Why Does a Utility Have to Advertise?

The monopoly of today is the free market of tomorrow.

Being an account planner in an agency that specializes in energy and sustainability, I’ve worked with my fair share of power companies. Over the years, I’ve been asked by people outside the industry why a utility would even need an agency. The conversation usually hinges on the idea that the utility is the only energy game in town — with a monopoly on the business — so why would a company like that have any reason to reach out to its consumers?

The short answer is that marketing isn’t just about selling — it’s about making connections.

The time has come when utilities need to connect with customers, as the industry is evolving and they have more expectations beyond simply turning on the lights. The time is also coming when the power company will not be the only game in town, thanks to renewable energy growing its share of the market and technology enabling consumers to share their own stockpile of energy with each other (thank you blockchain).

Consumers are willing to go “beyond the bill” with their energy company. (In our recent study, we found that 64% of customers had a favorable reaction to electric utilities providing products and services beyond electricity.) All of these trends have energy marketers rallying around ways to become energy providers with solutions and ideas to meet complex energy needs, as opposed to just being the power company.

The tricky part is that utilities are having to undergo this transformation in a time of unprecedented scrutiny and transparency. Relationships have become complex and dynamic. Whereas good customer service was once defined by a handshake, a fair deal and a quick resolution to a problem, in today’s world those things must be bolstered by customized care, ongoing evaluation of wants and needs, and interactions that happen across multiple channels. Add to that the idea that companies are evaluated on much more than the products and services they offer (Is it sustainable? Is it a good corporate citizen? Do good people work there?), and suddenly marketing is about so much more than managing ads.

Now that utilities are looking for new revenue streams to stay competitive in a world where they’ll soon lose their status as “the only game in town,” they are laying the foundation for building relationships that will enable them to retain existing customers and attract new ones down the road (through online marketplaces offering additional products and services). Advertising empowers the utility to build a “yellow brick road” back to Oz, where consumers can peak behind the curtain and see who pulls the levers (you know, the ones that make the lights turn on).

If you’re an energy marketer looking for tips on advertising in the new energy era, click your heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like Mower.” Here are a few to get you started.

Use headlines with feels, not deals.

It’s a no-brainer that people want to save money on energy. It’s also expected (and boring) to hear the energy company tout its “cost savings” message when reaching out to consumers with new products and services around energy efficiency. Instead, think of the benefits of energy-efficient solutions — like creating a better ambiance, or having more money to spend on the things that matter most. Can you start the conversation from an emotional place rather than an economical one?

Take time to know the targets.

That’s targets with an “s” — because as a utility, your customer base is literally everyone, and one message isn’t going to cut it. The energy company sends everyone a bill, but that doesn’t mean you can stuff the same message in every bill and call it a day. Think of your audiences like guests at a restaurant. Not everyone will order the same thing. People’s tastes are different. There are dietary needs to consider, there are whole genres of food people avoid or love. The same is true for consumers and energy consumption. Understand how, why, when and where they consume energy. Segmentation is an integral part of successful marketing across all industries, but especially in energy.

Let the curtain down.

We’re not in Kansas anymore, so it’s time to bag the “black and white” and give your consumers a technicolor view of who you are as a company. Today’s consumers want to know what goes on with the companies and brands they do business with. Give them a reason to pay attention to you and connect with you for no other reason than they like you — keeping the lights on is just the start.