Utility Marketing: Are You Looking for Zebras in the Right Place?

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Shortly after I launched Egan Energy Communications, I had the good fortune to work with a business coach. When I asked her how I could find prospective clients, a perennial concern of all businesses, she replied, “If you want to see Zebras, you need to go where the Zebras are.”

Her wise advice has shaped our approach to utility marketing: we attend conferences, we sponsor webcasts, and we blog regularly, always hoping to meet new Zebras. We also ask Zebras we have found to let us know where their peers hang out, so we can meet more Zebras.

I recently recalled this wisdom of my coach’s advice, which I believe has been demonstrated as the U.S. battles the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of your viewpoint about the vaccines, it’s pretty clear that getting shots in arms is a classic illustration of the 80/20 principle (well, given vaccination rates, maybe it’s more like the 60/40 principle): A large proportion of the population (80%) can be inoculated with a relatively small effort (20%).

Communications Tip of the Month: When it comes to marketing energy-efficiency programs, going where the Zebras are means considering, or reconsidering, unconventional marketing approaches which could include using simple, high-impact messages, eye-catching art, or easy and convenient ways to enroll.

How Do Zebras and COVID Vaccines Relate to Utility Marketing?

Hang on here, there’s an important takeaway here for utility marketers.

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You’ve run ads in local news media. You’ve posted endlessly to social media. You’ve tinkered with incentive structures. But still only a small fraction of your eligible population is taking advantage of your energy-efficiency programs.

Maybe it’s time to think harder about different ways that you could meet the Zebras you are seeking.

In previous blogs, we have advocated partnering with human-service agencies, increasing your utility’s presence at community events, and launching or reactivating your speaker’s bureau. All three are proverbial watering holes where Zebras can be found.

We’ve also recommended utilities consider door-to-door outreach, possibly using retirees as your community ambassadors. Or sponsoring community concerts or movie nights.

I am aware of some utilities that have tried some or all of these non-traditional approaches to customer outreach. Great! But for many utilities, these “retail” efforts often don’t clear internal hurdles because they were deemed too expensive and too small.

Going Where the Zebras Are: Rethinking Utility Marketing Outreach

I’m pretty sure that was the tenor of the discussions within the vaccination community after inoculation rates fell from about 3.3 million per day in April to about 600,000 recently. Mass-inoculation sites set up at football and baseball stadiums and other public venues succeeded in getting millions of shots in the arms of those who wanted them. At this writing, slightly over 50% of the U.S population is fully vaccinated.

But then how to reach the “hard to reach”? Some places have offered people cash to get the vaccine. Others have launched lotteries of one kind or another, with varying levels of success. Musical artists, professional athletes and celebrities have been used to try to reach specific segments of the population, again with varying levels of success.

While surveys show about 25% of the population vow to never get the vaccine, another 25% or so are open to getting the vaccine but have not gotten it yet, for one reason or another. They cite convenience issues, childcare issues, lack of information, concerns over immigration status or the inability to take time off work.

Getting the shots into the arms of the one-quarter of the population that wants to get vaccinated will take a willingness to experiment in decentralized, retail, and other unconventional solutions, whether that means going door-to-door or setting up shop outside food banks, craft breweries, churches, large employers, or other venues. Some healthcare organizations are bringing mobile vaccination pop up tents and trailers directly into underserved communities. In other words, they’re going where the Zebras live.

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Obviously, utility energy efficiency programs are not life or death issues. But the lesson applies to utility marketing: When it comes to marketing energy-efficiency programs, going where the Zebras are means considering, or reconsidering, unconventional marketing approaches.

There’s some portion of your customer base that may be interested in energy efficiency programs, but for one reason or another they have not enrolled. Conversion rates sometimes come down to simple, high-impact messages, eye-catching art, or easy and convenient ways to enroll.

Ask yourself, “If I were a Zebra, where would I hang out?” Then make plans to get there! Remember, if it was easy, it would already have been done.

Retirees – Your New Feet on the Street

Have you tried to mobilize your retired employees as an adjunct communications and marketing resource? Few utilities have. Find out how Louisville Gas & Electric has been mobilizing its retirees for over 20 years.

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