Energy utilities are facing a new, different world. The deregulation and unbundling of markets, privatisation and different ways of generating electricity on a mass scale have all shaken the reality of the energy companies. The energy companies are also facing a new challenge; the customer. The customer has the tools of mass information and mass communication in his pocket and has more choices of interaction with brands than ever in history.
Giuseppe Caltabiano is the Vice President of Marketing Integration at Schneider Electric. He gave a presentation on how content marketing and social media are changing the way brands communicate to customers. He went over the basics of storytelling in the new media and what type of content consumers seek out.
According to Dr. Jefferson Tester of Cornell University, geothermal energy is the most underrated or unknown green energy source. Despite having the biggest output of geothermal energy in the world, most Americans don’t realise how much geothermal production goes on in the country.
It can be said that geothermal energy is a mostly untapped source of power, not only in the traditional sense of power generation but in terms of storytelling for the energy brand. The source of energy is often an underrated brand asset and geothermal has great potential to become a valuable part of powerful energy branding and marketing.
From Norway, Bente Engesland, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communication at Statkraft delivered a presentation on how fast times are changing in energy and how impactful the changing environment is for the energy space. The traditional energy companies are faced with more disruptive changes in the next five years than in the preceding 50 years. Bente mentioned three big factors having a lasting effect on the energy utilities; population growth, environmental factors and technological factors.
Although Statkraft has strong tradition of producing green energy, the company is facing similar challenges as other energy producers around the world; communicating with stakeholders and the public.
It is time for the utilities to shift their messaging in social media. From primarily sending messages about outages, utilities need to add an emphasis on customer relationships. Tamara McCleary CEO Thulium gave a lecture on the importance of utilities becoming personal and drive the conversation towards a more human interaction. The data utilities have today give them a unique opportunity to know the customer better – energy companies need to stop talking to customer but must start a conversation with them.
The American retail electricity market is a mixed bag when it comes to the variety of companies and markets operating in the country. A majority of the states are yet to liberalise their markets while others have mature liberalised markets and others are in different stages of liberalisation. KC Boyce is the product director at Market Strategies International. MSI has created a methodology to measure brand trust in the US electric market and KC went over the brand trust index and showed some examples of how electricity companies in the US have been able to establish more consumer trust.
Among CHARGE2017 keynote speakers is Neville Ravji, CEO of Volterra Energy in Houston, Texas. Neville has been working in the energy industry since 1997 and co-founded Tara Energy in 2002 when energy deregulation was beginning to take hold in Texas.
Neville has strived to bring energy to consumers through a bottom-up approach that involves understanding customer needs by creating macro and micro segments and then providing products that meet these needs and backing them with a fanatical focus on top-notch customer service. Under his leadership, Volterra Energy is successfully executing a multi-brand strategy aimed at various niches, with a special focus on the South Asian market. The company’s brands include Discount Power, Power Express and Volterra Energy.
The products and services offered by Volterra Energy have made them one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. “By its very nature, the product we sell has no distinguishable physical characteristics – so it is very important to be able to differentiate ourselves by creating intangible attributes that appeal to our customers. At Volterra, we have managed to do this very successfully, mainly because of a very experienced and talented team that understands the customer very well. I am looking forward to speaking to my industry peers at CHARGE and sharing our story.”
Dr. Fridrik Larsen chairman of CHARGE Energy Branding Conference said “Volterra Energy is among the few energy companies in the world that have done an outstanding job in identifying segments that they understand and can relate to. The conference is about how energy companies need to connect to the minds and hearts of consumers to be able to participate in the market today and Volterra and its brands are a great example of this.”
Fintan Slye, CEO of the Irish Transmission System Operator Eirgrid, went over the case study of Eirgrid’s need of having a strong brand. Being a state-owned monopoly, Eirgrid is not at risk of losing customers or has any market share to gain – which is the second most common misconception of the role and importance of brands and branding. The biggest misconception is of course that people often mistake the creation of visual imagery such as the logo mark as being the only thing instead of one of many things branding is about.
As Mr. Slye told the audience at CHARGE 2016, the company was for months the topic of negative front page stories and tried to approach a public relation tasks with engineering solutions. The company was met with distrust and people did not know what Eirgrid was or what it did. The task ahead was to build trust by building a strong brand with people in the center.
Brand is critical to success and survival.
Fintan’s presentation shows an interesting challenge that many established utilities around the world are facing, lack of trust in a world that demands transparency.
Helle Andersen is the head of communication at Energinet.dk, the Danish TSO. Before joining Energinet, Helle worked for one of the most successful brands in terms of heritage, engaged customers, word of mouth marketing and brand recognition, not only in Denmark but in the world – LEGO.
Energinet had at the time not unveiled the company’s branding strategy meaning that Helle was not showcasing a visual identity or outreach programmes or a success story. Instead, she gave the audience in Reykjavik a rare peak into the engine room of a brand in development.
Helle raised the valid question why a TSO should even be considering branding and explained why Energinet was undergoing the company’s first corporate branding process.
As Jukka Ruusunen puts it: not many people connect customer centricity to a transmission company. Jukka is the CEO of Fingrid of Finland, a transmission company that not only creates a connection between generation and distribution but also had created a connection between transmission and customer centricity.
Having an entire track dedicated to the Transmission and Distribution operators at a branding conference seemed like the odd one out for many attendees. For the organizers of the conference, it was not by a chance; people working for regulated monopolies are fully aware of the importance of their brand as a strategic asset.
The times are changing, making it more important now than ever for the transmission system operators to become more customer centric. Distributed generation is part of it but also the public who is expecting power companies to become “less arrogant” as Mr. Ruusunen put it – preferring TSO’s to talk about customers rather than loads.
This is people business – not just building transmission lines
Branding is an important tool to use externally but any brand starts at the inside of any organization. At Fingrid, the importance of understanding people is becoming more and more relevant skill and has become one of the requirements for new employees. Instead of building silos with a marketing department full of people skills in one silo and the engineers with technical skills in another silo, Fingrid’s strategy is to have employees that have people with people skills and the technical knowledge of how the system works.
Fingrid was one of the finalists nominated for the CHARGE Energy Branding Awards.
One of the first speakers that were recruited for CHARGE 2016 was Marko Kruithof from Stedin in the Netherlands. Stedin is a DSO that services 3 of the 4 largest cities in the Netherlands; The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
Marko gave his presentation during the transmission and distribution session in Reykjavik last September. The future of energy is changing fast for the regulated monopolies as well as retailers operating in a competition environment. As Marko says, Stedin has installed around 30.000 charging points for electric cars in the last few years to meet the demand generated by the 100.000 electric vehicles on the roads in the Netherlands.
The consumer should be our fan; he pays our salaries
Stedin received the CHARGE Awards as the World’s Best Energy brand in their category and it is not a coincidence. Branding is at the core of the company’s strategy and vision – they are not only looking at the needs of the consumer of today but try to be prepared and anticipate the needs of the consumer of tomorrow. Stedin has centralized the customer but focus their branding programme also internally to have everyone in line with their mission.
Marko’s full presentation from Reykjavik at CHARGE 2016 can be viewed in the player below.