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.
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.
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.
At CHARGE, we try to bring to the table the best practices in Energy Branding and give a glimpse at what the best energy companies in the world are doing in terms of customer engagement and making their products and services more tangible by relating to the customer on human terms.
A part of the conference has focused on how companies are branding green outside the energy space. Companies that are focusing on sustainability are not only looking at becoming clean energy brands or branding green electricity by letting the customer know that they are using the best green energy in the world to make their products or services. They are looking at how they can cut costs by being sustainable. Being sustainable can often cut electricity used or energy consumed.
It is often the case that it is not the sustainability itself or being good for the planet that increases brand value in itself. As it has been discussed at the energy conference, consumers are often inadvertently interested in energy itself and how companies are sourcing their green energy. The clean energy coming from the rooftop of the store you are shopping at creates some value in the mind of the customer. Energy marketing conference is one way to put it, it is not only about energy retailers trying to catch the attention of the customer – branding or marketing energy is also a way for retailers or manufacturers to tell a unique story to the customers. And in a way, it is a green energy conference although it is just one of many topics discussed. It is a utilities and energy conference in the widest sense. Sustainability is an energy issue in one way or another. It reflects on how companies can become sustainable on the balance sheet by behaving thrifty when it comes to energy consumption. And by telling that story, brands can increase their value in the mind of the consumer.
Hosting the conference in Iceland means that it is the perfect place for a global energy event. The country is known for its production of clean, renewable energy – both hydro and geothermal. Being placed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is also the perfect place to bring together key decision makers together for an executive forum of people from all over the world. The energy space is often localised due to historical reasons and although the borders dividing the energy space are shrinking fast – there is a lot to learn from each other.
Join us in Reykjavik, Iceland where CHARGE will be hosted for the third time in September 2018. It will be one of the most memorable energy conferences of 2018. Iceland is exotic yet accessible with daily direct flights to three continents. You can find your flight today with WOW Air.
Segmenting the market and the customer base has in a way followed energy companies since the start. Market segmentation for utilities used to be less complicated – the customer was everyone living in a certain geographic area over a certain age. In short: everyone was the customer and everyone got the same message in a form of a bill or announcement of outages.
Enter the competitive retail energy markets
The competitive energy markets require more detailed segmentation. It is almost no longer possible to deliver the same message and the same service to just about everyone. And everyone is not looking for the same service from an energy retailer. Some people are following the lowest price, others are looking for a pleasant user experience, a group of consumers are after green energy and sustainable energy savings… the list goes on and most consumers are after a mixture of everything mentioned but put different emphasis on different factors.
How to segment energy consumers?
First off, there are, broadly speaking, four different types of segmentation.
Geographic segmentation segments users based on their location. This might seem like an outdated segmentation tool but rural energy customers have different needs than urban users. There are even different needs for users in different cities.
Demographic segmentation is along with geographic segmentation the most easily understood methods of segmentation and most used. Segmenting users by age, gender, income and family size sounds pretty familiar to everyone.
But electricity is not something bought off the shelves in supermarkets located in cities of a specific population density – electricity is not an easy made meal for a woman aged 35-42, married with two-point-two kids aged 7-12.
That is why energy requires more detailed segmentation.
Psychographic segmentation looks at lifestyles, personal characteristics – attitudes and how consumers live their lives. Branding is after all about creating something intangible on top of the core commodity – a certain spirit or experience. Psychographic segmentation looks at how people look at life and that is where it is likely for a brand to succeed.
Geographic and demographic segmentation still play a part and one type of segmentation does not exclude another.
Your brand can speak to different groups. But you should not change the brand for each group your brand is speaking to but your brand can approach each group differently but with a coherent voice.
Moving from the macro-segmentation of the market to the micro-segmentation of your customers.
While speaking to the market at large, the brand also needs to communicate with customers and customers can usually be segmented. This is where behavioural segmentation comes in (remember – one approach does not exclude the next) to offer different types of customers different types of incentives. Big data and data analysis of your customers should be used to analyze their behaviour and see which groups of customers behave in a similar way.
The energy sector is not only commanded by customers but also different stakeholders. For brands operating a regulated monopoly business and large energy companies with a global brand footprint – it is important to realise and map stakeholders in general. Stakeholder mapping helps utilities to visualise different stakeholders such as politicians, regulators, trade unions, environmentalists, large energy consumers and household consumers.
Tailoring the message for different segments
Building an effective energy brand and energy marketing is not only about customer engagement but also knowing who your brand is communicating to and how it should communicate at different points. Different segments are communicated to with a different type of message through different channels. One of the brand’s customer segments is price conscious while another is concerned about the environment. To make energy savings a point of brand value, the brand would approach the groups with a different message, the price savers would respond better to a message regarding how much money they would save from being energy efficient while environmentally concerned customers are more likely to respond to message regarding how they can contribute to saving the environment with energy efficiency.
At CHARGE 2016, Tomaz Oresic, Chairman of the board at Elektro Maribor, presented on the current outlook of the electricity supply value chain is going through major changes, with new players entering the market, shift of perception of electricity as a basic commodity and how the customer is increasingly being put at the very centre. These disruptive trends are changing the old electric utility business model with the result of an increasing number of utilities starting to pay more attention to branding.
Tomaz points out that utilities have been marketing an almost invisible product to an undefined customer with top-down communication strategies. These engagement strategies have often failed since the electricity suppliers have not walked the talk and due to mismatched communication.
Landsvirkjun is Iceland’s biggest power generation company, generating over 70% of electricity in the country. There has been a lot of changes in the Icelandic power market and Landsvirkjun has moved from focusing on low-cost electricity buyers market to a more balanced seller’s market, offering competitive prices.
The company offers 100% renewable power on the wholesale market, having only a few customers, meaning that their branding and image building is a bit different from other traditional power companies. It is, however, important for the largest power company in Iceland to deliver a clear message to their stakeholders (the company is owned by the Icelandic authorities) and their customers.
Landsvirkjun’s mission statement is:
Landsvirkjun’s role is to maximise the potential yield and value of the natural resources it has been entrusted with in a sustainable, responsible and efficient manner.
The role of the company has changed in the last years. Instead of focusing on growth and creating new jobs, its focus is today on more value creation than before. The energy transition and the way renewable resources have become more valuable for end consumers has enabled Landsvirkjun to focus more on the Green value proposition.
Effective product branding is about putting the right frame around your value proposition according to Mei Shibata, CEO of Essense Partners – an award-winning strategic marketing firm based in New York.
Mei uses the case of the electric cars to show how branding boils down to framing the value proposition. Despite the many advances the electric car has over the traditional combustion engine car, Mei’s research has shown that the biggest challenge facing the electric car is perceptional and related to the image the electric car has rather than technological, such as range, speed, charging time or the overall driving experience.
Mei points out that if you are not proactively doing your branding work, someone else is doing it for you and controlling the dialogue and setting the frame of reference for consumers.
Eneco was one of the first of the established energy utilities in the world to become fully renewable and became the frontrunner in the Dutch energy industry in the production of electricity from sustainable sources. Regine Alewijnse, Brand Manager of Eneco presented the brand’s story and the challenges that are facing truly renewable companies when many companies in the energy value chain present themselves as renewable when in fact, a majority of them are renewable only as far as the marketing message goes.
To further the point, Regine explained how sustainability can become more than a hollow marketing message, by making sustainability a valuable brand asset.
Eneco’s approach has not only been to offer renewable energy and offer customers a choice but also to enable customers the possibility to monitor their energy usage and helping them to cut down usage without noticing it by offering software that monitors and detects usage.
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.