Let’s Talk Utilities

tile_utilityTone_1 “You know what? I think I’m going to go kick back and hang out with my energy company for a while,” said nobody, ever, in the history of the world.

This headline was written in the past year by George Olson, executive vice president and chief creative officer here at VJ, while concepting a new campaign for a utility client of ours. While I honestly can’t remember if this headline even made it into the client presentation, it stuck with me as not only hilarious, but incredibly true. In fact I think this headline speaks to some core truths that utilities should consider and embrace when developing marketing strategies.

The amount of time the average customer spends thinking about their utility is miniscule and probably even incalculable (although something I read recently indicated around eight minutes a year). Too often marketers get too close to their brands and products. They think about the brands they manage all the time; it’s tile_utilityTone_2their job to know a lot and their job to care. Consumers: not so much. It goes without saying that today’s consumers have more competing for their time than ever before. Utilities tend to fall pretty far down on their priority list.

But fear not…being in a low-interest category doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. Acceptance is the first step toward change and if utility marketers have a firm grasp on reality and build programs knowing that they’re not going to get a lot of time, they can discipline themselves to craft messages that are simple, meaningful, and that work hard to extend the conversation. They can use channels that allow them to tell the right stories and avoid channels where their message will get lost or be ignored. Being realistic about a brand’s place in the world can lead to a smarter, more efficient marketing program.

As utilities try to keep up with the rest of the marketing world, they are slowly but surely adopting social media and content development trends. While keeping up with the latest trends is certainly noble, in doing so, utilities have to ask themselves, “Why?” Content for the sake of content might not be a wise use of marketing dollars. One should always ask the question, “If our social media presence went away, would anyone notice or care?”

tile_utilityTone_3 Luke Beatty (Head of Product, AOL) spoke at Digital Summit Denver this past year. He said that in today’s digital world, “Content is no longer king; Utility is king.” I found this brilliant and an area of opportunity for utilities. In most cases, utilities aren’t competing with each other. Instead, they’re competing with the entire Internet: cat videos, Kim Kardashian and cute baby photos. In order to be relevant, utility brands shouldn’t strive for engaging content that can compete with Jimmy Fallon lip-synching contests. That’s a battle they’ll never win. Instead utilities should consider the products they are developing, those that are new and innovative and that truly improve people’s lives and should produce marketing content that showcases these products beautifully.

The world is changing for utilities. Customers want more control; in some instances they are actively exploring energy alternatives and options. Companies like Google are working their way into the category with attractive new products like Nest thermostats. These types of energy management products are resetting expectations when it comes to energy. There’s a good chance consumers will never want to kick back and hang out. But if utility marketers and brand managers are disciplined, realistic and opportunistic, they can grow their brands into something consumers might not love, but perhaps, if given a choice, will not want to leave anytime soon.

Vladimir Jones

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Vladimir Jones