Today’s customers expect more than just a reliable energy supply from their utility. They want to take control of their energy use — to save money, or reduce their carbon footprint, or just make their homes more comfortable — and they’re looking for advice and resources that will help.

Energy providers can give customers that support by taking advantage of utility personalized communications. By leveraging their data to understand customers’ needs and preferences, and delivering messages tailored to each individual, utilities can better connect customers with relevant, useful resources.

“Customers expect marketing messages to be relevant to their needs and interests — or they will simply tune them out,” says Jared Brandon, Director of Innovation at Harris Computer. “Utilities need to be communicating in the same way.”

Utilities can learn from outside industries like retail, tech and consumer goods on how to tailor messages to individual customers. With personalized energy communications, utilities can build the same kinds of digital relationships that customers expect from other popular brands.

For example, Starbucks takes advantage of personalization through its gamified mobile app. The app uses customer data like purchase history, mobile app usage and location to recommend products, build loyalty and increase engagement.

Shutterfly, a website for creating personalized cards, photo books and gifts, uses personalization in its marketing efforts. When customers download the company’s app, they can allow Shutterfly to access their photos. With this feature, each product is personalized with the customer’s photos, encouraging them to make a purchase.

As these examples illustrate, personalization is everywhere in today’s digital landscape. Utilities can adopt a similar approach when communicating with their customers.

Personalized Communications: The Utility Advantage

Customers view their utility as an energy expert and helpful resource, whether they need advice on improving home energy efficiency or taking advantage of solar power. Personalized energy communications allow utilities to give customers the detailed and accurate energy information they expect — and which they can’t get from any other source. This is a powerful differentiator for utilities.

“Utilities have information that people care about,” says Matt Irving, Questline Digital’s Creative Director of Video. “I think it’s valuable for customers to know, for example, where they fall in terms of energy efficiency compared to their neighbors. Utilities have all this data at their disposal. Why not use it to make personalized videos to improve the customer experience?”

Data is an important component of a personalization strategy, used to create customer segments and identify characteristics for targeted messages. But data can also be used in the content of the messages themselves. Customers can learn how their energy usage compares to their neighbors, for example, or how a new rate plan would affect their bill based on their actual energy usage.

“You could send them a positive message like, ‘Great job for reducing your energy usage! That’s comparable to a reduction of (insert number) gasoline-powered cars on the road,’” Irving says. “Positive feedback just makes customers feel good and encourages them to keep pushing forward to reduce their energy usage even more.”

One of the biggest benefits of utility personalized communications is educating customers on complex energy programs and technologies, like time-of-use rate plans (TOU) and smart meters. For example, a TOU marketing message is much more effective when it provides specific information on how much a customer can save based on their energy usage behaviors. Without personalization, the savings benefit is ambiguous.

“The reality is that customers don’t live and breathe the utility industry,” Brandon says. “Personalization can simplify complex industry-specific topics to a layman’s audience, while also showing customers why a particular program is relevant to them.”

A Midwest-based utility recently used personalized videos to educate customers about relevant financial assistance programs and encourage enrollment. The videos provide each recipient with tailored program recommendations based on their energy usage, past program participation and payment history. The videos have voiceovers and onscreen graphics that are unique to each customer.

In a Questline Digital webinar, Tony Todesco, Market Research Senior Specialist with Con Edison, explained that personalization was essential to prepare for community events.

The utility’s outreach team leveraged zip code-level statistics to prepare for these events held in local neighborhoods throughout New York City and Westchester County. They gained important information like language preferences, education, affinity for tech adoption, likelihood of being eco-friendly and more.

Example of customer segment segment profile used to create utility personalized communications

“In marketing, we’re primarily using this data to analyze key customer segments, like electric vehicle drivers, solar adopters and low-income customers, and use the findings to refine our marketing strategy and act on opportunities,” Todesco says. “This data typically takes the form of personas characterizing specific users of technology. We always learn something new with personas.”

Effective Communications Require the Right Data

Utilities have a wealth of customer data available to them for personalized energy communications, including energy usage, program participation, content consumption and more.

According to a recent survey, the biggest challenge for utilities is finding the right tools to gather and analyze customer data. While this is a vital step to ensure accuracy, McKinsey & Company notes that utilities shouldn’t be hung up on how much data they have. To send effective personalized energy communications, utilities don’t need more customer data – they simply need the right data.

