In this article, we speak to Mark Coyle, the Chief Marketing Officer for ESG. Mark has lead ESG’s formation of a practical, innovative strategy to empower energy leaders globally in their journey to deliver cleaner, smart and flexible energy. Mark notes that energy marketers face significant demands as they meet the needs of competition today and transition towards a more digital energy future.
As CMO, his focus is to ensure that ESG is at the leading edge of providing proactive, adaptive, and scalable solutions that combine innovation, consumer trust, benefit and empowerment for all parties.
The interviewer, Dr Fridrik Larsen, is the founder of CHARGE Energy Branding.
What do you think are the main challenges for energy companies regarding branding and communication?
Energy companies have to ensure they deliver the right core experience required today in an accurate, consistent way and using channels the customer prefers.
Moreover, any erosion in the standards they set for quality service can undermine their brand’s long-term value. Therefore, keeping the house in order has always to be the priority for essential service businesses.
Second, they need to ensure that business communications and brand resonates with both where energy is today and where it is going in the future. Specifically, the drivers around sustainability, tech-optimized savings, shifting preferences towards online engagement and the empowerment of those consumer experiences will alter expectations for where energy companies focus their brands.
An eye to the future is essential, as it can be hard to navigate and evolve your brand and communications strategy if you spend all your time and resources servicing today’s needs.
How, then, does your brand, reputation or storytelling approach differ between your B2B and B2C strategies?
Our own business (ESG) operates as a software platform to empower energy leaders globally, so ours is a B2B type relationship. But through our customers and the technology ecosystem, we are integrated within and service all customer segments. The difference, I think, is the conversion from buyer exploration into decision making.
Non-business customers are increasingly happy to explore and complete the buying process online, in one short interaction chain within an app. B2B decisions involve online consideration but have more human contact points, relationship aspects and due diligence to complete. Whereas in B2C, we each will make intuitive decisions against some aspirational messaging or product fit, in B2B traditionally, there are more processes and considerations taken into account. B2C marketing, therefore, can go straight into the customers click to buy. In B2B, there are more background credibility checks, experience and strategic aspects to the decision.
Over time, as digital natives become business buyers, I anticipate fast change in the way businesses buy, too, with more use of online and business networks.
We are only just at the start of the change in B2B, whereas in B2C online will become the norm (accelerated by the at-home online experiences we all had last year). We all might feel that’s already the case today in our lives, but online is still surprisingly a minority of transactions if we think of supermarket shopping, mall visits, card top-ups and the like.
In summary, B2C is about messaging that fits the customer intuitively and building quick confidence to click. In B2B, there are more steps and considerations that businesses need to take into account.
What did you say when you were convincing people in your company to take branding/reputation seriously as an investable asset? Whom did you need to convince? Was it difficult to convince these people?
Operating as a B2B technology company, as good as our platform is and our relationships are, we need to ensure our customers are confident in their contracting process with us. Branding is a vital part of building the trust and shared understanding between the businesses to create the conditions for work together. We all see many potentially great things that we do not choose because we do not have the trust to make a confident choice. Nobody likes a regret spend.
Branding is necessary for that, especially in sharing the purpose, capability, strategy and credentials that are business-critical for our customers.
It is easy to overlook branding in B2B and go straight for the sell close stage, but this approach will often stumble because the fundamentals needed between the businesses are not in place. When done well, branding is almost invisible; it builds over the long term and avoids short term hype cycles. Most importantly, it shows empathy and alignment between the provider and the buyer, which underpins the value of doing business together.
I’m passionate about the benefits of a consistent, long term branding approach integrated within the business and becomes innate in all it does. It’s my job to advocate for that, and in ESG and our investors, we have a community that shares our belief.
What is the brand’s general perception within your business versus how it was a few years ago? How has it changed, and what are your hopes for your brand in the next few years?
I’ve been back in our business for five years and sought to evolve our brand from the first basis of smarter energy into the next basis of how it serves our future society.
Our sector and our business have transitioned from the original footing of competitive energy through the smart meter era and into the consumers becoming a vital cog in owning their energy requirements. As you know, the devices in our homes can contribute to our energy requirements, and we can now provide shared rewards for their flexibility. There isn’t one technology, provider or algorithm that solves all this; in our global society, we’re right at the start of a journey across decades. So for us, we are seeking to position our brand to empower those who deliver this journey and to turn the technological complexity into easy, digestible brand messaging.
As we all understand, our people are the business. We engage continually to form, share, and involve them in our sector’s journey, purpose, brand, and ethics to help further unleash our people’s passion.
I believe our sector, our business and our shared future are increasingly exciting for everyone to be part of.
We’re empowering those businesses underpinning our future society, and there’s a real sense of mission for us as we collaborate to make an even more extensive contribution.
Right now, we are all transitioning to a new model of blended work and home living; this will have some enduring changes to how we all want to lead our lives. At ESG, we’re embracing that proactively so that we work, live and interact in ways that contribute to the best lives. Our customers share this thinking, and it is opening up new conversations about how we collaborate. That’s an exciting, new area where we can use our branding and ethics to shape our future business.
What lessons have you learned about simplifying complex concepts/technologies during branding?
In this era, the cliché is that everyone is a start-up, and everyone believes they could create software. So branding isn’t about the detailed specifics, which comes afterwards. There is a crucial difference between the long-term signals of branding and the short term considerations of buying.
Being a B2B provider, the right branding brings us the opportunity conversation. From there, we need to underpin the branding with the correct sales requirements. In branding, I am forever saying, ‘let’s make it simpler’ to increase our messaging’s directness and increase the contact points we have with our customer community. It’s also important to say that aligning our purpose with that of our customers is pivotal; it’s their success that we are empowering, and we keep that carefully in mind at all times.
When building an energy brand, how much emphasis do you place on emotion versus rationality? Does “feeling” and emotive resonance have a place within your brand strategy?
In the past, when energy companies mostly looked like each other and did the same thing, there was less emotion in the buyer decision. With more competitive choice, diverse ways to engage and the possible benefits from new technology, the buyer decision becomes more nuanced. There isn’t one typical buyer, even within one energy customer segment – so understanding the customer base, building a brand that connects to them and meeting their (often unrealized) aspirations is increasingly essential.
Cost, sustainability, technology empowerment and service are four critical considerations for customers with different buyer needs in their balance of priorities, at different stages of life. Branding itself will change as we move from energy markets where choice and switching are the emphases for cost savings towards customer retention as a foundation to build mutual reward from distributed technologies.
What worked in one era might not in the next for energy companies and their providers. The focus I mentioned before is that branding creates trust, and therefore is critical to support buying decisions. Given where we’re going, the focus on brand and leveraging it to forge consumer confidence will become even more vital, especially as our customers strive to gain, keep and grow with their customers in the next energy era.
When you look back on your time in your role, what honest mistakes have you made that you’ve learned from building your brand and key business relationships?
Mistakes are part of the work; I try to learn from each.
Things I have learned: Keep it simple. Value thought. Share continually. Nurture our team.