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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Welcome Danielle Marquis, New Expert in the Load Management Community

image credit: Energy Central

Innovation is no doubt the name of the game for utilities these days, and for the creative utility professionals one of the most exciting parts about that is that the areas that are looking for new ideas stretches across the business, from new technological solutions to forward-looking customer programs to high impact ways to reach customers with important messages and so much more. With each passing day, the utility sector is leaving further behind the reputation it had built for decades of being content to do things the way they had always done them, and that’s largely thanks to the energy and spark of highly motivated individuals pushing the envelope across the industry.

One such thought leaders is Danielle Marquis, who leads Franklin Energy and AM Conservation Group’s combined teams: Corporate Marketing, Digital Marketing, Creative Team. Danielle also leads the company’s Innovation Lab team and is constantly focused on customer engagement and virtual engagement. Luckily for the Energy Central Community, another hat she recently donned was that of part of our Network of Experts.

Danielle has joined Energy Central as an expert for our Load Management Community, as well as the Energy Efficiency and Grid Professionals Communities. And as a way of introducing herself to be more available and useful to Energy Central, she sat down with us for a getting to know you interview, part of our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series:’

Matt Chester: Danielle—welcome to the Energy Central community and we’re so happy to have you as a part of our Network of Experts. Can you please introduce yourself to the Energy Central community? What do you do for Franklin Energy and AM Conservation Group and how did you find yourself in that role?

Danielle Marquis: Thank you! I appreciate the opportunity. I’ve really enjoyed writing articles for the community and have appreciated the back and forth conversations in the comments. It’s great to have this place to learn and share ideas.

I’m the VP of Marketing Strategy at Franklin Energy and AM Conservation Group. In that role, I lead corporate marketing and creative for both brands, program marketing at AM and our Innovation Lab initiatives. I’m also a there-term member of the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) board of directors, where I’ve served as Vice Chair of Education for the last seven years.

I definitely fell into this industry. I am an attorney and used to be a sports agent. My husband and I moved from Colorado back home to upstate New York to be closer to family when our kids were young, and I was looking for a change. I ended up taking a job creating the brand and leading the marketing for a company that worked in large C&I energy efficiency and implemented small business direct install programs. From there, I moved to AM during a period of rapid growth—they’d just acquired Service Concepts and GoodCents. I was tasked with identifying and driving strategic initiatives throughout the organizations to help us be more profitable and successful. I co-lead the marketing integration and began building a program marketing team at AM, eventually taking over the responsibilities of AM’s CMO when we merged with Franklin and taking on that marketing integration as well.

 

MC: You’ve done a lot of critical thinking and marketing on demand side management for the power industry. What do you think remains the biggest hurdle keeping DSM from fulfilling its potential as a tool across utilities, and what strategies should we be thinking of to overcome those?

DM: In this industry, we still struggle with the basics in a lot of ways. It’s not uncommon to have to convince a client that digital marketing will work, or that email should be a component of a strong marketing strategy. And yet, our entire customer base is marketed to in these ways in every other element of their lives. We know it works; we know it’s cost-effective. Our highest converting tactics are digital and marketing strategies that don’t include them simply won’t be as effective as they could be with it. Cost per acquisition with digital tactics is a fraction of what it is with more traditional marketing tactics. We’ll always have those traditional tactics in our mix, but the trick is to reserve the budget for them where it’s needed, such as with customers that don’t respond to digital tactics or where we don’t have email addresses.

A great strategy to overcome this objection is to have an open mind and pilot the idea, but require data to back up performance. UTM tracking codes and conversion goals in Google Analytics, for example, can be used to track conversions back to actual source in a pretty little dashboard graph. Combine enrollment results with that graph and it’s hard to argue with! And it’s a more impactful reference point for most non-marketers than things like open or clickthrough rates. I also encourage clients to let us deploy Net-Promoter Score surveys on a regular basis after customers convert—this allows us to identify any issues early on and address them in a proactive way. And user testing has been so helpful for us. Hearing why something works or doesn’t work directly from a customer who is trying to use it is transformational for our team. I like to bring in a cross-functional group to observe the interviews—not just marketing, but operations, sales, and technology team members, too. It’s very enlightening.