To truly connect with customers and provide value, personalization is only going to grow in importance. As utilities ramp up their efforts to communicate with customers about complex topics, like TOU, smart meters and demand response, utility personalized communications will be necessary to educate, engage and encourage program participation.

“If you want customers to stay engaged to receive the full message, and actually take meaningful actions from it, communications have to be personalized,” Brandon says. “Greeting customers by name, showing them their usage, and how a program specifically impacts them helps to build trust and deliver value.”

Learn how a personalized energy communications solution from Questline Digital will improve engagement with your utility’s customers.

With the proliferation of digital media and communication channels, capturing the attention of utility customers is more challenging than ever. As businesses compete for attention, one tool has risen above the rest in its ability to engage and captivate: personalized video. Recognized for their unique ability to connect with viewers on a deeper level, personalized videos are revolutionizing the way we communicate with customers.

Imagine opening an email from your favorite company. Instead of a generic message, there’s a video made just for you. It addresses you by name, discusses your unique needs, and offers tailored discounts or information for products that you’re interested in.

As futuristic as it may sound, the reality is that personalized video is available now, and many companies are already embracing this powerful marketing tactic.

“Personalized video combines the entertainment value of video marketing with the data-driven targeting of other digital tactics,” says Brian Lindamood, Questline Digital’s VP of Marketing and Content Strategy. “The ability of a video message to speak directly to each customer leverages all the best aspects of digital engagement in a uniquely powerful way.”

Personalized videos can lead to higher retention and conversion rates, as well as increased customer engagement. In fact, data shows that using personalized calls-to-actions (CTAs) result in 202% more conversions than those without. Building on the success seen in other industries, utilities can now harness this tool foster stronger relationships and drive customer satisfaction.

The Emergence of Personalized Videos

The rise of video marketing is hardly surprising given its unique ability to convey complex messages succinctly, evoke emotions and create a sense of connection. Data shows that 80% of customers are more likely to purchase from a brand that provides these tailored, emotional experiences. Today, video is not just an add-on to a digital marketing strategy, it’s an essential component that can significantly enhance your utility’s visibility and impact.

Quotation from Adobe - Personalized videos get 16x more click-throughs compared to non-personalized videos

One facet of video marketing that’s gaining widespread popularity is personalization. By tailoring messages to each customer, businesses can make customers feel more valued and recognized. Personalized videos leverage customer data to create a unique viewing experience for each individual. This could be as simple as addressing the viewer by name or as complex as providing product recommendations based on their interests and engagement history.

For utilities, this could mean personalized program recommendations based on a customer’s energy use, explaining changes to a bill, introducing a new rate plan, updating customers on relevant energy efficiency programs, and more.

The result? A powerful marketing tool that stands out from the digital clutter and resonates on a personal level with customers.

Several leading brands have already harnessed the power of personalized video marketing to deliver exceptional results. For example, in Nike’s “Outdo You with Nike+” campaign, the company used personalized videos to connect with customers. Each video was tailored with information from a user’s location, activity and personal Nike+ movement data, providing a unique and highly personal viewing experience. This innovative approach not only helped Nike connect with their audience, it also motivated customers to achieve their fitness goals.

Spotify’s end-of-year Wrapped campaign is described as “all about celebrating the endless ways that millions of creators and fans connect through audio each and every day.” Through the “Made for You” recommendations and usage data, Spotify is able to provide personalized videos to each user at the end of the year that allows them to view summaries of their activity. Spotify includes the names of the listener’s top musicians and songs, genres and their listening personality, all delivered in a seamless personalized video.

Why Personalized Videos? Why Now?

The sudden surge in the popularity of personalized videos can be attributed to several factors. In today’s digital age, consumers increasingly expect personalized experiences that cater to their specific needs and preferences. In fact, 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions, and 76% get frustrated when this doesn’t happen.

Personalized videos meet this expectation by providing content that is tailored to each viewer’s individual circumstances and preferences. Moreover, personalized videos have proven to be highly engaging and effective at increasing customer retention and conversion rates. According to Adobe, personalized videos get 16 times more click-throughs compared to non-personalized videos.

Personalized videos can also help brands stand out in the crowded digital landscape, providing a unique and highly personal viewing experience that can capture the customer’s attention and leave a lasting impression. This not only increases the likelihood of the customer taking the desired action, but also strengthens their relationship with your utility.

“Personalized videos really help utilities connect with their audience on a deeper level and drive more effective engagement,” says Lindamood. “With relevant, targeted content like this, customers can see that their utility understands and respects their preferences, which is the foundation of a successful, long-term digital relationship.”

Additionally, with the rise of digital technologies and data analytics, creating personalized videos has become more accessible and cost-effective, further contributing to their use as a key marketing tactic in a wide variety of industries.

5 Benefits of Personalized Videos

Chart listing the 5 benefits of personalized videos

Personalized videos allow utilities to connect customers with relevant information based on their interests and information. This tool also has the ability to deliver complex information, such as energy usage or billing details, in a clear, concise and engaging manner. The goal is to enhance customer understanding and interest by creating content that speaks directly to them, addressing their specific needs and circumstances.

The benefits of personalized videos for utilities are substantial, including:

  • Simplifying complex information
  • Enhancing customer engagement
  • Driving behavioral change
  • Boosting customer satisfaction
  • Building strong customer relationships

Simplifying complex information

Personalized videos are an effective tool for simplifying complex information. They leverage the power of visualization to break down intricate concepts or data sets into digestible, easy-to-understand content.

For example, your utility can use a personalized video to explain a customer’s energy usage pattern or billing details, using animated charts and customer-specific data. This not only makes the content more relatable but also helps customers better understand their consumption patterns or charges.

By presenting complex information in a clear and engaging manner, these videos can significantly improve customer comprehension, reduce confusion and enhance overall communication effectiveness. Additionally, by improving customer understanding, your utility will foster greater trust and transparency in the long run.

“Energy technology, programs and rate options are getting more complex,” says Lindamood. “It’s critical for utilities to use a communications tool that can effectively educate customers about these topics and help them take control of their energy use.”

Enhancing customer engagement

Let’s face it — customer attention spans are short and competition is fierce. By leveraging customer-specific data and presenting it in an engaging, visual format, personalized videos can cut through the clutter to deliver information in a way that resonates with each viewer.

This relevance and personal touch can lead to higher view rates, longer watch times and more meaningful interactions, all of which translate into increased customer engagement and program participation.

“When customers complain about receiving too many marketing messages, what they mean is they get too many message that they’re not interested in,” explains Lindamood. “Customers are willing to spend time with messages that they are interested in. A useful, relevant message isn’t considered to be clutter at all. That’s why personalization is so important for all digital marketing tactics, including video.”

Driving behavioral change

By presenting usage data in an engaging and accessible way, personalized videos can make customers more aware of their consumption patterns and the impact they have on both their bills and the environment.

For instance, a video showing a customer’s energy use over time, compared to more efficient usage scenarios, can be a powerful motivator for change. It can prompt customers to adopt more energy-efficient behaviors, such as turning off lights when not in use or optimizing heating and cooling systems. This not only helps customers save money but also contributes to broader sustainability goals. Personalized videos can also be used to recommend specific programs or products that a customer might be interested in based on their behavior and preferences.

Through personalized insights, recommendations and clear visualizations, personalized videos can inspire proactive change and foster more responsible consumption habits among utility customers.

Boosting customer satisfaction

One of the common challenges in the utility industry is making customers aware of programs or services that are relevant to them or could assist them, such as rebate programs. Personalized videos can address this challenge by presenting such information in a clear and personalized manner. This can improve customer understanding, reduce confusion, and ultimately lead to higher customer satisfaction.

Additionally, personalized videos focus on relevant recommendations, only promoting programs that a customer is eligible for and likely interested in — and not promoting programs that don’t apply to the customer.

By proactively addressing customer needs and concerns through personalized content, utilities can make their customers feel valued and well-served, further boosting satisfaction levels.

Building strong customer relationships

Personalization as part of any digital marketing strategy shows customers that their utility knows them, understands their needs and values their business. This can foster a sense of connection and trust with the customer. Moreover, by providing useful, personalized recommendations, such as energy-saving tips based on a customer’s specific usage patterns, utilities can position themselves as helpful, trusted energy advisors rather than just service providers. This can enhance customer loyalty and strengthen long-term relationships.

