To capture the attention of energy utility customers, the copy in your marketing campaigns is just as important as the design. As an energy copywriter, you have the power to increase customer engagement and participation in your energy utility’s programs and services. For example, a strong subject line will encourage email opens, while a successful call-to-action will motivate customers to take the next steps.

With 15 years of writing and marketing experience in a wide variety of industries, Questline Digital’s Senior Energy Copywriter, Breanne George, shares copywriting best practices to transform your utility’s marketing promotions.

Chart listing the best practices for an energy copywriter

Tip 1: Tell a story

When you think of storytelling, you probably think of your favorite book or magazine article. However, your marketing campaigns can tell a story too. As an energy copywriter, you should create a theme around a specific benefit or motivation that resonates with your target audience.

Example of utility email campaign for paperless billing created by an energy copywriter

For example, we focused the above ebill message around the benefit of “anytime, anywhere bill access” for a major Northeast utility’s paperless billing campaign. Since a majority of the utility’s customers were commuters who used public transportation, the copy and imagery aligned to tell a story about easy bill payments that resonated with this audience.

In another email campaign to promote a Southeast energy utility’s security lighting program, Questline Digital created a story about the importance of security all year round. Through creative copywriting, the email campaign expressed how security lighting gives customers more time to enjoy summer fun, whether at a barbecue or basketball game. They don’t have to worry about their safety when the sun goes down.

Example of a program promotions email written by an energy copywriter

Tip 2: Get Personal with Segmentation

Whether your energy utility is targeting electric vehicle owners or low-income customers, narrowing down your audience to a smaller segment will improve email engagement. In fact, 74% of customers feel frustrated when content is not relevant to their interests. In today’s age of personalized digital communications, segmentation is an essential tactic for energy copywriters.

Your campaign should draw in customers by appealing to their needs, interests and lifestyles. To achieve this, you need to think about your audience:

  • What would make their life easier?
  • How does your program or service benefit customers?
  • Does the copy motivate them to keep reading?

To connect with customers who would benefit from a Time of Use (TOU) rate plan, PSEG Long Island utilized segmentation to send personalized emails to distinct groups of customers. For example, one email targeted electric vehicle owners and another email targeted customers who would benefit most based on their energy usage behaviors.

Instead of sending one mass message to all eligible customers, the emails were tailored to each individual and how much they could save based on their energy usage. The utility leveraged smart meter data to create these targeted messages.

Examples of segmented emails written by an energy copywriter

For segmentation success, energy copywriters need demographic information, marketing personas and any other research that breaks down your audience and what matters most to them. The more insights you have on your audience, the more the copy will reflect customers’ unique needs and interests. 

Tip 3: Avoid Energy Industry Jargon

For energy copywriters, it can be all too easy to forget that most utility customers aren’t experts in renewable energy, rate plans and other popular industry topics. Your readers may not understand complex terminology or programs that are common knowledge in the energy industry. That’s why writing copy that’s easy for customers to understand is essential for your email campaigns.

When you’re promoting a complex topic, such as an energy efficiency rebate or financial assistance program, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. They want to know what the program entails, key benefits and how to apply. They don’t need to know “everything but the kitchen sink.”

As an energy copywriter, you should avoid using industry jargon or technical language that your customers may not understand. To help customers learn more about a particular topic, try linking to educational articles, videos or infographics to provide extra assistance.

Examples of educational emails written by an energy copywriter

To help increase participation for a Midwest energy utility’s complex demand response program, Questline Digital created a segmented email campaign. The goal was to encourage participation among two groups of commercial and industrial (C&I) customers: prospective participants and past program participants. The emails were clear and concise, highlighting the benefits of participation and providing a helpful video testimonial from a local business.

Tip 4: Keep it Short and Sweet

In today’s fast-paced world, your customers don’t have time to read a long, text-heavy email. That’s why it’s best to write short and succinct copy.

