EEC Perspectives

Utility Communications: Don’t Overlook (Or Shoot!) The Messenger

When I write or speak about utility communications, I tend to focus on the “message” part of the communications process, i.e., which words should be used and which ones should be avoided in order to achieve a desired result. Like this post. And this post. Last month, when I spoke at the American Public Power Association’s National Conference, I focused on messengers, and I learned a lot.

I started my talk by reducing the communications process to its most elemental pieces, “message” and “messenger.” At a high level, everything about communications fits into one of those bins. Like the two interdependent pieces of the yin yang symbol (above),“message” and “messenger” fit together to form a whole. They can’t exist on their own. They gain strength from the other.

Think about it. A bad message can’t be effective regardless of the delivery system you select. And a bad message-delivery system will undermine even the best message.

Credit: Toby Sellier

In speaking to the APPA audience, my co-panelists and I focused on the messenger, specifically how utility retirees, employees and members of the community could be effective messengers for points a utility may want to make. The degree to which these messengers would succeed depended on their credibility and the quality or believability of the message.

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Another Copper Bullet in the War Against Utility Scams

Credit: iStock/almagani

Did you participate in Facebook’s recent “10 concerts” meme? You know the one — Facebook users were invited to list nine concerts they actually attended and one they didn’t. Their FB friends were asked to guess which one was not, in fact, attended by that person. The meme swept through FB-land like wildfire, drawing millions of responses in a matter of days.

For my Facebook friends that participated in that meme (one person I know listed 50 concerts he had gone to in his life), I learned a lot about their musical tastes. Scammers may have too. If the password to your email, bank account or credit card is some variant of “Pink Floyd” or “Brad Paisley,” you may soon be the victim of a scam.

Credit: iStock/ridofranze

Hopefully you were not a victim of the “Can you hear me?” phone-based scam, which started making the rounds in early 2017. This is the one where you receive a call and the caller starts by asking, “Can you hear me?” When unsuspecting victims answered “yes,” they exposed themselves to all sorts of trouble in their digital and financial world.

More recently, we have the WannaCry ransomware scam, which affected tens of thousands of computers in over 100 countries. Hopefully you were not hit with this.

Just last month, word got out about the newest cyberattack, where hackers were able to embed malware directly into social media posts. “While corporations and government agencies around the world are training their staff to think twice before opening anything sent by email, hackers have already moved on to a new kind of attack, targeting social media accounts, where people are more likely to be trusting,” The New York Times reported.

Great, next the scammers will find a way to get directly inside the fillings in my teeth.

Cyber attacks and scams work because scammers are masters of social engineering, the art of taking bits of information someone provides and using it against them. It’s not that the victims are dumb, it’s that the scammers are playing on another level.

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Utility Marketing: Creating a Value Proposition That Resonates

Credit: The New Yorker

What, if anything, can utility marketers learn from companies that are not in the business of providing electricity, natural gas or water? Longtime readers know my views on that: lessons are everywhere, from insurance companies to football teams, airlines and telecommunications companies. You just have to be open to the potential that some company not engaged in the provision of utility services could have a meaningful insight that could affect utility marketing.

“You could observe a lot by just watching,” Yogi Berra (right) once said. I was reminded of that particular head-scratcher the other day, when I was standing in line in my local credit union.

Normally I conduct business at the credit union using their drive-through window, but on this particular day I had to transact a more complicated piece of business. I thought I would be out the door quickly, so I left my mobile device in the car. Deprived of that omnipresent tool of digital distraction, I found myself checking out the newly remodeled credit union branch.

I observed a lot just by watching.

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