How Sustainable Is Your Environmental Brand?

How Sustainable Is Your Environmental Brand?Recently, we announced our 2017 Environmental Champions to highlight the utilities that have developed effective approaches and struck a chord with their customers who like to hear about the dedication of their utility to the environment. These utilities are, in turn, rewarded with high Brand Trust and Customer Satisfaction scores.

2017 Utility Environmental Champions_Residential

The fact is, most utilities utilize environmental dedication as a key brand attribute, but only some utilities’ environmental positionings are effective. The difference between success and ineffectively tying your brand to environmental benefits can be found in fundamental marketing principles. Jerome McCarthy’s classic four P’s of marketing—Product, Price, Place and Promotion—hold true when it comes to effective environmental positioning. Utilizing his principles will allow you to build and maintain an effective and believable environmental brand for your utility.


Product offerings serve as the ultimate proof statement of environmental dedication. Any utility’s plan to position itself as an environmental champion has to start with a product portfolio assessment to gain an understanding of how each offering, or lack of offerings, impacts perceptions of the utility’s environmental dedication.

First, electric utilities that offer renewable energy have a built-in commodity value to environmentally focused customers. In our recent fielding, 78% of customers would prefer their utility use renewables as a fuel source. And natural gas was preferred by 65% of customers, so offering renewable energy also benefits natural gas utilities. Other consumption management offerings can be tied to green offerings and bill savings. Energy audits can be tied to a broad segment of utility customers, as are rate programs that reward customers for their at-home efforts. Offering online carbon footprint calculators is also an easy way to demonstrate interest in a cleaner environment. Finally, solar programs can be marketed to your environmentally focused customer segments. And solar programs aren’t just for electric utilities anymore—natural gas utility holding companies such as New Jersey Natural Gas’s parent company have developed solar offerings to customers in its trading area. This is in direct competition with PSE&G, which serves many of these customers with electricity. PSE&G, in turn, offers a loan program for customers to install solar.

Develop a product plan that inventories your offerings that can be tied to the environment, and enumerate the key features and benefits of those offerings. Also, develop marketing plans for programs you intend to launch in the near future using the same marketing principles.


While any utility’s environmental marketing plan starts with a product portfolio assessment, price is how the utility shows how much it values its dedication. Offering attractive net metering and green rates can be effective in certain markets. Touting a strong and growing renewable energy portfolio as well as natural gas investments to provide affordable clean energy to customers for the foreseeable future has broader appeal. Utilities should leverage the demand for renewable pricing options to gain as much environmental advantage as possible.

Demonstrating your support for the next generation of energy-efficient innovations is a great way to position yourself as a leader in helping customers lower both their carbon footprint and bill amounts. Our energy industry research shows that customers are open to practical, cost-effective environmental solutions. Customers will appreciate these solutions and reward you with higher brand value.

Do you have price programs that help the environment or does your fuel provide a more environmentally friendly alternative (such as natural gas)? Map your price programs and advantages to customer segments with the highest demand.


Most utilities’ customer base is broad but their resources to reach it are limited. So where you concentrate your efforts is key to your success. It is important to thoroughly understand your customer base so you can effectively target your efforts to your most environmentally focused customer segment. Likewise, it’s essential to track the effectiveness of your efforts by circling back with quality market research. Have your customers heard about or do they appreciate your environmental programs? The following chart shows that utility environmental understanding and support varies greatly by customer segment.

Your customer base is unlike any other utility’s. Every utility must take ownership of what its customers want from it and define its environmental role in the communities it serves.


None of your environmental strategies can bear fruit if you don’t promote them properly. Customers won’t give you credit for what they don’t know about you.

You need to know which channels are most likely to reach which customers, then target your message mix to key customer segments: home energy audits might resonate most effectively with new homeowners, time-based rate programs could be more attractive to those on fixed incomes, and solar programs and renewable investments could score big points with your greenest customers.

But utilities should think beyond what they traditionally view as products when designing their environmental offerings. In fact, the cause customers think their utility should support over all others is “clean environment.” Therefore, increasing awareness of your environmental programs and local support is crucial.

