It’s almost the end of the year and we can say that the recent news of First Utility being acquired by Shell is the biggest energy branding news story of 2017. But it does not come as a total shock, at least not for people who attended CHARGE2016. First Utility has been operating in Germany for few years under a special license agreement with Shell, selling retail electricity to customers under the name of Shell PrivatEnergie.
Maik Neubauer, former CEO of First Utility in Germany, who was responsible for the Shell PrivatEnergie brand spoke at the World’s First Energy Branding Conference in Iceland in 2016.
In his presentation, Maik talked about how First Utility leveraged the Shell brand when entering the German energy retail market.
Maik sat down in the Engerati studio outside the conference hall to discuss the First Utility and Shell collaboration in further detail.
We are already lining up some interesting speakers for CHARGE 2018 in Iceland. If you want to stay ahead of the curve and get a global overview of what is happening in the branding of energy.
At CHARGE, we try to bring to the table the best practices in Energy Branding and give a glimpse at what the best energy companies in the world are doing in terms of customer engagement and making their products and services more tangible by relating to the customer on human terms.
A part of the conference has focused on how companies are branding green outside the energy space. Companies that are focusing on sustainability are not only looking at becoming clean energy brands or branding green electricity by letting the customer know that they are using the best green energy in the world to make their products or services. They are looking at how they can cut costs by being sustainable. Being sustainable can often cut electricity used or energy consumed.
It is often the case that it is not the sustainability itself or being good for the planet that increases brand value in itself. As it has been discussed at the energy conference, consumers are often inadvertently interested in energy itself and how companies are sourcing their green energy. The clean energy coming from the rooftop of the store you are shopping at creates some value in the mind of the customer. Energy marketing conference is one way to put it, it is not only about energy retailers trying to catch the attention of the customer – branding or marketing energy is also a way for retailers or manufacturers to tell a unique story to the customers. And in a way, it is a green energy conference although it is just one of many topics discussed. It is a utilities and energy conference in the widest sense. Sustainability is an energy issue in one way or another. It reflects on how companies can become sustainable on the balance sheet by behaving thrifty when it comes to energy consumption. And by telling that story, brands can increase their value in the mind of the consumer.
Hosting the conference in Iceland means that it is the perfect place for a global energy event. The country is known for its production of clean, renewable energy – both hydro and geothermal. Being placed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is also the perfect place to bring together key decision makers together for an executive forum of people from all over the world. The energy space is often localised due to historical reasons and although the borders dividing the energy space are shrinking fast – there is a lot to learn from each other.
Join us in Reykjavik, Iceland where CHARGE will be hosted for the third time in September 2018. It will be one of the most memorable energy conferences of 2018. Iceland is exotic yet accessible with daily direct flights to three continents.
The biggest challenge any utility brand faces is the gap between its brand image and brand identity. Brand image is how outsiders perceive the brand and identity is how the brand is being perceived inside the company or how managers and employees want the brand to be perceived by outsiders. This is not a problem exclusive to utility brands, energy brands or other corporate brands that have a similar background as energy companies.
Why the gap exists
The biggest reason for the perception gap is that branding of the utility is not taken seriously enough. Research has shown that the biggest hurdle for utilities to become a strong brand is the lack of understanding on behalf of management. The marketing departments have a great understanding of the importance of branding and what branding is about and what it is not exclusively about. The problem lies with other departments and top management.
What is branding about?
To many, branding is the issue of marketing or comms – for many, branding is nice colours and a cool logo. But branding is not something that can be siloed in a single department. For the utility brand to succeed as an energy brand, the whole organisation needs to live and breathe the brand. The best definition of a brand is that is whatever people perceive about the organisation. This means every interaction that the customer has had with the utility, every interaction the customer is having and will have with the utility brand. Every thought the customer has and will have about the utility.
Maintaining the gap
Looking at branding as something best kept contained at marketing or worse, containing branding for a designer that draws a logo, means that there will be a big perceptual gap between what the company wants to be perceived as and what the customer perceives the company to be. A CEO might want a brand-overhaul and asks the ad agency to draw a cool logo but no research is conducted on where this cool factor should stem from inside the corporation or its culture. The marketing department might come up with the idea for brand values but gets no support to implement it within the organisation and get everyone involved.
The results of the gap
Trying to be something that you are not will result in the customer to perceive one personality in the marketing material and branding of a utility but will perceive several other personalities and messages while communicating with the utility and its employees. Branding for utilities just like any other organisation is a human resource matter as well as a strategy issue. A clearly defined brand is an important factor of a well defined and well-organised company strategy.
Closing the gap
There are two ways to close the gap. One way is to identify what the utility and its corporate culture are about and emphasise the core values of everyone inside the utility. Another way is to align the long-term vision of the brand with the long-term vision of the utility. This might need some changes in the culture of the company and the core values of the employees. Either way, re-branding an established utility is not done overnight. It is a process that might take one or two years to implement internally and a lifetime to maintain and adjust.