How sustainable is your Energy Branding?

Brands need to be sustainable — this is something that should be obvious to everyone. In times when renewable energy sources receive much of the buzz from marketing departments to engineers, from energy companies to the mainstream media — a different kind of sustainability is often forgotten.

[…] there does not seem to be a consensus on the true meaning of sustainability

Defining sustainability

In the energy space, sustainable sources or renewable sources of energy are often used about a wide area of energy sources and there does not seem to be a consensus on the true meaning of sustainability. There are of course official definitions and standards but most individuals do not keep those standards in mind, their definition is often determined by their (in)experience and their perception.

For some, sustainable energy means something that is not fossil fuels while some would include nuclear while others would dismiss hydro from the equation. Almost everyone has to some extent a valid point in the argument, their definition of sustainable energy is based on their value judgment.

The forgotten definition of sustainability

Another type of sustainability for energy is often forgotten — the sustainability of the brands. A brand is both the front and the inside mechanics of the energy company. A brand is of course more than a logo — it’s the perception of consumers and employees alike as everything the company stands for — the brand is affected by every touch point people have with the brand. If a company does is not actively defining the brand and keeping the brand in mind at all times — the brand will be actively defined by the employees and the customers that interact with the brand.

[…] a brand is an investment that should pay off in the short term and the long term

Some companies reluctantly agree that marketing and branding are something that has to be done and allocate X% of their budgets to the marketing department — some even look at it as a sunken cost. But this is not a sustainable attitude. Branding and marketing should not be money thrown away — spending money on a brand is an investment that should pay off in the short term and the long term. Sustainability should be about not wasting resources, the output from any activity should be the same or greater than the input.

Return on Investment

Investing in a sustainable image (this should not be confused with a sustainable-as-in-green image) by building a strong brand should be the priority of any business. Brands should not throw money away at marketing to make them look cool and current — brands should invest their resources in creating a coherent marketing message that is in line with their brand. Brands should not look at their image as something that can be easily fixed in a moment spending a lot at efforts that are the corporate-social-responsible-buzz-thing-to-do of the moment.

Investing in a sustainable image by building a strong brand should be the priority of any business

Saving puppies and suddenly becoming concerned about the well-being of something that has to do with children is not a sustainable way of branding. These things can be sustainable if it relates to the brand and the message of the brand and it can enhance the well-being of the brand. A book publisher is credible when it becomes concerned about children reading books — it is in the brand‘s self-interest, in the long run, to turn more children into bookworms — but it has multiple benefits for the society the publisher does business in.

The challenges of brand building in the energy sector

For a challenger brand entering a competitive energy market — brand building comes more naturally. Challengers often start out small, with a group of like-minded individuals set out to change the world. Their challenge is not to lose sight of what defines them as a brand and stay true to their brand as they expand and make sure that any addition on the team makes a fit with the brand. The incumbents, on the other hand, have a more challenging task ahead of defining their brands. The incumbents can be traced back to different times — times, before google had not entered the vocabulary of small children and IBM, was making tabulating machines under the name of CTR. The incumbent brands have often existed for generations and they have many tasks that are fundamentally different in nature. While the challenger brands are like teenagers, figuring out their identity and changing it slightly as they develop, the incumbents are grown adults that have their identities set but need to define them.

Sustainable investment

To create a sustainable brand, companies need to look at branding and the brand as a strategic matter and a human resource matter. Money spent on branding should be spent effectively and strategically and should be in line with what the company does today and what it will do tomorrow. While the debate on sustainable energy sources goes on, the definition of brand sustainability should be pretty clear.

At CHARGE 2017, we will have great presentations and examples of sustainable brands as well as brands that have increased their financial sustainability by leveraging their brand message with an eco-sustainable value proposition for their customers.

The power of City Branding

20887-429_0

Great cities are charged with energy. New York is so buzzing it never sleeps, Paris is intense yet laid back & cool and charged with romanticism while cities like Austin and Berlin are filled with creative energy. These cities have formed a lasting impression in our minds. We have often caught the vibe of those places without even visiting them. These cities have enjoyed a favourable word of mouth and popular culture has further helped shape them as brands.

The benefits of a strong city brand

There are namely three reasons (or segments) why cities (and countries for that matter) actively try to build a favourable image. They are all about creating an attraction for those segments.

1. Inhabitants

Cities are looking to retain and attract new inhabitants. Just like for companies, inhabitants with a strong sense of the image of the city they live in are happier. A city that has a strong, positive image becomes an attractive place to relocate to. Being a sought out city brand for inhabitants means that the talent pool grows.

A city that has a strong, positive image becomes an attractive place to relocate to

2. Tourists

A strong brand comes first in mind when it comes to deciding on consumption. A city that has a strong image pops ups first when people are thinking of taking a vacation. There are of course many things that exclude a certain city such as the occasion of the vacation or the time of year.

3. Companies

Companies, like most people, seek out to be in the company of their peers. If you are a start-up, your dream is Silicon Valley — If you want to produce a film, you go to Hollywood. It is not just about the hype, if you know that your peers are there, chances are that the infrastructure and knowledge are already there. And along with companies come jobs and jobs attract inhabitants.

Landmarks are like iconic logos

Building a powerful city brand is about being an attractive city in the eyes of the consumer or the stakeholder. It is not about creating an attraction. The Empire State Building and the Eiffel tower are great landmarks or icons for their cities but Paris and New York are about more than that — landmarks are kind of like logos — a logo is a graphical representation of a brand but there is more to it than the logo for great brands. Just like strong product brands — strong city brands appeal to people because of an emotional connection. The strongest city brands in the world are strong because they provide people with an intangible benefit, an experience.

The Empire State building and the Eiffel tower are great landmarks or icons for their cities but Paris and New York are about more than that.

Energy as an ingredient for the city brand

While every city has a certain energy to it or a vibe, not many cities have actively built their brands around energy in the literal sense. There are of course cities like Houston or Aberdeen that have become known for their oil industries but that image often has a hard time to translate outside the energy industry. We can see cities that are building an energy brand on a B2B level. Vasaa in Finland has a strong energy cluster and another example is Berlin. Berlin is not known as a powerhouse of energy sources but rather a powerhouse of creative energy sources. The image of Berlin as an energy brand builds on its image of creative energy and focuses on energy innovation.

We can see cities that are building an energy brand on a B2B level.

Energy imagery as part of the city brand has not yet been fully utilised. There are enormous opportunities for cities around the world to become strong energy brands. It can be based on novel or innovative ways of energy usage or it can use landmarks as icons for their energy brands. The Hoover Dam and the Niagara falls are great examples of iconic landmarks that have attracted millions of people for decades. But there is yet a city to emerge that uses those kinds of landmarks as an active ingredient that adds value to the city brand.

Energy can create even more value

When I set out to research the possibilities of branding energy, I wanted to do more than guide energy retailers into creating new logos and jingles or adopting a new colour. I wanted to see how energy can create more value than it already does by making an emotional connection to the consumer’s minds. This can be done by branding energy as a valuable ingredient for sectors outside the energy space. One of the areas this applies to are cities and countries as brands -as energy brands.

I wanted to see how energy can create more value than it already does.

That is why cities and places as energy brands have been a topic in at the CHARGE Energy Branding Conference agenda. To make energy more valuable we must look at ways to connect energy to other things than devices through a socket in the wall.