An effective digital marketing strategy is essential for reaching utility customers and establishing a long-lasting digital relationship over time. To genuinely connect with customers, utilities must embrace a relevant outreach strategy.
As another year has come and gone, the digital marketing landscape has continued to evolve with the emergence of new trends and technologies. It’s crucial for utilities to adapt to the evolving digital marketing landscape to ensure their communications are relevant and engaging for customers.
Our recent webinar, “2024 Digital Marketing Trends and Best Practices,” provided insights and strategies from marketing experts Brian Lindamood, Questline Digital’s VP of Marketing and Content Strategy, and Jonathan Nelson, Sr. Digital Marketing Manager, Growth with the American Marketing Association. They discussed what’s new in the digital marketing world as well as best practices for the upcoming year to revolutionize the way utilities engage with customers.
What’s new and trending for digital marketing in 2024?
- Content Marketing
- Social Media
- Artificial Intelligence
Content Marketing Trends for 2024
To kick off the webinar, Nelson introduced the EEAT, which stands for:
This is a framework used by Google to evaluate content for search engine optimization, or SEO. Content that encompasses EEAT is more likely to show up on the first page of Google search results, which makes it a valuable guide to follow while creating content.
Nelson recommends that utilities should incorporate the EEAT framework in everything they do. He advises to consider your audience and assess if your content is engaging and consumable.
“You’re writing for someone who is not nearly as involved in the industry as you are. Take time to explain and walk them along the process and your thoughts,” says Nelson. “My general recommendation is to write something that you want to read. You should be publishing and creating content that you’re excited about.”
The concept of EEAT lends itself to the work Questline Digital does with utilities nationwide. “EEAT is right in the wheelhouse of how we create content for utilities. Content marketing is a chance to educate customers about utility topics to inform them without being promotional. You can explain programs without directly selling,” says Lindamood. As content becomes educational and engaging, it builds trust among customers and reinforces the utility’s authenticity.
Newsletter Trends for 2024
Newsletters are another way that EEAT and authenticity can be implemented into utility digital marketing strategies. Newsletters provide a chance for utilities to establish a digital relationship with customers that extends beyond the monthly bill. They are an engaging and meaningful touchpoint that offers an opportunity to add value to customers on a consistent basis.
“No one likes parting with their money. Having a form of communication where you aren’t asking for money and you’re just providing value is a fantastic route for any organization to go after,” says Nelson. “I think utility companies in particular have a huge opportunity to help educate and reach out to their community.”
Lindamood agreed, explaining that newsletters are an especially effective way to deliver relevant and timely information directly to a customer’s inbox. “As a consumer, it saves time and cuts out the digital clutter of trying to find that information on your own time,” he says.
Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) utilized this approach, establishing a monthly residential email newsletter that included educational content for customers, plus information on the utility’s programs. As a result of this implementation, SWEPCO saw a substantial increase in J.D. power scores for customer satisfaction and increased participation in its energy efficiency programs.
Like SWEPCO, the results of consistent digital communications, such as newsletters, can be substantial. “Newsletters have an impact on your overall brand and company health,” says Nelson.
Social Media Trends for 2024
Harnessing social media is imperative for proactive digital marketing and customer outreach strategies. “Social media and content marketing are linked very closely together. I don’t think one works super well without the other,” says Nelson.
Many industries, including the utility industry, use social media not just for content marketing but also as a customer service channel. For effective customer service, X (formerly known as Twitter) and Facebook were recommended by Nelson, as they are ubiquitous and have robust direct messaging services.
TikTok and Instagram reels, centered around videos, offer an ideal platform for sharing educational and entertaining content. “Utility companies might not necessarily think that they are out there to entertain always, but they absolutely are,” says Nelson. “When people are on social media they’re looking for something to make their day better.”
In fact, businesses that are not traditionally associated with social media are succeeding. Nelson provided an example from the Milwaukee Public Library, which is effectively creating entertaining content on TikTok and encouraging engagement. The library’s efforts are enticing more visitors to the library, a substantial win for digital marketing tactics. With the rise in TikTok and Instagram Reels, vertical videos have become common and Nelson doesn’t see this changing anytime soon.
Another popular social media platform, LinkedIn, had a major algorithm update to their feed this past June, which now works similarly to the EEAT framework. This means that the more that content follows EEAT — experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness — the more likely it is to show up on LinkedIn users’ feeds, therefore increasing engagement.
While many usages of social media from X to TikTok are rapidly increasing, organic social media reach for companies has been declining and is continuing to do so. Nelson advises utilities not to be discouraged. He explains, “It’s just how the system works.”
Artificial Intelligence Trends for 2024
It’s widely recognized that artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an important tool and widely discussed topic for marketers. “Something is new with AI every day,” says Nelson. “Don’t wait to start using it. Get comfortable through trial and error and give it a shot.”
AI signifies a transformative change in technology, reshaping the functioning of various industries, and carries the potential to revolutionize the landscape of digital marketing. Nelson mentioned that AI has streamlined workflows and made it easier to solve marketing challenges, without replacing digital creators.
There are concerns with the accuracy and security of AI, but Nelson and Lindamood both recommend that these concerns can be mitigated with human oversight. While AI has not reached the stage of surpassing human capabilities, it stands as a highly valuable resource to make humans more efficient and effective in their work.
“It’s here to stay,” says Nelson. “This is going to be the next internet, the next smartphone. This is something that is going to change how everything functions.”
Overall Best Practices for 2024 Digital Marketing Trends
- Go where your audience is, not just where you want to be.
- Use personalization and segmentation to make sure your messages are relevant to customers’ interests.
- Don’t get bogged down in other people’s best practices; do what is right for your utility.
- Make sure your marketing strategy is driven by business goals, not the other way around. You should be communicating with customers for a reason.
All of these best practices are driven by consumers interests, preferences and needs. “Everything you do should have a purpose,” says Nelson. “Meet your customers where they are.”
An example from AEP Ohio highlighted the importance of providing relevant content to customers. The utility sought to increase engagement among business customers. To do so, the utility implemented monthly newsletters that were segmented by industry type, including healthcare, education and manufacturing. The results of this segmentation campaign were substantial, driving up to an 84% increase in customer engagement.
“AEP Ohio’ success underscores the point that customers will engage with content that they’re interested in, that’s relevant to them,” says Lindamood, “and a segmented content strategy is a good way to achieve that.”
An effective digital marketing strategy is critical for utilities to meet customer’s expectations and engage with them in their preferred channels. Incorporate the latest trends and strategies into your utility’s strategy and reinvigorate your digital marketing efforts for 2024.