Mind the perception gap

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The brand gap. Image credit: LarsEn Energy Branding www.larsen.energy

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.

Dates for CHARGE 2018 announced!

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The 3rd CHARGE Energy Branding conference will take place in Reykjavik, Iceland – in September 2018. The Harpa Conference hall has been booked for the 24th and 25th of September. Save the dates and make sure to make most of the trip to Iceland and arrive on Saturday 22nd of September. Use the weekend for some sightseeing in and around Reykjavik and some pre-event networking.

Don’t miss the only global event that puts consumer perception on energy, sustainability and brand building in the energy space in crystal clear focus. Meet your peers and consumer-obsessed individuals in and around the utility sector. Listen to professionals from global energy brands, smaller challengers, energy startups, energy associations and global brands in other sectors and discuss the present and future challenges of the energy sector.

The location of the event is not a coincidence, situated where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet – Iceland is the perfect place to host the discussion on branding energy utilities. The energy sector has been and is still to some degree, localised. Reykjavik provides a great setting for discussing the future of energy, being powered 100% by renewable sources and heated by the volcanic powers of geothermal energy. With direct flights from both coasts of N-America and most European countries – Iceland is just perhaps the most accessible exotic island in the world.

Join us again in Iceland for CHARGE 2018!

Know you segments

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Segmenting the market and the customer base has in a way followed energy companies since the start. Market segmentation for utilities used to be less complicated – the customer was everyone living in a certain geographic area over a certain age. In short: everyone was the customer and everyone got the same message in a form of a bill or announcement of outages.

Enter the competitive retail energy markets

The competitive energy markets require more detailed segmentation. It is almost no longer possible to deliver the same message and the same service to just about everyone. And everyone is not looking for the same service from an energy retailer. Some people are following the lowest price, others are looking for a pleasant user experience, a group of consumers are after green energy and sustainable energy savings… the list goes on and most consumers are after a mixture of everything mentioned but put different emphasis on different factors.

How to segment energy consumers?

First off, there are, broadly speaking, four different types of segmentation.

Geographic segmentation segments users based on their location. This might seem like an outdated segmentation tool but rural energy customers have different needs than urban users. There are even different needs for users in different cities.

Demographic segmentation is along with geographic segmentation the most easily understood methods of segmentation and most used. Segmenting users by age, gender, income and family size sounds pretty familiar to everyone.

But electricity is not something bought off the shelves in supermarkets located in cities of a specific population density – electricity is not an easy made meal for a woman aged 35-42, married with two-point-two kids aged 7-12.

That is why energy requires more detailed segmentation.

Psychographic segmentation looks at lifestyles, personal characteristics – attitudes and how consumers live their lives. Branding is after all about creating something intangible on top of the core commodity – a certain spirit or experience. Psychographic segmentation looks at how people look at life and that is where it is likely for a brand to succeed.

Geographic and demographic segmentation still play a part and one type of segmentation does not exclude another.

Your brand can speak to different groups. But you should not change the brand for each group your brand is speaking to but your brand can approach each group differently but with a coherent voice.

Moving from the macro-segmentation of the market to the micro-segmentation of your customers.

While speaking to the market at large, the brand also needs to communicate with customers and customers can usually be segmented. This is where behavioural segmentation comes in (remember – one approach does not exclude the next) to offer different types of customers different types of incentives. Big data and data analysis of your customers should be used to analyze their behaviour and see which groups of customers behave in a similar way.

Stakeholders

The energy sector is not only commanded by customers but also different stakeholders. For brands operating a regulated monopoly business and large energy companies with a global brand footprint – it is important to realise and map stakeholders in general. Stakeholder mapping helps utilities to visualise different stakeholders such as politicians, regulators, trade unions, environmentalists, large energy consumers and household consumers.

Tailoring the message for different segments

Building an effective energy brand and energy marketing is not only about customer engagement but also knowing who your brand is communicating to and how it should communicate at different points. Different segments are communicated to with a different type of message through different channels. One of the brand’s customer segments is price conscious while another is concerned about the environment. To make energy savings a point of brand value, the brand would approach the groups with a different message, the price savers would respond better to a message regarding how much money they would save from being energy efficient while environmentally concerned customers are more likely to respond to message regarding how they can contribute to saving the environment with energy efficiency.

The best Energy Brands have this in common

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People often wonder if there is a good life-hack or a shortcut to achievement. So, is there a good life-hack for creating a good brand in the energy sector? The short answer is: No – there are no shortcuts. Creating a good energy brand takes a great deal of effort. Even if you know the secret to creating the very best power brand in the world and even if you were born with the secret to energy marketing in your head – creating, implementing and running an effective brand in the energy sector is still hard work.

But is there a secret recipe?

Good news! The answer is: Yes – There is a secret recipe! But the bad news is that it’s not so much as a recipe but more like secret (or not so secret) ingredients to creating a strong brand in the energy sector. From reviewing the admissions from the World’s Best Energy Brands we have learned a great deal about how the best energy brands in the world view themselves. And there is a common thread. It does not only apply to the competitive retail sector – it also applies to the regulated energy sectors both in retail, transmission of electricity, distribution of electricity and it should apply to B2B energy retail companies as well as generation companies.

