Utilities are Brands, Too

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on November 14, 2017
Vicky Harris
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Noah Hawley, television writer, producer, screenwriter, and bestselling author, is quoted as saying, “A brand is the difference between a bottle of soda and a bottle of Coke.” Although we tend to think of brands as monolithic entities associated with the names of the products and services we consume, a brand goes much deeper. In essence, a brand is earned trust. A brand is the feeling that results from regular interaction with a product or service that delivers on its promise.

Just as the traditional products we associate with brands, like Coca-Cola, have emotional connections that evoke empathy in consumers, non-traditional products and services also have brands that powerfully communicate the equity they have created in their market. Specifically, in the energy sector, the utilities that power our homes, businesses, and lives have created equity over the decades that translates into both strong and weak brands.

Strong brands stand out in their markets. Whether a brand represents a consumer product, a place, or an electric utility, goodwill is earned by delivering real value.

Top Electric Utility Brands

Last week, Essence Partners, a marketing firm for the energy industry, released its ranking of the top electric utility brands for 2017. As Utility Dive reports, this ranking of utility brands is based upon a holistic look at the many pieces that make up a brand—from the perspective of consumers to how employees feel about the company they work for. The result of a 360⁰ approach like this is a true litmus of the goodwill that electric utilities have built in the markets they serve.

Utility Dive indicates, “The ranking of the best investor-owned electric utility brands is the result of a comprehensive investigation of over 200 measures of utility brand strength, categorized along four dimensions: brand identity, corporate narrative, customer experience, and employee experience.” They call these dimensions ‘brand drivers.’ The result, as per their methodology, is a ranking of the utility companies that have the strongest brands in the country. According to their evaluation, here are the top ten brands for electric utilities in the United States:

  1. Duke Energy
  2. Green Mountain Power Corp
  3. ComEd
  4. Gulf Power
  5. Georgia Power
  6. Alabama Power
  7. DTE Energy
  8. Arizona Public Service
  9. Florida Power & Light
  10. PECO

What’s the Value of Being a Top Brand Anyway?

We do not need to dig too deep for an example of the importance of having a solid brand in the electric utility industry. A few weeks ago, we wrote a post about the Utility of the Future, in which we analyzed the unfortunate situation that Puerto Rico’s electricity utility faced when their systemic problems were exacerbated by a powerful hurricane. This utility had a weak brand so when problems arose (which no brand is free from, no matter the industry), they did not have enough built-in goodwill for their consumers to give them a pass. As a result, their customers did not seem to care if the entire utility company was replaced by the many newcomers that raced in to fill the void.

This point is eloquently stated in the Utility Dive report, “Longer-term, a high [Power Brands] score means that your brand is most resilient and adaptable to change as utility business model shifts begin to happen. Because each of your brand drivers is working well to strategically reinforce what your brand stands for, any of the levers can be used to dynamically shift the brand’s connection with customers over time.”

Building a Brand in the Utility Industry

More than ever, electric utilities need to be aware of the importance of building strong brands. This is because, unlike a decade ago, consumers have more choices. In the past, people were bound to their utility by the simple fact that their cable was the only one reaching their home or business. Today, however, consumers increasingly find themselves with more than one electric utility choice plus an array of off-the-grid options, such as solar panels. These choices are bound to augment over time, as technology continues to provide consumers with more alternatives for clean and affordable electricity.

From big batteries that store variable energy to on-premise energy generation systems like Hydrogen 2.0, the future will bring more choice. How to stay relevant on the goodwill side? As the top utility brands report indicates, “The answer is to develop a dynamically robust brand where all of its strategic components reinforce each other and can propel the brand forward in a coherent way as marketplace needs change.”


Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.
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