A Time To Kill Some Misconceptions

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2018-10 - AESP EE Day, click here for more

By Cindy Sargent

Some myths simply refuse to die. Maybe they once held some element of truth. More likely, they never rang true at all. Reversing commonly held misconceptions, though, could fast forward your efforts to successfully engage your customers and increase your utility’s brand currency. As well as change the effectiveness of your marketing and communications efforts. In today’s competitive energy marketplace, you need to fire on all cylinders. Just be sure those cylinders are based on reality.

By no means a definitive list, here are a few misconceptions that continue to plague the industry:

Myth: Utility customers just want us to keep the lights on

Reality: Customers certainly need you to provide a reliable grid and repair outages stat, but they want and need so much more. They are interested in saving money, making their homes more efficient and comfortable, and even helping the environment be a healthier, safer place to live. Beyond meeting their basic power demands, utilities can meet these expanded wants and needs.

On the other hand, this next misconception is also dangerous to cling to…

Myth: Our customers trust us to provide all their energy needs

Reality: Bear in mind that consumers have many choices in all areas of their lives. And that goes for their energy services. Most know that utilities are no longer the only source for meeting their energy wants and needs. In fact, the competition is so heavy, that many traditional energy customers are looking at their options for more cost effective programs, energy efficiency products and services, despite trusting their utility as an energy provider. They would like to work with their utility if they feel the utility can provide them with relevant options they can easily understand, implement and incorporate into their daily lives.

Myth: Having a decent website is good enough

Reality: So not true anymore. You have to provide significant and meaningful information that your customers need and want, that catches the eye and is valuable to them. And though a clean, contemporary look is important, a nicely designed site alone won’t cut it. From Millennials (21 - 39) to Baby Boomers (53 -71), many utility customers consume a lot of content and will research a subject thoroughly. They go online seeking information, news, the latest technology, to comment, recommend, show their gratitude and complain. Beef up your website with better, more meaningful content to serve them and create an experience that keeps them coming back and turning to you for solutions. Set yourselves up as the energy authority with valuable and relevant content. Nobody wants to work hard to find the information they need, so make it easy for them to find the information on the latest energy efficiency programs, products, rate options and services.

And speaking of Millennials and Boomers, let’s examine a few myths that can potentially sabotage your efforts to reach these vital groups.

Myth: Boomers are technologically challenged

Reality: Almost 85% of Boomers are regular internet users according to AARP, and 66% buy from online retailers, the highest of any age group. 31% of Boomers are actively engaged on Twitter.

And on the contrary, just because Millennials were born into the digital world, doesn’t mean they are on the web 24/7. Interestingly, 53% of Millennial spending is done at the brick-and-mortar retail level, compared to 49% of Baby Boomers.

Myth: Boomers are tight with their money, set in their ways and it’s hard to get them to change

Reality: Okay, we combined a few misconceptions into one. But, it’s still au contraire for all. Rather than getting tighter with money as they age, today’s Boomers tend to stay busy, live active lifestyles and have more disposable income. Boomers alone make up 70% of the nation’s disposable income. Don’t make assumptions they aren’t spending, aren’t online, aren’t engaged in important issues or set in their ways.

Boomers are also looking for efficiency in their lives and the best experience. Anything that can make their lives, easier, more comfortable and more cost effective is appealing. They are more than willing to try new things.

Another Boomer Myth: Boomers are downsizing their homes

Reality: Actually, only 6 percent of Boomers plan to be living in smaller residences five years from now. A whopping 76% plan to stay in their current home, one of the same size or a larger one.

Speaking of homeownership, here’s another idea that needs to die on the vine:

Myth: Renters aren’t interested in energy efficiency products and services

Reality: The number of households headed by renters has grown significantly over the past 10 years. The majority of renters are Millennials who may not be in any hurry to purchase their first home. They may very well view renting as a fine option and more than a temporary place to hang their hat. Renters are also more than young people, students and young professionals. One of the most significant increases have been renters in the middle class and more affluent brackets. Renters are an extremely diverse group and have programs that can help them save money, as well as increase efficiency, such as those that track their energy usage, could be of great interest to them, too.

Myth: Customers don’t want to be weighed down with a lot of facts and information

Reality: People will read something because they’re interested in it. That means they want more than the bare minimum about an energy service, technology, product or program. Also Google and search engines will rank your page higher in search results if your content is longer, significant and interesting. Customers will go elsewhere if you’re not the one to provide them with what they’re searching for and needing.

In addition, transparency about issues can make a big difference in changing any negative perceptions customers may have had about their utility. Understanding where their energy really comes from, why their bills are so high, why rates go up or how they as individual consumers have a responsibility to play in strengthening the grid can go a long way in increasing engagement and building customers for life.

Myth: Each demographic group responds to their own marketing channel

Just because a generation is the same age range doesn’t mean they all want or need the same things. Within each population group, there are many segments based on economic, educational, interests, needs and cultural differences. In fact, research has shown that far greater differences in values and lifestyles exist within the Millennial generation itself than compared to those in the Gen X and Boomer generations.

Bottom line, there is no single channel that works for each customer segment. For instance, email is a strong vehicle for reaching Boomers and beyond (70+) with important information and news. And, surprisingly, Millennials also respond well to direct mail.

A multichannel approach to your marketing can cover a number of opportunities to reach each group. A marketing and engagement strategy based on customer lifestyles and interests will by far yield the best results. The SECC has done extensive research to back this up.

To summarize, making assumptions based on old ideas and misconceptions could alienate and jeopardize your ability to reach an audience. Perhaps, now’s the time to rethink.

Cindy Sargent is a Partner and Creative Director of Brainspur, a marketing agency that has been responsible for helping its clients engage and form lasting relationships with customers.


This article is contributed by the AESP Marketing Topic Committee.

AESP leads a vibrant community of professionals dedicated to improving energy efficiency through learning, networking and knowledge sharing.
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