Many utilities have generated environmental goodwill by showcasing their stewardship programs. These efforts can be improving natural landscapes, supporting like-minded local environment organizations such as those dedicated to keeping local roadsides and parks clean, or focusing on clean fuels. And these efforts score points with a swath of customers.

Also, since we are talking marketing, branding environmental programs and adding promotional incentives to purchase can be very effective. For instance, SMUD offers Greenergy®, a branded program that allows its customers to add up to $6 every month to receive up to 100% renewable power. SMUD also promotes the program as Green-e Energy Certified. Meanwhile, MidAmerican Energy offers Renewable Advantage, a program that allows its customers to make one-time or ongoing donations to build renewable energy in their market. MidAm customers can sign up for the program through their monthly bill simply by checking a box. Using the bill for easy access to environmental programs can be an ongoing promotion of your dedication even if your customers don’t “check the box.”  And, NYSEG offers Smart Savings Rewards, a smart WiFi thermostat program.  This program provides customers an $85 bill credit for every thermostat they enroll in the program and $5 for every event they participate in.  Customers using these programs have stronger customer engagement.

Promoting what you do is the most important part of your environmental marketing strategy. If customers aren’t aware of your environmental efforts, then a lot of great work will not be appreciated.

Creating effective environmental initiatives and then leveraging them to build brand trust isn’t easy—but it’s not too complicated either. Your customers are used to being appealed to in a specific way, so using time-proven marketing principles will resonate with them. Utilities should develop environmental strategies based upon the sound tactics utilized by marketers for the last half-century, and create cost-efficient, specific and supportable brand appeal. That’s the key to building a sustainable environmental brand.

We will be releasing our Most Trusted Utility Brands soon. Sign up for our webinar on The Value of Utility Brand Trust.

The Value of Utility Brand Trust

Customers Don’t Trust Utilities’ Cybersecurity Efforts

Customers Don’t Trust Utilities’ Cybersecurity EffortsThe recent massive ransomware attack struck industries across the globe and exposed worrisome weaknesses in the computer defenses of even the most sophisticated international corporations. While there are no reports to date of utilities being struck by the WannaCry virus, consumers’ confidence in the ability of any organization to keep its system safe has been badly shaken.

Cybersecurity has long been on utility officials’ mind: The sniper attack at an electric substation and a holiday cyber-attack scare on an electric utility are a couple of events that keep cybersecurity on the forefront. So, the WannaCry incident serves not so much as a wake-up call as it is a confirmation of the urgency of guarding against cyber threats. But it’s also an opportunity to communicate with customers about what you are doing to protect against and prepare for such an attack.
Continue reading

How Georgia Power Uses Research to Optimize Customer Experience

How Georgia Power Company Uses Research to Optimize Customer ExperienceI recently sat down Don Hodson, head of customer experience (CX) at Georgia Power (GPC), to discuss how GPC is maximizing the effectiveness of its CX program. For energy brands that are working hard to create a positive, seamless experience for its customers, Don’s insight might just spark an idea that can be applied to your company’s strategy. Enjoy!

Can you explain GPC’s customer experience goals and the specific issues you’re trying to solve with research insight?

Don Hodson, head of customer experience at Georgia PowerDon: Georgia Power has a strong reputation with our customers already so there is little value focusing on improving a customer sat score from 8.5 to 8.6. Rather, we look at all the interactions customers have with GPC—the channels they use, the issues they have—to identify where there are barriers to resolution or where we force them to make extra effort. Then we focus on how to mitigate those issues to reduce customer effort. Not only does this improve customer sat but, in many cases, it also identifies opportunities to decrease operational costs.

Continue reading

Are Solar Roads Coming to Your Utility Territory?

solar-roadSolar roadways have captured the public’s imagination – see, for example, the viral “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” video produced by Solar Roadways and viewed more than 22 million times. And we certainly do use a lot of land for roads and parking lots – 61,000 square miles by some estimates. So why not use this space to also produce power?

Continue reading

Seeking Right-Brained Chief Customer Officers

Seeking Right-Brained Chief Customer Officers

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once attributed his uncanny ability to read plays to, “I skate to where the puck is going to be.” That concept applies to utility chief customer officers and CX professionals; those who are tuned into consumer expectation trends understand where their “puck” is going to be.

