Branding Utilities and Energy Companies

By Tom Dougherty

Branding a Utility

public utility marketing strategy includes direct to consumer
Public Utilities Still Need to Market

Does the public utility marketing strategy reflect the customers precepts? It had better. If your utility’s brand does not command greater preference or produce increased margins then you do not have an energy brand — you have a business. The only reasons to invest in branding a utility is to grow margins and/or increase your utility’s preference. If your energy brand and energy branding efforts are not adequately delivering one of the afore mentioned values, then this month’s Share Thief is an imperative read. Too often the foundation of your energy marketing strategy, your utility brand, is ignored when developing the utility’s marketing strategy and tactics. It is where your marketing strategy gets its permission to play that proves to be the most important part of your entire marketing strategy.

 

Sun-Tzu was a branding strategist
Sun Tzu

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu states, “Those known as sophisticated at strategy do not have unorthodox victories, are not known for genius or valor — because their victories contain no miscalculations,” and his thinking is point-blank. (Read more Sun-Tzu marketing advice here) The question now becomes, what constitutes an “unorthodox” victory in the utility marketing arena? How do you build a utility’s brand? The temporary victory that comes from developing energy’s marketing strategy without redeveloping or redeploying your utility brand strategy is anything but orthodox. (Read a study on branding a utility here)

 

Branding As Marketing

All public utilities marketing sounds the sameAt Stealing Share, we cross the boundaries because we know that your utility’s brand needs to steer your marketing strategy if it is to grow you market share and increase your energy company’s preference. Public utility marketing strategy need to blend organically. When we discuss energy’s brand permission, we are referring to the permission attributed to the utility’s brand by the utility customers in order to accomplish a particular meaning, advantage, or to occupy a specific brand position. Most energy marketing strategies lack this permission because they have confused their utility’s brand with their corporate proposition or product (energy) attributes. As a result, the expensive marketing juggernaut fails to fulfill the utility marketing department’s expectations. (Read how to better use your brand in marketing here)

The reason most utility marketing strategies fail is not because the utility’s strategy was wrong, rather because the marketing department was unable to observe the energy company’s brand dispassionately. Just take a look around and see how many people have no idea as to how they appear to others. Look for example, how many bald men think the “comb over” is an effective disguise. People cannot see themselves as others do, and utility marketing departments quickly reinforce this fundamental truth when they step into the “corporate body” — unable to see itself dispassionately.

The corporate body sees its circumstances in terms of its own needs and wants. Such blindness presents an opportunity for visionary public utility brands that are willing to see energy’s brand development as central to its marketing development and not simply as something to be “managed” by the best intentioned of brand managers and marketing mavens. Napoleon warned, “The great proof of madness is the disproportion of one’s designs to one’s means.” In this case, “means” can be defined as “brand truth,” as surly as it can be defined as marketing budget. (Read more of Napoleon’s marketing wisdom here) There is often a wide gap between what we push to be true and what the consumer believes to be true. The good news is that your main competitor is sitting in the same boat. Branding an energy brand requires you to be more objective than the competitor

How Public Utility Marketing Strategy Has Changed (or needs to change)

Public utility marketing strategy needs differentiation and importanceBrand IS about persuasion because it is all about the beliefs that drive your target audience to covet the energy brand. This is as true in branding a utility as it is breakfast cereal. It is not static and needs to illuminate marketing activities and strategies that were submerged. Stealing Share is a brand development company, but branding a utility or energy company without a concrete marketing strategy as part of its deliverables is like going to the finest restaurants in the world, deciding what it is you want to eat, and then eating the laminated menu rather than what you ordered. This meal has the same taste and nourishment value as tree bark.

Ad Agencies Are Not The Answer

The current utility market environment is a living and breathing example of “Who Moved My Cheese?” The energy market seems more competitive and crowded than ever, and new fresh marketing ideas are scarce. Promotions reduce the energy brand’s ability to command good margins and preference. Collaboration with advertising agencies seems to be increasingly adverse because there is a growing gap between what the agencies consider great and the utility’s brand understanding of outcome. Marketing messages tend to define category benefits (i.e. white sandy beaches, great weather, and outdoor activities if you were a tourism destination). (Read how Advertising Agencies don’t fix underlying problems here).

public utility marketing strategy needs to include research
Utilities need research expertise in public opinion

The positioning differences only exist in the minds of the utility marketers and seem to be completely lost for the customers. Large gaps and incomplete perception in the utility and energy market is good news for any energy brand that is willing to undergo a rigorous and dispassionate brand overhaul. Are you willing to challenge everything for the sake of profits and preference?

