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

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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.

The global utility in a new energy paradigm

As Ryan O’Keeffe pointed out during his presentation at the CHARGE Energy Branding Conference last September, large energy companies with a long legacy of generating and selling electricity, are not normally considered cool.

The company has and is going through a comprehensive overhaul of its image, meaning and role in the fast-changing energy environment. As Mr O’Keeffe pointed out, it was a change in strategy that was long overdue, the company’s old logo was designed when Google was still operating out of a garage in Silicon Valley.

We as a power company can and must play a key role in tackling these challenges.

Enel found itself working in a new energy paradigm and found that how it had been conducting itself for the last fifty years was not going to work in the next fifty years. During the rebranding process, there were some strengths that the brand possessed that would become valuable in the changing energy landscape. By taking a humble approach and acknowledging that a big corporation with a big corporation culture might not foster innovation that could keep up with the time. The brand turned this weakness into a strength by using its global scale and resources to foster open innovation; helping entrepreneurs that are set out to change the energy paradigm even further.

Ryan’s presentation from CHARGE – The World’s First Energy Branding conference can be seen below. Enel was one of the finalists for the 2016 CHARGE Awards as one of the world’s best energy brands. The report on the best utility brands has been published by LarsEn Energy Branding and can be found here. The 2017 CHARGE Energy Branding conference takes place in Reykjavik October 9-10 where the CHARGE Awards will be presented for the second time.

Empowering the energy customer

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.

 

Can the incumbent utility brand itself green?

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.

 

 

 

The 2017 CHARGE Awards

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Stedin from The Netherlands won the 2016 CHARGE Energy Branding Awards in the category of Transmission and Distribution

The CHARGE team is in full swing reaching out to the brands that were shortlisted by a panel of experts as the World’s Best Energy Brands. The panel consists of specialists in marketing and branding as well as energy professionals around the world. The panel has members in academia, energy companies, energy associations, energy innovation, advertising agencies and marketing consultancies.

We are reaching out to 90 brands in 6 categories of the best energy brands in the world. The categories are established brands, challenger brands, green brands, transmission brands, distribution brands and energy product brands.

The methodology derives from decades of academic research and studies in the fields of marketing and branding to determine how consumers perceive brands in general. To make the measurement more relevant to the energy space, knowledge from recent research on consumer perception of energy utilities was added to make the methodology more specific for the energy space. The methodology is also the basis for the Energy Branding Benchmarking Index (EBBI) which is used by power companies around the world to measure their energy brands.

We will reveal the finalists later this summer, each category can have up to five finalists. The finalists will be featured in the next edition of the best brands report. The report might also feature a selection of shortlisted brands that will not make it into the final selection.

The CHARGE Awards were a great success at the inaugural CHARGE Energy Branding Conference which was the world’s first conference to focus on branding in the energy space. Following the success of last year’s event- we have decided to expand the awards from three categories to six this year.

OVO Energy – a big small energy supplier

Stephen Fitzpatrick – CEO of OVO Energy – describes the company as a big small company. As a challenger to the Big Six energy companies in the UK, the company has grown from a simple idea around the kitchen table to servicing over 700.000 customers in the retail energy market and employing around 1.000 people. Even though the company is no longer small, they still act and think like a startup.

Stephen’s presentation was not only on the future of energy but on the future of customer expectations in general and how children growing up to be the consumers of tomorrow are growing up in an on-demand world that gives them different expectations from brands than today’s consumers have. In just three years, on-demand services have revolutionised industry after industry and no one knows how fast the next three years are going to change. But by always thinking like a customer, OVO Energy anticipates being prepared to stay on top of the energy market that might have changed dramatically in an unforeseen way.

OVO Energy was the winner of the first CHARGE Awards and was crowned the World’s Best Energy Brand at the CHARGE Awards ceremony in 2016. The brand did well both in both the score of the global panel of experts but more importantly, the brand is doing an excellent job according to their customers.

A power company customers love

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Travelling half way around the world, Ari Sargent came from New Zealand to Reykjavik to give insights into one of the most exciting and unique kind of a retail energy brand in the world, Powershop.

Ari described the energy business as being:

Designed and built by engineers, bastardised by economists and muddled by marketers, the power industry continues to deliver one of the most successful consumer confusion programmes of all time.

Powershop decided to turn the power industry on its head by giving power to the people. Just as an example, while most power companies are red or blue, Powershop is glowing pink and goes a different route in their energy marketing message than the stereotypical energy utility.

Powershop needed to present itself as a disrupter in the market that did things differently from the start and was a strong contender for the 2016 CHARGE Energy Awards, being one of the final five nominees.

 

Content Marketing for energy

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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.

 

Building a trusted utility brand

The American retail electricity market is a mixed bag when it comes to the variety of companies and markets operating in the country. A majority of the states are yet to liberalise their markets while others have mature liberalised markets and others are in different stages of liberalisation.

KC Boyce is the product director at Market Strategies International. MSI has created a methodology to measure brand trust in the US electric market. At CHARGE 2016, KC went over the brand trust index and showed some examples of how electricity companies in the US have been able to establish more consumer trust.