At CHARGE 2016, Tomaz Oresic, Chairman of the board at Elektro Maribor, presented on the current outlook of the electricity supply value chain is going through major changes, with new players entering the market, shift of perception of electricity as a basic commodity and how the customer is increasingly being put at the very centre. These disruptive trends are changing the old electric utility business model with the result of an increasing number of utilities starting to pay more attention to branding.
Tomaz points out that utilities have been marketing an almost invisible product to an undefined customer with top-down communication strategies. These engagement strategies have often failed since the electricity suppliers have not walked the talk and due to mismatched communication.
One of the major challenges utilities face is getting the consumers to trust them. Eggert Gudmundsson has an interesting background, after receiving an MBA degree he worked for several years for Philips before returning to Iceland to become the CEO of the countries biggest fishing companies and then became the CEO of Iceland’s biggest fuel and retail company. With this background in commodities, electronics and finally energy, Eggert is now heading the innovative energy enabler eTactica which has developed an EMS for SME’s. The eTactica solution enables energy companies to create tighter bonds with their customers and adds measurable value to their services.
Jim Rogers, the retired former CEO of Duke Energy was the first CEO of a major utility to address environmental issues and once named by Newsweek as one of the “50 Most Powerful People in the World”.
In his presentation at the Green Energy track at CHARGE 2016, Jim talked about the customer relationship during the transformation of the Power Industry in the United States.
Duke Energy has the reputation of being affordable, reliable and safe. No one would say that they were green, they were the highest contributors of Co2 in the United States.
You can’t brand yourself unless you walk the talk.
Duke Energy has cut down Co2 emissions by almost 30 per cent but Jim admits that although the number seems high and the amount of emissions cut is quite large, the company is still a major contributor of Co2 emissions in the United States. For the effort, the company has been on the Dow Jones sustainability index for eleven years.
Branding: it’s not what you say about yourself, but what others say about you.
In addition to cutting down emissions, the company has made some considerable investments in wind and solar as well as investing in solutions that provide customers with rooftop solar.
The key point in adapting to and investing in green technology is to be able to communicate with and educate different stakeholders. The customer expects affordability and the investor want to see that the company will see a return on their green energy investment.
As Jim put it, the company invested in where the wind blows and the sun shines as well as looking at opportunities where the regulatory environment is favourable towards green investment.
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.
Energy utilities are facing a brave new world. The deregulation of markets and unbundling of utilities, privatisation and new and different ways of generating electricity on a mass scale have all shaken the reality of the energy companies.
The energy companies are also facing a new challenge; the customer. The customer has the tools of mass information and mass communication in his pocket and has more choices of interaction with brands than ever in history.
Giuseppe Caltabiano is the Vice President of Marketing Integration at Schneider Electric. He gave a presentation on how content marketing and social media are changing the way brands communicate to customers. He went over the basics of storytelling in the new media and what type of content consumers seek out.
It is time for the utilities to shift their messaging in social media. From primarily sending messages about outages, utilities need to add an emphasis on customer relationships.
Tamara McCleary, CEO of Thulium has worked with companies such a IBM and Verizon to help them with driving brand engagement. She spoke on the importance of utilities becoming personal and drive the conversation towards a more human interaction.
The data utilities have today give them a unique opportunity to know the customer better – energy companies need to stop talking at customers but must start a conversation with them.
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.
One of the first speakers that were recruited for CHARGE 2016 was Marko Kruithof from Stedin in the Netherlands. Stedin is a DSO that services 3 of the 4 largest cities in the Netherlands; The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
Marko gave his presentation during the transmission and distribution session in Reykjavik last September. The future of energy is changing fast for the regulated monopolies as well as retailers operating in a competition environment. As Marko says, Stedin has installed around 30.000 charging points for electric cars in the last few years to meet the demand generated by the 100.000 electric vehicles on the roads in the Netherlands.
The consumer should be our fan; he pays our salaries
Stedin received the CHARGE Awards as the World’s Best Energy brand in their category and it is not a coincidence. Branding is at the core of the company’s strategy and vision – they are not only looking at the needs of the consumer of today but try to be prepared and anticipate the needs of the consumer of tomorrow. Stedin has centralized the customer but focus their branding programme also internally to have everyone in line with their mission.
Marko’s full presentation from Reykjavik at CHARGE 2016 can be viewed in the player below.
Iceland is one of the few countries in the world that can boast of having all of its energy generated from 100% renewable and sustainable sources. Electricity is generated from hydro dams and geothermal plants and almost all hot water comes from geothermal sources.
Green energy has been the most popular differentiation tool for retailers in liberated markets for the last decades. For a retailer in Iceland it can be a challenge to be perceived as the green brand. Áslaug Thelma Einarsdóttir, managing director of marketing at ON Energy gave insights on how the company met the challenge of rebranding and positioning itself as the leading sustainable brand.