Energy copywriters should be clear and concise, making the utility program as easy to understand as possible. This is where bulleted lists, headers, pull quotes and other call-outs help to break up the copy and make the information more digestible. Remember, your customers will get the full details when they click on your call-to-action.

It’s not always easy to write short and sweet when describing complicated utility programs. By using the copywriting tactics mentioned above, energy copywriters can avoid massive blocks of text. Use simple words and short sentences, focusing on the value propositions that resonate most with your customers.

Example of My Account email written by an energy copywriter

In this example, part of a welcome series for a West Coast energy utility, the email copy is easy to read with bullets and iconography. This email makes it easy for new customers to find important information, including payment options, billing alerts as well as energy-saving tips and tools.

Tip 5: Craft an Impactful Subject Line

Before your customers can engage with your marketing campaign, they first have to click into the email. A great subject line makes all the difference for energy copywriters. According to Questline Digital performance metrics, the sweet spot for subject lines is 50 characters or fewer. Your subject line should make it clear what customers will learn in as few words as possible.

We recommend using power words that encourage customers to take action. Consider the following subject lines about outage text alerts:

  • Subject line #1: Text alerts to stay informed during an outage
  • Subject line #2: Stay informed! Sign up for outage text alerts

While both subject lines have a similar message, the second option is actionable and encourages the reader to click into the email to sign up. For this example, you could also use a lightning bolt emoji to help the subject line stand out in customers’ inboxes. When it comes to subject lines, energy copywriters should try A/B testing to see what engages your utility’s audience.

Tip 6: Choose a Powerful Headline

Your headline captures attention and encourages customers to keep reading your message. As the first piece of copy your customers will see after clicking into your email, it’s vital to get your promotional message across in a simple, direct and engaging way. No pressure, right?

Energy copywriters should follow these helpful tips for writing an effective and engaging headline:

  • Be clear and concise: Your headline should be simple and direct, while articulating what customers will be reading in the email.
  • Lead with key details: Think of the most important message from your email and write it in a fresh way so the message stands out. This could be the dollar amount of an EV rebate program or the main customer benefit in a paperless billing campaign.
  • Consider the imagery: Make sure the headline and visuals work together. For example, “Protect Your Palace” was a headline for a Southeast energy utility’s security lighting campaign featuring a royal guard in the hero image.
  • Generate curiosity: By giving away just enough information — but not too much — your headline should persuade your audience to read further for more details.
  • Get creative (within reason): Avoid copywriting that is too whimsical, cutesy or irrelevant. Think creatively but don’t stray from the ultimate goal of your campaign.

For this paperless billing campaign for a large Northeast energy utility, an entertaining headline paired well with the campaign theme, which showed humorous yet true reasons why customers should make the switch.  

Example of an effective headline written by an energy copywriter

This headline for a Southeast energy utility’s charitable campaign helped to pull at readers’ heartstrings. The focus of the holiday-themed email was to encourage customers to round up their energy bill to give back to neighbors in need.

Example of community focused PR email written by an energy copywriter

Tip 7: Encourage Customers to Take Action

After engaging with your message, you want customers to take action, whether enrolling in paperless billing or taking advantage of a rebate program. As an energy copywriter, your call-to-action (CTA) is one of the most important elements of your marketing campaign.

Keep these best practices in mind to create a powerful CTA:

  • The shorter the better: Your audience will tune out an overly long and complicated CTA. Keep it short and simple so your customers understand what you want them to do.
  • Urgency is effective: Use time-sensitive language to help boost program conversions and create a sense of urgency. Some examples include “Time is running out,” “Don’t wait” or “Sign up today.”
  • Get creative with button copy: Sometimes a simple button like “Learn More” or “Get Started” works best. However, there are times when energy copywriters should switch things up and make it fun. For example, “Enroll. Enter. Win?” for a sweepstakes email or “Start Saving Now” for a rebate program promotion.
  • Placement matters: If your email is lengthy and requires readers to scroll, include two CTAs: one near the top and one near the bottom. This ensures customers can click through at any point in the email.