Best Practices for Creating Personalized Videos

Implementing a successful personalized video marketing strategy involves several best practices.

One of the most important aspects to consider is exactly how to make the content more relatable. To achieve this, it’s crucial to understand your audience’s needs and preferences, and use customer data to tailor the content to each viewer’s specific circumstances. This also means not only personalizing the content based on individual data, but also considering factors like the viewer’s stage in the customer journey, their specific needs and interests and current trends or events.

Storytelling can be a powerful tool for personalization. By weaving customer data into a compelling narrative, you can create a more immersive and emotionally engaging viewing experience. Remember, the goal is not just to present data, but to use that data to create a connection with your customers.

Keeping the content relevant and concise is another best practice for creating effective personalized videos. Customers’ time is important, which is why it’s essential to deliver your message quickly and clearly. Avoid including unnecessary details or complex jargon that could confuse viewers. Instead, focus on the most important information that your customers need to know and present it in a straightforward manner.

Additionally, an effective personalized video should always include strong calls-to-action (CTAs). The CTAs are what prompt your customer to take the desired action after watching the video, whether that’s signing up for a service or adopting more energy-efficient behaviors. Make sure your CTAs are compelling and easy for the viewer to carry out.

It can also be beneficial to personalize the CTA based on the viewer’s individual circumstances or the specific content of the video. For instance, if the video shows a customer’s high energy usage during peak hours, the CTA could drive customers to sign up for your utility’s time-of-use (TOU) rate plan and encourage them to shift some of their usage to off-peak times. This not only makes the CTA more relevant, but also helps drive more effective behavioral change.

You also need to consider the length of the video; if it’s too long, you might lose customers’ interest before they even arrive at your CTA. Typically, the shorter, the better. Consider the most concise point you’re trying to make and keep the story as succinct as possible.

It’s important to remember that personalized videos should only be one part of your marketing strategy. “Some topics and program promotions really lend themselves to personalized videos. But some may also benefit from follow-up email campaigns, SMS, or other digital outreach,” says Lindamood. “Personalized videos are an important tactic, but they should be part of an overall mix to reach different customers in their preferred channels.”

Harness the Potential of Personalized Videos

Personalized videos offer utilities a potent tool to develop a deeper connection with their customers. By delivering tailored, relevant, and engaging content, your utility can enhance customer loyalty, boost conversions and stand out in today’s crowded digital landscape.

As technology continues to evolve, personalized videos are set to shape the future of digital marketing, offering endless possibilities for utilities to connect with their audience like never before.

Learn how Questline Digital’s personalized video solution can help your utility build stronger digital relationships and boost customer engagement.

As energy costs rise and inflation continues to impact household budgets, a growing number of utility customers may qualify for low-income assistance programs. And while these customers share many of the same interests and needs as utilities’ general customer base — from an interest in smart home technology to reducing their energy usage — identifying and reaching customers in need of low-income bill assistance is often a challenge for utilities.

To connect with low-income customers, your energy utility needs to take a closer look at this unique audience and what barriers exist to reaching them.

Easing the Energy Burden for Low-Income Families

Low-income customers come from every walk of life, from rural communities to major metropolitan areas. They represent all ages and are made up of households with and without children. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy, low-income households spent an average of 8.1% of their income on energy bills. In contrast, the average U.S. customer spends just 2.3%.

While income is the major characteristic that differentiates this group from higher-income customers, demographics also come into play. The median energy burden is 43% higher for Black households, 45% higher for Native American households, and 20% higher for Hispanic households. These customers look to their energy provider for support and understanding, as well as utility low-income assistance programs to help ease their energy burden.

The reality is that barriers exist for many customers to take advantage of utility low-income assistance programs. One of the biggest hurdles is basic awareness of these programs. In fact, only 46% of these customers are familiar with utility assistance for low-income families to help with their monthly electric bill, according to the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative’s (SECC) research. Awareness was even lower for energy efficiency programs. Only 33% knew about energy efficiency upgrades offered by their energy utility.

Connecting Customers to Relevant Low-Income Assistance Programs

For energy utilities, building awareness is key to driving interest and participation in financial assistance programs. This starts with utilizing various communications to connect low-income customers with relevant programs like low-income utility bill assistance and budget billing.

FirstEnergy took advantage of a segmented email campaign to reach low-income customers in multiple states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and New Jersey. Each message focused on a specific government assistance program that either helped to pay a portion of their energy bill or provided more consistent monthly bills.

The emails utilized personalization with the customer’s first name in either the headline or email salutation. Some of the programs were segmented based on homeowners or renters. This email campaign was successful in enrolling customers into utility low-income assistance programs, especially during the winter high bill season.

Sample email promoting low-income assistance programs to utilities LMI customers

National Grid wanted to get the word out to multiple communities about available financial assistance programs. The utility partnered with Questline Digital to produce a series of four educational webinars. To reach a wide range of customers, the webinars were produced with closed captioning and broadcast separately in Spanish and Portuguese. The webinars also included a video of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

“The webinar format lends itself to education because of the interactivity,” said Brian Lindamood, Vice President of Marketing and Content Strategy at Questline Digital in a recent American Public Power Association webinar. “You can answer customer questions live during the event, and you can also reach a lot of customers at the same time. For the four webinars in this series, almost 9,800 customers registered.”

Budget billing is another relevant program to promote to a low-income audience. Encourage customers to sign up for this program to keep their bills more consistent and avoid any surprises.

To relate to customers who face hardship with unexpected expenses like doctor visits and car repairs, Duquesne Light Company used the message, “Life is unpredictable. Your electric bill shouldn’t be.” The email campaign communicated the key benefits of Budget billing: consistent bills (even with high electric usage) and easier budgeting.

Example of email from utility communicating low-income customer assistance

Energy Efficiency Help for Low-Income Customers

In addition to offering payment options to make it easier to pay their monthly bill, low-income customers benefit from energy efficiency tips and advice. To ease the energy burden for both homeowners and renters, energy utilities are making energy efficiency programs a priority.

By improving energy efficiency, low-income customers can better manage energy use in their homes, which has a profound impact on their monthly bills. Energy providers should reach out to low-income customers with energy-saving products and utility low-income assistance programs focused on energy efficiency upgrades.

PSEG Long Island educated income-eligible customers about the utility’s Residential Energy Affordability Partnership (REAP) to help them lower costs through a free home energy assessment. Each email message included a testimonial from a PSEG Long Island customer who benefited from the REAP program.

“I’m a huge fan of testimonials,” Lindamood said. “If you can get a customer to share their real-life experience with a program that helped, that will really resonate with other customers. Testimonials add a lot of authenticity to your message.”

Sample of utilities using an email to promote low-income assistance programs

For energy utilities, another aspect of improving energy efficiency is a focus on multifamily building energy efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 36% of people in the United States currently rent — and 60% of renters live in multifamily dwellings. That’s why an increasing number of utilities are creating programs to help property managers make energy efficiency retrofits.

One example is the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Comprehensive Affordable Multifamily Retrofits Program (CAMR), which helps property owners of low-income multifamily buildings take advantage of energy savings opportunities. The municipal utility has 8,000 multifamily buildings currently in the pipeline. The program, launched in 2022, features three key approaches:

  • Energy efficiency opportunities
  • Building electrification (natural gas to electric)
  • Onsite solar through virtual net metering

“There’s a lot of opportunity, but it’s a challenging market, especially here in L.A. where we have a lot of old apartment buildings that have not been upgraded in a long time — if ever,” said David Jacot, Director of Efficiency Solutions at LADWP. “Many property owners are struggling and don’t have the ability to invest in their properties.”

Adoption of Smart Technologies for Low-Income Customers

Smart energy technologies, ENERGY STAR® appliances and rooftop solar panels can seem like luxuries to even the typical energy consumer. However, it’s not only higher-income customers who have an interest in them. Beyond communications about low-income utility bill assistance, energy utilities should provide educational resources about smart home technology.

When making purchasing decisions, a variety of drivers spark an interest in smart energy technologies for low-income customers. For example, the primary driver to purchase smart thermostats is saving money and making their home more comfortable. When purchasing smart appliances or smart lighting, low-income customers are motivated by the ease of use. For rooftop solar panels and community solar, a passion for helping the environment is a significant motivator.

