Utilities are quietly keeping the world running. But they’re also taking stock and preparing to re-emerge with purpose at the core.

For the first time in living memory, the world is pressing pause. And guess what? The lights are still on and the fridge is working, thanks to utilities companies and their continuity planning. Utilities are providing an essential social service that largely goes unnoticed.

And over the coming months, this paradigm shift may open the door for utilities to: reposition themselves as part of the fabric of society, bringing people together for collective progress on the issues that matter (see Electric Ireland); show consumers that they’re core to the transition to net zero; and communicate the sustainable innovations they had already developed. So what does this really mean for utilities? Here are some practical thoughts.

When it’s time to step forward again, reposition with purpose at the core
Historically, utilities’ customer proposition has been about cost, with price comparison websites increasingly at the center of decision making. But as purpose rises in importance to consumers across the board, companies’ roles in delivering sustainable outcomes become more visible. Net zero is gathering momentum like never before, with Davos 2020 setting the stage for the decade of action on environmental topics. And against this backdrop, utilities are absolutely key in driving toward net zero and should reposition themselves explicitly in this context. Purpose—and the path to net zero—should be front and center in the way they innovate their own operations and develop new products and services.

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Utilities are absolutely key in driving toward net zero and should reposition themselves explicitly in this context.

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Leading energy companies are putting purpose at the center of their vision and branding. And it’s not greenwashing. It’s real and the stakes are high. Recently BP announced its ambition to become a net-zero company by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world get to net zero. And this goal is explicitly cascaded into operational and structural goals and mechanisms (e.g., reorganization of BP’s business groups for greater effectiveness) as well as products and services (with BP aiming to reduce by 50% the carbon intensity of its products by 2050 or sooner).

Use this platform to engage around the sustainable products and services you already had
Despite appearances, utilities have been innovating for the low-carbon economy for years. Utilities may not be perceived as exciting, but these days their innovations are! But utilities have struggled to find a platform to communicate them to consumers and gain understanding and traction. The good news: when purpose pivots to the center of the company’s vision, it creates a platform for marketing the innovations that already existed (as well as igniting more). And reinforcing the purpose message at the time same time.

Case in point: EDF Energy is the largest producer of low-carbon electricity in the UK. And its consumer offering is expanding: it offers prominent electric vehicle (EV) services for consumers and businesses: electric car leasing, charge points and installation, as well as exclusive energy plans for EV drivers’ cars and homes (even if their car is not leased through EDF). The program both directly supports the transition to the low-carbon economy, and reinforces subliminally (and repeatedly) that EDF is a “green” brand. Plus, EDF talks about innovation like a tech startup, with its Blue Lab innovation accelerator front and center.

But when you move beyond energy, remember to personalize meticulously and prioritize relationships
It pays to remember that when you’re offering products and services beyond energy, you have to segment, personalize and communicate carefully. Your goal: to move consumers from transactional commodity purchasing to multi-pronged relationship. Hyper-personalization is long-established among banks and mobile operators, for instance. And it can really pay dividends by moving the consumer from awareness to action. Example: Meliá hotels created a personalized marketing strategy with Accenture’s help (for example, involving 1000 new landing pages custom designed for individual preferences) and generated a 27% increase in direct sales channels in just one year.

But utilities are relative newcomers to personalized products and services. Why? It’s never been necessary until now—with consumers driven by commodity pricing alone. But value-add innovations require a full marketing strategy, to allow you to capitalize on the platform you’ve created and avoid turning off consumers with insufficiently targeted offerings. How? By putting marketing analytics at the core (see some of our insights). Example: you can’t market rooftop solar panels to someone who lives in a flat (although some companies are finding ways to ‘sell you a panel on the solar farm’ nonetheless!).

It’s time for utilities to renew their brands, their propositions and the conversations they’re having with consumers—to move from a commodity supplier to a partner for a joint (net-zero) future. Contact me to find out more about how to reposition for purpose.

Mark Sherwin

Managing Director – Accenture Interactive

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