Powershop is arguably one of the most innovative and disruptive brands that have emerged within the energy space. The New-Zealand founded online energy retailer is the fastest growing company in the country since forever.
Powershop is arguably one of the most innovative and disruptive brands that have emerged within the energy space. The New-Zealand founded online energy retailer is the fastest growing company in the country since forever.
When your only point of differentiation is price – you are peddling a commodity. Once you are differentiating by creating a perception in the mind of a consumer – you have a product. There is a simple key to a branding strategy. To have a commodity make the leap into branding, consumers have to be able to distinguish the brand from other competitors or other products. In a nutshell; a company selling a commodity needs to have its offering the same as offerings from the competition.
The most simple way of creating a brand is by having just one offering under the brand’s name. This product needs to signal that it is unique with a logo and a set of colours on the packaging. The packaging needs to stay the same and the product needs to stay the same so when the consumer buys the package, the consumer knows what he or she is getting. The message through the channel mix needs to stay the same and if you have created the right connections in the mind of the consumer, you are pretty much set with a good brand that might need some adjustment as time moves.
Branding a product that will sit in the shelves of the supermarket has a lot to do with what you do on the conveyor belt and through your marketing in the media.
For electricity and energy in general, companies are not branding a product, they are branding a service. The stream of electrons is the same, it doesn’t matter if you have procured or produced green electricity, the customer gets the electrons that were generated next to the home. The perception of green, brown or blue energy is created through branding – in the end, what the customer receives is just a commodity.
There is no physical packaging the customer experiences when using the core product. The service the energy company provides is what the customer perceives as the brand.
For energy brands to really succeed in the market, they need to establish a brand that can be felt through every touch point. The brand must be experienced through the call centre, the app and through ads and social media. Many energy companies silo the brand away at the marketing or communications department. Customers get a hint of the brand through marketing or through PR but in most cases, the brand is not felt through other communications with the company – or rather a different brand is felt through different touchpoints. This split personality that people sense from the brand creates scepticism that pollutes every ambitious outreach for a better image.
To put it in a context with store-bought physical products – Coca Cola would never have succeeded by having five logos, eight different colours for the same product or if one of six cans of Coke would be filled with just water or Fanta. In the same sense, an energy company will never succeed if the brand puts forth one positioning in an ad, a different brand promise in another ad, customers receive a different attitude when they reach out to the service center and a completely different approach when the company is reaching out when they are announcing a new project.
A brand is a promise kept and it has to be constantly delivered. No one is happy when coming home from the store with a different product inside the packaging that was promised on the inside. Service brands have the challenge to having their products on a constant conveyor belt and the service must always have the same branded ingredients. For a brand to succeed in any industry, it must always be up to standards at every touch point the customer can possibly have with the brand.
Customer experience is proving to be more important than ever. Utilities must optimize a positive digital experience for their customers by constantly re-evaluating new approaches and learn from best cases in other industries and adapt them to the needs of the energy customer.
As discussed in last week’s blog post, deregulation and liberalization of energy markets have revolutionized the utility’s environment. Utilities must adapt certain components to be able to consider themselves modern.
These include distinctive communication, effective segmentation and customer satisfaction which are driven forward by positive customer experience and a well-rounded, differentiated brand.
All of the above components revolve around the increasing need to become more customer-centric. Utilities have not turned a blind eye to this. In fact, most utilities in both regulated and deregulated environments have made changes to move away from focusing on themselves and their assets towards an emphasis on the consumer.
However, the actions to become more customer-centric are often siloed off in specific departments and are not in harmony with the overall corporate strategy.
This is something you will want to avoid as much as possible. In a recent Capgemini study, 118 out of 160 organizations said that siloed initiatives are the main barrier to successful transformation.
Thus, it is essential to the transforming utility to create and successfully integrate a business model that fulfills new market demands while simultaneously delivering profitability and staying true to the strategic vision of the company.
New sector policies, lower profit margins, and changes in consumer wants and needs have made previously reliable business models obsolete. However, the emergence of new technology has paved the way for business models better suited for modern circumstances which in turn carry with them new revenue streams and new touchpoints with consumers.
Utilities are slow by nature. They have been so since the beginning, but it doesn’t mean they have to continue being slow.
The utility can adapt many things from other more fast-paced industries. Digitization is happening everywhere and it is making everyday life easier. Utilities should not ignore this trend but actively pursue it. Considering customer experience, it can be better to start small as in these situations, it are often the little things that matter the most. A good place to start is the customer journey.
