This week, I'd like to share a problem I encounter with almost every climate tech professional I've worked with or approached. It exists across the board, so I don't take offense. It happens whether I'm with friends, acquaintances, or cold leads in climate tech. I even find myself afflicted as I gain more knowledge in the field.
The curse of expertise
I've only been what I'd call a "real" expert in exactly one subject in my life: piano performance. This came from 12 years of intense piano study that led to my full-tuition and expenses paid scholarship for piano performance as an undergrad.
Then--plot twist--I quit the piano, cold turkey. This came after a sexist incident with a trusted mentor. By now, my piano performance days are ancient history.
As a result of my years of training, I know more than most people about music. Here's an information dump intended to impress you:
I've performed pieces of over 20 pages in length from memory in competitions. I can tell you about complex piano theory including the origins of scalar theory dating back to Ancient Greece. I can tell you how certain scales pair well with certain chord progressions due to their harmonic overtones and how our ears are naturally attuned to certain mathematical patterns of sound frequencies. I studied jazz and can recount the evolution from slave hymns to the adoption of the pentatonic scale in blues to rag time to swing to bebop to jazz fusion to free improvisation to funk and hip hop. I can tell you the main differences between Western music and jazz music: counting on the 1s and 3s rather than the 2s and 4s in a measure of 4/4 count, extending the harmonic interviews from the 5th and 7th to the 11th, 13th, and 15th of a scale and clustering those tones over a tonic bass note, adopting non-Western tonalities, and using other strategies like call and response, improvisation over set chord progression, and polyrhythms. I can tell you about the ergonomics of music with the Alexander Technique and how to use gravity to increase speed and dexterity. I can even tell you some techniques to build concentration in the midst of a performance. One teacher would throw pencils over her students' shoulders from behind while they were attempting to play their piece perfectly. Others use techniques like scoring your breathing into the music to assign breaths and exhales to certain measures. I studied with a respected teacher whose piano sound board had been signed by Arthur Rubinstein, Glenn Gould, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. I met notable jazz legends Lionel Hampton, Roy Hargrove, and Elvin Jones before they died.
My piano expertise, contrary to what you might expect, has not been a boon in life. It's even a slight burden, because I find it hard to relate to people who just casually listen to music.
Climate tech leaders suffer from expertise, too
Climate tech is a field dominated by engineers who have spent their lives studying their particular domains. I don't want to paint them as one-dimensional people. They're not.
They may, however, be inclined to "information dump" like I just did, which often turns average people away. It can be hard for them to level with regular audiences.
They may also get disappointed when regular audiences are more interested in practical considerations for value, ease of implementation, and cost than complex technical specs.
I say this with complete empathy as someone who has the same "problem of expertise" with music. I can't undo those years devoted to becoming an "insider," and as a result, I have certain cognitive biases:
- I tend to value my own years of learning more than others' newfound interest. In other words, I lack empathy for newbies.
- I'm keyed in to other experts. I want to know the experts, and I see them as the MVPs in the domain.
Marketers: the antidote?
Marketing professionals, however, have entirely different cognitive biases. They are motivated by attracting newcomers and converting them into leads. One of the ways I understand audiences is through the lens of SEO trial and error.
When I entered marketing, I was thrilled about how everything felt like an experiment. This thrill hasn't worn off, either. I hypothesize, I test, I measure, and I gain insights about audiences.
Now that I have 3 years under my belt as a full-time sustainability marketing writer, I would like to let you in on a little secret from an SEO perspective.
Climate tech keywords--the industry's jargon and lingo--don't have a lot of volume, yet. They're growing in volume, but I would caution against putting all of your eggs in that basket, yet.
For this reason, you'll often need to balance "industry jargon" topics geared towards insiders with those from other adjacent "mainstream" domains.
It can be tricky because climate tech audiences usually fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of "expert" and "newbie." It can be tough to get the right mix of relatability and technicality.
If you're working with a renewable energy company, regardless of your clean technology, you sell electricity and cost-savings at the end of the day.
Of course, your customers may also care about the added benefits of cleaner air, tackling climate change, or your novel technological solution. But you'll also have to address their immediate concerns about reliability, cost, and convenience.
Mainstreaming climate tech
Marketing professionals are allies to the climate tech industry precisely because they are able to identify fresh audiences that engineers may overlook. They are able to analyze what voice of customer data is telling them. They are also able to see that an SEO keyword outside of climate tech can serve as a great content pillar for a climate tech company.
A key challenge for climate tech is to attract mainstream audiences, rather than insiders only. This is because we want climate tech to rapidly disrupt existing technologies to become the norm. How to transcend the "niche" appeal of sustainability is the question that keeps me up at night.
My main purpose as a writer is to creatively experiment to find the keys to unlocking disruption. It's something that challenges me to think more creatively about the field each day.
Thanks for reading :)
I'm Erica Eller, a climate tech, ESG, and sustainable business blog writer and SEO strategist. Follow me on other channels for a follow back: