It’s challenging to be green

The marketing of electricity is now an increasingly significant issue following the liberalization of electricity markets in many parts of the world. Substantial emphasis has been placed on green electricity, but the concept is vague to many consumers. Utilities need to focus their market research on defining and understanding green electricity from a consumer perspective and using the understanding gained to improve their marketing. Much of what they are using today does not work.

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Through my own cross-national research that gathered consumer insight from five European countries, I have found that green electricity perceptions are not unanimous among consumers in different countries. However, there are several broad constructs that consumers seem to agree on. These key constructs are sustainability/corporate social responsibility, local production, visual impact and energy saving.

Though they might agree on the broad terms, the details on how they define these constructs vary. To name an example, some relate the concept of sustainability to the renewable sources that don’t emit CO2 directly. Others are concerned with pollution that has an immediate effect on their near-environment, while a group of consumers raise concerns regarding the long-term monetary sustainability of energy production. By digging deeper to understand what affects consumers’ definition of sustainability, other constructs emerge, such as skepticism towards energy companies and their perceived shady marketing practices, higher energy prices, and the fact that the majority of consumers don’t think it matters who provides their electricity, since it all looks the same.

The job of utilities who want to have a green positioning for their brands is to change these perceptions in an honest way. Find ways to be credible as a green energy provider and use marketing in a credible manner.

A good starting point in understanding how to create a powerful brand will be at CHARGE – The World’s First Energy Branding Conference in Iceland in September 2016. The aim of the conference is to create a dialogue that leaves guests with a better insight into branding for energy companies, as well as the importance of branding energy in other sectors. We ought not to forget that energy is an input for everyone.

Speakers will include Jim Rogers, former CEO of Duke Energy (U.S.), Stephen Fitzpatrick, CEO of OVO Energy (UK), and Sabine Schmittwillke, Head of Group Brand Communications RWE (Germany). Opposing viewpoints will also be examined, for example, by Agneta Rising, Director General of the World Nuclear Association and members of the International Hydro Association. Iceland is just around the corner – less then five hours from North America and two to three hours from Europe. Registration is at http://www.branding.energy.

 

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This article was first published in the Leaders in Energy blog. The original post can be found here.

Just like branding a box of soap

Some say that energy can’t be differentiated and it can’t be branded since it is just an intangible commodity. An obvious example of an intangible commodity branding is the telecoms. But in many ways branding and marketing energy is not that much different from branding other household items such as soap. It is all about creating connections in the mind of the consumer.

Electricity is an intangible product meaning that you are not selling or marketing a product that you can hold and feel in your hands like soap. But the job of the utility is to make electricity more tangible by creating connections in the mind of the consumer. Electricity can’t smell like strawberries or Alpine spring. The soap doesn’t really smell like a real fruit or Alpine spring but for a brief moment when you wash your hands you take a short trip to the Alps in the springtime or remember when you open a box of ripe berries.

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By connecting a brand with positive sensation in the mind of the consumer, the brand creates value for the customer. The same could be done with electricity just as soap. Electricity is in fact more exciting than most commodities.

Most commodities are in fact rather unsexy when they are not branded. The sweatsuit and sneakers overcome a lot of negative connections when branded. These commodities are not connected to the sweat and smell of the athlete when they have been branded as Nike.

Established utilities often have a lot of negative connections to their brands to overcome. The first step is to identify what emotions consumers connect to their brands and sort out the negative from the positive and figure out which negative emotions can be turned to positive ones. Then the brand re-building can take place.

World Branding Forum interview

Dr. Friðrik Larsen, the chairman of CHARGE recently did an interview with World Branding Forum, talking about the conference, branding & marketing electricity, utilities and how they can be prepared for increased demand for consumer engagement.

 I quickly realised that one on one conversations wouldn’t be efficient, it would be better to pool all the knowledge on the subject into one place and get everyone there to learn and listen.

The full interview can be found here.

Iceland: EURO2016 most valuable brand

Wanting to win the European cup describes a small mentality. The UEFA tournament is of course the silly season for the real thing – the World Cup in two years. Sour grapes aside, it is last chance to jump the Team Iceland bandwagon before it comes to a halt – let’s see how we can look at the Icelandic football team in terms of brands and branding. This year’s fan favorite team has some things in common with successful brands.

„When you are only No. 2, you try harder. Or else“

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It’s often harder to be the best, you are on top and the only way from there is down. Being the underdog means that you have everything to win, competing against Iceland has meant that you are at best defeating… Iceland. Avis recognized that it was a strength by being number 2 and used it as a part of their positioning. It’s often easier to compete when you can gain a position rather than defending it.

Customer engagement

A great brand does not have customers – it has fans. A sports team has fans but they are quick to turn against their teams if they disappoint.  The Icelandic team makes the effort to engage with their fans. Before every match, the coach meets with the fan club to go over the starting 11 (before it’s official) and how the team will approach the game. After each match, the players give applause to the fans and cheers with them. By doing that, the team recognizes the importance of their fans.

Brand identity

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A brand can choose its identity and it can even assume a country of origin or decide to be without one. The country of origin part is difficult when a national sports team is the brand in question. Brands can often refer to their heritage. For the Icelandic team, there is of course no direct brand heritage in relations to football. For a brand without a heritage, there is always the option of finding indirect connections for a brand heritage. The Icelandic team gets associated with their presumed Viking warrior heritage. That association is perfect for a contact sport; fearless warriors that keep on fighting against all odds; it is OK to win the battle but the real champions and best warriors are chosen by Odin to die in battle and ascent to Valhalla to fight among legends. The team appeared to be a band of berserker brothers fighting for honor, tattooed, bearded and long hair.

Good results require years and decades of hard work

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This point is not branding specific but important for any brand. Being successful requires hard work. Forget the legend of warm and cozy indoor soccer halls with artificial grass that are supposed to be integral for the development of Icelandic football players. Most players in the team could train on 3rd class artificial grass once a week during the winter. The only indoor facilities they could train on were meant for handball or horses. They would run outside in rain, frost and (always) against the wind. They would develop their sliding tackles skills on gravel fields made from crushed lava. Success does not come easy and sometimes success is the result of years of plucking sand and small pebbles from a bleeding ulcer after a great tackle.