A customer journey is the steps the consumer takes to complete a certain task. It can take as little as a few seconds or as much as many weeks or months depending the nature of the task. The more involvement and cognitive thinking needed from the consumer the longer the journey will take.
The picture below outlines the customer journeys and processes that utility customers encounter.
According to McKinsey, four journeys matter most to the utility customer’s satisfaction. It identifies billing and paying as the most important, followed by managing energy usage, outage, and resolving bills.
We now have four major touchpoints with the consumer which we derived from the consumer journey, all of which can be optimized for customer satisfaction with digitization.
By conducting customer surveys from this point, utilities can learn where its customer pain points are and what they would like to do to resolve them. For example, a skillfully crafted visual representation of the consumer’s energy usage can be a good way to induce a surprise-delight response and increase customer satisfaction with the help of digital instruments.
After conducting customer surveys, observational studies can provide useful insight and help to solve problems the consumer was not aware he even had. For example, Accenture noted in its report that one utility noticed that there was no easy way to split bills for multiple tenants. The utility eliminated the problem and created a solution that delivers a true wow moment to the troubled consumers.
“Frequently taking note of the little things is the key to our success”
Utilities are not exempt from the demands for more fluid customer experience. New technology emerges every day that enables smart integrations throughout the value chain, from the customer journey to the company’s core operations. Energy brands with a more digital approach in customer relations will deliver superior customer experience, and by doing so, create strong customer loyalty which will ultimately result in sustained profitability.
Distinctive communication, effective segmentation and customer satisfaction driven by positive customer experience and a well-rounded, differentiated brand have all become critical components to the modern utility in the energy sector.
Historically, these components were not as important. Energy markets were closed off and few, or even a single utility, supplied electricity to a nation through its own vertically integrated infrastructure. This meant utilities simply did not need to pay attention to these components as the consumer had no other alternatives to choose from.
Deregulation of electricity markets started in the early 1980s but did not effectively take off until the United Kingdom deregulated electricity supply in 1990. This caused other established countries to follow the UK’s example and deregulate their own electricity markets.
The deregulation trend has spread widely since the 1990s. Today we are looking at substantially deregulated global electricity environment and more steps are being taken every year to ultimately achieve total deregulation worldwide.
The deregulation process has had a serious impact on the utility’s market conditions. Markets are becoming more decentralized, competition is increasing and the demand for market transparency is strong.
This has caused the old-fashioned utility severe problems. They are now dealing with people’s needs and wants – and consumers want to know where their electricity is coming from. Further, the value is shifting from the product itself to the service attached to it. The product has become an experience and the quality of that that experience will influence the consumers’ actions.
Consequently, utilities must now look outside of their internal environment and focus on the customer. They must emphasize more modern touchpoints, captivate customers on mediums on which they want to be engaged and be able to communicate complicated information in a simple way. This requires deep knowledge and understanding of customers and can not be easily achieved without adopting the components of the modern utility.
A strong brand is important to every utility which seeks to adopt the modern way of conducting their business. It is a compass that enhances focus and strategic vision, guides marketing communications, reflects consumer perception and provides differentiation from the competition.
A modern utility brand incorporates all the components. Communication, segmentation, customer satisfaction and experience are all reflected in the brand itself. Such a brand helps consumers make sense of the market complexity by forming relationships with loyal customers, who in turn become less price sensitive and less likely to switch over to a competitor.
The report on the brands that made to the finals of the World’s Best Energy Brands this year has been published. The e-report includes the energy industry branding case studies that the finalists presented to the panel of experts as their submission for the 2018 CHARGE Energy Branding Awards.
You can’t find as a comprehensive overview of energy branding anywhere else. Gain insights on how the best in the world are approaching their branding challenges.
The report includes:
We offer three packages:
The energy industry faces a great problem. Energy companies are perceived as faceless, heartless entities. To put it mildly, customers hate them. But why is that?
A big part of the problem is that energy companies have not been paying attention to branding. They spend a lot of money on their brands, but they don’t view branding as something that is part of their DNA. Branding in energy has often been siloed away as the
private matter of the marketing and communications department and the image-building has been outsourced to advertising and marketing agencies.
It does not matter how much is spent on funny ads. All marketing activities need to rely on a well-defined brand. Every organisation is involved in branding, whether they like it or not. Brands are defined by consumers and you brand your services by everything you do. Clever ads or massive corporate social responsibility activities might raise awareness, but it also builds an image and gives a promise in the mind of the consumer that needs to be fulfilled. There must be a balance between promises made and promises kept. Customers don’t like cheques that bounce any more than the utilities do.
