There are 7 billion people on this planet. Nearly all of them use the services of an energy provider. An estimated 1.5 billion of them are on YouTube. So what could an energy company have in common with YouTube? And what lessons could they learn from them? The answer lies in Brand.
The world is changing at unprecedented speed. Technological developments are transforming every area of human existence, from the way we work or communicate, to how we generate energy and what we expect as consumers. Disruptive forces have altered the fabric of society and the parameters of doing business. Technology is enabling change at a rate never seen before, impacting traditional energy market truths and toppling costs in solar and wind energy.
Convergent forces are bringing us closer together, as people move to cities and plug in to digital networks that make communication more seamless. Distances are covered by fibre optic cables instead of airmiles. Trading globally is now possible: and expected. New issues like climate change have come to the fore to influence public opinion and prompt legislation. Better connectivity means customers are more informed and engaged than ever before and feel empowered to be involved. Companies used to be black boxes, with complete control over the stories they told about themselves. Now, they are glass boxes, and discrepancies between promises and reality are exposed to customers. Tales of company malpractice from BP’s rig explosion to the VW emissions scandal have been broadcast far and wide across the globe and led to a creeping mistrust of large, international businesses. The breakneck pace of change throws up solutions and questions in equal measure for business to grapple with.
Weathering the gale of creative destruction
When Joseph Schumpeter coined the idea of ‘creative destruction’ in 1942, he foresaw an incessant cycle of industrial mutation, with incumbent structures being destroyed to create the new. The figures have proven him right, as only 12.2% of companies that were in the FTSE 100 fifty years ago remain on the list. The companies that survive will be those that are fierce about maintaining their relevance to their customers in changing times and new markets. These companies are serious about maintaining their agility and consistent in their innovation.
Adapt to survive
This is where the famous new companies on the block are showing the power of having a cohesive brand. Take YouTube. It started out as a video dating website in 2005. It has now grown to be a creator-focused platform and search-engine for video content with over 1 billion users – almost one third of the internet. Their mission statement is “To give everyone a voice and to show them the world”. They’ve adapted to what their users wanted, reframed their business around what worked and united the touchpoints at every level to create a brand that belongs to the users that create the content as much as the company. A successful brand is the promise of an experience, delivered. Across all touchpoints.
Brand new experiences
In the UK consumer energy market, newcomer Bulb is growing exponentially and disrupting the incumbent Big Six using a brilliantly formulated brand, built around the simple principles of making energy simpler, cheaper and greener. Who doesn’t want that? In addition to having a clear brand idea, every touchpoint with Bulb is designed to make good on their promise. They have completely understood how they can make their business relevant for consumers who have long experienced significant pain points with poor customer service, undifferentiated competition and barriers to switching providers. Add to that poor digital services and opaque pricing structures and it’s easy to understand how Bulb is gaining 100,000 customers a month with their easy to use website and friendly staff who sign off personalised email responses with friendly-sounding names like ‘Matt’ and ‘Sarah’. They have achieved the seemingly impossible: making household utilities enjoyable to engage with, through brand experience.
Plug in to the prosumer
YouTube is also a great example of a brand that has harnessed the power of a new type of consumer, with a new interactive relationship with a brand. The ‘prosumer’ is a new wave of consumer that produces or inputs into a brand alongside consuming the product or service. By creating content for the brand, prosumers have built YouTube through their uploads. As prosumers enjoy more touchpoints with their favourite brands and become savvier shoppers, brands that can demonstrate real coherence and purpose are winning. In the era where having a social cause is the ‘new black’, demonstrating purpose and authenticity through your brand’s actions and communications has never been more important. The rise of the socially conscious prosumer is an opportunity, particularly for energy companies who can invite customers to literally plug in to their brand. Spanish renewable energy brand Powen allows customers to generate their own solar power, making them part of the movement for renewables, as well as customers.
New paradigms mean new opportunities
And it’s not just consumer businesses that stand to gain from creating a coherent brand for their service. B2B and B2T businesses are not exempt. As a new paradigm is created, consumer expectations filter through to all sectors and stages of the chain. Those selling to other companies and governments should remember that institutions answer to customers and citizens and are staffed by the same savvy consumers that have learned new ways to buy. This week in the US, a Houston-based shale gas producer, Southwestern Energy, inked the first contract to supply fracked natural gas with a certificate stating that it is responsibly-sourced. The buyer was an energy utility company, looking to meet customer demand for ethical energy. Customer-facing brands might be on the front line under pressure from consumers demanding more from household brands, but the savvy supplier has an opportunity to capitalise on the trickle-down effect creating opportunities seen in the market, and to make themselves more than just a trader of commodities.
Energy companies need to be equipped to navigate the challenging waters ahead. Size and might is no longer enough. A product without purpose is just a commodity to the modern consumer. If you can give your product purpose, then you will have a brand, and that brand can see you through the change that will inevitably come. Brand can guide decisions about how to talk to customers and stakeholders, through to what products or services to offer. It also plays a vital part in attracting talent that will be needed to build an organisation fit for the future. As energy companies build better digital experiences for customers and technology commands a leading role in supply and distribution, they will be up against YouTube, and the other brands with a clearly defined purpose and brand proposition for the top talent. Brand works for the organisation from within, as well as externally.
Whether you specialise in cat videos or electrical currents, you have an opportunity to build a brand that will work to drive your business through times of uncertainty and transition. Energy companies literally fuel the world and their crucial role in society and business means they have a wealth of stories to tell.
How to approach brand for your business:
A brand is the promise of an experience, delivered. Ensure that as much thought goes into the promise as does into the delivery.
The brand should be authentic to the company ethos, relevant to all audience groups and differentiating from the competition.
When creating experiences:
- Remind yourself of the key promise or message you are trying to convey
- Consider the visual, verbal and behavioural aspects of your brand
- Audit your current touchpoints and learn what’s working well and what’s not
- Ensure that the brand promise is delivered across all touch points but especially during your “moments of truth.”