Want to Drive Customer Behavior Change? Get Emotional: An Interview with Cindy Sargent of Brainspur - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Energy Efficiency Group
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Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Jan 17, 2019

At the upcoming AESP’s Annual Conference in in San Antonio (starting this upcoming Monday January 21), Cindy Sargent from Brainspur, along with Brie Gutmann and Shelly Dolbeer of Nexant, will be hosting a marketing workshop titled "Want to Drive Customer Behavioral Change? Get Emotional." 

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In this session, Cindy and co. plan to share their knowledge about how emotion-driven messaging and marketing can be an effective approach for utilities looking to sell energy efficiency programs to customers. Despite all the preparations for this upcoming presentation at the AESP Annual Conference, Cindy was kind enough to answer a few questions of mine about this compelling topic, exclusively for the Energy Central community and our Power Perspectives™ series:

Matt Chester: Cindy, the topic of how utilities can best influence customer behavioral change towards energy efficiency is a hugely important one, but not one that might be on a lot of people's radar. What made this area an intriguing topic for you to study?

Cindy Sargent: Despite all the news about renewables, climate change, and energy efficiency, most people don't make the connection between their own energy usage behavior and the impact it has on their utility bills, the strength and reliability of their community's electrical network, and the environment itself. Many want to make their homes or businesses more energy efficient, but they may not believe they need to change anything, nor understand what role their behavior plays and what they can do about it. Utilities can educate their customers on energy efficiency issues and drive behavioral change by tapping into what matters most to them.

MC: And what about emotion-based marketing specifically is significant for utilities in affecting that behavioral change?

CS: More than any other factor, emotions drive customer decision-making, whether it's a decision to change a perception or a behavior, make a purchase, or take an action. Approaching marketing with this in mind, utilities can communicate to customers through messaging that resonates on an emotional level because it's meaningful and relevant. By using emotion in their marketing efforts, they will engage their customers a more personal level, help drive change, increase brand loyalty, and improve customer satisfaction ratings. 

MC: In what ways is emotions-based marketing in utilities similar to marketing in other industries? In what ways does it differ?

CS: Whether selling cars, cosmetics, cleaning products, or candy, human nature is the same. People want to feel emotionally attached to a brand they believe aligns with their values and beliefs. When a brand taps into what people are feeling, or want to feel, they tap into a powerful force that can tip the scale in favor of that brand over others. The most successful brands have understood this for years and have built their marketing efforts around the goal of engaging customers emotionally. 

It's actually no different for utilities and the energy industry. It's just that it's not been employed to a great degree before. For years, utilities haven't had to compete for their customers' attention, business, and loyalty, as they were the only game in town. Customers are now more informed and aware there are options for energy services and products, and utilities can no longer take for granted that they are the only source for customers to turn for their energy needs. They have to evolve and compete to stay relevant and profitable. And communicating with their customers by taking a personal approach by implementing emotional-based marketing can make a big difference. 

MC: That's a fascinating way to look at it! What are some of the more compelling examples of emotion-based marketing you've seen utilities successfully used?

CS: Rather than give specific examples, I would challenge people to think about a marketing campaign or messaging they've seen in utility and energy sectors and think about how it made them feel. If it made you feel good, happy, sad, surprised, fearful, angry, disgusted in some way, more than likely it was effective in provoking you to think differently about something. And if it was really effective, it may have moved you to act or change a behavior. 

MC: For any utilities who want to embrace this message and adopt emotion-based marketing practices, what are some key points you'd recommend they remember?

CS: Utilities have access to the data they need to create more personalized messaging that suits a particular customer profile and behavior. They just need to connect the dots and put it to use in their communications efforts by speaking to customers as unique individuals with certain needs, concerns, and desires that they as their energy provider can help fulfill.

MC: If people are interested in this field of study, where can they learn more?

CS: The best way to learn is to first take the time to know and understand your customers on a deeper level by listening and engaging them in conversation about what's important and what really matters to them. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including via social media, small discussion or focus groups, one-on-one discussions, or online perception surveys. 

Also, pay attention to what messages, ads, and posts grab you emotionally and make you think or feel something you hadn't before. Likely, they have moved your customers, too. 

MC: That's some great advice. Before we wrap up, is there anything we missed or any final thoughts you'd like to leave with the readers?

CS: It's important to understand the process required in creating marketing and messaging that addresses the real issues and pain points that matter most to customers. Again, it all begins with truly understanding the customer's needs, wants, concerns, and feelings. Put yourself in your customer's shoes and think like a customer yourself. You'll be more inclined to create marketing and messaging that resonate if it touches you first. 

And, don't be afraid to try new and unexpected directions. Surprising customers with something meaningful that they didn't see coming from their utility can be a great way to get attention about an important issue. 




If interested in learning more about emotion-based marketing for utilities, be sure to check out Cindy Sargent’s workshop this topic at AESP’s Annual Conference (in San Antonio from January 21 to 24). You can learn more about the agenda and register for the conference here.


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