How can you brand a commodity?
Energy is a commodity and a commodity is always the same – it doesn’t matter if it’s frozen orange juice, pork bellies or an energy futures contract. But you can differentiate a commodity. When you have differentiated a commodity, you have created a brand. Take a commodity, add a story, an experience for the customer, put a name on it and you have a brand. There are banana brands and there are salt brands. Electricity is just the same. You can differentiate right at the source and sell green energy and you can differentiate on the service level. Brands are defined in the mind of the consumer and the key is to create a different experience than the competition. There are many brands in the UK market that have been doing an outstanding job in their branding. Brands such as Ovo, Octopus, Ecotricity, Bulb and Igloo.
The branding challenge of the big six
The brands I mentioned are all perceived favourably by their customers and a clear majority of their customers are fans and promoters of the brands. But they all have found the magic flute of energy – starting with a clean slate. Most challenger brands have earned most of their customer base, meaning their customers were impressed by their marketing efforts and made an informed decision to switch. The promises the brands have made through their marketing efforts have been kept and that means happy customers. The big six have an unhappy customer base that has been scarred in the past with promises not kept. It is an enormous task for a brand that has been perceived as cold and distant to try to change to become perceived as being warm and cuddly overnight. Customers are already suspicious of them and would most likely ask “why do you care all of a sudden?”
And then there were five
The SSE and Npower merger will be an interesting case for the branding textbooks. There is a great opportunity to start over again. An opportunity to take the strengths of the old brands but leave the weaknesses behind.
The question is which way the new brand will go: will the new brand distance itself as far as possible from the old brands and the other big five brands? The points of differentiation must be followed through and shine through every part of the organisation. For example, being a green brand is not a matter of choosing the right shade of green paint for the headquarters. Every process needs to be green and all parts of the supply chain must be green or sustainable.
If the new brand is to show a new beginning, it must show in action that it is different from the parent brands. But the most important thing to remember is that branding is not just doing the groundwork and launching a new identity. It is about implementing and follow through. Brands need to be monitored and measured constantly. Brands live and breathe in the minds of consumers and what matters is how they are perceived by consumers.
This article was originally published in Utility Week
CHARGE 2018 was a great success with participants coming from all over the world for a unique energy event in Iceland. Discussions on utility rebranding, sustainable energy solutions, audio branding and the CHARGE Energy Awards were handed out to the winners. Click the video below to see what went on and what people had to say about the conference and get a glimpse at the energy excursion.
EON, Powershop, Ekwatuer, Fingrid and Virta announced as World‘s best energy brands
Reykjavik 25 September 2018 – The world’s best energy brands were announced last night in Reykjavík as part of the CHARGE Energy Branding conference – the only event in the world dedicated to brand building and communications for the energy space.
Best Established Brand: EON
Best Challenger Brand: Powershop
Best Green Brand: ekWateur
Best Transmission brand: Fingrid
Best Product Brand: Virta
Each brand won their respected category after being shortlisted by an international panel of professionals working in and around the energy sector. The winners in the retail categories were the brands with the best-combined score from a customer research as well as a score from the panel. Winners of Transmission and Product categories were chosen by the panel.
What the panel had to say about the winners
EON: “A Bold Energy Giant – massive investments into business transformation. Seem to be living the brand/business/technology transformation happily and successfully, both inside the organisation and outside communicating and launching new products/services.”
Powershop: “An innovative, disruptive and incredibly well-executed brand. The brand is highly engaging, innovative and is very cohesive as a challenger brand. The brand is very clever and transcends electricity as a low involvement commodity into a highly engaged consumer brand.”
Ekwateur: “… built a very sensitive customer care strategy. Community management, testimonials, communication tools are important parts of the global company strategy. Their segmentation is very precise and well executed”
Fingrid: “Very good brand, with good core messages, innovation and customer-centric, a national monopoly with exceptional consumer focus and outward vision. Logo and signature are clean and smart. ”
Virta: “Brand has a very clear direction and a strong presence in a way that is accessible to consumers while giving a strong sense of reliability and trustworthiness. A clear effort made to communicate with consumers is a carefree way that develops high engagement and great user experiences. ”
Dr. Fridrik Larsen, founder of CHARGE Energy Branding: “It was an even competition this year with strong cases from the finalists. But the winners delivered excellent case studies and there were some strong indications of the excellence of the finalists when we reviewed the customer surveys for the retail energy categories in the EBBI benchmarking tool. It’s great to see that the energy space is fully aware of the benefits of branding and the finalists and especially the winners set the bar for the rest of the industry.”
