Category Archives: Articles

Branding Bananas and other commodities

The most basic requirement for branding is differentiation. But how is utility branding possible when the product itself can’t be differentiated? How is energy market segmentation even possible when everyone is buying the same thing? These are questions that you might use to make an argument that branding for energy companies is a waste of time – the only differentiator is the price. You can only gain new customers by offering a lower price. As the experience from the UK has shown – trying to lead a race to the bottom can lead your brand to bankruptcy.

To demonstrate that a commodity can be differentiated by a brand, it is popular to point to other industries that have gone the branding route. Branded salt is sold at a premium and there is a seemingly endless supply of telecommunication brands active globally. But the best example of a well-branded commodity that differentiates primarily on owning part of consumers hearts and minds are bananas. One brand, in particular, has become synonyms with bananas. That brand is Chiquita. When people are asked to name the first brand that they connect with bananas, its Chiquita. Not many people can tell the difference between regular yellow bananas.

As finalists for the World’s Best Energy Brands Awards have shown, it is possible to differentiate a mere commodity such as electricity.  (follow the link to get a glimpse of some great brand case studies from the energy industry).

Electricity is a basic necessity and it is price sensitive up to a point – the brands that have been the most successful in the market have found a balance between offering a competitive price structure and giving customers a reason to choose a brand that offers something more than just a basic necessity.

Sometimes the commodity itself is differentiated – well not the electrons themselves but the source where the electrons are generated. Say hello to Green Energy Marketing. Clean Energy Industry Strategic Communications is probably the most notable and has been used the longest as a differentiator on the market. But making a clean energy strategic market entry has become more challenging than before since almost everybody on the market is either 100% renewable or offering renewables as an option on the market.

Energy Decentralisation is providing more opportunities as well as challenges to energy brands. Distributed generation and prosumers has changed the energy brand spectrum. Electricity brands are becoming a more flexible concept since customers do not need to be connected to the grid and can do business with electricity brands that only supply them with the tools and equipment needed for the customers to be self-sufficient of energy.

The most important thing in creating a brand in the energy space is to find out how to be different and the most enduring way of being different from the competition is to claim a feeling. In the end – people make their choice by determining who they trust.

Gain insights and earn customer engagement

customer engagement energy utility marketing branding CHARGE Energy

Energy company branding is pretty simple at the core. The World’s Best Energy Brands have it in common to be able to identify segments in the market. The best brands offer their target groups specific offerings and give them tailor-made marketing message that gives the impression of a coherent brand-voice. Despite advances in technology – the core of marketing is still the 4P’s. But technology creates new ways to present the product, new places to sell it at and new ways to promote it. It also gives new ways to find out more about the consumer.

Learn more about energy branding and dig deep into branding case studies in the energy industry. Join us at CHARGE 2018 – the only utilities and energy conference that covers branding in the energy space!

Easy days are over

A major task of any company selling and marketing a product or a service is to really figure out what you are offering, to which potential customers and how you are different from everyone else on the market. This used to be a lot easier, a company would come up with a product and find the right segment was easy, husband, housewife, urban or rural. Then societal changes came along and these simple groups of consumers split up and new-sprung out. The teenager is more complex and people in their twenties are now of all ages.

Big Data helps

Energy utilities around the world are doing their best to know their customers which is the technical term for analyzing data and identifying patterns. Big data can, of course, provide great insights that are not easy to identify from interviews or surveys. But the downside is that energy companies often skip the part of getting to know their customers – the customers become blips on the screen that leave data points. Gathering large amounts of quantitative user data is relatively easy, it’s just a question of finding the right software and let the algorithms get to know the customers.

A good brand uses algorithms to gain better insight into the behaviour of the customer but in most cases, it is used to build upon knowledge that is founded on qualitative research that is more or less the foundations of the brand.

Don’t forget qualitative

Some might dismiss qualitative studies as anecdotal evidence or by simply pointing out that if Henry Ford would have asked people what they wanted, he would have made the horse cart faster. It is correct that you should not take focus groups or customers too literally, an active mind is needed to analyze what is said to you and form concrete principles – read between the lines and integrate truths.

Find out more

Artificial intelligence is yet to be able to do that. A good first step is asking oneself “what would I as a customer want from a provider?” and then asking the same question to people you know and see if there is something in common.

Find out more about how the Best Energy Brands identify and speak to their different segments in the report on the World’s Best Energy Brands which is available now. Including energy company case studies from around the world.

 

The journey from RWE to Innogy

Almost two years ago, the German energy giant RWE spun off a large part of its operations into the subsidiary Innogy. Innogy took over the operations of renewables and networks and the consumer-facing retail operations of RWE’s business. It marked a bold move to face the changing times ahead in energy.  Innogy was to become a DSO brand, a retail brand but more importantly a renewable energy brand. But as the name suggests, Innogy was not to become just another renewable or sustainable energy brand. The Innogy brand made a connection between sustainability and the usage of renewable to innovation.

At CHARGE 2017, Sabine Schmittwilken, the global head of brand at Innogy, spoke about how the transition from RWE to Innogy or rather how RWE wanted to start again with a clean slate and change part of its business into Innogy. As she put it so bluntly and honestly:

“We were completely ignorant of people’s needs, ignorant of global trends. At that time, RWE had invested billions in a new conventional energy park. And then all of the sudden, the German Energiewende came […] All of the sudden we needed a new future and new answers”.

Going through the process of re-discovering their purpose in a changed world – RWE found that renewables would soon become the new normal in the energy space. It was not enough to claim differentiation through clean energy when everyone could make the same claim within ten years. Clean energy market entry is not as unique as it used to be.

To discover what truly could set RWE apart in the marketplace, the company looked back at its roots to its founder Hugo Stinnes, a great innovator and entrepreneur who was considered to be crazy at the time to have the ambition to bring electric lighting to even the poorest. It was considered an impossible challenge to overcome in the early 1900s but was achieved. With the spirit of achieving what is considered impossible, the foundations of the company’s new strategy were put in place.

Sabine went further into what led to spinning what would become Innogy from RWE at CHARGE 2017 in Iceland. It is a good primer in Energy Company Branding and a gives an overview of the process in general. The full presentation can be found in the player below.

Discover more from thought leaders in the energy space at CHARGE 2018 in Reykjavik, Iceland. September 24-25. An Energy Conference in Europe but really close to America. Early Bird tickets are available until the end of June.

Does Geothermal Energy create better Footballers?

Located close to Reykjavík in the Reykjanes peninsula, HS-Orka is primarily focused on geothermal energy both in terms of creating electricity and heating. The vast amount of waste heat that is a byproduct of its generation has created a great opportunity for innovation in further utilising the geothermal resources. From a natural spa to fish farms and other high-tech start-ups, the motto of HS-Orka has been to not think inside the box “there is no box”.

At CHARGE last year, Ásgeir Margeirsson, CEO of the company talked about football and how geothermal energy has created better footballers for Iceland. In his presentation, he showed that there was a correlation between the number of geothermally heated indoor soccer halls in Iceland and the rise of the nation’s national football team up the FIFA rankings ladder.

HS-Orka has focused on progress and the company is passionate about doing better than before and being brave. “There are many ideas that fail but that is alright”. Ásgeir went on to say that there is nothing as waste, waste is simply something that they haven’t found a use for yet.  The key to finding new ways to turn waste into a useful resource, according to Ásgeir, is to have an interdisciplinary discussion between people of different backgrounds both from the power companies and innovators.

Energy brands and strategic vision

 

Retail energy strategy is about finding the right positioning and implementing it. Energy company branding is not simple for energy providers, positioning on the market requires a deep knowledge of how energy consumers behave and how the market can be disrupted. For incumbent utilities, this can be a difficult task since consumers have an already established idea of what the utility is and what it does and how it reacts. The utility company and the idea consumers have about it is changing, both with the entrance of smaller newcomers and changing technology.

The age of consumer choice in power markets

Power providers have been unbundled in most liberalised markets and the challenge for all participants in the market is to unlock customer value by creating brand value that gives the customer a reason to choose. Customers that have been indifferent towards their energy suppliers are slowly but surely responding to marketing programs and branding in the energy space. What has become the most common form of differentiation in market messages on the energy market has been a green positioning, focusing on the renewables that the energy provider can source for their customers.

Renewable Energy Strategies

Renewable energy strategies can vary, depending on the market and how customers on the market perceive renewables. In most countries, solar and wind are considered to be THE sources of renewable energy while sources such as nuclear and especially hydro are branded as sustainable or clean sources of electricity. While solar and wind are still sufficient to power regular homes, the technology is not just there in terms of scale and efficiency to give reliable power to large-scale industrial users. Many large companies are, however, demanding renewable energy to power their production or be the backbone of their services. It does not matter how green/renewable/sustainable/clean the source of the energy is. What matters is that the brand that is promoting the source of energy that it sells to its customers is also a sustainable brand. Being a sustainable brand is not about renewing the colour palette to reflect a greener colour.

Customer engagement strategy

The brands that are able to deliver results in connecting to the minds of consumers are the brands that are delivering a higher purpose. It is not just a matter of the cover – it is also about the contents inside. The truly effective energy brands are about changing the status quo. Effective brands set out to change the world. They identify gaps in the market by thinking like a consumer. Often they are founded by regular consumers that are fed up with the way things are done. From the start, these brands are equipped with a vision. Their strategic market entry is done by a narrow customer segmentation – by being focused on a niche market that they can expand further down the road.

Doing something new

The top companies for customer experience are not myopic about technology. Smart metering is an add-on to the experience but it can not the solution to everything. If a brand is not well crafted and lacks strategy and vision, the execution of the possibilities of smart metering will at best become awkward. Utility analytics and customer engagement metrics are a valuable add-on for the energy marketer and anyone interested in maintaining a brand. Smart metering enables customer engagement metrics and smart customer service but customer engagement and loyalty do not come automatically with smart meters and smart meter data. People engage with brands – not technology. Technology enables further customer engagement in energy and it can help customer segmentation. But technology and user interface must be appealing and easy for customers. To be able to make it easy for customers, companies need a good user interface and to be able to design a good user interface, energy companies need to be able to understand the end customer.

The Future of Energy

The future of energy is customer choice. Customers are already able to choose a supplier in deregulated markets but energy consumers around the world are already able to choose if they bypass the regulated monopolies altogether through microgrids, their own rooftop solar or other ways of localised small-scale production of energy. The future of energy is in the hands of the consumer and the energy companies that are able to build their value proposition according to the needs of the consumers will own the future.

 

 

 

Sustainability Branding disrupting the Energy Space

Apple has become a licensed electricity retailer in the US. Photo credit: Apple Canada
Apple has become a licensed electricity retailer in the US. Photo credit: iPhone in Canada

CHARGE is not primarily a utilities & energy conference but is also meant for companies that are actively pursuing to create value for their customers with energy branding; that is creating a competitive advantage with branding and marketing energy that they use. Energy efficiency is a big part of energy branding since the most valuable and sustainable energy is the energy that is never used.

The growing number of companies participating in initiatives such as RE100 has shown that sustainable brands are a part of the mainstream, sustainable brands are not primarily a part of niche marketing preaching to the already converted. Sustainable brands have become brands that have already established themselves in the homes of the everyday consumer.

Sustainable brands are pushing for access to 100% renewable energy and are either switching their supplier to secure sustainable energy or producing energy on their own. Some of the sustainable brands that have just entered the energy space are producing energy to offset their own usage due to the fact that they can’t procure 100% renewable off the grid or are simply producing renewable energy on-site.

These invaders to the energy space have not all the sudden become interested in becoming energy companies but are acting on the demand of their customers. Consumers today are concerned about the energy used to produce the products or services they use but the utilities have not acted quick enough to meet the demand of the sustainable brands. Instead of waiting for the utilities, the sustainable brands have acted to meet the demand of the consumer today or demand that sustainable brands foresee tomorrow.

Good brands are not reacting to the situation as it is today. Good brands try to predict the future and are quicker to market than the competition. The key lesson utilities and the energy industry in whole should learn from the sustainable brands is that if you don’t shape the future of your market, someone else will and the future will be theirs.