Despite these drivers, smart energy adoption remains a challenge. According to SECC research, 28% of low-income customers believe that these smart energy technologies are not worth the effort. To encourage adoption, reinforce the fact that these technologies are beneficial for both saving money and maintaining comfort in their homes. It’s also important to provide insights on the positive impact on the energy grid and local community.

Reach Utility Low-Income Customers with a Relevant Message

As this research demonstrates, low-income customers share many of the same values and motivations as higher-income customers. To better connect with this audience, it’s vital to increase awareness about utility low-income assistance programs, energy efficiency programs and smart energy technologies.

With the right messaging, your energy utility can effectively reach this audience with relevant utility bill assistance and other resources and help them achieve their energy goals.

Learn how a payment assistance campaign from Questline Digital can proactively reach low-income customers with important program information.

Staying connected with energy utility customers is more important than ever. Utility marketers are constantly looking for effective ways to engage with their audience and deliver timely information about programs, services and energy-saving tips — all while cutting through the digital clutter that make it hard to attract customers’ attention.

Two popular marketing channels have emerged as top contenders in this space: SMS (Short Message Service) marketing vs. email marketing. While both channels share an ability to connect with customers efficiently, they differ in terms of reach, immediacy and user preferences.

Chart comparing the differences between sms marketing vs email marketing

The Differences Between SMS Marketing vs. Email Marketing

It’s essential for utilities to employ effective marketing strategies to reach their target audiences. While SMS marketing vs. email marketing have their own strengths and weaknesses, which one is more effective for utilities?

SMS marketing involves sending promotional messages directly to customers’ mobile phones. Research shows that the average SMS marketing campaign has a high open rate of 98%, making it an effective way to grab people’s attention quickly. Additionally, we know that 95% of text messages are read and responded to within three minutes of being received. SMS messages can also be tailored to specific audiences, allowing utilities to send personalized messages that are more likely to convert.

On the other hand, email marketing involves sending promotional emails directly to customers’ inboxes. It has a lower average open rate than SMS at only 20%, but offers more customization options such as dynamic information about customers, images and videos. Your utility is also more likely to have a greater number of customer emails than phone numbers.

When comparing SMS marketing vs. email marketing, it’s important to consider:

  • Customer preferences
  • Campaign data
  • Communication circumstances

Customer preferences

While the 98% open rate achieved by SMS marketing is impressive, it doesn’t tell a full story. In fact, according to Statista, between 2020 and 2021 almost 50% of survey respondents preferred receiving business communications through email, while only 25% of respondents preferred SMS.

When compared to email, one study says that 2023 will be the year we reach 4.37 billion email users worldwide — more than half of the global population. In 2023 alone, the number of emails sent and received is 347 billion, and that number is expected to reach 393 billion by 2026.

All of this data makes one thing clear: customer preferences are fluid.

There will always be customers who prefer email over SMS and vice versa. Choosing to use just one of these communication mediums isn’t recommended. Your customers want the option to choose which is best for them. 

Campaign data

SMS marketing campaigns and email marketing campaigns differ in the types of performance metrics that are available for evaluation.

SMS marketing campaigns typically yield information such as delivery rates, open rates, click-through rates (if using short links) and opt-out rates. Additionally, utilities can track the time it takes for customers to open and engage with messages, enabling them to optimize future campaigns based on user behavior patterns.

However, due to the character limitations of SMS messages and the absence of visual elements, the data collected through this channel may be less comprehensive compared to email marketing. Still, the high open rates and immediacy of SMS marketing make it an effective tool for utilities to communicate time-sensitive information and gauge customer responsiveness.

On the other hand, email marketing offers utilities a more extensive range of data points to analyze, thanks to its versatile format and richer content options. Besides open rates, click-through rates and conversion rates, email marketing allows utilities to track user engagement with specific elements within the email, such as images, videos and call-to-action buttons. This granular data helps utilities better understand their audience’s interests and preferences, allowing for more targeted and personalized communication.

Additionally, utilities can gather demographic information through email sign-up forms, enabling them to segment their audience and tailor content accordingly. While email marketing may not boast the immediacy of SMS, its ability to collect in-depth engagement data makes it an invaluable tool for fostering long-term customer relationships.