In this example from Duquesne Light Company, a Pennsylvania-based energy utility, there are two CTA buttons at the top and bottom of the email. The first button, “Enroll for a chance to WIN” gives readers an immediate opportunity to take action. The second button, below the benefits box, gives those who read the entire email an easy click-through to the enrollment page.

Example of effective CTA buttons written by energy copywriter

To help FirstEnergy promote its financial assistance programs, Questline Digital created an email campaign series with multiple CTA buttons. Since the email goes to both homeowners and renters, there are two buttons that link to the specific application pages.

The first two CTA buttons are located directly below the headline. Since the headline makes it clear what the email is about (connecting the customers to bill assistance), a CTA directly below the headline is appropriate in this instance. As an energy copywriter, you’ll need to determine what placement and number of CTAs are best for the subject matter and email length.

Example of call-to-action placement in email written by an energy copywriter

Copywriting is More Than Creative Writing

As these examples demonstrate, there are many things for energy copywriters to keep in mind when writing for utility marketing campaigns or program promotions. Copywriting is more than just creative writing — it’s about crafting an effective, concise and persuasive message that motivates your target audience. With these best practices in mind, you can transform your utility’s marketing messages, one word at a time.

Learn how Questline Digital’s energy copywriters can help you craft an effective message that connects with customers.

A full year of Apple’s privacy changes has come and gone, marketing texts are trending, chat boxes continue to pop up and voice search is making itself heard, among many other hot topics for utility marketers. Questline Digital’s experts weighed in on the top 10 email marketing trends and best practices for 2023 during a recent Plugged In webinar.

Brian Lindamood, VP of Marketing and Content Strategy, and Nina Cummins, Account Director, shared their insights and interpretations for the year ahead.

Top 10 Email Marketing Trends for 2023

  1. Increased use of interactive content
  2. A focus on key email metrics beyond open rate
  3. Privacy technologies and their impact
  4. The rise of SMS marketing
  5. Strategic push notifications
  6. The use of chatbots
  7. Voice search capabilities
  8. Self-service experiences
  9. Increases in video marketing
  10. Segmentation and personalization expansion

Marketing Manager Maureen Mierke and other special guests from Questline Digital also joined the webinar to offer their advice on interactive content, Apple’s Privacy Policy, SMS marketing, push notifications and video marketing.

A Look Back at 2022 Email Marketing Trends

Last November, Questline Digital’s webinar on Email Marketing Best Practices for 2022 forecasted trends for this past year. We took a look back at the top 10 trends we saw in 2022:

  1. Creating an improved after-sales experience
  2. Auditing and understanding your data
  3. Making more out of your newsletters
  4. Optimizing for all platforms
  5. Creating more interactive emails
  6. Ensuring your emails are accessible
  7. Showcasing user-generated content
  8. Utilizing preference centers
  9. Hyper-personalizing email campaigns
  10. Changes to open rates and privacy

“Certainly everything on this list was important in some way this year,” Lindamood said of the 2022 predictions. “Some of these things are still ramping up and will continue to be factors in the coming year.”

Lindamood reviewed the importance of creating an after-sales experience with customer onboarding and developing a personalized experience starting on day one of service. Additionally, he said that optimization “is about making your emails accessible and compatible across all devices.” This was an important focus this past year, especially with the growing use of dark mode, and Lindamood suspects it will only get more important as the year goes along.

Cummins shared that many clients she works with have done a lot of deep diving to better understand their data, including reviewing performance metrics for their emails, newsletters and social media. As expected, Apple’s Privacy Policy dominated many data analytics conversations in 2022 and Cummins expects this trend to continue into 2023.

A Look Forward to the Email Marketing Trends and Best Practices for 2023

Chart listing the top 10 email marketing trends for 2023

Increased use of interactive content

Lindamood began with a discussion on interactive content. “There’s no doubt that interactive content is popular with customers and is an effective way for marketers to share a message,” he said.

