As part of their Global Part-time MBA at Manchester Business School, students Patrick Bryan, Angella Makmot and Alison Ollier, undertook a project looking at marketing strategies for solar panel companies in the UK.
Student Patrick Bryan commented: “I found the project one of the most fulfilling elements of the Global MBA. The way it brought together learning experiences from earlier modules and by applying this knowledge to a real life, current business issue was a great way to conclude the course. The Manchester MBA emphasises group work throughout and the project really tested and developed my abilities in key project management skills such as meeting deadlines, networking with industry figures and managing differences in opinion. The end result was a piece of work that was a source of pride for all members of the team.”
To identify a suitable marketing strategy for companies marketing photo-voltaic (PV) systems to UK households. PV cells provide technology that enables the generation of electricity and typically, with recent energy price rises a household will install solar panels on their roof to offset the cost of buying in electricity from utility companies. In 2010, the UK government backed the use of solar panels by introducing a scheme that pays an amount to a householder for every unit of electricity generated from renewable technologies – however, the tariff was significantly reduced in 2011.
The project sought to understand what drove customers to choose PV to provide their electricity supply.
The team conducted face-to-face interviews with eight consumers, five contacts in the industry from suppliers, marketers and installers and government representatives and carried out an online survey, which delivered 153 valid responses (those that live in the UK and own a home).
The results showed that customers were overwhelmingly interested in PV for its ability to reduce household bills (87% of respondents) and 73% had used price comparison websites when researching their energy choices. Environmental concerns and service from the provider were low priority. 51% of respondents had considered buying PV. The majority of these were in the 31-60 age range and had an annual household income of £51,000 and above.
82% of respondents used the internet to research their energy buying decision and of these, supplier websites, word of mouth and independent websites such as Which? were the most credible forms of marketing. The level of brand awareness of PV products were very low as cited by more than 70% of the respondents
The government would continue to support the installation of PV across the country, but the way it would do this (via feed in tariffs) would reduce in the future. This is because it sees the industry as more self-supporting and the input costs (PV panels) reducing too. Customers would increasingly finance their PV through additional mortgaging and 0% finance deals available through large stores such as IKEA.
Recommended marketing strategies for PV firms
The project group recommended that marketing strategies used widely by the UK PV industry today, such as tele-marketing, e-blasts and leaflet drops should be abandoned since they are not credible to consumers; instead, the industry should adopt marketing strategies found to be most credible to customers, such as newspaper advertisements, industry websites and PV company websites. The project group accept that a typical PV company would not have the marketing budget to be able to fund this type of campaign itself, so the suggestion is to adopt an industry-wide approach where members of the MCS (micro generation certification scheme) would all contribute to a major national campaign. The global brand names of PV manufacturers such as e.g. Samsung, Panasonic would be leveraged in the campaign along with the MCS logo to afford the trust that these brands offer. A website would utilise the MCS brand and a postcode finder utilised to direct interested consumers to a local PV installer. They suggested this approach would help the UK PV industry improve its reputation and re-position the product category as an aspirational, modern ecological lifestyle choice – similar to electric cars from BMW such as the 3i.
Global MBA projects
Working in selected groups, and through the use of a blended learning model, Global MBAs closely mimic a real working environment. They interact with other members of the group, and with the external company employees, through email, discussion groups, video conferencing and face-to-face meetings. During this time they conduct their own personal research and studies. Projects are supported by an academic supervisor, hand-picked for their expert knowledge.
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