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How online billing may be killing the bill insert for many utilities

Posted by Sheera Eby on September 3, 2014

Bill inserts have traditionally been a critical communications tactic for utilities. In the past, bill inserts have been a highly efficient form of marketing for many utilities. At a minimum, bill inserts have been a low-cost tactic to reach the majority of a utility’s customer base. According to an article in Electric Light & Power, consumers read around 50% of these inserts.1

The reality is that fewer and fewer consumers are receiving paper bills. Many consumers are opting for online billing from their utility, or receiving a bill that they can view directly from their bank accounts. This is resulting in fewer people receiving a paper bill than in years past, and consequently the abolishment of the bill insert as a communications tactic.

The movement toward non-paper bills.
Utilities and energy companies are reflective of general billing trends. According to a 2013 study by Mobilepaymentstoday.com, almost half of bills are paid using a biller, bank or credit union website and another 20% are paid by automatic or recurring payment.2 This could quickly translate to the majority of customers not paying via a paper bill and a huge number of these people may not even receive a bill because they have chosen to receive an e-bill instead. Chances are, this will only grow as mobile devices encourage more and more customers to try to reduce their time spent doing tasks like paying bills by mail.

Online billing does save utility companies from an operating standpoint, with the reduction of postage and return postage. From a marketing communications standpoint, the obvious result is lack of ability to communicate via a billing insert. Bill inserts have typically been an important form of utility marketing, and by eliminating the bill, the utility companies don’t have the chance to share important information and other marketing information with customers at a low cost per contact.

Email marketing to the rescue.
Many customers opt for an online billing relationship with their utility, which allows them the ability to log in to an account on the utility’s website. Most utilities require an email address to participate in online billing and online account information; however, not all utilities actually broaden their terms and conditions to allow for marketers to send communications to these email addresses. There are two potential solutions for utilities to ensure that they can utilize email addresses for marketing purposes.

One approach allows for a permission pass. The permission pass approach essentially sets expectations with the customer and allows for ongoing communication to a set of email addresses. We’ve found this approach to be widely successful in converting a utility’s email list for marketing purposes. Additionally, this mechanism allows the usage of email addresses in compliance with canned SPAM laws to generally follow a stringent enough practice that the utility’s legal teams are comfortable.

The second approach focuses on adopting an aggressive content marketing approach that allows users to provide email information in exchange for information. Content marketing for utilities can be a powerful tool to fulfill many objectives.

Content marketing for utilities can be a powerful vehicle to capture email information.
Content marketing is a broad term that can involve publishing articles, blogs, whitepapers, ebooks and other forms of content. The idea behind this is that publishing useful content will engage customers, because you are intercepting user behavior when they are in a specific mindset. Furthermore, you are leading users to information, which ultimately gives them a reason to learn more about things such as energy-efficiency rebates, or a new product or service. Providing downloadable information that encourages a user to provide their email address can help supplement a utility’s email database.

As you know, times are changing in the world of utility marketing. While the bill insert will still be an important way to reach customers who do not choose to do business online, tools like content marketing and email marketing for utilities will continue to grow. According to a 2014 HubSpot article, email marketing has an ROI of 4300%.3 Even for utility companies that are still seeing success with bill inserts and other related forms of utility marketing, it’s hard to argue with results like this.Sign up now to get your free content marketing assessment

To learn more about how your utility can launch into the world of content marketing, sign up to get our personalized assessment and recommendations for your company.

Sources:

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Utility Industry

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