Inside-out branding – The Mary Powell way

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For the last few years, Dr. Friðrik Larsen has been interviewing the energy sector’s greatest leaders, thinkers and innovators. Check out this short article on Mary Powell’s “inside-out branding”.

I spoke to Mary Powell a number of times as she was leaving Green Mountain Power after 12 years as CEO. Indicatively, a profile on the Vermontbiz.com portal bid her farewell with the headline “She was fast, fun and effective”, and concluded that “she created a company culture of “Yes!””. Around a year after interviewing Powell, I spoke to Mari McClure, Powell’s successor. The company passed on to McClure was vastly different to the “very bureaucratic, very stuffy and very traditional” entity described by Powell.

“The backbone of what we did could never have happened if I didn’t have the license to completely transform the place financially.” said Powell. This was the start of a process she terms “inside-out branding”.

Powell says that first you must change the inside and then build your brand which through those changes, becomes an external force through good times and bad. “I’m a firm believer in that your brand is the result, not the beginning.” Powell adds, and that result is an emotional connection with your customers.

“My first message, right up through my last message, has always been about how we create an organization that is doing things that make customers want to love us. I remember telling my predecessor that we needed to become the Ben and Jerry’s of the utility world.” who over the last 40 years have become synonymous with an activist attitude to corporate-social responsibility. A practical corollary of this ‘activist’ approach to branding is Powell’s insistence on earning, rather than paying for media coverage. To do that, she says they need to be doing things that earn them the media. She admits that she, in fact, cut traditional advertising and marketing budgets dramatically in order to implement this.

Staying on the theme of her inside-out branding in the context of corporate budgets, Powell connects it with her staff-development agenda. “Once you start aligning your brand with the internal world of the company, then some of the things that might not strike you as obviously connected to branding, such as training, development and building the company culture, become part of it.” She says that spending money on branding is about the internal work you need to do to become the company you want to be.

This conceptual wrap of the practical decisions that Powell implemented shows that utilities, on either side of the Atlantic, are fast becoming part of a public-political conversation not just on the broad outlines of environmental policy, but on the actual workings of the energy business.

The article is written from the chapter Branding In America – Mary Powell And Mari McClure On Building And Maintaining An Energy Brand from Dr. Larsen’s book Sustainable Energy Branding: Helping to Save the Plane. The book will be published and available to buy on on all major platforms in November 2022.