When you think energy sector you don’t necessarily instantly think consumer brand. When reviewing the UK’s internationally recognised Superbrands 2016 list it is instantly apparent that not one energy company or brand features in the Top 20 Consumer Brands list. The list is instead dominated by the likes of Apple, Rolex, Mercedes-Benz and Coca-Cola.
Yet the energy sector is actually home to some of the world’s biggest and most instantly recognisable brands. Think ExxonMobil, Vattenfall, and RWE. When reviewing Business Superbrands 2016 rankings, energy, and specially oil and gas outfits, make up 10% of the top 20 in the form of BP and Shell. The remainder of the list is unsurprisingly dominated by so-called ‘sexier’ sectors, including Technology, Financial Services and Healthcare.
A multitude of organisations have built on their heritage and invested heavily in brand, especially those that are end-user-facing. Most of these could be identified anywhere in the world, from Austria to Australia, and many benefit from owning and managing customer retail sites and products – Shell being one such example.
But brand, and the ability to be instantly recognisable, also has its drawbacks, as was demonstrated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico following the incident in 2010. Instead, we would argue that demonstrating leadership, especially in today’s highly sceptical society, brings far greater levels of positive brand equity.
Yet in a sector that traditionally has low levels of public trust, challenges in attracting and retaining young talent, and is considered by some to be the organisations of yesterday, how do you establish a position of leadership? And further still, is it worth it?
The answer to the second question is easier – yes. As any communications professional will advise, it’s better to be known for what you want to be known for, rather than having a brand and perception solely devised by others.
Answering the first question is harder, with every organisation having its own set of unique challenges. Yet from our experiences, we are able to provide the following core principles for success:
1. Agree what you want to be known for
It sounds simple, yet is by far the hardest challenge. Agreeing consensus as to what you want to be known for in terms of leadership, especially amongst a management team, is by the far the hardest part.
2. Communicate your organisation’s purpose
You no longer have to be a customer to hold an opinion or impact an organisation’s reputation, especially in the energy sector. Given the industry is much misunderstood, the necessity to communicate your purpose and role within society beyond providing safe and reliable energy production and distribution is clear.
3. Be human; uncover the strongest stories and story tellers
Given the nature of the energy industry, and an ever increasing focus on achieving greater energy efficiency, the days of telling an audience to buy more of your products are over. Additionally, for the energy sector the product in question holds little emotional connection or brand loyalty. There is therefore a need to identify the strongest stories, from innovation successes to CSR activities, and your corporate story tellers to ensure these are delivered with a personal tone. There is a need to make it relevant to ‘the man on the street’… so talking about infrastructure integrity won’t cut it.
4. Operate a channel neutral approach
A good story has the ability to be deployed through a multitude of channels and be self-promoting. Channel neutrality is a critical element to reach the end target.
5. Measure and refine
Improvement can only be made with effective measurement. No leadership campaign should be considered successful or unsuccessful until effective measurement has taken place.
This article is a part of the September 2016 edition of MSLGROUP’s ON Energy Report – Navigating a Changing Energy Landscape. If you want to find out more about the work we do, or enquire as to how we might be able to help, don’t hesitate to contact Nick Bastin
Liam is a seasoned PR and communications professional with a proven track record for developing and delivering corporate communication strategy, employer branding, change communications, and reputation management campaigns across multiple channels. He has considerable experience within the energy and resources sector having worked with some of the world’s leading organisations.