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.
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.
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.
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.
Helle Andersen is the head of communication at Energinet.dk, the Danish TSO. Before joining Energinet, Helle worked for one of the most successful brands in terms of heritage, engaged customers, word of mouth marketing and brand recognition, not only in Denmark but in the world – LEGO.
Energinet had at the time not unveiled the company’s branding strategy meaning that Helle was not showcasing a visual identity or outreach programmes or a success story. Instead, she gave the audience in Reykjavik a rare peak into the engine room of a brand in development.
Helle raised the valid question why a TSO should even be considering branding and explained why Energinet was undergoing the company’s first corporate branding process.
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.
The CHARGE 2016 Energy Branding conference reached its high mark at the CHARGE Awards dinner at the Blue Lagoon where the world’s best energy brands were rewarded for their contribution to branding in the energy space. For the first CHARGE awards, 80 energy brands from around the world were shortlisted by an international panel of energy, marketing and branding experts. 15 energy brands in three categories were finally nominated after a thorough screening process. The categories for the world’s first energy branding awards were Best Energy Brand, Best Green Energy Brand and Best Transmission or distribution Energy Brand.
For the first two categories, the brands were chosen from a score that was a combination of customer surveys, a panel of expert and an independent analysis of their competitive environment. The Transmission and distribution category was decided solely by a verdict from the panel.
All of the nominated brands have made their move from the traditional energy utility is perceived to being perceived as brands. Although all the energy brands were nominated due to their outstanding brandingstrategy thatis reflected in great marketing programs, high aspirations, satisfied and engaged customers and inspiring case studies – there could be only one winner in each category.
Check out the video below to see highlights from the CHARGE 2016 Energy Branding Awards event and interviews with representatives from the winning brands.
We welcome you to Iceland in September for CHARGE – The World’s First Energy Branding Conference.
Energy is on the threshold of change, not caused by smart technology, solar or efficiency but consumer power. The theme of the conference is how consumers are going to choose the provider that knows them best and can communicate with them at a personal level, beyond the meter reading and the electric bill.
At the core of every successful company is branding, the process of understanding the consumer better than the competitors. Marketing will always be less efficient without a coherent brand strategy guiding the way, smart technology is underutilized without deep understanding of the consumer and how the company should use it in harmony with consumer perception.
The conference has already gathered an exciting list of speakers who understand branding and marketing and who understand how electricity differs from other commodities due to consumers perception of the product and the companies that have historically provided it.
Guests will not only enjoy two days of inspiring lectures and keynotes but will be able to enjoy one of the wonders of the modern world, the Blue Lagoon thermal spa that utilizes water from a thermal plant to create a unique experience in the middle of a lava field. Afterwards, guests will attend a gala dinner where the CHARGE awards will be presented to the best energy brands in the world.
Register now – the early bird offer ends June 2nd.