Utilities go green

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Utilities go green
Utilities go green

With energy costs climbing and more states mandating energy-efficiency standards, utility companies have had to take on the difficult marketing task of convincing their customers to change their energy habits. The challenge for those creating campaigns is that these habits are often hard to break.

Customers, say experts, need more than a poster or mailing to make them change. Instead, they need incentive-based programs.

“Changing people's behavior [in this sector] is a tough thing to do,” admits Susan Calitri, senior marketing and advertising consultant for Ne­vada Power and Sierra Pacific Power. The utilities ran a joint campaign, which encouraged customers to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs by handing out free packs of bulbs at local casinos as well as events such as Cinco de Mayo and Heritage Days.

Misconceptions about the utility industry are also a challenge to over­come. Utilities get blamed for high cost of gas, because they are the ones sending the bills, says Mike Roeder, director of corporate communications for Vectren, a natural gas utility based in Indiana and Ohio. Vectren of­fered its customers rebates on energy-efficient appliances and products.

Due to the volatile nature of the market over the past few years, util­ity bills have continued to grow significantly. As a result, he explains, customers have been very critical of any campaigns that they view as “wasteful” marketing efforts.

Campaigns with an environmental bent, however, are viewed differ­ently. “Our customers see this as a message they can identify with,” Ro­eder says. “They think, ‘Finally, my utility is trying to partner with me to help me save money.'”

At the same time, conservation messaging can get old for many cus­tomers. It's done so much that you have to be careful about not coming across as being “Big Brother,” says Calitri, who tried to bring some hu­mor to the table with Nevada Power's campaign.

Because a utility's customer base generally consists of every household in a specific geographic area, when the company debuts a marketing cam­paign it needs to be community-wide effort, she continues, adding that utilities have to be hands-on if they want to reach their customers.

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