How important is Yingli’s sponsorship of the Brazil World Cup for solar?

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Here’s a challenge for you – spot the odd one out from the following list of 2014 FIFA world cup sponsors:

McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Castrol, Budweiser, Adidas, Visa, Sony and Yingli.

The answer is equally obvious for anyone not working in solar as well as anybody involved in the PV sector: Yingli.

Not only is Yingli the first solar sponsor of the world’s most widely viewed sporting event, it’s also the first renewable company to do so; in fact, it’s the first Chinese company to sponsor the event.

The Chinese solar manufacturer is breathing the rarefied air of true marketing juggernauts, something that doesn’t come cheap. So what exactly is Yingli’s endgame here? 

It’s all about the power of brands – Yingli is aiming to become a household name.

How to influence the solar consumer decision process

To the layman a solar panel is a solar panel – there is absolutely no major aesthetic difference between the majority of solar modules. So how are customers supposed to decide between different products?

Marketing theory has attempted to deconstruct what goes through a purchaser’s mind when buying a product, the consumer decision making process. Marketing text books will tell you that the consumer decision process is split up into the following processes: need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and post purchase.

The two key aspects that inform which product a consumer will buy are the ‘information search’ and ‘evaluation of alternative’ stages.

The ‘information search’ stage takes two forms: internal search and external research. Currently, the vast majority of solar customers have no, or limited, knowledge about solar products so will look to find information from family, friends, word-of-mouth etc. as well as more public sources: Google, forums, reviews, installers etc.  

However, Yingli is hoping that it can start to influence the internal search that a consumer undertakes; through passive exposure to the brand, consumers can be more likely to favour Yingli over other competitors.

The next stage – evaluation of alternatives – is where a consumer whittles down their final brand choices and evaluates them against each other, placing emphasis on the personality of the company. Yingli is banking on the fact that, of the 715 million people who watch the world cup final, a number will remember the brand thanks to a phenomenon called top-of-mind awareness (TOMA). TOMA is defined as “a brand or specific product coming first in customers’ minds when thinking of a particular industry”.   

One of the key tenants of the evaluation process is that consumers tend to purchase brands which reflect their personalities – by associating itself with football, the world’s most popular sport which straddles various continents and socioeconomic groups, Yingli is hoping to form a basic emotional attachment to consumers which will inform any future decisions.

All of the above, when taken together, can create an extremely strong pull towards picking Yingli – whether or not it creates enough awareness to justify the cost is an entirely different conversation…

The importance of brand for true mainstream acceptance of solar

For the solar PV industry the fact remains that the technology has not achieved full mainstream penetration…yet. However, moves such as sponsoring massive worldwide sporting events will help expedite the process.

In Yingli’s case, sponsoring such a major, global event raises the visibility of solar – breaking down barriers for potential customers and ‘normalising’ the technology for the public. Deals like this, not only raise the visibility of solar, but, just by association with the world cup, legitimise the technology amongst the public consciousness.

Yingli Solar is increasingly targeting a wider global demographic, moving from a European focus to having 85% of shipments delivered to China, US and the rest of the World in 2013. Football’s global appeal makes it the ideal vessel to carry Yingli’s broad message across all its markets. As the industry continues to grow and mature, more and more people will become familiar with the industry’s product offering and that’s when the power of brands will really start to shape the success of individual companies.  

For now, the majority of solar purchases are based almost entirely off advice given by their chosen solar installer but, as PV brands start to develop and mature, customers could be coming directly to installers asking them to install a certain product – Yingli’s banking on the fact that the seeds it’s sowing now can help it build an early lead.

Image credit: Yingli Solar
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