impacts as being too distant and uncertain to worry.

When the dams were drying up it gave them something tangible that they could grasp. But the idea that global warming could be consistent with increased severity of droughts and also floods is a leap too far for some. Also those opposed to action on climate change have done an excellent job of exploiting the high prevalence of xenophobia amongst the mortgage belt by painting China as the big villain on climate change. This does not mean that any campaign should just ignore climate change, because in reality it is the most significant benefit, but there are other benefits that also need to be heavily emphasised:

- Reduced dependence on fossil fuels, which are ultimately finite;

- Providing reduced vulnerability to rising and highly variable gas and oil prices;

- Particularly with energy efficiency and demand management, outlining how it could arrest rising power prices through reducing inefficient network infrastructure investment;

- Particularly with energy efficiency, outlining how it could enhance the competitiveness of the economy and save money in the longer run;

- Diversification of the economy that should reduce vulnerability to a mining sector downturn;

- How people previously employed in more traditional industries are finding new and fulfilling careers in the clean energy sector;

- How the support given to the industry on a global basis is paying back dividends in terms of improved product performance and reduced costs;

- Reduced harm to human health through cleaner air.

The marketing campaign needs to be built upon real-world examples that people can readily relate to

For such a campaign to be successful it must use real-world examples that the mortgage belt can relate to and readily empathise with. So while Cate Blanchett can do a good job in selling luxury goods like perfume, she is too far separated from the general public to be effective in getting them to pay more for their electricity and reassure them about their jobs.

Everyday families living in places like Dubbo in country New South Wales and Caroline Springs in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, as well as farmers, and guys in hard-hats and reflective vests, need to be used to bring the vision of a clean energy future alive.

These need to be occasionally interspersed with authority figures. This would include, for example, a ‘suit’, who can talk authoratively about business and the economy, and another in a lab coat explaining amazing technological advances being achieved by the sector.

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For some this might be a bit crass, but the mining industry is spending millions of dollars right now on a very similar style of campaign, which would have been informed by detailed market research. They intend to use this campaign to develop community support that will assist them in resisting policy initiatives such as the carbon price, the Renewable Energy Target, and removal of fossil fuel subsidies.    

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