As we approach CHARGE Europe (17-18 October), we’ve been asking our top speakers and partners to reveal their approach to branding in energy. In this article, we speak to Jukka Ruusunen, CEO of Fingrid.
The interviewers are Friðrik Larsen, Founder and Owner of CHARGE and Sonja Sigríður Jónsdóttir, Conference Producer at CHARGE.
What do you think are the biggest opportunities today for energy companies as it relates to brand and reputation?
Fingrid is the monopoly transmission system operator in Finland. I often hear the question: “But why do you need a brand, as you do not have any competitors?”. But just like for any other organization, existence and success of monopolies is in the hands of external stakeholders. Reputation or brand has a direct bearing on people’s trust in the organisation and willingness to work with it. A company with a good reputation gets better employees, more satisfied customers, cheaper capital and the support of society. In the worst-case scenario, loss of trust can lead to loss of social acceptance. From Fingrid’s point of view, the trust and support of society is a matter of life and death.
What do you think are the main challenges for monopoly companies regarding branding and communication?
Monopoly status and statutory obligations typically cause organisations to be led from the inside, based on the monopoly’s own interpretations and notions of what the outside world needs and expects. External stakeholders are rarely consulted about the development of operations since it is so easy to just play the monopoly card. “Reputation” and “brand” are not in the vocabulary of monopolies. Typical adjectives linked to monopolies are arrogant, inefficient, and non-innovative. The concept of “customers” has traditionally been foreign to transmission companies, which have been speaking of “connecting parties” or “load” to the power grid instead. But even if a monopoly company has no interest in its own reputation, it will still have one in the outside world. It is the company’s choice whether or not to influence this reputation.
What impact does ESG have on brand identity now, and how important will it be in the future?
Corporate social responsibility has traditionally been part of the core of the transmission companies since we have a special role in society, both in Finland and abroad. We have been given a responsibility vital for the functioning of society: the functioning of the power system. Today the society is raising the bar and social responsibility has a bigger meaning than before.
We have adopted the ESG-thinking holistically in Fingrid and we can say that it is a “model” that suits very well for responsible transmission companies. For us, ESG is an understandable way of developing and communicating our social responsibility agenda broadly when it comes to environmental, social and governance perspectives – all perspectives being vital to our success.
The social perspective of ESG includes a lot of issues dealing with trust and reputation – among various stakeholders. It forces you to see your company from outside in. It forces you to think about reputation and brand management. In this sense the ESG thinking supports very well our efforts to develop Fingrid’s reputation and brand.
How is your company responding to rising user expectations and aligning them with your ESG strategy?
We believe that ESG strategy and company strategy must be 100% aligned and integrated. Not two different stories. We can utilize the ESG structure to understand better the rising expectations of customers and society from the three important perspectives of ESG. And in our industry there really are rising expectations when it comes to environmental, social and governance questions!
We regularly survey our reputation amongst our stakeholders and develop our strategy and operations based on the feedback. This feedback includes a lot of ESG issues as well. From Fingrid’s point of view, maintaining a good reputation means consulting stakeholders and developing operations based on the needs and raising expectations of stakeholders. Looking outside in. However, in the end, reputation is built by real action – not by nice words.
How much emphasis do you place on emotion versus rationality when building an energy brand? Does “feeling” and emotive resonance have a place within your brand strategy?
Feeling, emotive resonance and empathy really do have a place in our strategy! In the end, this is not B2B or B2C business – this is HB2HB. Human being to human being. Companies are made of people. And interactions between people are about emotions. Of course, rationality and facts are crucially important, but they must be combined with the emotional side. We train people issues to our engineers. They often say that we take them away from their comfort zone. But we get very positive feedback from this training. And this has led to excellent results in customer satisfaction.
The “S” in ESG is very much about people and emotions. And then, combined with good quality of work, good reputation and trust follow. And success of the company.