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.

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.

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.

Brand building through experience and relationship

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.

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.

Communicating a Green Energy Value Proposition

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Landsvirkjun is Iceland’s biggest power generation company, generating over 70% of electricity in the country. There has been a lot of changes in the Icelandic power market and Landsvirkjun has moved from focusing on low-cost electricity buyers market to a more balanced seller’s market, offering competitive prices.

The company offers 100% renewable power on the wholesale market, having only a few customers, meaning that their branding and image building is a bit different from other traditional power companies. It is, however, important for the largest power company in Iceland to deliver a clear message to their stakeholders (the company is owned by the Icelandic authorities) and their customers.

Landsvirkjun’s mission statement is:

Landsvirkjun’s role is to maximise the potential yield and value of the natural resources it has been entrusted with in a sustainable, responsible and efficient manner.

The role of the company has changed in the last years. Instead of focusing on growth and creating new jobs, its focus is today on more value creation than before. The energy transition and the way renewable resources have become more valuable for end consumers has enabled Landsvirkjun to focus more on the Green value proposition.

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.

Energizing opportunities at IKEA

IKEA

Sustainability has been a part IKEA’s identity since it’s humble beginnings in Sweden decades ago. Guðný Camilla Aradóttir is the Sustainability Responsible at IKEA Iceland, taking care of sustainability issues. The goal of the brand is to eliminate waste at all time.

IKEA’s sustainability strategy, titled People & Planet Positive, set out some ambitious goals for the brand to head towards more sustainability. IKEA operates wind farms around the world and has installed solar panels on the rooftops of its store locations around the world, installed panels on office buildings and even sold solar panels for homes at some of its locations.