Perceptions of Green Energy

Sources of Energy
How the EPA categorises different sources of energy. Source: www.epa.gov

We hear and read terms like renewablessustainable energy, green energy quite a lot these days. We could add carbon neutral, eco-friendly energy and ecological into the mix of buzz words surrounding different sources of electricity.

Defining the term

These terms have defined by public agencies such as the EPA as can be seen in the infographic above or have been defined by scholars and academics. The term green can mean one thing for an energy source and a different thing for a consumer product. The term green can also mean one thing according to the EPA and another thing according to academia and something completely different in the eyes and ears of the end consumer – the definition might be interchangeable in the mind of the person using the term or witnessing someone else using it.

The definition of Renewable energy is quite simple – the source does not deplete natural resources it uses, they can renew themselves within a human lifetime. It seems a reasonable definition that fits the term well.

The definition of green energy is more debatable

One definition of green is simply an energy source that replaces an energy source that pollutes more. Under that umbrella, coal is considerably greener than it was 200 years ago but it would take a big effort in convincing someone that coal should be categorised as being green. Natural gas has replaced coal considerably in the US in the last decade with the effect of the US lowering greenhouse emissions more than most other countries. Natural gas might not be up to the EPA standards of being a Green source of energy but would fit the standard of polluting less than the coal it replaced.

Nuclear in the eye of the beholder

An interesting source of power is nuclear. Many people point out that to date, nuclear has caused less environmental and human harm than any other source of power. The incidents that have happened have been heavily publicised and that the generation of power in itself does not cause any environmental harm – it is just a question of what is done with the waste produced by the generation. But no energy retailer in their right mind would brand their nuclear source of energy as green, especially with environmental activists heavily protesting the transport of the waste around Europe. EDF in the UK branded their low carbon nuclear energy as being Blue energy.

For the energy consumer in an Eastern-European country that got coal-powered energy plants with Soviet-Era technology (instead of Soviet nuclear plant like their neighbouring country), Nuclear energy is green. The layers of coal-dirt from the Soviet era bear witness to how clean the generation of Nuclear Energy is. But trying to tell that to an environmentally conscious Greenpeace member in Germany would result in a branding backslash.

Green is the new brown

The green-electricity claim is tricky. What we have learned from both speakers and guests and nominees for the CHARGE Awards in the last two years is that in order to be able to call themselves Green – brands need to be able to Talk the Talk as well as Walk the Walk. Credible green energy brands need to be green to the core for the consumer to trust them. It has become more valuable than ever to have a strong brand that consumers trust to convey a green-brand message. Green Sources of energy have become something that almost everyone is offering. Building a green energy brand requires more than the source of energy itself. The whole chain of energy marketing needs to deliver a coherent green and sustainable brand communication.

 

 

 

The Decentralisation and democratisation of Energy

There are many current challenges in the energy sector. The sector is adapting to increased demand for sustainable energy and balancing new renewable sources with the current loads of the users connected to the grid. The generation of energy by renewables such as wind and solar at industrial scale is not the only challenge the utilities need to find a sustainable way to implement but also how to feed the electricity created by distributed generation and prosumers onto the grid.

Communicating with prosumers

These challenges are not only for the engineers to figure out – they create an energy marketing challenge – how good are the energy brands in communicating with end customers of energy and how strong are the brands in creating a dialogue with different stakeholders in order to implement the renewables and different types of technology and adapt users to the new reality of the energy space.

A new two-way dialogue between energy company and consumer

Distributed generation and prosumers have created a whole new dialogue between utilities and the public – the public is no longer just the recipient of energy but is starting to feed electricity into the grid. It has been a headache for the regular consumer to understand the normal energy bills, imagine how the regular prosumer is able to understand the bill when he or she is the one charging the utility. This requires clear communication, good utility marketing and a good energy marketing communication needs the clear vision of the energy brand behind it.

De-centralising Energy

The democratisation of energy will happen on some scale in the coming years. The advancements in solar technology and small-scale generation of energy mean that price will come down. Powered by blockchain technology and smart devices, microgrids will begin to become more frequent where people trade energy they generate with their neighbours. Peer to peer trading of energy might become as common as running water is today. The energy customer of tomorrow might sell excess electricity that came from the rooftop and stored in their car onto the grid. Development and implementation of vehicle-to-grid solutions has already begun.

