Tag Archives: Human resources

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.

Closing the energy gender gap

Bjarni Bjarnason, CEO of Reykjavik Energy points out that the traditional energy utility is underutilising a big resource by mostly picking men out of the talent pool.

Reykjavik Energy is the parent company of ON Power – the largest energy supplier in Iceland, Veitur – the largest DSO, water and sewage utility in the country and Reykjavik Fibre Network – a company that handles the fibre optics network in the capital. ON power is also the largest producer of geothermal energy in Iceland.

Following the financial crisis in Iceland, Reykjavik Energy was forced to scale back and fire 1/3 of their employees. Bjarni who was recently instated as CEO at the time had a big challenge ahead of him to restructure the company that was on the brink of serious financial problems due to the crisis. Bjarni and his team did not only take a good look at where they could cut down cost as normally is done but realised that this challenge was a great opportunity to restructure the brand and what it stands for.

The brand was to stand for the equal opportunity of genders and instead of waiting for the natural progression of women filling management positions, Reykjavik Energy used the restructuring to make a stand and in 5 years the percentage of women in management rose from 30 percent to 49 percent and the gender pay gap went from 8,4 percent to 2,1 percent at the same time.

Some might think that closing the gender gap is something that looks great during presentations but has no other effect but as Bjarni pointed out, employee satisfaction has increased during this experiment and the whole atmosphere in the company has changed for the better.