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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.