About the Charge Energy Branding Conference
The annual CHARGE Energy Branding Conference is the world’s first knowledge and networking platform on energy branding. As an international event strategically located between North America and Europe, CHARGE aims at leading the global conversation on communications in the energy and utility sectors while drawing attention to issues of sustainability, innovation, and the consumer-centric experience. The conference is a hub for decision-making, networking and researching about energy branding as an emerging field.
The utility as it was known 10 years ago is dead. The Energy sector is adapting to a changing landscape. While the energy mix is moving more towards renewables, the sector is changing its approach to the end consumer as well. Energy needs branding for effective communication. Branding is not only about attracting more customers but also to communicate important information from a credible source in a way that everyone can understand – both laymen and professionals. An important thing in crafting a brand that is authentic and believable is looking at the brand from the inside. The most crucial touchpoints any brand has, directly or indirectly are the employees that represent the brand.
The utility business model has gone through changes and is constantly being disrupted. You will hear from European energy brands that have been going through some transformation.
Emma Inston goes over how EON has transformed into a purpose-led brand.
Henrik Sætness talks about the evolving energy market and how Statkraft is adapting to it.
Rosemary Steen shows how Eirgrid has built trust by creating understanding.
Koen Noyens will present a new vision for the European energy sector.
Dr. Philip Lewis will moderate the panel discussion.
There is a war for talent going on and brands need to speak to both employees and possible employees. A brand must communicate in a simple, constant manner and every employee must know how to communicate on behalf of the brand.
Dounia Alno will show you how ENGIE manages to unify a global workforce under a single brand.
Caroline Kamerbeek presents on why it is important to engage the internal brand.
Rune Kirt is going to talk about the importance of creating a common language for all internal stakeholders.
Þórdís Lóa Þórhallsdóttir will moderate the panel discussion.
You will have a seat at the table at the CHARGE Awards included in your admission to CHARGE 2018. The finalists were the top brands among those shortlisted by a panel of experts working in and around the global energy space. The winners in the categories of Established, Challenger and Green are determined by a combination of how their brands are perceived by their customers and how the panel judged their case studies. The winners of Transmission and Product are the brands with the highest scores from their case studies. Customers perception of energy brands is measured by the only Energy Branding Measurement tool available, the EBBI. Further information on the finalists can be found by clicking here.
The energy sector is not simply about the metamorphosis of different forms of energy into electrons that are transmitted and delivered into homes and businesses for the next metamorphosis. The energy sector is pushing forward progress and creating value. Value is determined by the end consumer. And it is the purpose of every brand to create as much value as possible. Brands have an enormous opportunity to increase value with a green positioning and that will be one of the points addressed in the track Green is the New Black. Many brands and companies need to communicate and create value for more stakeholders than the end consumer. The B2B communication track is about how brands can communicate effectively with different stakeholders.
Find the full conference agenda for both the 24th and 25th of September here.
It seems that everyone has gone green, sustainable, renewable or circular. While there are different shades of green available – brands need to be green to the core in order to stand out from others. Green positioning needs to go beyond the source and connect in innovative ways to the hearts of the consumers.
James Ellsmoor will talk about how renewables and sustainability don’t only make an economic sense but have become an important ingredient in country and place branding
Viggó Jónsson will tell us how Green is an important ingredient for brands to create more value.
Clay Koplin tells us about how Cordova, an off-the-grid Alaskan town, has become the perfect testing ground for the energy system of the future.
Roberto Zangrandi will let us into how Distribution System Operators in Europe have been communicating with their customers
Sushil Reddy will share his Sun PedalRide adventure around the world and especially his recent trip around Iceland
Guðný Camilla Aradóttir will moderate the panel discussion
Branding is not only about communicating to the end-consumer. Branding is about communicating a consistent brand to all customers and stakeholders. It is often thought that price is the prime factor on the B2B market, but research has shown that brands on the B2B market that use emotional marketing message fare better off than ones using rational message.
Piotr Zawistowski will talk about how Power Exchanges establish and maintain communication with their various stakeholders.
Liene Donckers will share examples of how brands can seek inspiration from different stakeholders on what works in brand communication.
Paddy Young is going to talk about how you can stay on top of an ever-evolving market and stay relevant in the marketplace.
Stefanía G. Halldórsdóttir shares insights on how energy brands in the wholesale market communicate with their customers.
Ingrid Helsingen Warner will moderate the panel discussion.