As energy consumers choose new electricity sources and show more interest in their overall consumption, the utility industry is paying more attention to the customer experiences it provides. Utility professionals now understand that their relationships with customers need to be built around two-way conversations.

In the latest edition of its “New Energy Consumer” report, Accenture paints a picture of utility customers seeking relationships with their energy providers that go beyond transactional. They are demanding more of their energy providers, especially when it comes to energy-efficient products and services.

The voices of these new energy consumers are getting louder, underscoring the need for utilities to take a customer-centric approach to their communications strategies. Utilities know they need to offer new products and capabilities. But they also need to understand the unique needs of each customer and develop relationships with them.

So, what are utilities doing?

How Content Marketing Affects the Utility Customer Experience

Now that brands in other industries are realizing the importance of creating content for specific stages of the customer journey, utilities are also finding it to be a valuable strategy for customer engagement and retention.

“When it comes to customer experience, a big motivation for utilities is to establish and maintain long-term relationships,” says Brian Lindamood, Vice President of Marketing and Content Strategy at Questline Digital. “After all, unlike most other companies we do business with, we have lifelong relationships with our utilities. That’s why content marketing can be so effective. It’s not about a sales cycle that can be measured in weeks or months. It’s a lifelong relationship.”

An effective content marketing program includes a variety of content types. Offering multiple communication options allows utility customers to choose their preferred method of engagement. Communication channels and potential content formats include:

Newsletters

When it comes to the content marketing channel that utilities use successfully, email newsletters are the winner, hands down. “Newsletters are the main channel for utilities in proactively getting their message into customer inboxes and on their phones,” says Lindamood. “The monthly touchpoint is an effective, low-key way to be visible in customers’ lives without bombarding them with ads or messages.”

The town of Benson, North Carolina has been enjoying outstanding customer engagement from its eNewsletter, which leverages videos, infographics and articles from the Questline Digital content catalog. In 2021, the utility’s monthly newsletter achieved an above-average open rate of 47.3% and an impressive click-to-open rate of 33%.

At Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE), the utility’s Key Accounts eNewsletter is improving engagement — and customer satisfaction — among business customers, with the metrics to prove it. “With Questline’s Key Account eNewsletter, we can track official metrics for customer engagement and have seen a related increase in satisfaction scores,” says Monika Campbell, Manager of Large Customer Services at BGE. “Our Key Account Managers who have higher eNewsletter opens have happier customers.”

Advice from Monika Campbell about improving customer experience in the utility industry

Social media, text and websites

Because millennials and Gen Z audiences are active users of mobile devices and prolific sharers on social media, many utilities are choosing to use social media platforms and text messaging to communicate with these audiences.

“Younger customers are used to getting their bills via text from other companies,” says Lindamood. “We’re seeing utilities increasingly using text messaging, especially for outage alerts, emergency messages and promotions.”

Websites, meanwhile, are used by most utilities for providing in-depth content resources like articles, infographics and videos.

Webinars

The experience of commercial and industrial (C&I) customers is important, too. In fact, because they have more options when it comes to suppliers, maintaining their loyalty can be a greater challenge. Webinars are an effective way to reach these customers and position your utility as a thought leader in energy end-use implementation.

Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest energy holding companies, has seen a substantial increase in customer engagement and its J.D. Power ratings since it began offering webinars to its C&I customers.

Improving the Utility Customer Experience With Relevant Content

A recent survey by Content Marketing Institute found that more than half of the companies delivering an optimal customer experience agreed that content marketing was a major contributor to their success. These marketers make it a priority to deliver relevant content when and where a customer is most likely to see it.

For energy utilities, that means providing customers with helpful content when they need it. “Using content marketing tactics to reach consumers on the channel they prefer can go a long way toward helping utilities meet their safety and educational goals,” Lindamood says. “Providing relevant and helpful information not only increases engagement, it improves the overall customer experience.”

Learn how a content marketing strategy from Questline Digital can help your utility improve the customer experience.

