Energy Branding: You can’t put a lipstick on a pig

The energy industry faces a great problem. Energy companies are perceived as faceless, heartless entities. To put it mildly, customers hate them. But why is that?

A big part of the problem is that energy companies have not been paying attention to branding. They spend a lot of money on their brands, but they don’t view branding as something that is part of their DNA. Branding in energy has often been siloed away as the
private matter of the marketing and communications department and the image-building has been outsourced to advertising and marketing agencies.

It does not matter how much is spent on funny ads. All marketing activities need to rely on a well-defined brand. Every organisation is involved in branding, whether they like it or not. Brands are defined by consumers and you brand your services by everything you do. Clever ads or massive corporate social responsibility activities might raise awareness, but it also builds an image and gives a promise in the mind of the consumer that needs to be fulfilled. There must be a balance between promises made and promises kept. Customers don’t like cheques that bounce any more than the utilities do.

How can you brand a commodity?

Energy is a commodity and a commodity is always the same – it doesn’t matter if it’s frozen orange juice, pork bellies or an energy futures contract. But you can differentiate a commodity. When you have differentiated a commodity, you have created a brand. Take a commodity, add a story, an experience for the customer, put a name on it and you have a brand. There are banana brands and there are salt brands. Electricity is just the same. You can differentiate right at the source and sell green energy and you can differentiate on the service level. Brands are defined in the mind of the consumer and the key is to create a different experience than the competition. There are many brands in the UK market that have been doing an outstanding job in their branding. Brands such as Ovo, Octopus, Ecotricity, Bulb and Igloo.

The branding challenge of the big six

The brands I mentioned are all perceived favourably by their customers and a clear majority of their customers are fans and promoters of the brands. But they all have found the magic flute of energy – starting with a clean slate. Most challenger brands have earned most of their customer base, meaning their customers were impressed by their marketing efforts and made an informed decision to switch. The promises the brands have made through their marketing efforts have been kept and that means happy customers. The big six have an unhappy customer base that has been scarred in the past with promises not kept. It is an enormous task for a brand that has been perceived as cold and distant to try to change to become perceived as being warm and cuddly overnight. Customers are already suspicious of them and would most likely ask “why do you care all of a sudden?”

And then there were five

The SSE and Npower merger will be an interesting case for the branding textbooks. There is a great opportunity to start over again. An opportunity to take the strengths of the old brands but leave the weaknesses behind.

The question is which way the new brand will go: will the new brand distance itself as far as possible from the old brands and the other big five brands? The points of differentiation must be followed through and shine through every part of the organisation. For example, being a green brand is not a matter of choosing the right shade of green paint for the headquarters. Every process needs to be green and all parts of the supply chain must be green or sustainable.

If the new brand is to show a new beginning, it must show in action that it is different from the parent brands. But the most important thing to remember is that branding is not just doing the groundwork and launching a new identity. It is about implementing and follow through. Brands need to be monitored and measured constantly. Brands live and breathe in the minds of consumers and what matters is how they are perceived by consumers.

This article was originally published in Utility Week

Scenes and interviews from CHARGE2018

CHARGE 2018 was a great success with participants coming from all over the world for a unique energy event in Iceland. Discussions on utility rebranding, sustainable energy solutions, audio branding and the CHARGE Energy Awards were handed out to the winners. Click the video below to see what went on and what people had to say about the conference and get a glimpse at the energy excursion.



Winners of the 2018 CHARGE Awards

EON, Powershop, Ekwatuer, Fingrid and Virta announced as World‘s best energy brands

Reykjavik 25 September 2018 – The world’s best energy brands were announced last night in Reykjavík as part of the CHARGE Energy Branding conference – the only event in the world dedicated to brand building and communications for the energy space.

Best Established Brand: EON
Best Challenger Brand: Powershop
Best Green Brand: ekWateur
Best Transmission brand: Fingrid
Best Product Brand: Virta

Each brand won their respected category after being shortlisted by an international panel of professionals working in and around the energy sector. The winners in the retail categories were the brands with the best-combined score from a customer research as well as a score from the panel. Winners of Transmission and Product categories were chosen by the panel.

What the panel had to say about the winners

EON: “A Bold Energy Giant – massive investments into business transformation. Seem to be living the brand/business/technology transformation happily and successfully, both inside the organisation and outside communicating and launching new products/services.”

Powershop: “An innovative, disruptive and incredibly well-executed brand. The brand is highly engaging, innovative and is very cohesive as a challenger brand. The brand is very clever and transcends electricity as a low involvement commodity into a highly engaged consumer brand.”

Ekwateur: “… built a very sensitive customer care strategy. Community management, testimonials, communication tools are important parts of the global company strategy. Their segmentation is very precise and well executed”

Fingrid: “Very good brand, with good core messages, innovation and customer-centric, a national monopoly with exceptional consumer focus and outward vision.  Logo and signature are clean and smart. ”

Virta: “Brand has a very clear direction and a strong presence in a way that is accessible to consumers while giving a strong sense of reliability and trustworthiness. A clear effort made to communicate with consumers is a carefree way that develops high engagement and great user experiences. ”

Dr. Fridrik Larsen, founder of CHARGE Energy Branding: “It was an even competition this year with strong cases from the finalists. But the winners delivered excellent case studies and there were some strong indications of the excellence of the finalists when we reviewed the customer surveys for the retail energy categories in the EBBI benchmarking tool. It’s great to see that the energy space is fully aware of the benefits of branding and the finalists and especially the winners set the bar for the rest of the industry.”

About the Charge Energy Branding Conference 

The annual CHARGE Energy Branding Conference is the world’s first knowledge and networking platform on energy branding. As an international event strategically located between North America and Europe, CHARGE aims at leading the global conversation on communications in the energy and utility sectors while drawing attention to issues of sustainability, innovation, and the consumer-centric experience. The conference is a hub for decision-making, networking and researching about energy branding as an emerging field.

Re-thinking the Utility

The utility as it was known 10 years ago is dead. The Energy sector is adapting to a changing landscape. While the energy mix is moving more towards renewables, the sector is changing its approach to the end consumer as well. Energy needs branding for effective communication. Branding is not only about attracting more customers but also to communicate important information from a credible source in a way that everyone can understand – both laymen and professionals. An important thing in crafting a brand that is authentic and believable is looking at the brand from the inside. The most crucial touchpoints any brand has, directly or indirectly are the employees that represent the brand.

Death of the Utility

The utility business model has gone through changes and is constantly being disrupted. You will hear from European energy brands that have been going through some transformation.

Emma Inston goes over how EON has transformed into a purpose-led brand.
Henrik Sætness talks about the evolving energy market and how Statkraft is adapting to it.
Rosemary Steen shows how Eirgrid has built trust by creating understanding.
Koen Noyens will present a new vision for the European energy sector.
Dr. Philip Lewis will moderate the panel discussion.


Branding from the inside out

There is a war for talent going on and brands need to speak to both employees and possible employees. A brand must communicate in a simple, constant manner and every employee must know how to communicate on behalf of the brand.

Dounia Alno will show you how ENGIE manages to unify a global workforce under a single brand.
Caroline Kamerbeek presents on why it is important to engage the internal brand.
Rune Kirt is going to talk about the importance of creating a common language for all internal stakeholders.
Þórdís Lóa Þórhallsdóttir will moderate the panel discussion.


Winners of the CHARGE Awards announced at CHARGE 2018

Established: Alperia Energy, Innogy, Enmax, E.on, Helen Challenger: Illumia, Powershop, Igloo Energy, easyEnergy, Watt + VOLT Green: Burlington Electric, CleanChoice Energy, Bulb, Ekwateur Transmission: Eirgrid, Enbridge, Fingrid Distribution: Submissions from shortlisted brands did not meet the standards for finalists for the World’s Best Energy Brands. Product & Innovation: Tiko, Virta, THE FCTR E

You will have a seat at the table at the CHARGE Awards included in your admission to CHARGE 2018. The finalists were the top brands among those shortlisted by a panel of experts working in and around the global energy space. The winners in the categories of Established, Challenger and Green are determined by a combination of how their brands are perceived by their customers and how the panel judged their case studies. The winners of Transmission and Product are the brands with the highest scores from their case studies. Customers perception of energy brands is measured by the only Energy Branding Measurement tool available, the EBBI. Further information on the finalists can be found by clicking here.

