By Published On: October 4, 2023

Wow, what a trip! Both literally and figuratively. RE+ 2023 was the year’s biggest Renewable Energy tradeshow with its 1100+ exhibitors and 40K+ attendees.

Why would cat&tonic, a small creative, branding, and marketing agency in Minneapolis schlep all the way to the desert to attend a tradeshow for an industry we’re new to?

Well, lots of reasons. But mostly to learn.

To learn about the companies that make up the industry. To better understand their sales and business models. To get the inside scoop into their biggest business challenges. To hear how they’re talking about their products through their brand messaging. To see how they’re visually presenting their brand.

And ultimately, to create content they can utilize as they build their brands in a highly competitive global emerging market.

I’m happy to report, we accomplished our mission. Over the course of three days, we talked to dozens of people, absorbed an abundance of information, took in massive amounts of visual stimulation (both on and off the tradeshow floor), and came away with a much stronger understanding of the industry. Oh, and plenty of ideas for elevating it through content.

Here are some of our biggest takeaways…

Solar capture and energy storage are the biggest categories dominating the renewables scene right now. Wind was represented, but at a much smaller scale. An engineer we met from the wind industry told us solar is where wind was 10 years ago in terms of new technology. That was evidenced by the breadth and depth of the suppliers represented and the overall mood of the tradeshow floor. For three days, it buzzed with purpose, excitement, and anticipation of things to come.

As with many new up-and-coming technologies, the competition was fierce. Engineers and sales reps waxed poetic about the one feature or spec that made their product different, and ultimately better, than those of their respective competitor. We had no doubt in the validity of their claims but walked away wondering how many would make it over the long haul. Not because they didn’t have compelling products and services, but because they weren’t differentiating their brand.

Small- to mid-size manufacturers are relying heavily on traditional sales tactics to bring in new leads, while “the marketing guy” is tasked with making website updates and coordinating tradeshow exhibits. In our experience, this is a typical manufacturing mindset and doesn’t serve B2B buyers well—especially younger ones who want to fully research a company before ever talking to a sales rep. Content is king and for these companies to find buyers, they’ll need to step up their game.

Brand messaging was almost exclusively focused on the technological features of a product. It’s good information for engineers and even some buyers, but to effectively stand out among competitors, B2B brands are smart to also focus on the benefits their products provide to buyer’s audience, not just specs and stats. Differentiated messaging helps brands stand out and rise above commodity status.

Exhibitors relied heavily on visuals featuring their products. And not just in their sell sheets and catalogs where it makes sense. Entire brands appeared to be built around images of items fresh off the assembly line. A buyer however, whether from a business or a household, is more likely to relate to a brand if they can see how its products and services will improve their life. Which means using imagery (and messaging) they can relate to on a human level. We call it “humanizing the brand”. And it works.

It’s no surprise that the talk of renewables saving the planet by cutting emissions was prevalent. What did surprise us (in a good way) is that the issue of waste is being addressed. Many solar panel manufacturers offer take-back and recycling programs for their products, and programs are available that offer end-of-life management services to those who need them. While not as sexy as a sleek new solar panel, recycling programs should be an important, and highly touted, aspect of the brand.

Several small nonprofits made a large impact on us. Relegated to the outskirts of the show, they didn’t experience the amount of traffic they deserved. But they were there, connecting with peers and telling stories to us and others who found themselves wandering the perimeter in search of a moment of reprieve. Shoutout to our new friends at Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), Black Owners of Solar Services (BOSS), Eco.Logic, and Power52. More to come on these and others who are working hard to make the renewables space an equitable space.

Last year’s IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) is playing a big part in the emergence of new technology. Companies and consumers are taking advantage of available funds and causing the industry to grow quickly. Startups and established companies alike are putting their resources into projects that will reduce GHG emissions and potentially stop or even reverse the damage that’s been done by burning fossil fuels. We wish them all the best and we’re here to help in any way we can.

When attending a show of this magnitude, it’s always a good idea to carry a backup pair of shoes in your bag. Or a hoverboard.

In a way, our team is much like many of the people we met in Vegas—in the early stages of a journey, where things are exhilarating and scary at the same time. Like us, they know they’re onto something that will ultimately make the world a better place.

Onward we go!

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About the Author: Danette Knickmeier

Danette Knickmeier
The number of hats Danette wears at the agency rivals the number of toppings you can put on a pizza. Now seven years into her second residency at cat&tonic, she enjoys putting her many talents to use, including (but not limited to) account services, project management, strategic planning, copy and content writing, general operations, and snack ordering. Her wicked planning skills and natural ability to keep projects on task—without annoying all parties involved—make her our go-to, get-it-done person. Danette’s first stint at [c&t] lasted six years before she got the itch to try on a few larger agencies for size. She grew professionally and made several life-long friends in those days, but she missed the small agency vibe and was eagerly welcomed back by her life-long [c&t] friends.
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