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Clean Energy Marketing: How to Sell Emotions in Cleantech

on • 4 min. read

Note: This article was refreshed in March 2022 to reflect the current state of the cleantech industry.

What do your customers buy, really? Is it your product? Or is it something that your product gives them?

What is Emotional Selling?

Global marketing guru Seth Godin best articulates this concept:

“No one buys a quarter-inch drill bit because they need a quarter-inch drill bit. What they need is a quarter-inch hole…No one needs a quarter-inch hole…what you need is to put the shelf on the wall. But you don’t really need that. What you need is a place to put the books that are cluttering your bedroom. But you don’t even really need that. What you need is the way you will feel when your spouse thanks you for cleaning things up.”

What Godin is saying here is that, whether they know it or not, what customers really want to buy is an emotional reward. They want to experience the rewarding feeling that comes from the purchase or use of your product.

If we can recognize and tap into that emotional response, we can connect with customers on the most effective level. And, selling with emotion can advance clean energy adoption, particularly in commodity markets with otherwise-fierce downward price pressure.

How to Use Emotions in Clean Energy Marketing

One of our clients, a wind turbine servicing company, faced this head on. The company provides solutions to wind farm managers who are responsible for profitable operation of their turbines. Our work with the client uncovered that, more than maximizing profitability, these customers are primarily looking for peace of mind. They want to buy the confidence and trust that repairs will be done to minimize expensive downtime for them. Prospective customers would consider data showing how our client could increase profitability only when they thought our client understood their problems at the gut level. So, our client had to develop a new clean energy marketing strategy that accounted for the emotional benefit elements of a customer’s purchase decision. 

Zooming out to the broader economy, consider Fortune 100 construction machinery company Caterpillar. A few years ago, Caterpillar creatively demonstrated the value of emotion for growing its business. By launching an attention-generating video ad campaign, the company brought relatability to heavy machinery that is typically regarded as a high due diligence product. 


With a giant game of Jenga, Caterpillar evokes feelings of awe. The juxtaposition of heavy machinery with a tabletop game helps prospects connect with the product on an emotional level first.

Why Do Emotional Purchase Decisions Work?

Focusing on emotion might seem like it flies against everything we know about the B2B purchase journey: technical, rational and data-driven. But a study from Google and CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council found that associating a product with a positive emotion made B2B purchasers nearly 50 percent more likely to purchase that product. With a positive emotional association, such as confidence or pride, buyers were also more likely to pay a premium over comparable products.

If we dig into behavioral psychology a bit, we can see why. As much as we like to think we’re always rational in making decisions, research shows that we actually take a more intuitive approach. We rely on our perceptions, associations and emotions to form a “gut feeling.” In fact, studies have found that we use the analytical, rule-governed part of our brain to justify decisions rather than to make them.

Humans are emotional actors first, rational actors second.

Cleantech Sales Strategies for Emotional Selling

Understanding how people make decisions opens up exciting opportunities for advancing cleantech adoption. While facts and information will always be important, cleantech marketers can differentiate and avoid commoditization through storytelling, relatability and emotional connections with their customers.

On the whole, cleantech products are technical and complex, with extended purchase processes relying on long-term customer relationships. Because of these extended relationships, customers want to feel confidence in cleantech companies and their products. Leveraging positive emotion through videos, content and a little creativity builds customer confidence at the crucial, first interaction with your company.

Solar, wind and energy storage have seen dramatic drops in costs over the last several years. As much as lower prices help increase technology adoption rates of clean energy, many cleantech executives are concerned about the impact of commoditization on their bottom line. To win bids in a commoditized world based on anything other than price is going to require strong value propositions and brand differentiation. And an essential component of that is understanding the emotional need your product is fulfilling.

In the coming months, we will be diving deeper into the topic of commoditization pressures for cleantech industries, how to sell with emotion, and how to incorporate this information into your  clean energy marketing strategy. Stay tuned.

You might also be interested in reading: Cleantech companies: Differentiate or Get Squeezed on Price.