Tag Archives: energy branding

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Efficient Energy Brand Communication

The Energy Brand, the heart of strategy and communication. Image credit: LarsEn Energy Branding
The Energy Brand, the heart of strategy and communication. Image credit: LarsEn Energy Branding

One of the most challenging tasks of utility companies is how to reach the ears and eyes of stakeholders and potential customers in a way that it gets noticed and remembered. Though energy efficiency has been a hot topic for energy companies, the most important task ahead is efficiency in communication – if communication goes by unnoticed, resources have been wasted.

Every company in the energy space needs to be able to communicate efficiently, it does not matter where in the chain the company operates – TSO brands, DSO Brands, Energy Generation Brands, retail brands and brands that are bundled in one or more aspects of the energy value chain, all need to be able to communicate their message in an efficient way.

Brand or be branded

Communication needs to come from a credible source – a source that the audience wants to listen to and notice in the first place – but also a source that is considered believable. The source of communication in utility marketing is always the brand. It does not matter if the utility does not consider it self to be in branding. If the utility does is not actively invested in its brand building then the brand, its image and credibility is out of the hands of the utility and the image of the utility is shaped by everyone else.

Utility marketing should start with building a brand. Communication efforts will not be taken seriously if the energy company has not effectively built a brand and has taken branding seriously. Communication processes such as the tone of voice and proactiveness can be created but to know how the processes are created, a good strategic tool is to know the brand and how the brand would behave as a person.

The cornerstone of every interaction

The big question facing many brand builders in the energy space is how to brand energy since electricity is a commodity that can not be differentiated. The answer to the question is easy: differentiate your company with a unique brand that can be heard in the noisy clutter of communication people are bombarded with every day. The hard part is to follow up on the brand building and have the energy company behave as the brand at every level at the operation and at every touchpoint. If the brand behaves in accordance with what people expect and is consistently behaving as a brand at every touchpoint, the brand becomes credible.

Don’t settle with a credible brand – aim for incredible

With a strong brand that is incredible at getting the attention of their customers in a positive way, challenges become easier. An incredible brand has consistency and is dependable. Good energy brands know how to communicate with new challenges such as distributed energy and prosumers, they know how to fit new green energy technology to their service offering, know when and how to showcase their green electricity offering and how to add value for their customers with effective ingredient branding of either their power source.

Join the discussion at CHARGE 2018. CHARGE Energy Branding is the only utilities and energy conference that has a clear focus on energy branding and how utilities at every stage in the energy stream can benefit from a strong brand that delivers consistent and efficient communication to stakeholders.

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 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.

Mind the perception gap

the_energy_utility_brand
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.

Dates for CHARGE 2018 announced!

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The 3rd CHARGE Energy Branding conference will take place in Reykjavik, Iceland – in September 2018. The Harpa Conference hall has been booked for the 24th and 25th of September. Save the dates and make sure to make most of the trip to Iceland and arrive on Saturday 22nd of September. Use the weekend for some sightseeing in and around Reykjavik and some pre-event networking.

Don’t miss the only global event that puts consumer perception on energy, sustainability and brand building in the energy space in crystal clear focus. Meet your peers and consumer-obsessed individuals in and around the utility sector. Listen to professionals from global energy brands, smaller challengers, energy startups, energy associations and global brands in other sectors and discuss the present and future challenges of the energy sector.

The location of the event is not a coincidence, situated where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet – Iceland is the perfect place to host the discussion on branding energy utilities. The energy sector has been and is still to some degree, localised. Reykjavik provides a great setting for discussing the future of energy, being powered 100% by renewable sources and heated by the volcanic powers of geothermal energy. With direct flights from both coasts of N-America and most European countries – Iceland is just perhaps the most accessible exotic island in the world.

Join us again in Iceland for CHARGE 2018!

The best Energy Brands have this in common

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People often wonder if there is a good life-hack or a shortcut to achievement. So, is there a good life-hack for creating a good brand in the energy sector? The short answer is: No – there are no shortcuts. Creating a good energy brand takes a great deal of effort. Even if you know the secret to creating the very best power brand in the world and even if you were born with the secret to energy marketing in your head – creating, implementing and running an effective brand in the energy sector is still hard work.

But is there a secret recipe?

Good news! The answer is: Yes – There is a secret recipe! But the bad news is that it’s not so much as a recipe but more like secret (or not so secret) ingredients to creating a strong brand in the energy sector. From reviewing the admissions from the World’s Best Energy Brands we have learned a great deal about how the best energy brands in the world view themselves. And there is a common thread. It does not only apply to the competitive retail sector – it also applies to the regulated energy sectors both in retail, transmission of electricity, distribution of electricity and it should apply to B2B energy retail companies as well as generation companies.

The best energy brands offer something else than energy

They offer an experience. They have a simple message about the benefit they offer that no one else offers. And the benefit is usually not the price or being able to deliver electricity on time. It’s usually a feeling in the mind of the consumer that they own. Apple and Nike are well-known branding and marketing reference point clichés for a reason. They own a share of the consumer’s mind – and that is what you need to own a share of the market.

The best energy brands look outside the energy box

The best brands are not focused on the next door utility neighbour and try to copy their best practices. Although many brands in the global energy market are doing great things branding vice, the best brands in the world are not found in the energy space. You should look outside the box and identify who is the best in the world and learn from them and apply it to the energy sector. Don’t think about which brand is the best employer brand amongst energy companies – look for the best employer brand in the world. Don’t just try to learn from the best customer service brand among utilities, look for the company that offers the best customer service period.

The best energy brands use segmentation tools

It’s almost impossible to be like by everyone. Instead, you should use the appropriate tools to segment the market. The most simple tool to use is demographics. But you can’t go in blind and decide to be the brand for single women aged 26-37 living in a certain area with this much yearly revenue. You need to know why this group is the right one for your brand and your value offering. It is often said that typical demographical groups are dead – people can’t be put into categories based on gender, age or where they live. There are multiple tools that segment that market based on more things than on demographics. Find the groups that your brand speaks to.

The best energy brands are customer oriented

Customer engagement is not about smart gadgets. It comes naturally when a brand speaks to the customers on a personal level and connects to them on an emotional level. The smart gadgets help but if there is nothing that connects to the customer other than a socket on the wall or some hardware, then there is no chance of communication. The best brands have created an emotional value that can be hard for competitors to compete with.

The best energy brands measure up

We have established that good branding is about knowing the customer. But good branding is about knowing yourself. What you stand for and what your brand is capable to do. But you need to know where your brand stands and where it stands in the minds of your customers. The best energy brands are constantly measuring how they are doing and benchmarking with other brands. They are not afraid to reach out proactively to customers and ask them what they think – this is not done once a year – it can be once a month or even once a week.

The best brands or on a mission

They offer superior brand value by offering something unique and different from others in the sector. That superior value stems from a specific mission – they are not just selling energy – they are often trying to change the world. A good example of good branding is in the green energy sector. Today, almost every supplier has started to become green. So green has become the new black in energy and it’s hard to differentiate on the green origin of the energy alone. Green brands today have to dig deeper and be sustainable to the core.