CHARGE meets Diane Hughes, Nuscale

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As we approach CHARGE Energy Branding North America (June 1-2 | The Royal Sonesta Houston TX), we’ve been asking our top speakers and partners to reveal their approach to branding in energy.

In this article, we speak to Diane Hughes, Vice President of Marketing and Communications. Hughes leads all aspects of NuScale Power’s marketing and communication functions, including brand, marketing, external communication, digital experience and internal communication.

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?
First and perhaps most importantly, is being positioned with the “right” energy crowd. There are so many new technologies and means for creating some portion of the energy value chain that people distinguish between the “in” crowd or “old school” energy. You see vastly different valuations and attentions in the marketplace based on that distinction. So, if you’re ESG and carbon-free you’re cool, and everything else people tend to write off as not part of our energy future. For NuScale this means associating the brand more with its benefit (carbon-free) and innovation (scalable and flexible) that positions the brand as the “new” and future-directed technology that it is.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities today for energy companies as it relates to brand and marketing?
It’s really about creating a message and brand that’s “sticky” and can cut through the clutter of all the other firms trying to solve for the same thing. Energy firms create a commodity within a small product set. Electricity, for example, is just that: electricity. Gas is gas. So how can a brand stand out and create distinction when they ultimately are creating a very “basic” and common end product? Much of this has to do with creating a story, something interesting and engaging, as to how we get to that end product. Not about “making the sausage,” but rather the promise this technology brings to a whole new range of issues that address the energy needs of the future. At NuScale, we’ve made our technology more flexible and scalable than ever seen before and can bring carbon-free energy to applications around the world and throughout the industry around the clock. That hasn’t been achieved before, by nuclear or other means, and is an example of how energy companies need to think bigger about their role in the energy sector to position themselves for greater engagement.

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?
Emotion is definitely a critical issue. Nuclear (and energy in general) is so complex and rational, and those that create and operate those technologies need to understand that and speak that language. But beyond a small number of players in the value chain, energy needs to mean more and do more than be a commodity, and that’s where emotion comes in and helps distinguish a brand and/or approach from others in the market. What can energy do for you? What can energy do for us? Those are emotional questions, and ones that if you “crack the code” on behalf of your brand, you’ll have advocates and influencers standing behind you. Anytime you reach beyond the engineers and the accountants, you see nothing but emotion in the market as it pertains to how people think and feel about energy. Look at any discussion or debate on the carbon-free issue, or the importance of ESG – they are primarily fueled by emotion. Therefore, a brand that understands that and crafts its position around that understanding has a better chance to stand for something unique rather than being entirely driven by facts and figures.

What lessons have you learned about simplifying complex concepts/technologies for branding and communications?
Mantras and soundbites work! Both internal and external audiences need something simple, memorable, and repeatable to really cement a complex topic into their minds beyond their immediate attention span. We’ve done that with our tagline (Power for All Humankind) and with the strategic pillars that support all our communications (Smarter, Cleaner, Safer, Cost Competitive). We have people internally reciting them, living them, and people externally following our story because it is simple and engaging enough to understand, and provides a reason to care. If Apple had ever been about the intricate detail of the technology inside their products, no one would have cared. But by articulating “Think Different,” and driving that into all they do (product and communications), it sticks, it’s relatable, it’s a value a lot of people share, and it’s future oriented. While we’ll never be perceived like Apple or similar brands, it’s that concept of focusing our purpose to just a few key and relatable thoughts that really works to demystify the complexity of nuclear energy and makes the brand approachable, relatable, and ultimately memorable.

Diane Hughes is part of a panel session at CHARGE Energy Branding North America (June 1-2 | The Royal Sonesta Houston TX). Register to attend, and join +300 C-Level energy utilities, retailers, developers, power producers and e-mobility leaders in Houston TX to learn, network, and deliver the US energy transition here now; https://charge.events/usa/tickets/