Branding: Three Things You May Be Doing That Don’t Work

by Terry Taylor

You’re at a crossroads with your branding, marketing, advertising or other communications. To paraphrase department store icon and branding legend, John Wannamaker, you know half of your branding budget is being wasted, you just don’t know which half.

And that’s not the half of it.

Communications channels are in flux these days. TV, radio, print, interactive, direct response and corporate communications are scrambled like lightning-fried wires in a transformer box. The old rules no longer apply. Sometimes the new rules don’t even apply. In this churning environment of change, let’s look at the top three things you may be doing that don’t work anymore.

MISALIGNED AND DISCONNECTED. Your energy company hires a firm to help it find its vision and build a brand. People are interviewed. Information is compiled and analyzed. Conclusions are written. The end result is a PowerPoint presentation, a deck of information, maybe a new mission statement and tagline with a new logo and graphic standards.

Management is handed an invoice and left standing in the conference room with no concept of how to implement their “brand” either internally or externally. Now what?

Companies often end up with a tagline and a guide on how not to use the new logo, instead of inspired thinking about a real, passionate and actionable brand. If all you have for your efforts are logos, typefaces, a tagline and some graphic standards, you missed your brand by a few hundred thousand dollars.

Your brand is a living, breathing organism. It has a soul. It’s not one thing; it is everything. It’s not just a logo or a tagline or a color, as important to your brand as those things are. You’re more than two arms, two legs, a head and torso; you’re more than just your clothes.

Add to this situation another brutal reality for energy companies: Few people think about your brand until something goes wrong. Then it’s all they think about. That’s when your people must deliver your brand up close and personal with your customers. And that’s why building a seriously and passionately understood brand that is aligned both internally and externally, with your own people as well as your customers, is the only thing worth paying for.

When the power goes out or the gas goes off, nobody can see your graphic standards, but they sure can feel the truth of your brand in your people. So make sure you align and connect your brand inside and out just like you do those pipes and wires and cables.

COMPELLING IRRELEVANCE. Never under-estimate how little people care about their energy company. And never talk to them. Talk with them.

Would you rather be a part of an interesting and relevant conversation about your job, or listen to a speech about someone else’s? It’s that simple. So make sure you include your customers in the conversation and when you talk, talk about them, not you.

“But,” you say, “it’s the information age; people want more information.”

People don’t want more information about their energy company unless you’re cutting their bill or repairing their outage. They want world peace and to be thin and rich, maybe, but they don’t want a laundry list of things that are emotionally irrelevant to them. We are over-informed and overly cynical because of it. We don’t want more information, we want to control our information.

You can have the most amazing energy company in the world and you can run the most amazing energy company commercial ever conceived. But people would still rather watch re-runs of “I Love Lucy” than your commercial. Truth.

LOOKING FOR BRANDING IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES. This is a tricky one. Branding trouble for many energy companies starts with an RFP, strangely enough. It may be the most misused business practice in branding.

The work presented to you in the ubiquitous dog and pony show is based on little more than semi-educated guesses based on quick brushes with easily available information. It needs to be based on you and your customers but seldom does the presenter really know you or them. It’s a flawed process.

“But,” you say, “it helps us understand how that company thinks.”

Do you give away energy to clients so they can see how you pipe that gas or deliver that power? No. In a new business pitch, much of the work is last minute and seldom built on anything harder than a cursory glance at your company or business. Look at the company’s real work and measurable results from a branding company’s paying clients. And don’t just look at their energy company work. Look at all of their work.

Change the RFP paradigm. Treat it no differently than looking for a doctor-the company you choose will be performing surgery on your brand. Check out other work at Utility Communicators International (UCI). RFPs in their current form are wonderful for commodity products or services-but not for your branding.


Terry Taylor is creative director at Big River, a vision branding company in Richmond, Va. Big River has worked with many energy companies and won “Best of Show” three times in the Utility Communicators International (UCI) Better Communications Competition. Big River is known nationally for its strategic creative work and its blogs and the “Brand Garage” feature on its website,

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