You created the perfect video to promote your utility program or service — now what? The next step is finding the ideal places to share your video to reach the right customers. That’s why understanding how to distribute video content is key to achieving success for your engagement strategy.

Your utility can create the best video in the world, but if it’s not shared on the right channels, it won’t reach the intended audience or accomplish its engagement goals. Plus, you’ll lose valuable time and money. To reach your program promotion goals, the right video distribution strategy is just as important as producing the best video content.

What Are the Best Channels to Distribute Video Content?

When choosing the right platforms to distribute your video content, energy utilities should assess how each platform works with the video’s message. For example, an in-depth video explaining your demand response program would be completely out-of-place on TikTok, but it would a helpful resource on a website landing page where customers can sign up for your demand response program.

“Different videos do better in different forums,” says Matt Irving, Creative Director of Video Content for Questline Digital. “It’s not just about having people see your video, but they need to see it at a time and place that makes sense. In other words, how you deliver the message depends greatly on the message.”

For example, a video about bill changes should be shared via a link on a customer’s digital bill. However, this video wouldn’t be well-suited for a paid advertisement on an e-commerce site. According to Irving, energy utilities should always be thinking of their video’s message and what platform is best to deliver it.

With your message in mind, here are the best places for energy utilities to distribute video content.

Channel #1: Website Landing Pages

For energy utilities, learning how to distribute video content can make a tremendous impact on your program promotion goals. The first, and perhaps most obvious, channel to share your video content is on your utility’s website.

Video has a powerful impact on website engagement. In fact, consumers stay 60% longer on website landing pages with video compared to those with just text and images. Video can also increase organic traffic, as websites with video content rank higher on Google’s search results. According to the latest research, landing pages with at least one video are 45 times more likely to achieve high rankings.

Compared to other industries, utility programs and services can be technically complicated and difficult for customers to understand. By adding videos to your landing pages, you can educate customers about a complex topic, such as time-of-use rates, demand response or beneficial electrification. In fact, 94% of marketers believe video plays a vital role in increasing customer understanding about a product or service.

PSEG Long Island utilizes video on their Time-of-Use (TOU) landing page to encourage customers to make the switch. The video explains how a TOU rate plan works and the main benefits for customers. This landing page is a great example of how to distribute video content to educate customers who would benefit from TOU.

Example of how to distribute video content on website

To help customers understand their monthly bill, Duquesne Light Company provides a helpful video on its residential bill landing page. This animated video provides a quick overview of the recent bill changes and where to find important information. The video is embedded on the page so viewers can easily watch it from the utility’s website.

Example of how to distribute video content on website

Channel #2: Social Media Platforms

When planning how to distribute video content to utility customers, social media is likely one of your go-to tools. Your utility’s social media channels are a great opportunity to reach a wide audience, including residential and business customers.

Your utility’s YouTube page is the perfect place to both host and share your videos. Currently, YouTube has more than 122 million active users in the U.S. each day. Utilities can host their videos on the site and then use the video link in various marketing communications. Since YouTube is owned by Google, which prioritizes content from the site, your energy utility will also boost search rankings for web pages with embedded videos.

Keep in mind, your utility’s video is competing with a ton of other content on social media. In order to get customers to watch it, you’ll need to use videos that are short, fun and lighthearted. The reality is not all videos posted to social media will give you the desired views.

For example, an animated video with tips on how customers can take advantage of smart home technology is ideal for Facebook and Instagram. However, a long webinar with in-depth information would be better suited for your utility’s website or LinkedIn page.

A great example of how to distribute video content on social media, Duke Energy shares videos of their employees in the field to help humanize the utility and showcase their work in the community.

Example of how to distribute video content on social media

Since 80% of social media browsing is now from a smartphone, your utility should include text and captions in your videos to make them mobile-friendly. This is becoming a must-have on social media for consumers who want to watch videos without audio while in public. We Energies utilizes videos with captions on their Facebook page to ensure all customers can get important outage restoration updates.