The best energy brands offer something else than energy

They offer an experience. They have a simple message about the benefit they offer that no one else offers. And the benefit is usually not the price or being able to deliver electricity on time. It’s usually a feeling in the mind of the consumer that they own. Apple and Nike are well-known branding and marketing reference point clichés for a reason. They own a share of the consumer’s mind – and that is what you need to own a share of the market.

The best energy brands look outside the energy box

The best brands are not focused on the next door utility neighbour and try to copy their best practices. Although many brands in the global energy market are doing great things branding vice, the best brands in the world are not found in the energy space. You should look outside the box and identify who is the best in the world and learn from them and apply it to the energy sector. Don’t think about which brand is the best employer brand amongst energy companies – look for the best employer brand in the world. Don’t just try to learn from the best customer service brand among utilities, look for the company that offers the best customer service period.

The best energy brands use segmentation tools

It’s almost impossible to be like by everyone. Instead, you should use the appropriate tools to segment the market. The most simple tool to use is demographics. But you can’t go in blind and decide to be the brand for single women aged 26-37 living in a certain area with this much yearly revenue. You need to know why this group is the right one for your brand and your value offering. It is often said that typical demographical groups are dead – people can’t be put into categories based on gender, age or where they live. There are multiple tools that segment that market based on more things than on demographics. Find the groups that your brand speaks to.

The best energy brands are customer oriented

Customer engagement is not about smart gadgets. It comes naturally when a brand speaks to the customers on a personal level and connects to them on an emotional level. The smart gadgets help but if there is nothing that connects to the customer other than a socket on the wall or some hardware, then there is no chance of communication. The best brands have created an emotional value that can be hard for competitors to compete with.

The best energy brands measure up

We have established that good branding is about knowing the customer. But good branding is about knowing yourself. What you stand for and what your brand is capable to do. But you need to know where your brand stands and where it stands in the minds of your customers. The best energy brands are constantly measuring how they are doing and benchmarking with other brands. They are not afraid to reach out proactively to customers and ask them what they think – this is not done once a year – it can be once a month or even once a week.

The best brands or on a mission

They offer superior brand value by offering something unique and different from others in the sector. That superior value stems from a specific mission – they are not just selling energy – they are often trying to change the world. A good example of good branding is in the green energy sector. Today, almost every supplier has started to become green. So green has become the new black in energy and it’s hard to differentiate on the green origin of the energy alone. Green brands today have to dig deeper and be sustainable to the core.

Winners of the world’s best energy brands announced!

E.ON – OVO – Greenpeace Energy – Elenia – TenneT – Nissan chosen as the World’s Best Energy Brands at the 2017 CHARGE Awards

Reykjavik, October 10th 2017

The winners of the CHARGE Awards were announced at a ceremonial dinner in Reykjavik last night. A panel of 40 experts in and around the energy space, branding experts and corporate consultants named a list of brands they considered deserving being considered as the best energy brands in the world. After a careful screening process nominees were asked to make their case on why they are deserving being considered the best in the world. Brands in six categories were mentioned – Established Brands, Challenger Brands, Green Energy Brands, Distribution Brands, Transmission Brands and product brands. In addition to the brands turning in cases for the panel, customers of brands in four categories where polled with the only tool that measures customer-based brand equity in the energy space.

Members of the panel had a hard time rating the cases and choose the best in each category due to the quality of the brands. But only one winner could be announced in each category – and in many cases, s there was a photo-finish amongst all the brands in a category.

The winners were the following: Best Established Brand: E.ON Best Challenger Brand: OVO Energy Best Green Brand: Greenpeace Energy Best Distribution Brand: Elenia Best Transmission Brand: TenneT Best Product Brand: Nissan

Dr. Fridrik Larsen – conference chairman and CEO of LarsEn Energy Branding commented “It has been a long process that you see the results of tonight. The competition this year was extremely tough and there is a lot of quality branding activity being done in the energy space worldwide. Being named as a finalist is a great achievement in itself. It was a great pleasure to see brands from all over the world participating. My congratulations to the winners, the world’s best energy brands”.

About the CHARGE Awards

The only awards that honour companies in the energy space for building strong brands that connect successfully to customers. To create a shortlist of eligible brands, a global panel of 40 professionals from the energy sector, marketing, consulting and academia, suggests energy brands according to strict criteria. After a screening of the shortlist, a rigorous process takes place to find the top 3-5 brands in each category. To decide the winner, the finalists need to know their own brand and communicate it effectively to the panel in a case study. To find out if the brands are effective in the marketplace, a customer research is conducted on each brand. The finalists this year have operations all over the world – from the Americas, Europe, Japan and Oceania.