Green to the Core and B2B Branding

The energy sector is not simply about the metamorphosis of different forms of energy into electrons that are transmitted and delivered into homes and businesses for the next metamorphosis. The energy sector is pushing forward progress and creating value. Value is determined by the end consumer. And it is the purpose of every brand to create as much value as possible. Brands have an enormous opportunity to increase value with a green positioning and that will be one of the points addressed in the track Green is the New Black. Many brands and companies need to communicate and create value for more stakeholders than the end consumer. The B2B communication track is about how brands can communicate effectively with different stakeholders.

Find the full conference agenda for both the 24th and 25th of September here.

Green is the New Black

It seems that everyone has gone green, sustainable, renewable or circular. While there are different shades of green available – brands need to be green to the core in order to stand out from others. Green positioning needs to go beyond the source and connect in innovative ways to the hearts of the consumers.

James Ellsmoor will talk about how renewables and sustainability don’t only make an economic sense but have become an important ingredient in country and place branding
Viggó Jónsson will tell us how Green is an important ingredient for brands to create more value.
Clay Koplin tells us about how Cordova, an off-the-grid Alaskan town, has become the perfect testing ground for the energy system of the future.
Roberto Zangrandi will let us into how Distribution System Operators in Europe have been communicating with their customers
Sushil Reddy will share his Sun PedalRide adventure around the world and especially his recent trip around Iceland
Guðný Camilla Aradóttir will moderate the panel discussion


B2B Communication

Branding is not only about communicating to the end-consumer. Branding is about communicating a consistent brand to all customers and stakeholders. It is often thought that price is the prime factor on the B2B market, but research has shown that brands on the B2B market that use emotional marketing message fare better off than ones using rational message.

Piotr Zawistowski will talk about how Power Exchanges establish and maintain communication with their various stakeholders.
Liene Donckers will share examples of how brands can seek inspiration from different stakeholders on what works in brand communication.
Paddy Young is going to talk about how you can stay on top of an ever-evolving market and stay relevant in the marketplace.
Stefanía G. Halldórsdóttir shares insights on how energy brands in the wholesale market communicate with their customers.
Ingrid Helsingen Warner will moderate the panel discussion.


The source of the Icelandic Energy Transition from carbon to 100% renewable

The Germans might have branded and brought the term Energiewende into the global vocabulary. But when Iceland started, nobody was thinking about it.  The energy transition from carbon based fuels to renewables began over 100 years ago. It started off slowly with hydro powering just the lights but fully took off when Ljósafoss power plant began producing power for the city of Reykjavik in 1937. The plant made it possible for homes to stop relying on burning coal for cooking and at the same time, geothermal began to replace heating in the capital.

Networking excursion to Ljósafoss hydro plant

Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company of Iceland, invites participants of CHARGE to a Magnet Networking Excursion to the Ljósafoss Power Plant. The excursion will serve as a grand finale of CHARGE 2018 on the 25th of September. After the conference programme concludes, participants will go straight to buses that will take them on an energy excursion like no other. Participants will travel outside of Reykjavik through the iconic Icelandic landscape to the powerplant. At the powerplant, Landsvirkjun will host a reception for participants at the plant’s interactive energy exhibition space.

Ljósafoss Hydro Power Plant Facts

Ljósafoss plant was first of three stations that utilise power from the river Sog. The plant was designed by architect Sigurður Guðmundsson in Funkis style which is a unique Nordic flavor of Functionalism and features decorations by sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson. The Ljósafoss plant hosts an interactive exhibitionThe exhibition emphasises on play and experience where the nature and characteristics of electricity are shown in multiple forms and guests are led through the world of electricity in new and creative ways

Learn more about Iceland’s Energy Transition

At CHARGE last year, Hörður Arnarson – CEO of Landsvirkjun, went over the company’s history and its role in Iceland’s 100% renewable electricity and how the company has been repositioning itself over the years.

Radical changes ahead for Energy Brands

Technology is changing the way brands communicate and interact with customers. But technology needs to be appealing and easy to interact with. Renewable energy is moving from being a point of difference has become a point of parity. What are the principles that brand practitioners should keep in mind for their brands to stay relevant or even ahead of the curve?

Find out in Reykjavik in September and learn from a cross-sector group of experts.

Meet some of the speakers at CHARGE 2018

Iuliana Calin, Head of Energy Partnerships, Google.

As Head, Energy for Google Hardware Partnerships in Canada, Iuliana works with partners to develop customer-focused energy programs that leverage Google Hardware and Nest products.