Example of how to distribute video content on social media

Channel #3: Newsletters

Monthly email newsletters are a powerful educational tool for utilities, so it only makes sense to share your video in this effective communication channel.

Your utility customers look to your eNewsletter for helpful education, advice and resources; adding video gives them the information they want in the format they prefer. In fact, visuals, like video, have the power to improve the learning and processing of information by up to 400%.

Video is also more engaging than other content types, leading to higher click-to-open rates. Questline Digital data finds that email newsletters with video have a 7.1% average click-to-open rate versus a 5.7% average click-to-open rate for email newsletters without video.

For utility marketers, exactly how to distribute video content in newsletters can be a challenge. Unfortunately, you can’t embed a video into your newsletter; instead, you’ll need to add a “play button” graphic on top of a static image and link to YouTube, Vimeo or another web page with the video. This makes it clear to customers that they need to take action to watch the video.

This newsletter example from one of Questline Digital’s utility clients features a video with tips to help business customers adapt to a hybrid work environment. The video includes a large play button to make it clear that it’s a playable piece of content.

Example of how to distribute video content in email newsletter

Channel #4: Program Promotion Emails

Energy utility marketers often want to distribute video content to increase program enrollments. Look no further than your program promotion emails. Video can encourage customers to take action, whether to enroll in a program, sign up for a service or purchase a product. In addition to email content, a video provides additional information that customers need to make an informed decision.

Videos have a big impact on email performance. Research finds that videos can increase email clicks by up to 300%. Additionally, simply including the word “video” in the subject line can increase open rates from 7% to 13%.

Outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia often shares videos in their emails featuring stories from customers who use their products. An example of how to distribute video content, this email utilizes video to share collected footage from the many adventures of climber Mikey Schaefer.

Example of how to distribute video content in email

Channel #5: Banner Ads

Another recommended channel to share your videos is banner ads. A potentially unexpected channel, banner ads are a great way to generate brand awareness and click-throughs. With less text and more visuals, banner ads capture attention and invite customers to learn more about your utility’s programs and services.

Just like emails and newsletters, you’ll want to link directly to your video on YouTube, Vimeo or a website landing page. You can include a play button on a static image or use a GIF to illustrate movement in the banner ad. Your utility can also take advantage of outstream video advertising that plays the video without sound (unless the viewer chooses to unmute it). When using video for banner ads, be sure to use captions and text to effectively communicate the message.

An example of how to distribute video content, PSEG Long Island took advantage of banner ads to promote the Smarter Home, an interactive video experience to educate customers on energy efficiency. The banner ads linked directly to the animated microsite.

Example of how to distribute video content with banner ad

Right Fit, Right Format, Right Channel

Keep in mind that videos can be shot or edited in any number of formats to fit your needs. The distribution channel you plan to use will determine what aspect ratio (or shape) you will use, such as horizontal videos for laptop or TV screens or vertical videos intended for smartphone screens.

According to Irving, the standard HD aspect ratio of 16:9 works in most digital environments. Videos designed for social platforms such as TikTok or Instagram stories should use the inverse aspect ratio: 9:16 for vertical viewing on a phone. Square videos (with a 1:1 aspect ratio) will also work well on many social platforms and can also be adapted for use in video display ads.

Distribute Video Content to Reach Program Goals

Creating a great video is only one piece of the puzzle. The next step is deciding how to distribute video content and finding the right channels to get as many eyes on your video as possible. The challenge is choosing the platforms that work best with your message, whether it’s a fun clip for social media or a detailed video explaining a complex program for your website.

“Make sure the people in the space you’re jumping into want or care about your video,” Irving says. “It’s important for energy utilities to understand how the video is going to resonate with people. The platform has to fit the message.”

Learn how a video content strategy from Quetline Digital will help your energy utility build customer engagement.

With the popularity of TikTok and YouTube, it’s obvious that consumers love video content. But you shouldn’t limit the use of video to your energy utility’s social media platforms. In fact, an email newsletter with video should be an integral part of your communications strategy.

According to Forbes magazine, watching video makes up 50% of all online activities. Today’s utility customers are already looking for video content on a daily basis, whether inspiration from their favorite Instagram influencer or energy efficiency advice from their energy provider. An email newsletter with video gives customers helpful information in the format they prefer.

Educate and Entertain with Video Content

For energy utilities, video content serves two key purposes in email newsletters: to educate and entertain customers. Not only are videos fun to watch (compared to reading a text-heavy article), but they are also a great educational tool. Visuals, like an email newsletter with video, have the power to improve learning and processing information by up to 400%.

“Everyone learns in a different way — that’s why video is so important,” says Scott Miller, Content Director at Questline Digital. “Video is an ideal format to show people how to do something or simplify complex information. A quick and engaging video is an easy, yet effective, way to educate utility customers.”

Videos are also a powerful driver of email newsletter engagement. According to Questline Digital’s data, email newsletters with video have a 7.1% average click-to-open rate versus a 5.7% average click-to-open rate for email newsletters without video.

In fact, simply including the word “video” in the subject line can increase open rates by 19%. Email newsletters with video have an average open rate of 27.7%, while those without video have an average open rate of 24.8%. As these metrics demonstrate, energy utilities should take advantage of the popularity of video to capture attention and build long-term engagement.

Best Practices for Email Newsletters with Video

To incorporate video into your email newsletter, follow these best practices:

1. Less is more

According to Miller, adding one or two videos to each newsletter is enough to increase engagement. Diversity of content, giving customers a choice to watch a video or two while also reading an article and playing an interactive quiz. In Questline Digital’s experience, most utility clients include a variety of content types in their newsletters.

“It’s a good idea to have a mix of content for customers to look forward to each month, whether they prefer video, infographics or articles,” Miller explains. “Utility customers will appreciate the variety of content options.”

This email newsletter with video from Sackcloth + Ashes — a mission-driven company that donates a blanket to a homeless shelter for every blanket purchased — utilizes a video in the hero image to highlight an artist that works with the company.

Example of email newsletter with video content

2. The right topic matters

The topic of your video needs to be relevant to customers. For example, a video about saving energy and staying cool in the summertime is timely for a June or July newsletter. You can also give readers tips or resources ahead of storm season or spring home improvement season.

According to Questline Digital’s Energy Utility Benchmarks Report, the most popular videos are simple explainer videos on how to increase energy efficiency and make home improvements, such as reducing phantom energy and installing a smart thermostat. An email newsletter with video lets you simplify these complex topics into digestible pieces — something not possible with a technical article.

“The most popular video topics explain how to do something in a simple and engaging way,” Miller says. “For example, five ways you can save while making dinner or doing laundry. The ‘You Can’ series of videos featuring Jeff Wilson also receive a lot of engagement. This series shows how to air-seal your basement or install a smart outlet. These home improvement topics really hit home with people.”

Top 10 Most Popular Video Topics

Video TitlePageviews
5 Ways to Save Without Spending Money21,520
Are You Aware of Phantom Energy?14,068
Room for Energy Savings: Laundry Room9,903
Does Putting Lids on Pots Really Cook Food Faster8,200
You Can Install a Smart Thermostat7,343
3 Cheers for Air Source Heat Pumps7,018
Energy Savings Magic: Laundry Room5,989
You Can Install a Ceiling Fan5,107
Room for Energy Savings: Holiday Decorating4,736
Energy Innovators: 3 Facts About Edith Clarke3,085

3. Utilize different styles of video

To capture attention and keep customers engaged, your email newsletter should include a mix of video styles. Animated explainer videos are effective at explaining complicated technical topics while keeping the content lighthearted and entertaining.

