The Utility Industry’s 3 Big Trends and How to Embrace Them

August 24, 2020 Adam Dore

Now that many of us are working from home, we’re relying more heavily than usual on our utility providers, as well as on the digital channels we use to search for, locate, and buy essential services. Consequently, in this new era of socially distanced online activity, utility providers are discovering new ways to connect with us to share what they have to offer. 

Today three macro trends are having a direct effect on how utility providers are marketing themselves, as each one represents a huge opportunity to engage and educate consumers on the latest utility services and offers. 

Omnichannel strategies 

The concept of utilizing more digital channels is old hat (or so you’d think). Direct mail is still huge in utilities and frankly it doesn’t need to be. Being a digital marketer, it’s easy for me to say that, but the truth is almost all providers have an app. Some have a pretty high digital opt-in rate (particularly on mobile) and therefore should explore that more.   

Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights conducted a survey in February and found that 78% of the consumers who responded had taken advantage of omnichannel features over the last six months. In a separate study of retail businesses, Digital Commerce 360 found that the top five omnichannel brands grew by over 40% more than their competitors who offer no omnichannel experiences at all. Also, the U.K.’s increase in online sales has been built primarily on omnichannel engagements.  

Clearly, omnichannel strategies are crucial to staying connected with consumers. The most important factor here though is, even if some engagement is over digital channels, very little of it is proactive. Campaigns are still very much collecting data from various data sources and delivering in a batch, ad hoc method. By being able to consolidate all your data, analyze it, and draw valuable insights from it, you have a stronger chance at delivering engagements that will inspire consumer interest and put your omnichannel touchpoints to best use.  

IoT and smart technologies  

Utility products with Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities and smart homes are becoming more common. These are opening up new dimensions for actively engaging with your customers. By promoting IoT-related products, you can show your own tech sophistication and deliver devices that can enable customers to be more efficient with their utility usage and save money. You’ll also have an added advantage of being able to have another source for gathering data, revealing what customers prefer and respond to best.  

Smart metering in Europe is continually increasing. In 2019’s fourth quarter, the smart home market grew by 20%, and Business Insider Intelligence predicts that by 2026 64 billion IoT devices will be in use around the world.   

At the next level of maturity, there is even the opportunity to promote your business on those devices. With these IoT tools, consumers have all the information about their home at their fingertips, and so do you as their provider. Analyzing this data can help your organization align your marketing strategies with your customers’ needs and preferences. 

Due to this, the utilities industry is experiencing a larger data glut than many other industries. Yet the key here is understanding what data to use and when. We know consumption data, for example, is massively important. As soon as people meet their thresholds on high consumption, you should plan to send information on smart meters to them straight away and on their preferred channel. It’s fine if that’s direct mail, but you can also get offers to them more quickly via an app, customer portals, or SMS. Do your customers already have a smart meter? Great — now think about opportunities to proactively market bundling offers to them. By using data intelligently, you have many opportunities to upsell and cross-sell. 

Renewable energy plans are an obvious upsell choice, but how can we actively promote them? Again, it comes down to segmentation and data. How do you know if solar is good for someone? Is it just based on their demographics? No, as discussed. there is more to it than that, and by creating a data-driven profile of your customers, you’ll be able to determine which upgrades and enhancements will best match up with them. 

Customers relocating  

People are moving to new homes more frequently than ever, so we need to be able to accomplish two things: be ahead of this trend and, worst case, have the infrastructure to respond to a house move quickly. Being ahead is all about consumer engagement; the only tangible sign of someone preparing to relocate is behavioural, i.e., tracking navigation and engagement on customer portals, your website, or apps. As an absolute minimum, your goal should be to use the information you’ve gathered to begin this stage of the lifecycle. Noting that there is a lot going on for consumers at this time (and frankly their utilities provider isn't the first item on their long list), it’s critical that the timing of the communications you send is matched to their situation and behaviour. A good practice is to send the initial communication quickly, so you’re first to offer a service, but then to encourage their engagement with you and serve up the information after they’ve provided their permission.  

The worst-case scenario is that you need to wait until they’ve moved before you find out. That will in truth be the vast majority of cases (although it is down to you as the provider to change that). Nevertheless, the opportunity is very much alive, but the window of opportunity here is naturally shorter, so you can afford to be more aggressive. I keep saying it — it comes down to data. Have you captured the area they are moving to and do you offer a specific tariff in that area? Is that area one of dominance for you? Is their situation (e.g., moving out of their parents’ home) one that you excel in? All these variations should be considered ahead of time, of course, and that comes through creating a close picture of your customer journey and mapping your potential campaigns to it.  

Taking actionable steps 

That brings us to the question, how can you respond to these trends? 

Our team has been working closely with a leading European utilities company, so I can certainly speak from experience. Naturally, each situation is different; as every consultant will tell you, there is no ‘golden template.’ Nevertheless, here are a few steps to get you on your way: 

  1. Develop customer personas and journeys: Segmenting your range of customers into different groups will enable you to target them more effectively, and by understanding their journeys, you’ll know which touchpoints will be the most effective. 
  2. Plan your channel engagements: Map out the channels you can engage on, how many people are opted in for those channels, and what data you may (or may not) be able to leverage from those channels. Hint: Think mobile. 
  3. Analyze your campaign lifecycle: What campaigns do you currently run and where do they sit on your lifecycle? Could someone really follow an automated path from initial engagement to advocate? Where are there gaps? What are the considerations, e.g., relocating, as described above? 
  4. Examine your consumer data touchpoints: Think about where your data will come from: contracts and billing, product libraries, apps, a website, CRM, or customer portals. Then consider what is most important. 

These tactics will not only help your organization embrace the major industry trends, but you’ll create a foundation for developing the maturity of your organization. As IoT devices become more prevalent, you’ll be able to gain the insights needed to create more personalized omnichannel experiences, allowing you to stay in step with customer behaviour during our current challenges and into the future.  

To learn more about embracing these trends, get in touch with one of our consultants today.  

About the Author

Adam Dore

Adam runs the European Marketing Automation practice for Appirio. He has a wealth of experience running programs for small start ups to multi-national corporates.

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