About CHARGE Energy Branding

CHARGE Energy Branding is a global event that takes place in Iceland each year. The conference is a hub of new ideas for energy brands from around the world. C-suite decision makers, innovators and entrepreneurs discuss issues related to making energy services more tangible and energy companies more efficient in becoming customer-centric. Participating in the event are trade associations related to energy, members of both local and country governments and international organisations. CHARGE 2017 was held in Reykjavik October 9-10 and CHARGE 2018 will take place September 24-25.

Charge Around Iceland – Epilogue

The team arrived safely in the front of Harpa conference centre on the Sunday before the conference after a rather smooth rider along the south coast of Iceland. The CHARGE team had gone into some lengthy discussion if the cars should be cleaned up and polished before arriving in front of Harpa in downtown Reykjavik where they would be on display for the guests arriving at the conference the following day. We decided to have the cars dirty as a proof that they have gone around some challenging roads in the Icelandic countryside, over mountains and on gravel on occasion. This deliberation turned out to be useless, Mother Nature stepped in and cleaned the cars with heavy rainfall along the southern coast.

When arriving in Reykjavik, Stuart sounded a bit apologetic. He knew that we had been waiting for him to come back and give a presentation on the big adventure he, his mother and Mark had participated in but it really turned out to be as uneventful as any road trip. Just like any other road trip, a goat invaded the car, they left the North of Iceland the morning before the first snow of winter and drove over a glacial river the same day as massive temporary repairs had been done on the bridge that had been washed away in floods the week before. And they did not exactly stay on the Ring Road around Iceland and only stopping for their vehicles to recharge. They went off the Ring Road on several occasions. One time for a shortcut over one of the most feared mountain roads in the East of Iceland but on other occasions to lengthen the total distance travelled by 400 kilometres.

Bespoke energy solution for the Nordics premiered at CHARGE

The unique energy usage of consumers in the Nordic region will be at the heart of geo’s presence at CHARGE.

The Icelandic backdrop provides an ideal opportunity for geo to unveil the findings of its recent pilot projects in Finland and Norway. These focused on the use of geo’s Cosy smart thermostat to help consumers better manage the heating in their homes, by not heating when nobody is home and, in part, by taking advantage of ‘Nordpool tariffs’. 

As a result, the company will be launching a bespoke designed version of Cosy for the Nordic region which will be on show on the geo stand at the event.

Attention will also be given to highlighting the three vital areas of home energy consumption:understand – making energy usage more visible; control – the solutions that put control back into consumer’s hands so they can make changes; and automate – the benefits of integrated energy management so that metering services, energy storage, heating, appliance controls, renewables and electric vehicles are automated.

The geo team will be on the stand to discuss the changes that have been brought about as a result of the electricity market moving from regulation to competition and the opportunities that this provides for the industry, and for consumers.

These changes and opportunities will also form part of the presentation to be given by Simon Anderson, Chief Strategy Officer at geo, when he speaks at CHARGE Energy Branding.

“The Nordic markets are at a hugely important point in the way that they use energy in the home,” Simon Anderson said. “Electricity is rapidly increasing in price and demand is growing, even as the grid infrastructure struggles to cope. The situation is ripe for new energy sources and new energy solutions that can better manage that demand, and lower costs for consumers. This will be a key focus for us at this important event in the geo calendar.”

 

Charge around Iceland pt4: Neither snow nor rain…

Thursday October 4th

The CHARGE mobiles arrived in Hof after driving in great conditions from Höfn. The week before the group arrived in Iceland, heavy rain in the South and East of Iceland caused floods that ruptured Road 1. Construction crews had just finished putting up a temporary bridge when the Electric cars arrived.

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Floods in the week before had caused the road to be closed. It was re-opened just before the Electric cars arrived.

While the group had left the North the day before the first snow of the autumn, the first leg of the journey on the South coast of Iceland had still some remnants of summer – sun and up to eleven degrees centigrade.

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Stuart measuring up to the icebergs in Jökulsárlón.

Stuart, Mark and Anita stopped by Jökulsárlón, a lagoon full of ice from the glacier above before heading off to Hof, their destination. At Hof, they got to plug their vehicles while they rested for the day ahead.

Charge Around Iceland Pt. 3 – The electric car that went up the mountain…

Tuesday October 3rd

The most challenging leg of the journey was ahead. The autumn chill is fastly sliding towards winter with the temperature at three degrees centigrade. From Húsavík the cars went in land and upwards. The EVs had a steady climb to 500 meters above sea level where they stopped for a charge at Möðrudalur. Where a Viking goat took the passenger seat (The Icelandic goat immigrated to Iceland along with the Norse settlers)

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At Möðrudalur they had a relaxing time while enjoying coffee and Kleina, an Icelandic pastry that could best be described as the twisted sister of the Donut.

Although the way up there was a bit straining on the batteries, the way down was a bit better as Stuart describes in the video. The batteries were pancaked at arrival at Egilsstaðir.

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Wednesday, October 4th

From Egilsstaðir they started driving from the most eastern point of the trip towards the south coast of Iceland. On the way, the cars stopped for a top-up at Grímsárvirkjun Hydropower station. Not every day that you can plug your car straight to the power source.

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You can view Stuart’s video diary in the player below: