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What makes award-winning work in utilities and energy marketing?

Posted by Randy Mitchell on August 19, 2013

“Utilities campaigns do not win awards.”

That bold declaration sums up the feeling of many marketing agency creative professionals. Once they discover that my agency works on utilities and energy marketing programs, they roll their eyes and sigh. Then they discreetly ask how I can tolerate work that is “so dull, dry and difficult.”

My response is simple. I just smile and pity their ignorance.

What they don’t realize is that utilities and energy marketing can be some of the strongest creative any agency produces. It can also fill a trophy case with awards, as I’ll illustrate a little later.

But there is a catch.

You won’t ever develop award-winning work in utilities and energy marketing unless you know the territory inside and out. That means understanding what works in marketing to “low involvement” utility and energy customers. You need to break through to an audience that only thinks about energy when the lights or gas go out or when the monthly bill arrives.

It’s also key to realize you’re reaching out to a target that does not want their utility to spend money on marketing, or that doesn’t really see any difference between energy suppliers.

So how do you reach that difficult audience without falling into the trap of “dull” or “dry” creative?

Here are some proven pointers that my agency follows to create marketing that drives response and wins awards.

Tone matters. Think about it from a customer’s point of view: How would you react to a highly promotional piece from your utility or energy provider? Energy is a serious subject for consumers and business owners. It’s also an area where people want information before they make any decision. That’s why Jacobs & Clevenger brings an educational tone into utilities and energy marketing. We educate the audience in a way that lets customers and prospects comprehend the benefits on their terms. This is where creative has to work very hard. It’s a delicate balancing act to capture the attention of a low involvement target, then tell a compelling story that draws customers and prospects in and delivers the facts they need to act. But if your communications are both engaging and educational, you’re off to a strong start.



Initiate response. Here’s where a lot of agencies fall down. For some reason, there is an unwritten assumption that the target will know how to respond and will actually do it without any prompting. Remember, these are the people who only care if the power is on. So it’s up to you to put your target in the mind-set of response. Give them a response device, present a clear and compelling call-to-action multiple times and provide the contact information they need. In short, let your target respond in the way that they choose, but always initiate response.

Help them research. There’s another factor at work here we haven’t even touched on yet. When you’re a utility or energy provider, your target needs to trust you before making any commitment. But that level of credibility is hard to earn. People today want to do their homework first. They expect to dig a little deeper, then rest easy knowing they made an informed choice. Don’t battle this thinking; embrace it. At J&C, we have used PURLs (personalized URLs) to generate record level engagement with energy customers. The formula we follow is to provide a trustworthy resource where customers can get clear answers, let them compare the facts and make it easy to find the content they want quickly.

Keep it personal. Every year, J&C conducts studies on customer communications preferences. Why? Two reasons: It keeps our research people out of trouble and it lets us pinpoint the latest customer expectations. In our latest study, the findings were loud and clear. Customers expect relevance. They want you to know something about them. Generic communications are simply are not as effective as communications that leverage meaningful personalization. And as a creative professional, meaningful personalization gives me a very valuable tool to establish an immediate connection with the target. It gets us right past the “faceless” stage and sets the groundwork for a dialogue going forward.

That covers some practical ideas for driving response and winning awards in the utilities and energy market. Now, let’s get to the hardware.

Every year, the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing (CADM) honors outstanding direct and integrated marketing work at the annual Tempo Awards Ceremony. The awards celebrate marketing thought leadership and creative excellence, and tangible results are an essential component for any winning entry.

This year, J&C won nine Tempo Awards. That includes the following honors for utilities and energy industry marketing.

“Summer Savings Campaign” for FirstEnergy Solutions
FirstEnergy Solutions is a leading energy supplier, serving residential, commercial and industrial customers. The “Summer Savings Campaign” was part of the extensive customer acquisition direct marketing efforts for FirstEnergy Solutions.

But behind the scenes, this was a campaign that worked extremely well despite uncertainties in the utilities and energy market. With volatile electric rates for energy providers, it’s often essential to get to market quickly. But you still need to deliver a meaningful message to prospects and energize an unresponsive market to increase enrollments.

The Summer Savings package did just that. It went from concept to completion in less than a month. In fact, it was ready to hit the market at the start of summer, the year’s highest energy usage period.

Above all, the mailing worked. It had the elusive combination of the right strategy, right messaging and right offer delivered at precisely the right moment. It was personal, response-oriented and it educated customers with the information they needed. Above all, it was one of the campaigns that helped J&C drive more than 500,000 enrollments for FirstEnergy Solutions.

“Cruise Control” for FirstEnergy Solutions
FirstEnergy Solutions wanted to launch a revolutionary new electricity product. It let customers lock in their price for seven full years. The energy supplier also wanted to give back to Ohio.

The campaign that achieved these goals was “Cruise Control.” Earlier, we discussed the challenging mind-set of low involvement customers. This campaign actually embraced the “set it and forget it” attitude people have about electricity. Now the target could get a low price with no worries. It was basically cruise control for electricity, and the campaign brought this to life.

The Cruise Control campaign also included a “Thanks a Million” giveaway. This allowed
FirstEnergy Solutions to give back to Ohio schools and residents. It was a slam-dunk, because every enrollment represented another entry for Ohio schools.

Above all, Cruise Control worked. The campaign generated 14% of annual enrollments in just four weeks.

“Friends and Family” for FirstEnergy Solutions 
How can you make a sale without a sales force? And how can you create marketing without marketers?

That was the challenge facing FirstEnergy Solutions. The energy supplier needed to create a referral program that would sell itself, and marketing materials that were truly “plug and play.”

The program that made it all happen was called “Friends and Family.” This was a true grassroots marketing effort for FirstEnergy Solutions. In essence, this was a turnkey program that would sell itself to employees with minimal participation from small businesses.

The campaign had all the online and offline materials companies needed to educate customers about electric savings. There were posters, brochures, emails, web pages and a short video.

As a result, the program was plug and play. People wanted more information before they made any decision and Friends and Family delivered it. In addition, companies could access and use all the materials through an online resource website. That’s why 15% of companies participated in Friends and Family immediately, and the number has grown significantly since.

“Powerpalooza” for Jacobs & Clevenger
Jacobs & Clevenger has years of valuable expertise and proven marketing successes in the energy and utilities industry. That’s what this campaign was all about.

We called the campaign “Powerpalooza,” and it leveraged the strongest possible incentive: ideas that are tested and truly work in the industry.

Powerpalooza made utilities and energy industry decisions makers into rock stars. And the J&C team members were their roadies. Inside the mailing was a guitar flash drive that drove prospects to a Powerpalooza landing page. That’s where they could learn more and register for a meeting to bring Powerpalooza to their world.

It was a very bold approach. But that’s why it worked so well. The pieces drove response, interaction, engagement and meetings with utilities across the country.

As you can see, you definitely can win awards and drive response in utilities and energy marketing. You just need the right agency on your side.

To learn more, read our blog on 7 considerations for utility and response marketing.

Topics: Utility Industry

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