Last week, the collective brainpower from the panel during CHARGE Energy Branding’s North America week could have lit up some utility customer’s houses –if not their entire block– during the session “Rethink energy brands to supercharge growth.” These leaders discussed what constitutes a powerful energy brand, how to make the right decisions with stakeholders in mind, and how to bring brand to the forefront within your own organization’s daily operations to drive business results, from growth and operational efficiency to high customer regard.
The expert panel included Kristin Carlson, VP Strategy and External Relations at Green Mountain Power; Cable Daniel-Dreyfus, Head of Marketing at Rhythm; Tim Cunningham, Senior Partner at Lippincott; Philip Guiliano, Partner at BrandActive; and moderator Kerr Jeferies from CHARGE Energy Branding.
Here are some of the key questions that were discussed during the session.
1. What makes a great brand? And how are energy brands working towards building long-term success?
The panel started with a discussion around the building blocks of a great brand. The panelists agreed on the basics – including authenticity and trust, purpose, and connection. From there, each panelist shared distinct viewpoints on ways that brand can drive a company forward.
Tim Cunningham’s perspective is that brand is prescriptive, as in it should be a “driver of action, source of inspiration, and a guide for investment decisions that go well beyond communications and experiences.” He believes there is a big opportunity in the energy space for brand to play a bigger role in driving marketing decisions and partnerships.
Kristin Carlson talked about brand as a driver of exceptional customer experience. Her company, Green Mountain Energy, wants to be the “Ben & Jerry’s” of the utility business. While her company may have comparatively high satisfaction score compared to other energy providers across the country, the bar, in her eyes, needs to be much higher. Green Mountain Energy, a renewable energy retailer serving customers across seven states would like to be compared to powerhouse brands like L.L. Bean, where exceptional experiences are to be expected.
Some energy companies are also still waging internal battles over the perceived value of brand. Philip Guiliano shared a common question that underscore many conversations about spending on energy branding – namely, why should we? He highlighted how investments in brand can pay long-term dividends for the success of your company and highlighted the importance of all employees understanding your brand.
Philip explained: “[What] We’re really looking at is … how the marketer is actually creating and finding the money for [brand] investment … particularly, if you’re an upstream company or a midstream company in energy. You’ve got 10 – 20 customers that represent 90% of your revenue, so why does brand matter? But being able to really build out that kind of a business case as to why it matters, and in very tangible terms, that aren’t necessarily marketing-centric, can really give you a vision to drive that brand forward, and get the investment to do it.”
2. What are the hurdles that energy brands are facing today? And how are they overcoming them?
As energy companies look to CPG brands like L.L. Bean, Apple or Disney for inspiration, they may face an uphill battle.
Kristin shared her struggles at Green Mountain Power, where they actively recruit outside of the energy business to break through traditional utility thinking. This included being one of the first companies to jump into a partnership with Tesla on the deployment of home batteries – savings millions of dollars for customers. But that is not the norm for utility companies.
Cable Daniel-Dreyfus discussed the energy industry’s tendency to prioritize short-term, price-driven strategies and deploy marketing tactics that are transactional in nature. And she mentioned the pain-point many energy retailers face: energy can be complicated, technical and of low interest to everyday customers. But there is an opening to build long-term brand engagement with customers. As Cable said, “there is an opportunity to build an emotional connection, whether that is through programs, or innovative products, or content where you break down complicated topics… I definitely think that there is the appetite, and there’s room to do that.” She went on to say, “… we’re really thinking about, what is the kind of personality that we want to develop so that people are engaging with us from a communications point of view as well.”
There’s no getting around the need to tell a compelling brand story and tell it well. Philip said: “What impacts the brand story? If you’re a diversified company that has 18 brands, how disjointed is the story … and how much more powerful could you make it, if people understood the breadth of what you’re actually providing?” He drew a parallel with healthcare, where one health system may have dozens of hospitals and clinics – but few patients understand that the cancer clinic that changed their life was actually a part of larger healthcare system. This is where carefully a crafted brand architecture (and the operations to support it) serve as vital supports to your ability to tell the great stories that help customers relate to your brand.
The next level of brand effectiveness? The ability to drive experiences.
“But what your brand really is, is when someone sees a line worker on the street, how does that person show up? I talked to a customer – a business leader — who had a good experience with a line worker seven years ago. They told me about this story, and they tell the story all the time. Your brand is your employees.” – Cable Daniel-Dreyfus, Head of Marketing at Rhythm
3. How are energy brands measuring success? What are the opportunities in front of them to make internal changes to create more room for ROI?
Lippincott is no stranger to measuring the success of brands. Tim talked about this through the lens of Lippincott’s annual Brand Aperture™ study which surveys tens of thousands of consumers across two dimensions. The first component is how well the brand is connecting with the marketplace from a brand understanding point-of-view. The second component is how is the brand is enabling consumers to progress in their life, helping them achieve things other brands are not.
Careful analysis of these survey results will allow energy brands to both measure success and provide an actionable diagnostic on where their brand stands. Tim shared an example: “Okay, my brand is super functional. I’m helping people to progress in their life, but I have no emotional connection. And therefore, I should be prioritizing that as a marketing objective, or a brand objective over the coming years, or vice versa.”
Those objectives, be they a rebrand or other type of strategic initiative, don’t need to be a “$30 million investment and take six months,” according to Philip. The key is to combine analysis of where your brand stands today with a strategic vision of where you want to be in the future, and to view brand through the additional lens of how it drives marketing effectiveness, and the success of the entire organization.
Through leveraging activities that your organization does every day, you can build a brand that connects to customers and guides employees to provide great brand experience—all while driving improvements in productivity and push towards your company’s intended future state.
To learn more about the panel’s views on, Rethink energy brands to supercharge growth, you can watch the full recording of the session here.