When competition is fierce, differentiation is the name of the game. And nowhere does that seem more acute than in today’s combative retail energy market, now home to more than 70 suppliers, all ­jostling to promote their own names and brands of service.

Where once there was relative complacency, now it’s survival of the fittest – including how well you and your marketing message stand out from the crowd.

It seems newcomers are not only crashing the party with their style statements that tap straight into the zeitgeist, many are making off with the buffet too.

The old order is being disrupted by a new breed of players, with clever names and smart logos. And thousands of consumers are embracing their fresh appeal, tariffs and packages.

It’s clear there are two sides to this latest twist in the energy branding story.

Challenges are there for all suppliers, whether recent entrants putting in the hard yards to build trust, or incumbents contesting a surge in rivals untainted by historic service issues.

Yet, equally, as our special report on page 26 points out, attracting consumers is just one stage of branding success.
The lasting distinction is delivering on promises.

Size and loyalty, or catchy name and clean slate, soon count for nothing if consumers are let down.

Just ask Npower, which recently had to apologise after personal details of around 5,000 of its customers were shared with the wrong people – a data breach the supplier, poised to imminently merge with SSE, will be anxious to avoid repeating when it starts over.

Or Iresa, whose failure to adequately deal with complaints led to its demise in July – its 90,000 customers now absorbed by Octopus Energy, whose track record on customer service saw it also chosen by M&S as its energy partner.

Public profile has never been utilities’ strongest suit. In fact, despite a concerted push to win consumer hearts and minds, our latest CEO Insight survey on page 12 reveals over 60 per cent of chief executives we spoke to believe customers’ views of their organisations are worsening. Little surprise perhaps, with the media’s relentless utility-bashing of recent times. Which is a shame, because the survey also shows that actual customer satisfaction levels are rising.

In a tough market of squeezed opportunity, winning the branding war is proving increasingly important.
As always, perception is everything.

What to read next