Live action provides an opportunity to showcase utility employees and customers. For example, feature your energy utility’s lineworkers in videos that talk about storm, outage or downed power line safety. Many videos feature a combination of both live action and animation, such as an eye-catching graphics of an LED light bulb while the on-screen talent speaks to energy efficiency benefits.

This Questline Digital client newsletter incorporates both animated and live-action videos to engage readers:

Example of energy utility email newsletter with animated and live action video content

4. Incorporate a video series

A video series is a great addition to your email newsletter. It creates familiarity and encourages continuous viewing. Your customers will look forward to the next newsletter to see another episode in the series, while the messages reinforced across the series will be more memorable. This relationship between customers and the series can lead to increased newsletter engagement.

“With a video series, customers get attached just like they do with a show on Netflix,” Miller says. “There is something that keeps them coming back for more, whether it’s the style, storyline or the way information is presented.”

This Questline Digital client email newsletter incorporates the “5 Ways to Save” video series, which provides utility customers with quick and easy tips to save energy in their home.

Example of energy utility email newsletter with video content in a series

5. Link to YouTube or Vimeo

Keep in mind, you can’t embed video into your newsletter and stream it. Instead, you’ll need to add a play button on top of a static image and link to YouTube or Vimeo. The bottom line: You just need to make it clear to readers that it’s a playable piece of content.

To give the feel of video, another option is to add an animated GIF in the hero image. GIFs are well-supported across browsers and email clients making them a great option for newsletters.

In this business email newsletter with video, the hero image features a play button. This illustrates to readers that they can click on the image to watch the video, “Space for Energy Savings: Office Space.” The call-to-action button also includes a link to the utility’s YouTube channel.

Example of email newsletter with video for energy utility business customers

Boost Newsletter Engagement with Video Content

An email newsletter with video has a tremendous impact on utility customer engagement. Video content is an effective and popular way to educate residential and business customers about complex topics, whether DIY home improvement or energy efficiency. When customers expect to see a video in their newsletter, it gives them a reason to open it each month — and makes the content inside more entertaining and memorable.

Learn how an email newsletter with video content will help your utility reach its engagement and marketing goals.

It’s imperative that your utility prepares a proactive communications strategy to educate customers about rising energy costs and help them take control of monthly bills.

“Having a proactive and cohesive strategy around changing costs is no longer a nice-to-have,” says Mary Malone, Questline Digital Director of Account Development. “It’s become imperative to sustaining a trusting relationship with customers.”

Customers want to know:

  • Why are energy costs rising?
  • How do I reduce my energy consumption?
  • How do I save money on my energy bill?
  • What can I expect from my bills moving forward?

Your energy utility should explain rising energy costs and rate changes as clearly and directly as possible.

Remember to:

  • Keep messages simple by avoiding jargon
  • Highlight your utility’s commitment to keeping costs affordable for customers
  • Provide energy-efficiency resources and education
  • Clearly explain bill assistance programs or payment options

Why Are Energy Costs Rising?

The first question for many customers is, “Why are energy costs rising?” Although the answer is complicated, it’s important to explain as much as you can about the situation. The more customers know, the more understanding they’ll be to price shifts.

Many factors are causing spikes in energy costs, including the pandemic, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, supply chain issues and climate changes.

“The cost of natural gas that’s delivered through pipes was up 24% in February from the year prior, while electricity went up 9%,” The Guardian reported. “Price spikes are notably higher in places where electricity is generated from natural gas, such as the Northeast, which saw a 16% increase in January from the same time last year, with prices dipping down to a 6% increase in February.”

The unpredictable natural gas market, which powers much electricity generation, is also attributed to increased production costs. The addition of extreme weather conditions, including the Texas Freeze and Hurricane Ida, pushed oil production to stop on the Gulf Coast. These conditions led to higher energy prices as the demand increased.

Richard Berkley, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project, explained that the situation would be different if the U.S. didn’t rely so heavily on energy sources that depend on the supply chain and global market. “Now with sustained disruption of the world energy markets, we should expect to see higher prices till the end of the year,” he said.

