Light My Fire: Energy Brands Revisited

Expectations were high as it was the first event of its kind: Charge, the world’s first energy branding conference, took place on September 19-20 in Reykjavík. With a line-up of top management representatives from the energy industry, as well as internationally renowned brand experts, it was the perfect environment for an exchange across industry limits.

As strategic partner for the conference, we certainly tried to bring our perspective to the discussion. Customer centricity is at our core, and that’s exactly what my keynote was about—the positive business impact of updating an energy brand’s communication and service experience with the customer in mind. So, in retrospect, what were the key points to take away from Charge?

A brand is a brand

Some people might still doubt that the concept of branding is valid for the energy sector. But, as Mei Shibata from Essense Partners put it: “Somebody is branding for us if we don’t do it ourselves.” I couldn’t agree more. No matter what companies do or say, it creates an image in people’s hearts and minds. You cannot not brand, and that’s as true for energy brands as for any other brand. People will talk about your brand and your company, influencing what others think about you—so don’t let them do all the talking. Spark a dialog. Listen to your customers. And then start talking.

Storytelling means connecting

The most successful companies are the ones who put their customers, not their product, first, offering a relevant and credible brand promise by telling a coherent story. Fluffy marketing campaigns don’t do it; it’s about being true to yourself, your employees, and your customers. Don’t promise something you can’t keep. As Stephen Fitzpatrick, CEO of Best Energy Brand award winner OVO Energy, points out: “To really deliver a message, it has to be backed up by customer experience.”

Best practice comes from an unexpected angle

No one should be surprised that energy retail brands are increasingly embracing the idea of customer centricity. I wonder, however, if the pace of updating communication and branding is keeping up with changing market environments and customer expectations. Energy related services are not restricted to energy companies anymore; think about telecoms and their smart home apps, or car makers introducing easy to use re-charging solutions. A lot of these competitors have considerable experience in brand building, customer communication and service experience—it’s time to catch up.

What came as a surprise to many at the conference were the examples of energy transmission and distribution brands. In most cases, these are state-owned and monopolist, and wouldn’t be the first ones on your mind when thinking about customer centricity. But in fact, Stedin from the Netherlands and Eirgrid from Ireland—to name just two—have undergone an amazing shift. They changed not only their visual appearance, but also their style of communication (or not communicating at all) from the top-down, opening up, and being transparent about what they do and why they do it. It not only helps to raise public awareness and acceptance; it helps to make their everyday business easier.

Sustainability and value creation

Looking at the keynotes and panel discussions, it should be pretty clear to everyone that sustainability is something people expect—it is not a key driver of differentiation. It’s the attitude that changes the game. Powershop from New Zealand built their entire campaign on it: “Same power, different attitude.” Small, independently owned energy brands like Low CO2 Energy put a focus on making energy friendly, approachable and fun.

But thinking about the next step doesn’t stop there. James Rogers, former CEO of the largest power company in the US, Duke Energy, made it clear: “Creating value for all stakeholders, not only shareholders, is the ultimate sustainability.” And that is exactly how we at Edenspiekermann understand branding.

You can see more from the Charge event, including my video interview, at the Engerati site, [here](