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.
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.
It’s almost the end of the year and we can say that the recent news of First Utility being acquired by Shell is the biggest energy branding news story of 2017. But it does not come as a total shock, at least not for people who attended CHARGE2016. First Utility has been operating in Germany for few years under a special license agreement with Shell, selling retail electricity to customers under the name of Shell PrivatEnergie.
Maik Neubauer, former CEO of First Utility in Germany, who was responsible for the Shell PrivatEnergie brand spoke at the World’s First Energy Branding Conference in Iceland in 2016.
In his presentation, Maik talked about how First Utility leveraged the Shell brand when entering the German energy retail market.
Maik sat down in the Engerati studio outside the conference hall to discuss the First Utility and Shell collaboration in further detail.
We are already lining up some interesting speakers for CHARGE 2018 in Iceland. If you want to stay ahead of the curve and get a global overview of what is happening in the branding of energy.
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.
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.
The second of the Energy Branding webinars will be tomorrow at 13:00 UTC on Engerati. The title of the webinar is Branding Intangible Commodities – The Big Energy Question and you can follow it here for free, either live or on demand.
The main issues covered are the following:
Branding tangible vs intangible commodities
Beyond retail – branding transmission and distribution