In some respects, COVID-19 has helped accelerate these discussions. We have clients who suddenly need virtual program solutions and digital marketing. Many are no longer allowed in people’s homes and some aren’t allowed to have any paper marketing collateral—no bill inserts, no direct mail, no door hangers. That’s a big change for most of the industry and ultimately something that will make us all better.

 

MC: Energy efficiency programs are another type of important asset that can and perhaps should go hand in hand with DSM. When you look across the utility industry, do you see power companies leaning more into one or the other? Are there opportunities for greater synergy that aren’t being taken?

DM: Energy efficiency is in many ways “table stakes” at this point. We know these programs work and they’re cost-effective; most utilities have them. We need to do a better job at integrating in other relevant programs like demand response, solar, beneficial electrification, and storage. From a user perspective, these are all the same things. But from a utility perspective, that’s a lot of different departments, budgets, and regulation. I realize this is easier said than done, but when we crack this nut, it’ll be very impactful for the industry and its customers.

As an industry, this is reflected in a lack of journey-based marketing and program design. Customers simply don’t care about all our different programs or the different implementers or the different departments. They just want to give us a little bit of information and have us tell them how to save money, or increase comfort or improve their carbon footprint. Seriously, that’s a direct quote from our last round of user testing.

MC: Looking at the work you do today, marketing and messaging jump out as key aspects, and with good reason. What type of messaging has you found to be most useful when reaching partners in utilities? How does that messaging differ from the ultimate messaging needed from utility customers?

DM: When working with our utility clients, I’ve found it key to relate what we’re proposing to what they and their customers are experiencing in other areas of their lives. For example, I wrote an article on Energy Central about the lessons in digital marketing I learned from Domino’s Pizza, and another about how we can learn to pivot to virtual solutions like the healthcare industry. I’ve found this helps people take a step back and look at things from the user perspective, as opposed to the boxes we sometimes confine ourselves to in this industry. I also really like to share user feedback from our testing. Hearing what works and what doesn’t directly from users is very impactful.

When working with our client’s end use customers in program marketing, I’ve found it key to keep things simple, focus on what the customer benefit is, and avoid jargon. We use a lot of jargon in this industry and it’s really easy to forget that the average person has no idea what a kit program is, for example. But they probably subscribe to at least one box service—and look forward to their quarterly beauty products, or seasonal outfits, or monthly smoothie delivery. So suddenly a “box of free energy-saving products” makes sense and if we can show pictures of those products and personalize them to their unique needs, even better.

 

MC: This year has, of course, been a tumultuous one no matter what industry you’re in. To stay forward-looking and optimistic, are there any upcoming initiatives that you’re working on that have you particularly excited? What do you see as being top priorities from Franklin Energy and AM Conservation Group, as well as the wider industry, as we look to 2021?

DM: Yes, this year has been interesting, but to be honest, it’s been very professionally fulfilling as well. Last year I launched our team’s Innovation Lab, with a goal of improving processes and developing new products based on client desires and user-centered design. When the pandemic hit, we suddenly had to compress a year’s worth of work into three months to develop new virtual solutions and still do our day jobs. I was able to pull together a pretty amazing cross-functional team from across our organizations and we pulled it off. We developed and tested prototypes for two complimentary new products that moved into production and are now nearing completion. They’ll redefine how we deliver programs for years to come. I’m proud of how the team came together and what we built together. Most of us didn’t even know one another when we started and yet with a lot of Zoom meetings and a big digital whiteboard, we made some magic. The first product, a dynamic kit ordering portal called KitPick, will be launched by AM Conservation Group in September. Our virtual audit solution will be launched by Franklin Energy later on.

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Thanks to Danielle Marquis for her time in this interview and for making herself available to the Energy Central community as an expert. Danielle welcomes your outreach and you can connect with her as an Energy Central member, so be sure to ask questions on her articles and engage in the comments when you see her around!

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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