For most of the 20th century the role of public utilities has been to generate and distribute electricity to homeowners and businesses. For most of us, we pay little attention to our electricity providers, save for the bill and the occasional black-out from a freak storm. In fact Accenture in the US conducted a study that shows the average American engages with their utility 6 minutes a year.
This relationship with customers is changing quickly as evidenced by the more than 700 professionals attending the Association of Energy Service Professionals (AESP) event in Orlando, Florida. This group of professionals is engaged in what appears to be an odd role, developing and implementing campaigns that help homeowners and businesses reduce electricity consumption and save money – funded by the same utilities that sell us our electricity. This paradox is lost on many who are not privy to the radical changes in the utility business. Today many utilities are paid by governments and regulators to help customers reduce electricity use, thus eliminating the near-term need for new generation and transmission capacity ( power plant and wires for those is us not in the field).
So utilities are collectively facing a new challenge, beyond keeping the lights on – one that many of us working in consumer products face every day, how do you market the products and services that help people reduce electricity use? For homeowners this means energy efficient lighting such as CFLS and LEDS, smart thermostats, more efficient heating and cooling systems, Energy Star Appliances, managing phantom power load from computers, cell chargers, set-top boxes etc.
Early marketing in the sector consisted of banal, brand-absent, education heavy messaging focusing on doing the “right” thing. Traditional advertising such as newspaper, bill inserts and radio comprised the full marketing spend. While in some cases this marketing generated good results, in other case these results tapered quickly leaving many companies asking the question, what’s next?
The next is now here. Next has meant developing a strategy to engage with customers in a meaningful dialogue, not purely on a transactional basis. To do this utilities are now segmenting customers more effectively, targeting based on those segment characteristics. Messaging is now being tailored to those customers. Through program participation and social media, utilities are building customer contact databases where they can provide advice and services offering “energy expertise” on an ongoing basis. The hope is that direct consumer engagement can bring consumers along a continuum in their pursuit of cost savings and energy efficiency. Finally some of the more progressive utilities are developing customer engagement tools that are accessible on the tablet and mobile platforms.