Wired Differently: Safety Messaging and Brand Value


Stephanie Crockett

President, Chief Executive Officer

With roughly 1,600 utility companies in the U.S., it can be hard for consumers to differentiate between brands—and even harder for energy corporations to stand out. Utility powerhouses like National Grid and FirstEnergy are handling both by incorporating safety messaging as an integral part of their brand platform.

Consumers prefer quality over quantity, making safety messaging particularly effective. Allowing utilities to reinforce their brand value in recoverable ways, these strong stories are beneficial to both consumer and supplier—leading to a natural partnership between brand value and educational messaging.

Take FirstEnergy’s innovative drone safety campaign. Inspired by the growing popularity of drones as holiday gifts, FirstEnergy’s research showed that users, many of them children, were often unaware of the risks posed by unsafe operation. As an electric provider that often deploys drones to observe its substations—and, occasionally, the birds that take up temporary residence in its electrical towers—FirstEnergy was able to back its powerful, cross-channel safety messaging with firsthand knowledge.

Our research shows that such communication efforts produce strong results. FirstEnergy’s seven-month drone safety campaign generated 142 million impressions and 262,000 visits to its landing page. At its core, safety-based communications like FirstEnergy’s require a mix of consumer education and instructional messaging.

With a Pew Research study pinpointing generations X and Z as the most likely to use drones recreationally, we decided to meet these customers where they already were—the internet. We created the FirstEnergy Drone Safety Zone Racing Game, a dynamic digital game that encourages players to learn how to fly drones safely while avoiding contact with electrical equipment. Narrated by FirstEnergy’s safety spokesperson, Max Safety, the game has clocked nearly 11,000 plays to date and is the first of its kind created by a utility company.

Drone safety is just a snapshot of the larger picture of utility messaging—so it’s not the only type of safety messaging in market. A study from the National Library of Medicine reports about 1,000 deaths per year from electrical incidents, with 400 of those resulting from high-voltage injuries. With those statistics in mind, Northeast energy company National Grid decided to lean into a more proactive safety approach with a tree trimming program. Its efforts to prevent tree limbs from downing power lines give customers what they expect most from their utility providers—reliable service with electrical safety at the forefront.

But National Grid’s utility work expands beyond electrical messaging. Pairing prevention with education, their multi-platform gas safety campaign brings attention to the dangers of natural gas incidents and how to avoid them. Called “Be the 1,” the campaign encourages customers to call 811 before digging—and 911 if an emergency strikes. The campaign’s efforts stretch far beyond compliance into public safety, with results that show the public is listening: the campaign has garnered more than 22 million impressions and 95,000 new website visits since its launch.

A core belief is at the heart of these messages: Talking about safety is a meaningful way in which utilities can focus on customer well-being and their brand without giving the impression they’re doing so simply for the brand’s sake. And it increases rankings across all indicators of brand health, including J.D. Power and the Engaged Customer Relationship index. In fact, Mower’s partnership has helped FirstEnergy’s operating companies remain in the top two quartiles of J.D. Power despite restoration challenges with significant storms.

The utility marketplace is saturated. But straightforward safety messaging that reinforces your brand value—and your brand’s values—cuts through the clutter.

Hey! Our name is pronounced Mōw-rrr, like this thing I’m pushing.

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