Branding for Energy Companies?

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Evan (Orange Coat / Orange Yeti) pointed me to a pretty interesting article about energy companies and branding on the Nobrainer's Hate Capacitor blog. Here's the premise:

"In the debates over technology for energy, the final yardstick is usually the actual cost to produce a unit of electricity. The inherent assumption is that the consumer will choose the electricity that costs the least. If that idea were applied to food, alcohol, clothing, or even water, the assumption is proven horribly incorrect. Why is it people are convinced to over-pay for Starbucks, or Pepsi, or Aquafina — and do so happily — but we assume that the same cannot be true in the electricity markets?

"To mind, there are two issues that need to be addressed. Many of us are not exactly subjected to open markets, from which we can choose from whom we purchase our electricity. Secondly, electricity doesn’t carry a brand very well.

"Let’s creatively solve both problems simultaneously. Concerned parties may argue that removal of price caps will lead to increased prices across the board, thus hurting everyone and regressively hurting the poor. Or they’ll argue that consumers will merely switch to the cheapest option (presumably dirty coal) which would be an environmental nightmare. This of course is the crux of our energy debate: cost vs. cleanliness."
Click here to see a cool comparative table designed to help consumers choose the right company and service. (It's a good idea.)

"Once the consumer is able to make the right choice, it’s up to the marketers to create brands and make the consumer make the right choice. For example, right now I can opt to purchase wind power at a net price increase of about 50%. At least two problems remain: I found this information on my own and not because someone marketed it to me, and I’m not convinced that I should pay a 50% markup, even though I pay huge markups all over the place otherwise. I lied, there’s one problem: marketing — or a lack thereof.

"Part of the marketing is branding. The non-minimum paying consumer wants, nay needs to be able to show off his or her choice. This may be done by simply putting a sign in the window, or a bumper sticker on the car. Let the consumer declare “I BUY BIG GREEN ENERGY.”

"What’s more, the marketers need to make being green more than being environmentally aware. Make us want to do it because it’s cool. Don’t tell us it’s cool; show us it’s cool. Make guys think they will get laid.

"Have a commercial with the Super Bowl winning quarterback surrounded by scantily clad women read:

"I buy my electricity from Big Green. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s worth it for the future. Plus chicks dig it."

"Can we at least agree that guys will do it if they believe it leads to sex?

"Obviously I’m being a bit facetious, but I truly believe that we can be convinced to pay higher energy prices. What’s keeping us from it?"
I was just thinking... Can energy companies actually be sexy? Absolutely. (And it's genius.)

Basically, here are the three platforms of energy company branding:

- Reliability: "We promise less outages than anyone else, and/or the fastest response time of any company in the unlikely event of an outage. If we can't get your power restored in x hours, we'll have one of our service crews come to your home or office and perform a stripapologygram for you. (No tipping required.)

- Greenkarmatude: "We love trees, fishies, black bears and critters so much that our energy actually pumps clean air right from the power lines back into the ambient air and actually restores the ozone layer. Studies also show that our electricity cuts pollution and smog by 17.8%, and turns the sky in our service areas two whole cleaner shades of blue. As a bonus, our special super-energized blend of clean energy and good karma actually makes butterflies more colorful and kittens 32% cuter than normal. Isn't it about time an energy company actually helped the environment instead of destroying it? Right on."

- Value - The Kilowatt Holy Grail: "Sure, our energy costs are 20% higher than XYZ, but our customers are healthier, smarter, hipper, happier, live longer, and get swarmed by hotties every time they go out in public. Without dieting, most of our customers have reported an average annual weight loss of 2lbs for every 40 megawatt hours, and a 7% increase in bone density (especially in women ages 45 and up) for every 100 megawatt hours. In 2005, 32% of our customers also reported clearer skin, a reduction in wrinkles, larger, perkier breasts in women, and reduced hair loss in men after just six months of switching to our energy service. If that isn't worth an extra 20% on your bill, I don't know what is."

iPod. Diet Coke. Diesel Jeans. Volkswagen. Revlon. Nike. Axe. Victoria's Secret. Gucci. Your energy company? Why not.

All joking aside, perhaps the time has come for a new business and regulatory model when it comes to energy companies? I don't think it would be far-fetched to envision energy company brand advocates if the product, company philosophy and marketing all delivered on something that legions of customers could find themselves being passionate about.

Think about it. We get passionate about cars. About Mp3 players. About computers. About shoes. About underwear, cooking pots and even toothpaste. Is energy really that different?

Of course not.

People are keen on self expression. Being able to declare that you belong to a clean energy movement, that you are one of millions of energy customer revolutionaries, that your identity is tied to that of an energy company that promises to be to the energy market what Apple was to the PC world is a powerful and very realistic premise. Could an energy company trigger a sweeping sociocultural movement? A cultural and economic milestone like the introduction of iPod or MTV or Google? You bet.

I like to think about that kind of possibility as a giant breath of fresh air.

In this climate of rising energy costs, global warming, corporate malfeasance and increasing consumer demand, it shouldn't be a question of if, but rather of when.

1 Responses to “Branding for Energy Companies?”

  1. Anonymous Bill Engler 

    I agree with your hypothesis that the energy industry could use better branding as a whole, but the first step is education of customers to the new dynamic of source selection via a delivery company.

    In other words we have grown up and developed relationships with our local electric company, but now we are just learning that we actualy have sub-brand choices.

    Many of these new innovative suppliers would be well served to educate consumers that they have a choice, and motivate them to demand more choices from their local suppliers. Anolgues for this are prevelant in many other industries but perhaps the most relevant for todays consumers would be the cable industry. "Call your cable company and tell them you want the National Geographic Channel"

    Keep the faith

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