Although customers may be aware of some of these situations, they may not know the direct impact these factors have on rising energy costs. Explaining this information in clear, easy-to-understand ways through emails, newsletters, alerts and more will help keep customers informed and educated.

How to Address the Cost of Energy

Besides world and weather events, customers don’t always understand why energy costs fluctuate throughout the year. Generally, electricity prices reflect the cost to build, finance, maintain and operate power plants and the grid.

Do your customers know this?

The more customers understand the various elements behind the cost to generate and distribute energy, the more empathetic they’ll be when increases occur. In other words, this has a major impact on long-term customer satisfaction.

According to E Source, customers want to understand how price increases and rate changes affect four areas:

  • Their families, businesses and personal lives
  • The environment
  • Future generations
  • Their communities

Tactfully explain to customers why some factors drive rising energy costs, including:

  • Fuel prices: Clearly explain that when demand increases, so does the cost. With supply chain challenges and the demand for fuel increasing, these higher fuel prices can lead to higher costs for generating electricity.
  • Power plant costs: Let customers know about the costs that go into operating and maintaining generation facilities and what cost increases your utility is seeing in daily operations.
  • Transmission and distribution systems: The systems that connect power plants to customers also need continuous maintenance. Describe where these costs come from.
  • Weather conditions: Most of the U.S. has been battered by high temperatures lately, which puts a strain on the grid as the demand for cooling increases. On the other hand, rising energy costs can also occur in the winter when frigid temperatures require increased heating. Customers may not realize that these things affect the cost of energy.
  • Regulations: Some states have regulated prices or a combination of regulated and unregulated prices. Be upfront about what your utility experiences when it comes to government and state regulations and how it impacts energy costs.

Transparently describing how energy prices are determined can help customers feel “in the know” and showcases your energy utility as a trusted resource.

Example of content marketing to educate customers about rising energy costs

Rising energy costs affect customers in different ways

Develop communications strategies for both residential and business customers. Their different needs and concerns should be addressed in distinct ways.

For example, retail electricity prices are usually higher for residential than commercial customers because of different distribution costs. However, supplying electricity to industrial customers is often less expensive and more efficient because they can receive the electricity at higher voltages.

For residential customers, it’s important to educate them on peak and non-peak hours and how these can affect their electric bills, especially if you offer time-of-use rate plans. Typically, electricity demand is high in the early afternoon and evening, which means costs will increase at these times. If customers change when they do some activities, such as charging their EV or running loads of laundry, to non-peak hours they can see a decrease in energy costs.

Provide this information to customers through newsletters, social media, text or emails where you can share content pieces that teach customers about energy use and lowering consumption.

Example of newsletter educating utility customers about rising energy costs

Reach Customers With the Right Message in the Right Channel

Communicating with customers should go beyond basic energy efficiency advice. Instead, provide direct ways that customers can lower their energy consumption and combat rising energy costs. It’s important for customers to know that increased energy efficiency ultimately leads to lower costs.

Additionally, provide resources like payment assistance programs, budget billing and content that speaks to the needs of customers impacted by rising energy costs.

A multi-channel communications strategy is key to reaching as many customers as possible. Recommended channels include email, direct mail, social media, text messaging and any other communication methods your utility’s customers prefer.

Email Example: Rate Change Message

Example of email communicating utility rate change to customers

The above email from Pioneer Energy Management in Ohio directly tells customers how much their rate is changing and when the change will be effective. It doesn’t include any fluff or introduction — it gets straight to the point. Once readers know that their rate is increasing, they can continue to read on for helpful tips to manage their electric bill.

Direct Mail Example: Rate Increase Message

Example of direct mail communicating rate increase to utility customers

Novia Scotia Power created a direct mail campaign that answered customers’ direct questions, including “Why are rate increases so high?” In its direct mail flyer, NSP shares that the utility is working toward distributing cleaner energy and switching to renewable sources. This transparent information allows customers to better understand why price increases are occurring and where the extra revenue is going.

