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.
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.
When preparing for his presentation in the track on the branding of sustainable energy, search engines turned Ayoola Brimmo to the CHARGE website. In the introduction of the presentation, he noted that this was the only place to discuss how to successfully brand sustainability.
A brand needs to take a look at the past to be able to build towards the future was the key point to take from Ayoola Brimmo’s lecture at CHARGE 2016. Ayoola works at the Nordic Innovation hub in Abu Dhabi and used the case of Dubai as an example of a city brand that has become more valuable due to a strategic brand building that focuses on the perception of luxury. Another example of a city brand that has been developed in the Emirates is Masdar City. When Dubai is the luxury city brand, Masdar takes footing as a luxury brand but goes further to differentiating itself by focusing on the sustainability of the city. Even though sustainability has become sort of a buzzword in the last decade, Masdar has yet to become a city brand with a worldwide recognition.
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.
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.
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.
There is a lot of misunderstanding on the nature and role of branding as well as how to define marketing. Many think that marketing is just about fun and games – something that is about advertising and events – a thing that funds can be allocated to during a boom cycle. For many, the concept of branding means something that is a more elaborate version of marketing.
Marketing is any signal a company sends out to the market. It can of course be a nice commercial or a Tweet but it is also price signals through the resources they buy and the products they sell, it is the voice that answers at the end of the line and the bills sent out. Every organisation both in regulated and deregulated markets should be aware that everything a company does is marketing in one way or another, direct or indirect – just as everyone is in customer service in one way or another.
Branding defines the How of marketing and the Why. It is a strategic tool and it should define how the customer experiences the brand. But neither branding nor marketing can define the brand. A brand can be defined at a company level but the real definition of a brand comes from the customer – it is the customer who really perceives the brand as it really is.
Marketing for the electric utility or the energy brand should not only be thought of as advertising or social media appearance. It should be thought of everything a brand or a company does and any touchpoint with both internal and external audiences and stakeholders.
Branding does not only apply to utilities in the competitive part of the energy market. Though the transmission and distribution grids have a monopoly on delivering energy to the end consumer, management within those companies are becoming more and more aware of the importance of creating a valuable brand rather than running an arrogant utility.
That is why T&D needs more B&I (Branding & Innovation.
The monopolies are at risk of losing bits of the base of their service; providing homes with an access to electricity. With advances in technology, more and more homeowners have the choice of never connecting to the grid. There needs to be a reason for a new home being connected to the grid. If the choice is between paying to be connected to the grid or paying a similar amount to set up an on-roof generation with free power, there is no reason to connect at all. A distributor that has a clear value proposition and a clear marketing message for the consumer has a better chance of being relevant in the mind of the consumer.
T&D’s that are suddenly faced with a growing number of prosumers need to realise their changed role and need to know how to communicate with end consumers. The prosumer is not an energy professional and technical terms need to be made understandable and clear for the regular prosumer.
There will be a track dedicated to the branding of transmission and distribution. The speakers we have gathered will each present their case on why branding is important for their operations and their presentations will be followed by a panel discussion. The companies they represent have somewhat different roles in their communities but they all play their roles through a powerful and well-crafted brands. The track will include Marko Kruithof – Director of Innovation at Stedin (Netherlands), Helle Andersen – Head of communication at Energinet (Denmark), Fintan Slye – CEO of Eirgrid (Ireland) and Jukka Ruusunen – CEO of Fingrid (Finland).
The conference will conclude at the Blue Lagoon with a dinner and an awards ceremony. We will be awarding the best energy brand within the T&D sector to put the spotlight on brands that are an example of great branding.
Remember to sign up for CHARGE which will take place in Iceland, September 19th-20th. You can find more info on www.branding.energy