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An upheaval is occurring in the energy market that's reminiscent of the telecommunications industry after the Ma Bell breakup in the 1980s. As utility deregulation hits each state, companies have to build databases and launch direct mail campaigns and loyalty programs to educate consumers and businesses. DM News debuts a special focus section -- DM of Utilities -- in this week's print edition to address these marketing concerns.

The section will appear four times a year and will feature stories from the DM News staff and columns from experts in the field. This month, those experts are saying it's time to get with those direct marketing efforts. There's a great deal of confusion over deregulation and what it means, which is why consumers will rely heavily on direct mail to explain it to them in simple terms.

Contributor Duane Dahlheimer discusses a study that found a significant difference between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty: Price is the key. If energy customers are satisfied, but a competitor offers it cheaper, they'll lose them. Right now, most utilities only know the basics about their customers: names, addresses and usage data. So experienced DMers are going to have to come in and expand those databases. Contributor Richard Rosen says energy companies must get aggressive with their marketing efforts: "Smart utilities are building strong loyalty with their present customers -- and attracting new ones -- by marketing important value-added products to their audiences."

I received a direct mail piece from ConEd Solutions, a division of energy provider ConEd, last spring about New York's approaching deregulation and a $50 credit offer to my power bill if I signed up within 30 days. Did I? No, the information inside was too confusing, and I chose the everyman approach: I didn't do anything. Did I lose out? I'm still not sure. Just as marketers in the telecommunications industry learned, people want the facts -- straightforward and easy to understand. I hope someone's listening.

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