By Tom Dougherty
Branding a Utility
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.
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
At 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)
Brand 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).
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.”