The Value of Brand
It’s not news, or it shouldn’t be, that there is economic value in creating a strong brand. According to the Economist, brands account for more than 30% of the stock value of companies in the S&P 500 Index. And McKinsey suggests that a brand with a strong reputation generate 31% more return to shareholders than the MSCI World average. This is especially critical in times when competition for your product or service is high, or your sector is suffering a slowdown or general perception of failure.
It’s also not news, unfortunately, that even though there is a lot of value that companies can get from having a brand story (as suggested above) there are few utility companies that have a brand to speak of. This will be a problem for an industry that is already struggling with competition from the outside, and attrition on the inside. The industry will have to fight for customers and a new crop of employees to run their businesses. The real issue though, for companies that do not focus on brand, is that the current crop of customers aren’t looking for more products, they are looking for connection. Without an understanding of your customers’ deeply-held reasons for using your services or buying your products, you cannot design a customer journey that creates an emotional connection. An emotional connection far beyond customer satisfaction.
Since there are few utilities with a referencable brand, almost none are leveraging ways to make emotional connections with their customers. Despite the critical work utilities do in providing good clean water and steady electricity do in cities. In fact, a well-researched and structured brand position, that is most relevant to customers, is a business imperative. It doesn’t make financial sense to ignore ways to optimize your influence on how customers feel.
Take for example these two images below. The images are extracted from the AGL Energy case study in the Energy Brands Guide, where the company integrates emotion into the ‘after’ image. Emotion that’s not evident in communications materials created prior to their rebrand.
Another problem with not having a brand, and brand story, is that customers will tell certain stories about you that do may not properly convey your organization is. What stories do your customers tell about you? Are the stories crafted from the news and have nothing do you with your organization? But have these stories, good and bad, been ascribed to your brand?
What does brand storytelling mean in an age of fast-moving change and increasing customer demand? To paraphrase Ekaterina Walter,
‘it’s a company looking at data across the board (product, customer experiences, etc) and using this data to build a desired experience with the company and using that to shape their digital transformation roadmap, aligning it with their (digital) customer experience.’
This is much needed for the water and power utility industries in an age where customers are only seeing story content about poor water quality, power outages and related safety issues. Sidenote: The or loudest thing most water utility customers have heard about water quality is ‘Flint’!
While Flint, Michigan and many cities across the world/US, have a lot of water quality issues, there are utilities in the US that provide good quality water. The statistic that says ‘1 in 4 homes in the US drinks poor quality water’ is a terrible stat. But there is a positive brand story for ‘3 of 4’ utilities that provide good quality water to homes in the US.
The only example of a water utility branding attempt at brand storytellingthat I could find was the $1.5M spend that Sydney Water spent to get their customers to drink more tap water. But this single point of execution, while a good step towards crafting a message about your utility that resonates with customers, is not in itself the only branding attempt that a company should focus on. Especially when the company is a (water or electricity) utility. This sort of example, one story that is part of the whole brand but not all of it, also risks the utility presenting a disjointed brand identity to the customer. In fact, the strongest brand story to be told is one that the company develops in collaboration with employees, customers, and the network of vendors, agencies, and government who are partners desiring the success of the utility.
Why Does The Industry Do Such A Poor Job?
I’ve worked in the utility industry for the last 17 years and I know of very few power utilities that tell their brand story well. I’ve been in the water utility industry for just under a year and I know of only one — American Water — in the water utility space that took on the task of repositioning and strengthening their brand. We’ve never really had to, we had captive customers who bought from us regardless of their need. But not anymore; on the power side we are dealing with customers who can buy an EV from Tesla and solar panels from ‘name-your-local-solar-company LLC’. On the water side, customers are quick to pick up a bottle of water and pay 300X what it costs from a tap. We have to realize we are in a retail world now. And in a retail world, brand rules and brands rule.
Energy Brand Guide
With this insight, born out of conversations with Anaezi Modu, Founder and, CEO of REBRAND and Producer of the REBRAND 100® Global Awards and Marc Cloosterman, CEO of London-based VIM Group, the world leaders in brand implementation, we at Varuna realized that there is a need to create a specific guidebook for the utility executive. The Energy Brands guide providesa roadmap to help you and own your brand narrative and capture marketplace value in a world where branding drives competitive advantage.
The goal is simple. For your utility to get and leverage the Guide, and cut through the clutter to access essentials on your brand and implementation process. You see, it’s not just the strategic positioning and design. Equally important is the implementation and rollout of the rebrand most efficiently and cost-effectively. Get this right, and you’ll reap the benefits of a smooth rollout process, that engages the support of employees and key customers. Get it wrong, and you can easily lose millions while harming your brand in the hearts and minds of employees and customers. You will learn from the only industry case study collection of before and after examples, offering you lessons on what to do, and what not to do.
How Digitalization Helps With Creating A Good Brand Identity
The good news for utilities is that the ongoing digitalization of the industry opens up an opportunity to create a great brand. While digitalization is a battleground, it is also new ground that presents an opportunity for utility brands to get in front of their customers. According to Mckinsey ‘At the same time, more brands are taking their business online…In a McKinsey survey, “can be easily reached” emerged as the second-most important (retail) market driver’for customers to engage with their utility. It’s why, at Varuna, we’ve built the interactive customer confidence report, that enables the utility to engage and educate its stakeholders on the hard work their teams do to ensure clean water for residents every day.
Let’s get to work…