Communication circumstances

One element that you must consider in the SMS marketing vs. email marketing conversation is their different use cases. For example, email marketing can provide more personalization and creativity in its messages, connecting with customers not only through written text, but with design, too.

SMS marketing campaigns, on the other hand, focus on brevity and immediate impact. You must tell a customer exactly what they need to know in a matter of a few characters, using only text and short links.

When considering which circumstances to use SMS marketing vs. email marketing, one thing is important to maintain across both sectors: ask for permission.

Your utility wants to communicate essential information to customers, not annoy them. Therefore, it’s important to ask for permission from your customers before messaging them, especially when it comes to SMS marketing. Text messages are considered more personal, and sometimes more invasive, than emails, so getting permission is critical.

In fact, it’s not just a best practice — it’s the law. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is the federal legislation that governs telemarketing, text messaging and the Do-Not-Call List. One of the rules of this legislation is that companies must receive prior written consent ahead of contacting customers with commercial or marketing offers.

Other elements to consider between SMS marketing vs. email marketing include:

  • Timing: Maintain a regular cadence with email marketing so customers know when they can expect communications from you. But only send SMS messages to customers on a limited basis — they don’t want to hear from you every day.
  • Content length: Share long-form content and messages via email. With SMS, brevity is critical; only send brief updates about programs or services.
  • Personalization: Input dynamic customer data into emails to deliver a truly personalized message. Realize that texts come across more personal no matter what, as they are in a more intimate setting.
  • Content types: Share general updates about programs or marketplace products via email. But share time-sensitive offers and updates via text, such as an exclusive coupon on an electric vehicle charger or a last-minute chance to register for an e-bill giveaway.
Example of mobile solutions text alerts for energy utility

Which Communications Channel is Best for Utility Customers?

While it’s great to understand the differences between SMS marketing vs. email marketing, it’s important to understand which ones are right for your utility and, more importantly, your utility’s customers.

SMS marketing campaign use cases:

  1. Outage notifications: SMS marketing campaigns are ideal for sending real-time power outage alerts, ensuring customers receive crucial information promptly, even when they don’t have internet access.
  2. Billing reminders: Utilities can send timely SMS reminders for upcoming bill payments, helping customers avoid late fees and keep track of their monthly payments.
  3. Emergency alerts: In case of urgent situations, such as gas leaks or severe weather warnings, SMS messages can quickly inform customers about the issue and any necessary actions to take.
  4. Energy-saving tips: Short, actionable tips can be sent via SMS to encourage customers to reduce their energy consumption, especially timely messages during seasonal high-bill situations.

Email marketing campaign use cases:

  1. Newsletters: Email marketing is perfect for distributing utility newsletters that contain detailed information about new programs, services, industry updates and energy-saving initiatives.
  2. Personalized recommendations: Based on customer data, utilities can send personalized emails suggesting relevant energy efficiency programs, rebate offers, or home improvement tips tailored to individual needs.
  3. Educational content: Utilities can leverage email marketing to share in-depth educational resources, such as energy efficiency advice, infographics and videos, helping customers make informed decisions about their energy usage.

BONUS: Customer surveys and feedback. Both SMS and email are effective channels for inviting customers to participate in surveys or provide feedback on your utility’s services to gather insights for continuous improvement. The type of service provided and the length of the survey will be deciding factors in which channel your utility should use to promote surveys.

When to Use Both SMS Marketing and Email Marketing

Although the impending death of email has been predicted for decades, and text messaging was once seen as an ephemeral chat tool for teens, the truth is that these two marketing capabilities are valuable and dependable ways to connect with customers. The best marketing strategy isn’t comparing SMS marketing vs. email marketing and picking one or the other, but rather determining how to best combine both marketing channels to improve customer communications.

Incorporating both an SMS marketing and email marketing strategy is critical to connecting with all customers. In doing so, your utility will maximize its ability to communicate about programs and services on the platforms that customers prefer.

Learn more about how Questline Digital can help your utility develop an engagement strategy to connect with customers on all channels.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming various industries, including energy utilities, by offering innovative ways to improve the customer experience, enhance efficiency and streamline communications.