Are you willing to partner with outsiders who have the benefit of objective viewpoints? Are you willing to really listen to your target market and build your entire marketing strategy on their beliefs and self-affirmation? The worse news you can get from Stealing Share is that you are doing everything right — it is as good as it gets. Change and opportunity is always possible when you round the corner of the track and hit the gas at exactly the moment that your competition taps the brakes. We agree with Sun Tzu when he says, “Attack their weakness and emerge to their surprise.”

 

Read further about brand development in utilities here 

Brand Development in Energy and Utilities

By Tom Dougherty

Utility/Energy Market Study. Common Ground

Brand development in energy could use new blood
Energy and Utilities tell similar stories

Energy and utilities have more in common than just the delivery of energy sources. Certainly there is a difference in a brand that delivers gasoline to automobiles (like multi-nationals like ExxonMobil and TEXACO) and public utilities that provide power and energy (both natural gas and electricity) to geographic specific areas like ConEdison and Southwest Gas. But they have an important asset in common. Both sell and/or deliver commodities to their customers and both groups seek to gain greater importance in the mindset of their customers thus increasing preference and subsequently protect margins. (Read about Ferrellgas here)

How Do You Differentiate a Commodity?

There are many companies that traffic in the delivery of commodities that believe investment in brand is a waste of money. They believe that the only differentiator in such a market is price and that any investment that has a cost attached to it is counterproductive to their desire to simply deliver the lowest priced commodity product on the market.

Such companies rely on the protection of geographic barriers and legislation for their business model and do not understand the human behaviors that influences all purchase decisions. Brand value to your customers can be boiled down to simplicity. They seek simplicity in decision-making and use brand to help them make their purchase decisions easier. The promise of that brand should never be a description of category benefits (table stakes) and yet often it is conveyed as exactly that.

Utilities

 

Brand development in energy seem to all group into one marketing sector
How can a Utility Differentiate?

How many public utility companies define their brand in terms of reliability? Can anyone possibly be a public utility and not be reliable? Which of your competitors claims to be unreliable? No, effective brand expression in this market space needs to be a reflection of the core beliefs and values of the customer you wish to influence. Being “GREEN” or environmentally friendly is a start at this identification, but it will not be long before such claims are themselves table stakes. (Read about analyzing a market here)

Gasoline Companies

 

Gasoline companies are in the energy sector too
All the Gasoline manufacturers claim the same ground

What does a PETROL (gasoline) brand offer their customers in terms of brand promise? BP has invested heavily in its “environmental” stance but has missed the opportunity to drive that message home in the expressions of that brand. Ask a purchaser of BP petrol what the BP brand means and environmentally friendly is way down the list.

 

Mobil, before its merger with EXXON, claimed its brand helped keep engines running cleaner. In other words, Mobil defined its brand by a product efficacy — not a brand equity. A simple turn in that idea would have presented the brand in a different light. Rather than a brand that keeps your engine running cleaner Mobil should have claimed to be a brand for consumers who value prevention over cure. Today, petrol (gasoline) brands are defined by location, location — LOCATION. Consumers are forced to choose based on convenience alone because there is no discernible difference in brand promise.

A Solution

 

 

Building a brand that fosters market share growth means looking at the market differently and defining your brand by the values of the target audience rather than descriptions of your own business delivery model. Who are your customers? Those that find themselves in the fabric of your brand equity. (Read about switching triggers here)

Ferrellgas Marketing and Branding Case Study

Ferrellgas Marketing and Branding Case Study

By Tom Dougherty

 

Blue Rhino is part of Ferrellgas marketing
Ferrellgas Owns Blue Rhino

Ferrellgas is a Fortune 1,000 company that provides propane to more than 1,000,000 customers nationwide. To many rural customers, Ferrellgas is a public utility. Its business is indicative of public utlity trends. Starting as a family owned business in 1936, Ferrellgas is now one of the largest propane suppliers in the United States. Recognized as industry leaders in operations, their technological advances place Ferrellgas in position for strong, sustained growth.

Ferrellgas marketingFerrellgas operates in a market with very low startup costs and a bevy of competitors from every level. This competitive landscape is what separates Ferrellgas from a public utility.

They came to Stealing Share because they were still hungry to grow and increase their business despite being a market leading company. Our task was to understand the market, uncover switching behaviors, and find brand strategies to exploit those findings.

 The behavioral brand model uncovered hidden and important beliefs in public utility trends that needed to be tested. While behavioral modeling typically uncovers nuances in consumer behavior, this model uncovered a series of beliefs that, when validated with the field research, gave Ferrellgas a distinctive and powerful position relative to all of its competition.

 

Visit Ferrellgas by clicking here