Cogent Reports’ Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement (UTBCE) study is designed to understand customer engagement from a holistic perspective encompassing brand trust, product experience and operational satisfaction, but this blog post offers a simpler framework for customer experience. First up is marketing, which allows you to tell your customers what they can expect of you as a utility. Second, and just as important, is the actual experience customers have interacting with you—and where they judge whether your marketing was truthful or just blowing smoke.

Continue reading

Five Ways to Become a Three-Time Utility Customer Champion

2016-12-three-peatWe recently released our 2016 Utility Customer Champions, which awards gas, electric and combination utilities nationwide that have the highest scores on our proprietary Engaged Customer Relationship index. Among this list are 26 utilities that have “three-peated,” meaning they’ve been designated as a Customer Champion every year since we started these awards in 2014.

Here’s what sets these utilities apart, and what your utility can do to get on the path of enduring customer engagement:

Continue reading

Dear Energy Santa: A Wish List from Your Millennial Customers

Dear Energy Santa

‘Tis the season when your loved ones ask what you need (or, in my case, your kids proclaim what they want)! In the spirit of gift-giving, we penned a letter to Energy Santa with our “wish list” of energy-related products and services. The ideas are based on results from our 2016 Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™ study, and although they apply to energy consumers in general, we’re focusing on the group nearly every company hopes Santa will deliver—Millennials.

Continue reading

Electricity Price Premiums in Texas Prove Value of a Strong Brand

Electricity Price Premiums in Texas Prove Value of a Strong Brand

Texas has been leading the nationwide move toward electricity market deregulation for many years. It launched with the promise of more choice, better plans and products, and lower prices. For the most part, these promises have been met. Few markets, if any, have more competition or products than Texas. But has it resulted in lower prices?

In 2014, Texans living in deregulated areas (such as Houston, Dallas, El Paso) paid approximately 15% more for electricity than their counterparts living in markets with integrated utilities (such as Austin and San Antonio), according to a report by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power. In that same year, Texans in deregulated markets paid 12.59 cents per kilowatt hour, more than the national average of 12.52 and well above the rate paid by Texans living in areas with regulated utilities (just under 11 cents per kilowatt hour).

The report suggests several possible explanations for the higher prices, including inefficiencies in the deregulated market, customer confusion about comparing rates and higher prices from legacy companies that remain from their regulated counterparts. While these are all valid explanations, I suggest there is another element in play: customers are paying a premium because of the intrinsic value they place on the retail electricity provider’s (REP) products and brand.

Continue reading

How One Utility Narrowed Participation and Pay Gaps for Women

How One Utility Narrowed Participation and Pay Gaps for Women

Want to create more opportunities for women in energy? “Will and determination is all you need,” says Bjarni Bjarnason, CEO of Reykjavik Energy.

Ernst & Young’s 2016 “Women in Power and Utilities Index” reveals that women constitute only 23% of North American utility non-executive directors and 21% of senior management. While this leads the world (Europe comes in second at 23% and 12%, respectively), it is still nowhere near the 51% proportion of women in the overall population. Ernst & Young’s report also highlights why gender diversity is more than a moral imperative – they found that the 20 most gender-diverse utilities outperformed the bottom 20 by 1.07% in return on equity.

Continue reading

Utilities Face Risk, Opportunity with Unmanaged Business Accounts

s16476_cover-imageUtilities are increasingly turning to value-added products and services to increase customer engagement and reduce their cost to serve, but unmanaged business accounts –commercial customers without a key account representative–are a third less likely to adopt these voluntary programs. This is one of the reasons unmanaged accounts score 25 points lower than key accounts on Cogent Reports’ 1,000-point Engaged Customer Relationship Index.

Utilities have a good sense of how to engage key accounts because they have a personal relationship with them but often don’t know how to engage unmanaged accounts, which constitute a third of utility revenues nationwide. Our research shows that there are five clear segments offering distinct engagement pathways for unmanaged businesses. These segments are:

Continue reading