Our recent webinar, “Boost Customer Engagement with AI,” shared expert insights from Questline Digital’s Brian Lindamood, VP of Marketing and Content Strategy, and Zach Hardison, VP of Innovation. They explored how AI can be used tactfully by energy utilities to create personalized content, automate customer onboarding and support targeted communication campaigns for utility customers.

Lindamood reminded audience members that, “AI is a tool to improve our work, but still requires humans to operate and leverage results in a strategic way.”

Why We Care About AI Now

The growing interest in AI can be attributed to several factors that have made it more accessible, relatable, and widely adopted across industries, including energy utilities. These advancements have demystified AI and showcased its potential for enhancing efficiency, streamlining operations, and improving customer experiences.

Notably, AI is nothing new. Hardison shared that AI has been integrated for many years now, one example dating back to 2007 with Netflix’s ability to recommend “Top Picks for You” based on user preferences. He pointed out that the current buzz around AI stems from ChatGPT’s rise to fame in late 2022, thanks to its broad release and free public access.

“What this [public access] does is greatly remove the apprehension and barriers around AI,” says Hardison. “You can do things that are silly, you can do things that are professional. It reduces that apprehension. It reduces the fear factor that folks have around AI. And that’s why you’re suddenly seeing a lot more adoption because it has reduced the stigma and the barriers around AI.”

Benefits and AI Use Cases for Utilities

Hardison and Lindamood shared a variety of ways that AI can assist both outside and inside the energy utility industry.

“AI has been a boon in the fields of marketing and communications,” says Lindamood. “AI has the ability to analyze a vast amount of data, learn about customers’ preferences and behavior, and then help us personalize the customer experience to better meet their needs.”

One significant benefit of AI in the utility industry is its ability to share personalized content with customers based on their interests and engagement with previous communications. AI can be used to ensure that the right information reaches the right people at the right time, enhancing the overall customer experience.

Hardison shared an example of utilizing AI to create dynamic newsletters that send relevant content to customers based on their chosen preferences and interests. He shared that the importance of sending this customized content is to connect with customers in a way that shows your utility is listening.

Another valuable application of AI in the utility industry is its ability to identify characteristics that make customers eligible for programs like energy assistance, even if they are unaware of their eligibility. By using AI algorithms to analyze customer data, utility companies can proactively reach out to eligible customers and inform them about available aid.

One of the most immediate benefits of AI is its ability to scale up human efficiency. It excels at handling monotonous, repetitive, low-value tasks that would otherwise consume a significant number of human resources. By providing AI with boundaries and structure, it can operate within a defined scope, enhancing productivity without compromising on quality.

Limitations of AI for Utilities

It’s important to remember that artificial intelligence isn’t perfect. While AI offers numerous benefits to the energy utilities sector, it’s essential to recognize that the technology also has its limitations. By understanding these constraints, your utility can make informed decisions about AI implementation and manage expectations.

  1. Machines can’t understand user intent: AI can’t know for sure what a searcher wants; data will help improve algorithms but it will never be perfect
  2. AI doesn’t understand nuance: Computers see things in black and white and can’t offer perspectives from multiple lenses.
  3. AI-created content can be wrong, biased or misused: It needs to be fact-checked by humans.

Best Practices for Implementing AI in the Utility Industry

Chart showing best practices for using AI for utilities

To maximize the benefits of AI in the utility industry, it’s important to begin by following the data and using that information to guide your AI decisions. Consider the following template in analyzing the path for your AI strategy:

  1. Determine the use cases for AI and prioritize the data accordingly.
  2. Set clear business goals and metrics to measure success.
  3. Clean and explore data to see what opportunities rise to the surface and remove irrelevant data.
  4. Test and develop AI before putting it into production and maintain and review it regularly.
  5. Don’t get distracted by shiny new AI tools; be guided by business goals and objectives.

Remember, AI is a powerful tool that can greatly improve customer experiences and streamline operations, but it still requires human input and strategic thinking to be genuinely effective. You know your audience best. Use your human intelligence to guide the decision-making process and add AI when helpful to assist your strategy.

Want to use AI to improve customer engagement at your utility? Check out a demo of Questline Digital’s personalized newsletter solution.