Bjarni Bjarnason, CEO of Reykjavik Energy points out that the traditional energy utility is underutilising a big resource by mostly picking men out of the talent pool.
Reykjavik Energy is the parent company of ON Power – the largest energy supplier in Iceland, Veitur – the largest DSO, water and sewage utility in the country and Reykjavik Fibre Network – a company that handles the fibre optics network in the capital. ON power is also the largest producer of geothermal energy in Iceland.
Following the financial crisis in Iceland, Reykjavik Energy was forced to scale back and fire 1/3 of their employees. Bjarni who was recently instated as CEO at the time had a big challenge ahead of him to restructure the company that was on the brink of serious financial problems due to the crisis. Bjarni and his team did not only take a good look at where they could cut down cost as normally is done but realised that this challenge was a great opportunity to restructure the brand and what it stands for.
The brand was to stand for the equal opportunity of genders and instead of waiting for the natural progression of women filling management positions, Reykjavik Energy used the restructuring to make a stand and in 5 years the percentage of women in management rose from 30 percent to 49 percent and the gender pay gap went from 8,4 percent to 2,1 percent at the same time.
Some might think that closing the gender gap is something that looks great during presentations but has no other effect but as Bjarni pointed out, employee satisfaction has increased during this experiment and the whole atmosphere in the company has changed for the better.
When preparing for his presentation in the track on the branding of sustainable energy, search engines turned Ayoola Brimmo to the CHARGE website. In the introduction of the presentation, he noted that this was the only place to discuss how to successfully brand sustainability.
A brand needs to take a look at the past to be able to build towards the future was the key point to take from Ayoola Brimmo’s lecture at CHARGE 2016. Ayoola works at the Nordic Innovation hub in Abu Dhabi and used the case of Dubai as an example of a city brand that has become more valuable due to a strategic brand building that focuses on the perception of luxury. Another example of a city brand that has been developed in the Emirates is Masdar City. When Dubai is the luxury city brand, Masdar takes footing as a luxury brand but goes further to differentiating itself by focusing on the sustainability of the city. Even though sustainability has become sort of a buzzword in the last decade, Masdar has yet to become a city brand with a worldwide recognition.
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.
Bente Engesland, Senior VP of Corporate Communication at Statkraft from Norway, is fully aware of how fast times are changing in energy and how impactful the changing environment is for the energy space.
The traditional energy companies are faced with more disruptive changes in the next five years than in the preceding 50 years.
Bente mentioned three big factors having a lasting effect on the energy utilities:
Although Statkraft has a strong tradition of producing green, sustainable energy, the company is facing similar challenges as every other energy producers around the world; communicating with key stakeholders and the public in an effective understandable manner.
It is time for the utilities to shift their messaging in social media. From primarily sending messages about outages, utilities need to add an emphasis on customer relationships.
Tamara McCleary, CEO of Thulium has worked with companies such a IBM and Verizon to help them with driving brand engagement. She spoke on the importance of utilities becoming personal and drive the conversation towards a more human interaction.
The data utilities have today give them a unique opportunity to know the customer better – energy companies need to stop talking at customers but must start a conversation with them.
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.
Fintan Slye, CEO of the Irish Transmission System Operator Eirgrid, went over the case study of Eirgrid’s need of having a strong brand. Being a state-owned monopoly, Eirgrid is not at risk of losing customers or has any market share to gain – which is the second most common misconception of the role and importance of brands and branding. The biggest misconception is of course that people often mistake the creation of visual imagery such as the logo mark as being the only thing instead of one of many things branding is about.
As Mr. Slye told the audience at CHARGE 2016, the company was for months the topic of negative front page stories and tried to approach a public relation tasks with engineering solutions. The company was met with distrust and people did not know what Eirgrid was or what it did. The task ahead was to build trust by building a strong brand with people in the center.
Brand is critical to success and survival.
Fintan’s presentation shows an interesting challenge that many established utilities around the world are facing, lack of trust in a world that demands transparency.
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.
As Jukka Ruusunen puts it: not many people connect customer centricity to a transmission company. Jukka is the CEO of Fingrid of Finland, a transmission company that not only creates a connection between generation and distribution but also had created a connection between transmission and customer centricity.
Having an entire track dedicated to the Transmission and Distribution operators at a branding conference seemed like the odd one out for many attendees. For the organizers of the conference, it was not by a chance; people working for regulated monopolies are fully aware of the importance of their brand as a strategic asset.
The times are changing, making it more important now than ever for the transmission system operators to become more customer centric. Distributed generation is part of it but also the public who is expecting power companies to become “less arrogant” as Mr. Ruusunen put it – preferring TSO’s to talk about customers rather than loads.
This is people business – not just building transmission lines
Branding is an important tool to use externally but any brand starts at the inside of any organization. At Fingrid, the importance of understanding people is becoming more and more relevant skill and has become one of the requirements for new employees. Instead of building silos with a marketing department full of people skills in one silo and the engineers with technical skills in another silo, Fingrid’s strategy is to have employees that have people with people skills and the technical knowledge of how the system works.
Fingrid was one of the finalists nominated for the CHARGE Energy Branding Awards.
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.