5 branding tips for utilities looking to modernize

5 branding tips for utilities looking to modernize

More marketing and communications leaders inside utilities are paying attention to refreshing their brand. But they face a fundamental challenge in that task: their organization isn’t used to doing it.

As the utility industry shifts to clean energy, new technologies, and more consumer engagement and control, new skillsets are needed to transform the brand.

For PSEG, a utility serving New Jersey and Long Island, a new business strategy and a 2030 net zero carbon emissions goal triggered a desire to refresh its brand.

“We hadn’t looked at our brand in a couple of decades. We recently sold off all our fossil fuel generation, we have new goals around clean energy, we are focusing more on ESG, and we are competing more to attract and retain employees. It was time to think more deeply about what we stand for and how we tell that story."

Karen Cleeve
PSEG Vice President, Corporate Communications

Build trust, not just transactions

Defining what your organization stands for and acting on it are the essential elements of brand development. The ultimate outcome from brand development is building trust. Think of branding as a promise made and delivered to all your stakeholders, including customers, regulators, investors, and employees. It’s the sum of the values, behaviors, interactions, visuals, and stories that surround a business.

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ICF led the brand refresh process with PSEG and these five lessons we learned are valuable for all utility marketing and communications leaders.

1. Brand building is an inside-out exercise. 

While most people think about brand as an expression you share externally, the refinement of an organization’s brand starts internally. The brand is an expression of who you are as an organization, and the commitments you intend to live every day. So, the process of defining that starts with deep interviews with leaders and employees to understand what drives the organization and its culture.

Once that is complete, then you can define how to express your brand externally through messaging and visuals. When it’s done right, leaders and employees will rally round a refreshed brand because it’s a clear expression of what they hold most dear about their role in serving their customers and community.

2. Educate and involve executives early.

Brand development should rise to the C-suite of the organization, but it’s not typically something they are trained to understand.

Reflecting on the success of PSEG’s brand refresh, Cleeve said, “One of the most important things to know about this process is that there’s a lot of education needed for leadership and employees. There’s uncertainty about what a brand is. It is often attributed to just the logo. But our refresh is absolutely about the evolution of our company and culture, and we needed our leaders to understand that and be able to trickle that down into the organization.”

Executives will want to understand that earning brand trust delivers very specific benefits to utilities, including investor preference, permission to operate, and increased engagement in customer programs.

3. Brand is for the entire organization.

While communications and marketing executives take the lead on brand transformation, it’s a mistake for the organization to think of this as an exercise only for them and their team.

Brand development has the potential to positively influence many areas of the business including human resources, public affairs, investor relations, and customer service—as well as help unify company culture.

A refreshed brand serves as a true north and filter for many initiatives in the organization:

  • Telling your story to customers.
  • Contributing to the employee value proposition.
  • Determining where to invest in communities, partnerships, and sponsorships.
  • Communicating intentions to investors, regulators, and policymakers.
  • Executive decision-making to ensure alignment with highest values.

4. Training and ongoing optimization is essential.

A brand refresh has many moving parts and needs a lot of internal marketing and communications people engaged for successful implementation.

Their buy-in helps the organization embrace what the new brand means and how to deliver it consistently, from executive speeches and presentations, to advertising, to investor and customer messaging, and community events.

It’s also important to do the following:

  • Develop a digital brand hub for easy access to the brand standards and visual identity with downloadable assets.
  • Create a well-defined brand training program customized for different groups—a broad view for general employees, and more detailed approaches for marketing and communications teams, agencies, and other vendors—to ensure consistent execution across the organization.
  • Create a team of brand ambassadors who can review and approve new assets and coach teams as they implement the new brand.

5. Overcommunicate.

During PSEG’s brand refresh, we encountered employees who said they needed more information about the rebrand, even though we’d shared it previously.

Best communication practices say you must tell customers something six times before they start to grasp it. Apply the same principles to communicating the rebrand inside your organization. Be very intentional in explaining not only what you are doing but why you are doing it.

The return on investment for a brand refresh is well worth it. Data shows that customers with higher brand trust are more likely to engage in and recommend your utility programs and services. And there’s information that says utilities with higher brand-level satisfaction get a higher percentage of their requested rate increase.

The road to a successful brand refresh needs a thorough inside-out process, new approaches, and committed partnerships.

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Meet the author
  1. Matt Silverman, Senior Partner, Brand and Reputation Strategy

    Matt is an expert in brand, marketing, and corporate communications strategy with more than 20 years of experience. View bio