Web Page Example: Rate Education

Example of utility website educating customers about energy rates

Southern California Edison has a page on its website titled “How Rates Are Set” that provides an FAQ section and clear explanations for how the utility determines the price of electricity and what affects those costs.

The utility also helpfully breaks down where each dollar of the customer’s energy cost goes:

  • 46 cents – generation: Costs of energy sources, including solar, wind and natural gas, and generation SCE owns, including hydro and natural gas plants.
  • 37 cents – distribution: Grid maintenance and new equipment, including poles and wires and substations.
  • 8 cents – transmission: Investment in operations and maintenance for high-voltage transmission lines.
  • 5 cents – wildfire: Insulated wire, vegetation clearing, enhanced inspections, weather stations, HD cameras, insurance.
  • 4 cents – public purpose programs: Mandated state programs, including incentives for energy efficiency and protection for low-income customers.

Customers appreciate transparent, direct information. When customers see your utility as a trusted resource they have higher overall satisfaction.

Social Media Example: Peak-Hour Reminders

Example of social media post communicating peak hour rates to energy utility customers

UniSource Energy Services, located in Arizona, provides reminders on its Facebook posts for customers to be aware of peak and off-peak hours when choosing activities. The utility then provides a link to more tips on cooling homes in the summer. Customers do not always know when off-peak hours are — sharing this information in a quick social media post acts as a helpful reminder.

Social Media Example: Bill Assistance Programs

Example of social media post communicating energy bill assistance programs to utility customers

AEP Ohio shared this post on Twitter to inform customers that their bill assistance programs were expanding eligibility requirements, even for customers who were not past due with their payments. This proactive post helps customers who may be struggling but were ineligible previously.

Urgent Need for Proactive Communications

With rising energy costs, there is an increased urgency to provide valuable information to customers for combatting high energy bills. Helping customers understand how to lower their energy consumption and how increased energy efficiency ultimately leads to lower costs can build positive relationships among customers.

Connect customers with the right payment programs and billing options. Learn how Questline Digital’s customer assistance solutions can help.

Relevant communication isn’t just a preference for consumers — it’s an expectation. Your customers want to see messages that speak to their needs and interests, and they don’t want to be bothered with messages that don’t.

For energy utilities, relevant communications are best achieved by employing customer segmentation. This tactic remains the best way to cut through digital clutter and deliver content that matters to each customer.

What is Utility Customer Segmentation?

At its core, segmentation is a marketing strategy used to identify and connect with target customers. It is a way to organize your customers into approachable groups, or segments, and deliver relevant messages based on the interests or needs shared by members of each segment.

Customer segmentation is not to be confused with personalization. Whereas segmentation sends different messages to specified groups, personalization sends a unique message to each individual customer.

Example of criteria used to create customer segments for energy utilities

A segment can be defined as a group of customers that share identifiable characteristics that are unique from other customers. Such characteristics include:

  • Demographics: This includes characteristics such as age or income. Demographic data may be obtained from energy utility customer records or third-party databases.
  • Geography: Service territory, zip code or neighborhood. This is vital for outage and low-income communications.
  • Psychographics: What do your customers care about and what are they motivated by? When building preference centers or surveying interests, you can identify who is most likely to engage with specific topics. Some interests you might target include EV ownership, environmental concern or early adoption of new technologies.
  • Behaviors: Actions taken or not taken by customers. This includes program participation, purchases (electric vehicles, appliances), high energy use and content engagement or reading behavior.
  • Industry: Hospitals, schools, manufacturers, retailers and data centers all use energy differently. The programs, services and content promoted to business customers should shift based on their specific industry needs.

The Benefits of Customer Segmentation

According to Hubspot, the benefits of customer segmentation can be substantial — marketers who use segmented campaigns can see as much as a 760% increase in revenue.