Adjusting to a new reality

Energy companies, whether it is the traditional utility or energy retailers might have to adjust to this new reality of microgrids and peer to peer energy trading. Although the need for their traditional services might not be as needed as it is today, they are trusted as experts in electricity and their brands might take advantage of that brand asset. Energy as a service will become an invaluable part of the business model and it will be interesting to follow the development of the unique value propositions that the future energy brands will offer their customers.

 

The basic energy marketing rules that many fail to apply

CHARGE Energy Branding Conference
The three rules of energy marketing

Before energy suppliers begin the journey of their energy marketing, there are multiple issues that need to be addressed. The most basic issue and the foundation of any energy brand is the general idea of what the brand is about before creating and delivering the marketing message. Branding is the basic strategic philosophy any organisation should build their whole operations around.

Create a unique value proposition

The key to any successful brand is the unique value proposition. Many energy brands are abandoning the lowest price race to the bottom and have started to emphasise on creating an emotional connection to the customer. Customers are attracted to them because of a vision that goes beyond simply providing a commodity. Anyone can become an energy supplier and the secure supply of energy is a given in liberalised markets. The best energy brands have created a unique, compelling reason for customers to become their customer by creating a bond on the emotional level.

Know your customer segments

Multiple branding case studies from the energy industry have shown that effective energy marketing comes from a good brand that is a credible source of information for the customer.  There are multiple methods of branding energy but there is not a secret formula for a successful retail energy strategy but rather a toolkit that any brand should use for success. One of the most important tools for utility marketing to become successful is brand segmentation – know who you will be talking to and know how to talk to different segments.

Be consistent and authentic

Once the segments have been identified – you can know how your energy brand can communicate its value proposition to the different brand segments. From segmentation, effective branding strategies can be developed. There are brand building companies and retail energy consulting firms that help with branding but the brand needs to be authentic in all their communication with the customers. Look at any branding case study from the energy industry and you will see that all effective utility marketing (or energy marketing) programme comes from a credible source – an effective energy brand.

There are multiple technical challenges for the energy sector and there have always been. But the biggest challenge for the sector is knowing how multiple stakeholders perceive utilities and services and products for the sector. To be able to be effective in marketing energy services, utilities need to be able to understand the customer and communicate through a powerful energy brand. This same principle applies to different parts of the electric energy sector – from generation, transmission, distribution and sales of electricity.

 

A Unique Energy Conference in Iceland 2018

CHARGE Energy Branding Conference
A relaxing time in the Blue Lagoon at CHARGE

CHARGE is a bit unique in terms of location. Technically, CHARGE Energy Branding is an energy conference that is located on two continents. It is an energy conference in Europe as well as being an energy conference in America. Iceland rests on the tectonic plates of both Europe and America. But the conference is also an international event in terms of presenters and attendees. The location is not as central as energy conferences in Europe or North-America, the trip to Iceland is not that much further than travelling between big cities on both sides of the Atlantic. Just add an hour or two and in return, you will have a more spectacular energy conference experience than anywhere else.

Reykjavik is not known for neon lights but more noticeable are the northern light illuminating the night sky from early September.

Being technically both an energy conference in America and an energy conference in Europe has some perks. For one, people can see with their bare eyes where the tectonic plates are drifting apart but it also means that Iceland has a lot of geothermal energy that is widely used both for district heating and more importantly

On the way to or from the international airport in Keflavik, you could enjoy the unique experience of the Blue Lagoon spa – maximizing the exhaust geothermal heat from the nearby geothermal power plant and is known for its healing powers.

If you have a bit more time, we suggest that you do it like a local and enjoy some of the multiple community swimming pools. Each neighbourhood in Reykjavik has its own swimming pool. If you don’t like swimming that much, take advantage of the several hot tubs each pool has and lie down in the cool tubs in between. The pools that are located closest to the conference hall are Sundlaug Vesturbæjar in area 107 where deals are brokered and decisions are made, Sundhöll Reykjavikur in area 101 where hipsters meet and sweat off last evening or go out of the capital to the municipality of Setjarnanes to relax while enjoying a great view of the Atlantic Ocean.