Customers, Opinion

Energy companies have long suffered from a negative stigma, with consumers constantly calling for change. Chris Duffy reveals how industry brands can stand out from the crowd for the right reasons.

It’s no secret that energy companies are seldom flavour of the month with consumers and the press alike. With costs and poor customer service often at the forefront of people’s minds, it’s little surprise energy companies are struggling to shake the negative cloud overhead.

Ultimately, the sector is driven by the customer, and now’s the time for brands to listen to those most important to their business. Customer insight, coupled with brand values and a thought-out company vision, helps form the overall brand – forming a place customers can trust.

In such a competitive, price-orientated market, the importance of brand may be lost on many in the sector, but failure to recognise the significance of this does nothing to counteract the potential storm of negativity.

In an area where companies can often appear faceless, cold and process-driven, how can brands stand out from the crowd and eradicate consumer scepticism?

Most energy companies sell to more than one market segment or consumer type. It’s vital to understand your target market. Take the time to find out about your customers and what makes them tick. It’s important to understand how your company values and ethos fit into the bigger picture. Values should be every business’s top priority, as ultimately they filter down through your key messages.

Take time to sit down with internal stakeholders and staff members to identify these values and educate on what you are trying to do and gather important feedback. A brand is a complex thing, and often more than the sum of its parts.

The visual identifiers of a brand (logo, colour palette, etc) are always just that – something tangible and recognisable that an audience uses to make associations to that brand. But the elements of branding that build a strong, coherent brand consist of much more. Everything that your customer sees, from an online presence, to television and print advertising, to the letter-headed bill that lands on the doormat – all these ­factors must work in unison. However, a brand is not just what the consumer sees. It’s also the service your ­customer receives. From the call centre to the engineer, it’s the feeling a customer is left with afterwards and the tone of voice that play a huge part in how a brand is perceived.

As with all service industries, the customer is king. Ignore their thoughts at your peril and listen to what they want to change. You need to give them reasons to believe what is being said is of real value and this should be reflected in your core values and your communications.

It’s imperative for brands to distinguish what they are trying to achieve with regard to the end goal. Are you launching a new ­service, aiming to attract new customers, or trying to improve customer retention? We advise you set clear objectives and ensure they are measurable.

You can’t create a product or service that makes everyone happy. You need to identify who is important to your brand, focus on those people and offer them something nobody else does. There is no hiding that this can be a huge challenge because generally there is little interest in the sector from the consumer. It can be difficult to get results from an audience that doesn’t want to engage, but this doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Although many believe it’s healthy to pay attention to your competitors, we believe it’s beneficial to ignore them as much as you can. Instead, that energy should be spent doing what you need to improve your own brand. This ultimately helps build confidence and trust with the customer, which also creates loyalty. People tend to stick around to see that things are changing.

There’s no doubt that the energy sector can be a challenging environment for brands to stand out in. We recently worked alongside an energy services brand and helped change public perception of the company. This all began by identifying its short- and long-term strategy, highlighting the key traits, characteristics and values.

We soon discovered that the messaging and brand strategy wasn’t quite right. The focus had switched to new business, ignoring what they already had achieved and ­failing to look after those already on board.

We analysed their key business traits and helped alter the perception that value for money was more beneficial rather than “cheapest deal”. From its website, to how staff answered the phone, we helped develop an overarching brand strategy, creative ­campaign and a year-long acquisition and retention strategy.

If you get all the above right, your brand will work and allow you to move away from the negative perception. I believe that whatever the circumstances, getting creative and taking a position that nobody else does, will pay dividends.

Chris Duffy, branding expert at strategic brand agency Tribe

What to read next