Can the incumbent utility brand itself green?

Jim Rogers, the retired former CEO of Duke Energy was the first CEO of a major utility to address environmental issues and once named by Newsweek as one of the “50 Most Powerful People in the World”.

In his presentation at the Green Energy track at CHARGE 2016, Jim talked about the customer relationship during the transformation of the Power Industry in the United States.

Duke Energy has the reputation of being affordable, reliable and safe. No one would say that they were green, they were the highest contributors of Co2 in the United States.

You can’t brand yourself unless you walk the talk.

Duke Energy has cut down Co2 emissions by almost 30 per cent but Jim admits that although the number seems high and the amount of emissions cut is quite large, the company is still a major contributor of Co2 emissions in the United States. For the effort, the company has been on the Dow Jones sustainability index for eleven years.

Branding: it’s not what you say about yourself, but what others say about you.

In addition to cutting down emissions, the company has made some considerable investments in wind and solar as well as investing in solutions that provide customers with rooftop solar.

The key point in adapting to and investing in green technology is to be able to communicate with and educate different stakeholders. The customer expects affordability and the investor want to see that the company will see a return on their green energy investment.

As Jim put it, the company invested in where the wind blows and the sun shines as well as looking at opportunities where the regulatory environment is favourable towards green investment.

 

 

 

The 2017 CHARGE Awards

charge energy branding awards
Stedin from The Netherlands won the 2016 CHARGE Energy Branding Awards in the category of Transmission and Distribution

The CHARGE team is in full swing reaching out to the brands that were shortlisted by a panel of experts as the World’s Best Energy Brands. The panel consists of specialists in marketing and branding as well as energy professionals around the world. The panel has members in academia, energy companies, energy associations, energy innovation, advertising agencies and marketing consultancies.

We are reaching out to 90 brands in 6 categories of the best energy brands in the world. The categories are established brands, challenger brands, green brands, transmission brands, distribution brands and energy product brands.

The methodology derives from decades of academic research and studies in the fields of marketing and branding to determine how consumers perceive brands in general. To make the measurement more relevant to the energy space, knowledge from recent research on consumer perception of energy utilities was added to make the methodology more specific for the energy space. The methodology is also the basis for the Energy Branding Benchmarking Index (EBBI) which is used by power companies around the world to measure their energy brands.

We will reveal the finalists later this summer, each category can have up to five finalists. The finalists will be featured in the next edition of the best brands report. The report might also feature a selection of shortlisted brands that will not make it into the final selection.

The CHARGE Awards were a great success at the inaugural CHARGE Energy Branding Conference which was the world’s first conference to focus on branding in the energy space. Following the success of last year’s event- we have decided to expand the awards from three categories to six this year.

Energizing opportunities at IKEA

Sustainability has been a part IKEA’s identity since it’s humble beginnings in Sweden decades ago. Guðný Camilla Aradóttir is the Sustainability Responsible at IKEA Iceland, taking care of sustainability issues. The goal of the brand is to eliminate waste at all time.

IKEA’s sustainability strategy, titled People & Planet Positive, set out some ambitious goals for the brand to head towards more sustainability. IKEA operates wind farms around the world and has installed solar panels on the rooftops of its store locations around the world, installed panels on office buildings and even sold solar panels for homes at some of its locations.

Smart Branding for Electric cars

Effective product branding is about putting the right frame around your value proposition according to Mei Shibata, CEO of Essense Partners, an award-winning strategic marketing firm based in New York.

Mei uses the case of the electric cars to show how branding boils down to framing the value proposition. Despite the many advances the electric car has over the traditional combustion engine car, Mei’s research has shown that the biggest challenge facing the electric car is perceptional and related to the image the electric car has rather than technological, such as range, speed, charging time or the overall driving experience.

Mei points out that if you are not proactively doing your branding work, someone else is doing it for you and controlling the dialogue and setting the frame of reference for consumers.

Sustainability as a brand asset

Eneco was one of the first of the established energy utilities in the world to become fully renewable and became the frontrunner in the Dutch energy industry in the production of electricity from sustainable sources. Regine Alewijnse, Brand Manager of Eneco presented the brand’s story and the challenges that are facing truly renewable companies when many companies in the energy value chain present themselves as renewable when in fact, a majority of them are renewable only as far as the marketing message goes.

To further the point, Regine explained how sustainability can become more than a hollow marketing message, by making sustainability a valuable brand asset.

Eneco’s approach has not only been to offer renewable energy and offer customers a choice but also to enable customers the possibility to monitor their energy usage and helping them to cut down usage without noticing it by offering software that monitors and detects usage.

 

OVO Energy – a big small energy supplier

Stephen Fitzpatrick – CEO of OVO Energy – describes the company as a big small company. As a challenger to the Big Six energy companies in the UK, the company has grown from a simple idea around the kitchen table to servicing over 700.000 customers in the retail energy market and employing around 1.000 people. Even though the company is no longer small, they still act and think like a startup.

Stephen’s presentation was not only on the future of energy but on the future of customer expectations in general and how children growing up to be the consumers of tomorrow are growing up in an on-demand world that gives them different expectations from brands than today’s consumers have. In just three years, on-demand services have revolutionised industry after industry and no one knows how fast the next three years are going to change. But by always thinking like a customer, OVO Energy anticipates being prepared to stay on top of the energy market that might have changed dramatically in an unforeseen way.

OVO Energy was the winner of the first CHARGE Awards and was crowned the World’s Best Energy Brand at the CHARGE Awards ceremony in 2016. The brand did well both in both the score of the global panel of experts but more importantly, the brand is doing an excellent job according to their customers.

Closing the energy gender gap

Bjarni Bjarnason, CEO of Reykjavik Energy points out that the traditional energy utility is underutilising a big resource by mostly picking men out of the talent pool.

Reykjavik Energy is the parent company of ON Power – the largest energy supplier in Iceland, Veitur – the largest DSO, water and sewage utility in the country and Reykjavik Fibre Network – a company that handles the fibre optics network in the capital. ON power is also the largest producer of geothermal energy in Iceland.

Following the financial crisis in Iceland, Reykjavik Energy was forced to scale back and fire 1/3 of their employees. Bjarni who was recently instated as CEO at the time had a big challenge ahead of him to restructure the company that was on the brink of serious financial problems due to the crisis. Bjarni and his team did not only take a good look at where they could cut down cost as normally is done but realised that this challenge was a great opportunity to restructure the brand and what it stands for.

The brand was to stand for the equal opportunity of genders and instead of waiting for the natural progression of women filling management positions, Reykjavik Energy used the restructuring to make a stand and in 5 years the percentage of women in management rose from 30 percent to 49 percent and the gender pay gap went from 8,4 percent to 2,1 percent at the same time.

Some might think that closing the gender gap is something that looks great during presentations but has no other effect but as Bjarni pointed out, employee satisfaction has increased during this experiment and the whole atmosphere in the company has changed for the better.

 

Utilities in social media

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.

Building a trusted utility brand

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.

Building brands is about building trust

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.