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7 Considerations for Utility and Energy Response Marketing

Posted by Sheera Eby on June 14, 2013

Marketing to utility and energy customers isn’t easy. For most consumers and businesses, utilities and energy providers exist behind the scenes. They only take notice when the lights or gas go out, or when the monthly bill arrives. If you’re in the industry, you recognize that low-involvement mind-set all too well.

Through our work in the utility & energy industry, I’ve heard common themes in research:

• “Why is my utility spending money on advertising? I wish they would just use that money to reduce my rates.”
• “Switch suppliers, I worry about being the last to get my electricity restored after an outage. I feel it’s safer to stay with the incumbent utility.”
• “All suppliers seem the same, not sure I see any differences. And the price I could possibly save doesn’t warrant the time to evaluate my options.”
• “How can a supplier offer electricity at a lower price than my utility…that seems odd.”
• “Why would my utility provide me with ways to lower my bill? It seems confusing that they are spending money to help me become more energy-efficient and spend less with them.”

Probably familiar sounding to many utility and energy marketers. There are a number of techniques that we’ve found to be effective in marketing to utility and energy customers. Here is a list of 5 considerations:


1. Leverage an educational versus promotional tone

Position content educationally versus promotionally. Through the years, we’ve done a significant amount of testing as well as multiple pre- and post-communication research studies in the utility and energy industry. The net takeaway is that prospects and customers view promotional messages from utilities as propaganda. Tone is essential in utility and energy communications. Communications should be straightforward, matter-of-fact and educational in tone. You can still represent your brand personality. The key is to provide information in a non-sensationalized tone, so the recipient views it as benefit-oriented for them, rather than company-centric.


2. Utilize traditional response techniques
utilities #1
In years of marketing in the utility and energy industry, we’ve found that tried and true direct marketing techniques still work. One of the tried and true direct mail techniques is to utilize a response device. We recommend using full letter packages in utility and energy markets, as they are critical in capturing maximum response. About 20 to 25% of target customers will respond using the printed response device, i.e., they will mail back an enrollment form. This is because the printed response device serves as both a physical and subliminal reminder to respond. If your current direct mail program isn’t using letters with printed response devices, your communication isn’t working as hard as it should. Leveraging self-mailers and postcards as stand-alone communications versus as part of a multichannel strategy is not recommended in utility markets. These formats don’t offer response options and will typically underperform their letter counterparts.


3. Provide users with ways to learn more

Research has shown that prospects want to be sure they thoroughly think through their utility related decisions. In such a low involvement category this might seem counterintuitive, but in reality it makes perfect sense. In an industry with such a level of inertia, consumers and businesses want to be sure they are making a sound decision. Trust and credibility become an important part of decision making. Fear, doubt and uncertainty play a critical role in moving utility and energy decision makers to action. Once a user gets engaged, they want to have an avenue to get to their questions answered. Ensure landing pages or personalized URLs are provided to allow users a vehicle to get specific information without having to comb through all the content on a website. Check out how we used PURLs to help generate record-setting levels of engagement with energy customers.


4. Utilize engagement devices to overcome inertia
utilities #2
One of the key challenges in working in the utility marketplace is inertia. It’s difficult to engage and motivate consumers to take action. Engagement devices, such as an online game or interactive quiz, can prove to be an effective means to helping educate consumers. We’ve found leveraging these online tactics for topics such as energy efficiency and green generation can help deliver educational messages in an easy to absorb format. These tactics however, aren’t build it and they will come. A key best practice in leveraging these tactics, is to include a drive-to through email, search engine marketing and social media.


5. Be relevant

Consumer and business customers expect companies they do business with to know something about them, and apply these learnings to communications–utility and energy marketers aren’t exempt from this expectation. Mass and non-personalized communications don’t meet customer expectations. Furthermore, tests among utility and energy customers show that personalized information, including personalized URLs (PURLs), empower and reinforce your email and direct mail communications. Generic email and direct mail without personalization are not as effective and produce inferior results compared with communications with meaningful and accurate personalization. Customers are inundated with information, so make sure your content is relevant and, more importantly, personalized.


6. Embrace the principles of multichannel response marketing

Very few decisions are made by one marketing communications touch point. It’s important to develop programs that include targeted vehicles, such as email and direct mail, in conjunction with search engine marketing and retargeted banner ads. Also borrow a best practice from other industries, which provide landing pages that support the program from a multichannel perspective. Dumping customers into your website is far less effective than transitioning the user via a landing page. Many utilities have also employed social media efforts to share outage and energy efficiency information. Social CRM, however, can help take these efforts to the next level. There is an opportunity to borrow from other industries to take your social media efforts to the social dialogue, and leverage it to fuel other communication touch points.


7. Borrow from other industries for medium and small C&I customers

B2B best practices established in other industries can be applied to medium and small C&I marketing pages. Sophistication and understanding of even deregulation seems to be tied somewhat to the size of a company. Many utility and energy marketers are still not employing the fundamentals of marketing to small and medium businesses, including targeted outbound communications, segmented communications by vertical industry, tailoring communications for different decision makers within the business, and automated, orchestrated lead nurturing. Download our B2B ebook to learn more.


Incorporating these 7 approaches can help strengthen your utility and energy marketing efforts.




Topics: Utility Industry

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