Branding the energy utility

When rebranding – utilities have to be careful in utilizing their current strengths and find ways to address their weaknesses. Branding is a far deeper process than simply changing the name and the logo on the electric bill. It’s not about stationary or trying to pop up the marketing material. Utilities that suddenly try to look “branded” are really the awkward uncle that shows up late at the party, 20 years past his bedtime.

For a very long time, electricity was generated, transmitted and distributed by the same type of company, the utility. It would be wrong to say that electricity was sold since buying electricity did not evolve a voluntary trade, there was no persuasion on part of the utilities – consumers didn’t have a choice – no one was involved in voluntary trade – the utility had to supply the customer with power as long as the bill was paid and the consumer had to buy electricity from the monopoly.

The real energy marketing did not come from the utility but from the companies selling and manufacturing electronics – Commodore 64 is more responsible for demand than any electric utility ever was. The eight bit Sid chip soundtrack of the 80’s was powered by the utilities but consumers were trying to keep up with the Commodore.

The utility had to engage begrudgingly with the consumer twice a year to read from the meter in the garage and by sending out the bill. The consumer wasn’t looking forward to interactions with the utility, if they didn’t respond to the bill by paying they would pay even more or if they did respond, they had a full day ahead of a service center Kafkaesque experience ahead of them.

Marketing the energy utility requires branding to be successful, worth the resources and create a return on investment. But the utility has to be careful and the brand must be true to the positive perception points it has in the consumers’ minds while attending to the perception of a lack of concern. It will be easier for outsiders to enter the market with a powerful brand and new thinking than it is for the old utilities but perception can be changed and that is what will be discussed in Iceland in September.