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  • September 14, 2017

Take a deep breath and dive deep into the wild waters of utility marketing

Yes, utility marketing. I put those two words together. I know it’s odd. I know it’s unheard of, really. We usually talk about reaching out to utility customers in terms of communications, education, notifications—in terms more academic and more, let’s face it, what we consider noble.

And we all want to be noble. Or we think we do, anyway.

But, these days in the modern, moving, electric and electronic world, we also need marketing—things that are fun, things that are, in the words of Travis Brickey, Senior Program Manager of Communications at TVA, “memorable.”

Brickey’s biggest “memorable” marketing idea, which he passed out to the audience at the E Source Forum 2017 “Bridging Hyperdigital and Authentically Analog: Marketing and Communications in a Polarized World” session, made the people noticeably respond (and sometimes giggle).

Me? My first reaction was to feel for whether it had gum. (It did—just like this product had when I was a kid.)

The product? Trading cards.

We each got a pack of TVA Dam trading cards, which, like the traditional trading card types have a handful of options and lets you know you can “collect all 25.”

This was a hugely successful marketing product for TVA. They’ve had 50,000 packets of these cards distributed so far, despite purposefully making the cards hard to get. And TVA connected the cards to their digital space with a photo contest (which is, conversely, also advertised on the pack itself, making it work both digital and analog).

They also expand the stories of each card on the website as well, really making it a complete advertising package. Additionally, TVA had done a physical “record” (which is shaped and sleeved like a musical record but is actually a list of literal records, including info on flood control, power, recreation and water quality). It does not, unfortunately, actually play “Free Bird” or anything, though still awesome.

Their next upcoming push: an Instagram road trip featuring a TVA historian traveling across TVA territory and putting those notes and photos online.

Brickey was followed by (and matched by—though not one-upped by) Todd Lazurca, Communication Services Manager at SaskPower, who discussed a more granular customer marketing campaign not with a general aim but with a targeted, segmented safety aim.

Lazurca pointed out that his particular utility in Saskatchewan has “more power poles than people,” and that one of their biggest issues are physical grid issues because “people and beavers keep touching [our grid].”

So, one of SaskPower’s marketing programs is focused on safety—specifically on keeping construction equipment and farm equipment from taking down power lines and other hardware in the area.

They had gone traditional routes with posters and stickers for safety, but those options didn’t seem to really speak to the heart or mind of the customer. They were easy to ignore. They didn’t connect emotionally and didn’t bring in the experience factor.

Lazurca revealed that the utility saw 975 contacts by farm and construction equipment last year. So, they knew they needed something more, something extra, some new way of thinking beyond their traditional message. They needed to put a spin on it.

For construction, they started with this message:

 

Handling large equipment?

Remember to #LOOKUPANDLIVE

 

But how do they start the conversation? They didn’t have access to construction workers and teams directly. They weren’t the people providing safety advice to these people. So what did they do?

They thought INSIDE the box—well inside a very specific box, namely: the men’s room.

They modified the signs a bit, added humor and posted them inside men’s bathrooms.

One example of the humor modification:

 

Distractions cause a real mess.

Remember to #LOOKUPANDLIVE

 

They also took their traditional “five steps to safety” message and put it on hats rather than posters. Not on the outside, but inside the rim on the hat liner (with a larger #LOOKUPANDLIVE on the underside of the brim itself where that safety message is always in their line of sight). Since the hats were attractive with the safety message inside rather than covering the outside, they became very popular giveaways for the utility.

So what do these outside-thinking marketers want you to take away for your utility marketing experience?

  • Think like your customer: what catches your attention as a consumer? Use that knowledge.
  • Talk to your customer: send some people out there—to fairs, to neighborhood events.
  • Join your customer’s community: If you don’t have the money to make, sponsor. (SaskPower sponsors a popular kiss cam at football games, for example.)
  • Make your customer think about you differently: Erase that inner assumption they have of how you are supposed to be.

 

Other reads from the E Source Forum:

 

Think outside the box even more with these fun reads:

 

Lead art from the website for TVA's trading cards.

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