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.
Bits from an interview with Dr. Fridrik Larsen that appeared first in Intelligent Utility. The original article and the full interview can be found here.
What do energy companies/utilities typically do wrong with energy branding?
I like to name and praise those who do a good job but let those who do bad work to be anonymous. In general, they don’t view branding as a strategic philosophy that every aspect of their operation should be based upon, that branding is creating a logo on the letterhead of the bill. Others have the criteria for a great brand but don’t implement it correctly. A brand is defined by consumer perception, not the correct colors or a core-value statement on a website. Most play it safe and don’t try new approaches. There is more innovation and consumer choice in deodorants, with new niche categories popping up every year. We want consumers to have choice in energy, too; it seems strange that there is actually more consumer engagement in armpit aroma than energy.
How do energy branding and customer engagement work together?
Branding guides companies in engagement. To simplify, let’s take a look at the only way possible for customer engagement before social media and smart metering—the dreaded bill and that call to the service center. A great brand would make the bill simple and—in terms that the customer understands—branding involves gaining consumer insights. These two touch points are, by default, a negative experience, but branding can at least make it more tolerable. The possibilities of engagement today are almost endless and energy branding is essential for each engagement to create value for customers.
What advice would you give energy companies, especially electric and gas utilities, about branding? What top three things should they be focused on?
First, the customer isn’t always right. Be customer centric but don’t chase their wishes blindly. Meet their needs today and anticipate their needs tomorrow.
Second, welcome competition. It increases awareness of energy retail. If they offer the lowest price, you have the opportunity to offer the greatest value.
Third, create intangible value for your customers. Know your virtues, be proactive in reaching out, speak to them in a different way and give them any excuse to love your services. It’s easy to beat the lowest price, being loved takes hard work and dedication of years.