When demand for a particular product or service starts to wane, there is a stark choice available to its provider. Evolve or die. When the light bulb was invented, the candlemakers of this world found themselves with such a conundrum. If candles are no longer needed to light homes, then what are they for?
As we now know, aside from reverting to their original use during the power cuts of the 1970s, they are for making rooms smell nice and creating a romantic ambience. Candles are now a multi-billion-dollar global market.
Utility companies are now facing a similar problem. Of course, we will always need heat, light and water, so that in itself isn’t a threat, but the resources that supply them are finite and our ability to access those services and how we manage them is changing quickly.
Energy consumption has declined over the last decade in 22 out of 28 EU countries, with consequent slowing of revenue growth (source: Eurostat). Combined with this is an increase in the number of technology-conscious consumers who have become bored with switching supplier.
Both business and consumer energy users are clear about their expectations. They want to reduce their consumption, and they know that technological controls and data analytics can help them do it. In addition, the impact of the need for environmental sustainability looms large across all fiscal pressure points.
The Internet of Things (IoT) may not right now be a mainstream feature of our lives but it is coming. It is not too wild a thought to foresee an imminent future where devices select their own suppliers on a real-time basis. Firmly commoditising a product that utility companies wish to promote as a service with value attached.
So how can competitive advantage be gained in such a scenario?
1. Know your customer
It sounds like an obvious point but always start with the end user. Develop a clear understanding of your customer’s journey and the potential value that lies at each touchpoint. Shifting marketing focus from functions or products towards customer journey should help to unlock significant value. By placing the customer journey at the core of the marketing strategy, data can be used to communicate relevant and timely information, generating a more positive customer experience, improving operations and enhancing revenue.
Remember that your customer base covers individual consumers in their house through to CEOs making purchase decisions on behalf of a corporation. So segment properly.
2. Be more sociable
This is about two-way conversations. Many utility providers are already using social media to provide quality customer service and mitigate negative news coverage.
The core approach has to be engaging customers on a one-to-one level.
For example, British Gas has established a standalone social customer service team that actively monitors and engages with customer queries seven days a week. It is aware that many customers turn to social media as a last resort, so quick, clear responses are vital
3. Demonstrate your expertise
Being sociable is a nice ambition but it requires a large collection of engaging content to support it. Nothing annoys the modern consumer more than feeling like they are being kept in the dark. Think of your content as a source of light. Develop content that addresses your customers’ concerns in a broader sense, not just directly in relation to the commodity you provide. Be an educator and, as the sector name suggests, be useful.
Inspire your customers by:
- Sharing customer stories
- Real-life scenarios
- Expert interviews
- Case studies
These three areas should not be viewed separately. They are part of a whole. Perhaps the best way to sum up an approach going forward is left to a quote by social media expert Melonie Dodaro.
“People don’t care about your business. They care about their problems. Be the solution that they are looking for.”
Content we love
Wind and solar energy company Epuron commissioned this beautiful, intelligent and understated piece about the power of wind. Winner of a Cannes Gold Lion in 2007 and an Ad Age Creativity Award in 2008, this is highly recommended viewing.
You have to love Greenpeace for this. Amusing, thought-provoking and ever so slightly rude. This gets their message across very “cheekily”.
British Gas – Hive
Who’d have thought controlling the dimmer switch could be so moving? This promotional video from British Gas for its Hive service is just that. One of a series that are all equally good.
- A single lightning bolt unleashes the same energy as blowing up a ton of TNT. (Source: British Gas)1. A single lightning bolt unleashes the same energy as blowing up a ton of TNT. (Source: British Gas)
- Energy companies spend only 4% of their budgets on marketing. That is the lowest percentage of any sector. (Source: Deloitte)
- An estimated 15 trillion watts of power is being used across our planet at any one time. That’s the equivalent of powering 10 billion 100 watt light bulbs simultaneously. (Source: British Gas)
- 59% of executives would rather watch a video than read text. (Source: Forbes)
- In Europe and North America, the energy sector has the second greatest reputational challenge in industry. Finance comes first. (Source: Ipsos MORI)
- English polymath Thomas Young (1773-1829) was the first to use the word energy in its current sense, replacing the traditional term vis viva, meaning living force. (Source: Mark E Eberhart – Feeding the Fire, 2007)
- The amount of energy Americans use doubles every 20 years. No comment! (Source: Neil Morris – Fossil Fuels, 2006)
- The top energy company for using social media is the Anglo-Dutch company, Shell. (Source: Forbes)
- 8 people riding bikes for 24 hours can generate enough power to run a TV for a week. (Source: Angela Royston – Sustainable Energy, 2009)
- The energy it takes to conduct one search on Google could power a 60 watt light bulb for 17 seconds. At any one time, the energy used by the search engine could power 200,000 homes. (Source: Google)