Is your energy brand ready for a radically assistive experience, with voice and AI at the core? Get a glimpse at the grid services of the future and how utilities can use them to better engage with their customers.

Michaël Boumendil, President & CCO – Sixieme Son

A musician and composer, with a degree in Marketing/Communications, that invented the concepts of musical design and audio branding. Boumendil’s approach to sound is not about creating ad jingles or licensing popular tracks. It is about creating more distinctive and appealing brands with sound and music.
A musician and composer, with a degree in Marketing/Communications, that invented the concepts of musical design and audio branding. Boumendil’s approach to sound is not about creating ad jingles or licensing popular tracks. It is about creating more distinctive and appealing brands with sound and music.

Brand engagement is moving from the screen to the speakers and a sonic identity is becoming as important as a visual identity. Learn how you can create more distinctive and appealing brands with sound and music.

Stefanía G. Halldórsdóttir, EVP, Marketing & Business Development – Landsvirkjun

Stefanía worked for CCP Games, most recently in the position of General Manager in Iceland, but also as Senior Development Director in the Shanghai office. Stefania worked in the energy industry for over 10 years, first at the National Energy Authority where she was head of information technology, and then later in a consulting company focusing on energy solutions and business intelligence
Stefanía worked for CCP Games, most recently in the position of General Manager in Iceland, but also as Senior Development Director in the Shanghai office. Stefania worked in the energy industry for over 10 years, first at the National Energy Authority where she was head of information technology, and then later in a consulting company focusing on energy solutions and business intelligence

Green is the new Black with the shift from fossil to clean. Where does that leave brands that have been 100% clean for decades? Learn how the National Power Company of Iceland rises above the noise to deliver its brand message.

Jacob Benbunan, CEO – Saffron Brand Consultants

Jacob founded Saffron and was immediately joined by his mentor and friend Wally Olins – the man who invented brand strategy. He champions the global, multi-cultural and one-team approach that Saffron embraced since day one. Previously, Jacob worked for 9 years at Wolff Olins and was part of the team that created the iconic telecom brand Orange.
Jacob founded Saffron and was immediately joined by his mentor and friend Wally Olins – the man who invented brand strategy.
He champions the global, multi-cultural and one-team approach that Saffron embraced since day one. Previously, Jacob worked for 9 years at Wolff Olins and was part of the team that created the iconic telecom brand Orange.

The energy market is changing radically. New sources, new ways of distribution and different customer expectations. Learn how energy brands can become more relevant and stay relevant in changing times.

Join other visionaries at CHARGE in Iceland in September. Meet people who are or will be shaping the world of energy, learn from the best in the field of energy branding. See the full list of speakers here.

Finalists for the 2018 CHARGE Awards announced

From an initial shortlist of 80 brands in 6 categories, the shortlist has been narrowed down to 20 finalists in 5 categories of the World’s Best Energy brands.

The finalists for the 2018 CHARGE Awards are:

Established: Alperia Energy, Innogy, Enmax, E.on, Helen
Challenger: Illumia, Powershop, Igloo Energy, easyEnergy, WATT + VOLT
Green: Burlington Electric, CleanChoice Energy, Bulb, Ekwateur
Transmission: Eirgrid, Fingrid, Enbridge
Product & Innovation: Tiko, Virta, THE FCTR E

Find out more about the awards and the nominees here.

The winners will be announced at the CHARGE Awards ceremonial dinner on the 24th of September in Reykjavik. The finalists will be honoured on stage at the conference on the 24th and the winners will participate in a panel discussion during the conference‘s second day.

We have a great variety of brands as finalists this year. Energy companies are taking their branding more and more seriously and are more consumer-centric. The European market has led Branding for energy companies in the past years but North-America has a strong presence this year.

– Dr. Fridrik Larsen, Chairman of CHARGE Energy Branding.

The initial shortlist of over 80 companies was created by a global panel of experts that work in or around the energy space as well as professionals in branding and advertising and from academia. The finalists in the three retail categories (Established, Challenger and Green) are evaluated both by customer research as well as how the panel scores their case study submissions. The categories of Product & Innovation and Transmission are evaluated by their submissions to the panel.

