An interview from Think Geo Energy with Dr. Friðrik Larsen, the conference chairman. The full interview can be found here.
Could you maybe explain briefly what one can understand under branding and how it relates to the energy sector?
Branding is about understanding the world a business operates in and using that understanding to communicate with and appeal to the consumer. In a way, branding is like philosophy. You gain knowledge about the role of your company and how it can relate to consumers. Often the consumer is not set out to buy a certain product but a solution to a problem. Everyone needs energy so the question is not if someone is going to buy it but how you can appeal to people. A good brand speaks one voice to a specific audience. For an industry that has up to now sold an undifferentiated product it is crucial to speak in the correct manner to a specific group of customers to differentiate your services and become a brand.
Why do you think it is so crucial for energy firms to consider branding more seriously?
We seem to be at a certain threshold in technology, its evolving exponentially and it’s a question when something radically new will disrupt the way we think about energy. A branding-oriented company is ready to adapt from being a candle maker to making lightbulbs. Energy and especially electricity hasn’t changed a lot since Edison and we are going to see a change just around the corner. If not radical, then incremental. Energy is still the same as 20 years ago and we will see an outsider coming up with an update to the business model, you can call it the Uber of energy. At least we will see Amazon or another beloved brand make a killing in the industry.
What do you think is important for companies in the energy sector to consider if they are approaching the topic of branding?
That branding is about creating a core philosophy that all activities depend on. It should set the tone for everything from products to marketing activities and beyond. Do it properly from the get go and maintain your brand – it is easier to stay in shape than having to shape up.
I think one can assume that branding is not only about the company providing the energy itself, but also about the kind of energy provided. How important is it for companies to brand the source of energy they are selling?
People are always interested in the product they consume – when dealing with big corporations – people have lost the connection they used to have with the maker and the origin. That is one of the appeals of Apple and Steve Jobs – you got a feeling for the creator. The branding of green sources is successful not only to the perception consumers get that they are saving the planet. I think its success has a lot to do with the fact that before green, companies didn’t feel the need to advertise its source of energy. Green-branding gave the energy an origin story.
Naturally, we can talk about public perception about coal, nuclear energy and climate change concerns, but maybe focusing on renewable energy, how important is this in the branding context today?
Branding is a lot about story telling. The renewables have an interesting story to tell, they get people excited. Hydro offers you beautiful power plants, often dating to the first days of electric power. Geothermal is created from volcanic powers, which is pretty awesome when you think about it. Solar and wind connects in a different way, both are still a novelty compared to other sources but they convert electricity from natural sources people feel on their own skins. Solar is still so futuristic, it is the only large-scale generation that doesn’t use the turbine.
You are based out of Iceland and therefore experience the role of geothermal energy in the daily life of people. But in the international context, what would you see as important for the geothermal energy sector with regards to branding?
Just the stories it can tell in order to get people more excited about the source, harnessing volcanic powers but also the possibilities of co-branding geothermal with other companies that rely on it directly. The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is a pretty well-known example of a company using the exhaust after the generation of electricity. There is the possibility of a thermal value-chain, where the heat leads from one link to the other to create something. Someone could brand a process and it would be part of the branding or a cluster using the same source could be part of each participant’s branding.
If one were to rethink branding for a specific energy source, how should this be driven, by an individual company, an industry group or governments?
Individual companies in a free market setting, competing to appeal to consumers is by far the most likely to succeed. A group or a government will focus on one message while competitors are more likely to deliver a different message and fine tune it. They are also more likely to appeal to different segments, making it more appealing to more consumers.
What is the goal with the conference that you are organising?
To start a dialogue. Since it is the first conference of its kind it is important to sow the seeds, introduce branding to the energy space and introduce energy branding to marketers and c-level executives. You see it too often that energy companies spend a lot of money on marketing activities without knowing that marketing needs a solid brand behind it and the marketing industry is too often willing to accept that money without knowing how energy differs from soap or cereal.
What do you want people to take away from the conference?
How branding and a two way communication between energy and consumers is the key to the future of energy.
And maybe as a last question, if you had to choose one key thing for companies to keep in mind on branding, what would this be?
That is goes well beyond the logo and the letterhead of the electric bill, it is about understanding and anticipating the consumer’s needs and wants.