Specific benefits of customer segmentation for energy utilities include:

  • Boost in engagement and performance: By targeting groups of customers rather than your entire list, products and services immediately become more relevant. This in turn increases customer engagement with your utility’s content and promotions. People are more likely to engage with communications that meet their needs and ignore those that don’t.
  • Better understanding of your customers: By evaluating customer behavior and pursuing segmentation, your utility will gain an understanding of what topics your customers care about. With this knowledge, you can better build future promotions to speak directly to their needs.
  • Increased loyalty: When customers feel understood and uniquely communicated with, they are more likely to be loyal to your utility and recommend its services or promotions to others.

Tips for Creating Utility Customer Segments

“You can’t create one ad or commercial that appeals to everybody, because different groups of buyers have different needs,” explains Robert Bly in his classic marketing book, The Copywriter’s Handbook. “Tailor both the content and the presentation of your information to the group of customers you’re selling to.”

Not sure where to start? Follow some of the utility customer segmentation tips below:

  • Start early. Customer onboarding is an ideal time to begin segmentation. Put your early customer touchpoints to work and gather data that can be used for future grouping. What actions do customers take, and not take, in your welcome emails? Use this information to build segments such as:
    • Mobile-friendly or tech-savvy: those who sign up for mobile alerts and payments
    • Hard to reach: those who take no action or make no indication of preferences
    • Digitally engaged: those who sign up for eNewsletters
  • Start small. You can ease into segmentation by looking at one journey or one demographic group. For example, you may want to promote mobile payments to customers younger than 40, instead of getting bogged down creating mobile payment promotions for all customers. Start with the “low hanging fruit” to make a big impact right away. Then expand.
  • Use internal and external data. While it’s important to use your own data — like what content customers click on, previous program participation or self-identified preferences — your utility doesn’t need to solely rely on this type of information.You can expand your segments with third-party data, such as credit information or vehicle ownership.
  • Segment only when relevant. Some messages don’t need to be segmented; your utility may be better served by sending the communication to the entire customer list. Or for that matter, two or three segments are often just as effective as six or eight segments. Don’t segment for segmentation’s sake.

Utility Customer Segmentation Examples

Example of customer interested used to create segmentation strategy for energy utility

The following examples of utility customer segmentation show how messaging strategies can address specific audiences to increase engagement and conversions:

  • Marketplace promotions: Specific products can be promoted to segments based on content engagement. If a customer reads your newsletter article about smart thermostats, send them an offer to buy the latest model on your marketplace. If a customer watches your videos about electric vehicles, add them to a segment that might be interested in EV smart chargers.
  • Small vs. large business: Residential and business customers have obvious differences. But so do large and small business owners. Communicate relevant messages according to employee count or facility size to increase engagement.
  • Homeowners vs. renters: Energy efficiency messaging and other program promotions can be targeted based on a customer’s ability to undertake home improvements. Renters may be interested in LED lightbulbs and smart power strips, but they probably aren’t going to buy a new furnace or upgrade their insulation; save those messages for homeowners.
  • Environmental vs. money-saving motivations: People with varying concerns respond to efficiency messages differently, even when the end result (reduced energy use) is the same. One segment of customers might be interested in paperless billing and appliance recycling because they want to save money, another segment might be more interested in reducing their carbon footprint.
  • Income-based messaging: Low-income program messages can be targeted to households that meet eligibility requirements or triggered by behavioral factors such as high bills or late payments.

Reach the Right Customers with Utility Customer Segmentation

Utility customer segmentation has the means to improve customer engagement, increase satisfaction, drive program results and boost conversions all by delivering relevant information to target audiences. The benefits of customer segmentation are clear.

Luckily, segmentation doesn’t have to be hard. By identifying customer needs, interests and motivations, your energy utility can send targeted communications that resonate with particular audiences.

Improve engagement and satisfaction with a utility customer segmentation strategy from Questline Digital.