Clean Transportation and Renewable Energy

Last year’s CHARGE Around Iceland proved that range anxiety is not a real problem – even with the lack of fast charging stations. With the Ring-Road now fully connected with fast charging stations, we will have a new challenge to raise awareness of clean transportation and renewable energy.

The urban FOLKVÄNLIG Electric bike on rural Icelandic roads
Just like last year, the challenge will involve a vehicle designed for urban transportation but in this case, it will be the FOLKVÄNLIG electrically assisted bike from IKEA. Highway One in Iceland lies in a circle around our sub-arctic island (hence the name Ring-Road) and will need some pedalling up and down mountains in some challenging weather conditions.

Powered by the Sun…
The FOLKVÄNLIG bike will be towing a SLADDA bicycle trailer (also from IKEA) which will carry solar panels. These solar panels will be charging the batteries used for the ride.

…and a Guinness World Record holder
The other part of the propulsion system will be powered by the feet of Sushil Reddy, holding the Guinness Book of Records World Record of the longest journey on a solar powered electric bicycle. Sushil is the founder of the Sun PedalRide, a movement to create awareness about solar energy and clean transportation among the people. Sushil will begin his journey around Iceland in the week preceding CHARGE and speak at the conference on his experience and give some insights on communicating complicated matters in a simple, understandable manner.

About The Sun PedalRide
In the summer of 2016, Sushil Reddy undertook an initiative to talk to the people across India about solar energy by touring on a solar powered electric bicycle. With a team comprising of Krunal Tailor, Himanshu Singh and Rajendra Bhaskar, they went on a journey across north-west India passing through 9 states/union territories and 7500 kilometres while interacting with people in the cities, villages and towns on the route.
In addition to India, Sushil has taken the Sun PedalRide to France and to the USA where they rode along the West Coast, from San Francisco to San Diego.

Challenges of a decentralised energy market

The energy industry is changing faster now than it has ever before. These changes can in many cases be traced to the focus on renewable energy sources and energy decentralisation. With pressure from lawmakers, energy companies have been changing their energy mix to increase the use of renewable or sustainable energy sources.

Renewable energy branding has changed – it is becoming less of a differentiation for an energy company to offer a high percentage of renewable energy to customers. What has also changed is what customers expect to see from their energy companies in terms of customer service and engagement. It is more important now than ever before for energy market segmentation of customers – especially with more and more consumers in the energy market becoming prosumers. This is why energy companies have a focus on renewable energy and customer relations.

The most effective ways of communicating with energy consumers can be through content marketing, storytelling, advertising or direct contact but it the most important and effective way for communications to become successful is by building a strong brand with a coherent voice as a trusted source of information. People connect to brands.

Energy decentralisation can have two meanings but both of those meanings have had an impact on the energy sector. The decentralisation of the market in general, or deregulation or liberalisation, has meant that some market territories are no longer controlled by a monopoly which produces, transmits, distributes and sells electricity to an end consumer. Markets have been changed in order to increase competition in the retail and generation areas.

This has created new challenges for energy companies. When the consumer has a choice – he is more likely to choose the brand which speaks his language and connects to him in more ways than just supplying energy to the sockets.  This is not only causing a change in the retail sector – new brands that have been established around the transmission part and the distribution parts of the power systems have become more effective in brand-building and communicating to customers and other stakeholders. They have found out that branding is not only a proven way to communicate with the public but also to help people inside the organisations to communicate with each other. Branding has proven to be a valuable tool in breaking the silo mentality within organisations.

Energy decentralisation can also refer to new technologies enabling consumers to produce their own energy. Instead of energy coming from a centralised energy plant, it is all the sudden flowing from the rooftops of homes and small-scale windmills at farms. This addition to the power mix is not only changing the way people think of energy by bringing the production closer to home but is also changing the way energy companies are approaching the market with new strategies.

Electricity brands, in retail, transmission and distribution have had to find new ways to engage with those customers who are able to get energy off-grid. These customers are not only self-sufficient with their energy usage but are also selling power to the grid. This means a whole new means of communications. The average consumer is not an expert in terms familiar to people in the energy space – there is a need for a common language for energy companies and consumers to have their engagements in.

Energy company branding is an important topic for the changing times in the energy sector. Energy utilities are aware of the fact that they are not dealing with meter points but people of flesh and blood that need a deeper, more emotional connection than before.


Customer centric energy