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.

Just like branding a box of soap

Some say that energy can’t be differentiated and it can’t be branded since it is just an intangible commodity. An obvious example of an intangible commodity branding is the telecoms. But in many ways branding and marketing energy is not that much different from branding other household items such as soap. It is all about creating connections in the mind of the consumer.

Electricity is an intangible product meaning that you are not selling or marketing a product that you can hold and feel in your hands like soap. But the job of the utility is to make electricity more tangible by creating connections in the mind of the consumer. Electricity can’t smell like strawberries or Alpine spring. The soap doesn’t really smell like a real fruit or Alpine spring but for a brief moment when you wash your hands you take a short trip to the Alps in the springtime or remember when you open a box of ripe berries.

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By connecting a brand with positive sensation in the mind of the consumer, the brand creates value for the customer. The same could be done with electricity just as soap. Electricity is in fact more exciting than most commodities.

Most commodities are in fact rather unsexy when they are not branded. The sweatsuit and sneakers overcome a lot of negative connections when branded. These commodities are not connected to the sweat and smell of the athlete when they have been branded as Nike.

Established utilities often have a lot of negative connections to their brands to overcome. The first step is to identify what emotions consumers connect to their brands and sort out the negative from the positive and figure out which negative emotions can be turned to positive ones. Then the brand re-building can take place.