By Tom Dougherty
Utility/Energy Market Study. Common Ground
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.
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)
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.
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)