SunPower Lights Up Programmatic Video To Find (Qualified) Solar Panel Prospects

panelThe solar energy industry doesn’t spring to mind as an early adopter of programmatic video – and for good reason.

A basic residential solar panel system can cost anywhere between $25,000-$35,000, according to a Solar Power Authority estimate, and it takes years before the energy savings add up.

So it’s safe to say solar panel projects are not small-ticket investments.

Silicon Valley-based SunPower, a $1.5 billion solar energy company catering to commercial and residential clients, was looking to convert qualified prospects.

But someone who is in the market for solar panels is very different than someone who, by virtue of behavioral triggers alone, might signal an interest in green living.

So SunPower, its agency DWA and the video platform VideoAmp had to identify several key audience attributes.

The brand wanted to reach homeowners with a minimum household income of $100,000 individually or $200,000 combined who owned either high-square-foot homes or “tiny homes,” an architectural trend among green homeowners who wish to leave a more sustainable footprint.

SunPower also sought prospects with either an undergraduate or graduate degree, who were eco-conscious or owned an electric car, who worked in high-tech professions and were homeowners in a strong solar adopter neighborhood/ZIP, which meant, by proxy, certain geos in California, New York and New Jersey. 

After pre-qualifying audiences based on the aforementioned traits, DWA built several custom audiences using VideoAmp’s data tool, Screen Tensor, in order to segment “to-be solar adopters” from those who were superficially interested in solar power.

After identifying audiences that met its criteria, DWA augmented third-party data segments (for example: eXelate green affluents, BlueKai green living/mothers who buy green, Datatonics’ Tesla Model S owners) to segment them further.

“We obviously targeted people who were researching solar installs and economic efficiencies, but then we’d layer that in with more qualified traits, such as those with large homes who had families, in addition to those interested in green technology,” said Jay Prasad, chief business officer at VideoAmp. “We were really looking for audiences who were closer to purchasing, who knew the implications of installing solar power.”

The results were strong: There was a nearly 30% post-click conversion rate after they saw a video ad (e.g., those who took action on SunPower’s site), with more than 25% who viewed solar panel package rates. The average CTR in Q4 was 0.88%.

“We were really pleased with the results, having 30% of the audience take action,” said Ben Barenholtz, senior director of global marketing at DWA. “It’s got to be more than just media metrics for us. There is some degree of lead generation down the funnel we’re being judged on.”

VideoAmp ran the campaign on a managed basis with DWA leading all of the strategy in the early stages.

It’s not uncommon for smaller solar panel shops a quarter (or even half) of SunPower’s size to stick with local marketing tactics tying in print and direct mail.

In many cases solar businesses are new to digital B2C marketing because many companies regularly interface with contractors, office owners and developers.

“SunPower certainly had more awareness of things you’d consider established by now in digital like programmatic,” Barenholtz said. “They weren’t haphazardly stepping into the digital process. They were already making that marketing transition and just needed an agency to guide them.”

SunPower created a digital residential marketing team in the fall of 2014 after hiring a CMO to ramp up residential marketing campaigns. That helped spur its retention of DWA as its digital agency of record in 2015.

It also more recently hired full-service creative agency Pitch, which created a 30-second broadcast spot to coin the tagline “Demand Better Solar,” which culminated in a wider print, radio, digital and out-of-home branding campaign last month.

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  1. The campaign results seem be far too good to be true.

    0.88% CTR is simply not possible on any channel or device without the vast majority of clicks being either fraudulent or accidental. People do not intentionally click on ads. So, the post-click conversion metrics are inherently invalid. This will make lower-funnel success more difficult (but not impossible).

    Luckily, each eventual conversion drives upwards of $25k in revenue to SunPower. Even if over 99% of impressions were fraudulent, it’s still possible for the campaign to get a positive ROI if it can be tied somehow to a handful of purchases.

  2. “People do not intentionally click on ads.”

    That’s quite the blanket statement. With the exact targeting data they have layered on this campaign it’s quite believable IMO. If these people have been researching solar options then it is quite reasonable to believe the clicks are not fraudulent.

    “it’s still possible for the campaign to get a positive ROI if it can be tied somehow to a handful of purchases.”

    Ever heard of conversion tracking? I’m sure this was used to some capacity on this campaign.

    • If you want to believe that some people do actually intentionally click on ads, fine. A lot of people still make their living by playing make-believe with clicks, so I get why people still want clicks to have some meaning or value. I can tell you that Santa isn’t real, but there is no point trying to prove it if you believe otherwise.

      You’re still assuming falsely that the people targeted truly match what their audience categories say. For example, eXelate has me cookied as male, female, part of every income bracket, in-market for nearly every make and model available, and a few dozen marketing-buzzword-named categories (like “affluent green lifestyle mothers”).

      Yes. I have heard of conversion tracking. That is why I brought it up. It is a $25,000 conversion. It’s not done online and it’s not instant. Customers have to work with a sales associate to hammer out details before converting, probably over a few weeks or months. I don’t know how exactly they are mapping conversions back to specific impressions. The article says that they will be tracking that over the long haul. I didn’t want to make any assumptions about their exact method.

      Like I said in the text you quoted, it only takes a handful of purchases to be somehow tied to the campaign for there to be a positive ROI.