Interactive content can include games, quizzes, calculators, polls, surveys or a myriad of other content types, he added. “It can be any digital experience where there’s some back and forth. The user takes an action or provides some information and the content responds in some way.” This type of content, requiring active participation from the user, makes it more fun and engaging for customers to learn about complex energy topics.

Animation of interactive games a marketing trend for 2023

Cummins shared an important reminder that interactive content in emails is all about adding interest and visual movement so that messages stand out.

Joe Pifher, Questline Digital’s Creative Director, shared his take on whether utilities should jump on this trend. He said when it comes to interactive emails, “There’s not enough support for them. Right now, the email clients are dinosaurs. There are some that can handle it and some that can’t. And without having your list broken up for every email client, it’s not worth the time to put that in there.”

Animation of interactive emails a trend for 2023

Overall, we see the use of interactive content rising, as research shows it generates five times more views than static content. However, when it comes to interactive emails, we suggest keeping interactivity simpler, including some GIFs or movement. The key is using email as a way to drive clicks and visits to interactive content on your utility’s website or other platform.

Metrics beyond open rates

Apple’s Privacy Policy changed the way digital marketers see open rates. Where they used to be a strong indicator of engagement, open rates are no longer reliable or useful in analyzing the performance of campaigns.

Jeremy Harning, Questline Digital’s Vice President of Technology, explained a little more about the impact from his perspective. Most notably, he shared:

  1. Since September 2021, when Apple introduced its changes to email tracking, Questline Digital has seen an 11% inflation in open rates, from about 25% on average to about 36% overall.
  2. We have also seen about 34% of our opens overall get flagged as “machine read,” indicating they are being opened by Apple’s proxy servers.

With this information, Questline Digital recommends that utility marketers review other metrics tied more directly to the utility’s goals, such as:

  • Conversion rate
  • Enrollment numbers
  • Page clicks
  • Time on page

“Open rates can inform how we get to an action, but it’s not going to determine if your campaign was successful,” Lindamood said. “As an industry, we really need to get past open rates. They’re not reliable anymore.”

The rise of SMS marketing and push notifications

Cummins shared that she sees the rise in mobile communications as an answer to what customers want: multichannel marketing that reaches them in their preferred channels.

“We’re on email, we’re on social media, so text messaging only makes sense to be next,” she said. “It’s quick, direct, and research shows that 98% of all text messages are opened, and one in three consumers check their text notifications within one minute of receiving a text.”

Additionally, push notifications are another method customers prefer for staying up to date with company happenings.

Quotation about push notifications being a top marketing trend for 2023

The data speaks for itself: Customers expect these types of messages. The caveat, according to Cummins, is making sure that text messages and push notifications provide value to customers.

“Are push notifications going to provide value in some way to a customer’s life?” she asked. “If so, then they’re great. If not, then people aren’t going to care. They’ll turn notifications off and it’s as simple as that.”

Susan Kownacki, Questline Digital’s Vice President of Account Services, shared an additional reminder.

“While most utilities have already been doing transactional text messages around outage and billing alerts, marketing messages are relatively new to our space,” Kownacki said. “To make a successful leap to non-transactional SMS, it’s absolutely critical to get your customers to opt-in. Because if you don’t, fines are steep, as much as $1,500 per offense, which can add up quickly.”

Chatbots, voice optimization and self-serve

Chatbots and voice search were hot topics leading into the previous year, and they’ll continue to be important marketing trends for 2023. “I don’t think a lot of utilities are investing in either of these things at the level that we thought initially,” Cummins said, “but I do think they’re still very valid and useful options to keep in mind in the near future.”

Lindamood said that customer expectations will continue to grow in this area. He shared research from J.D. Power that found that chat is the leading digital contact method for online customers: 42% of customers prefer chat versus only 23% for email and 16% for social media.

“For utilities, any interaction that you’re having with customers over the phone could probably be accomplished more efficiently with a chatbot,” Lindamood said. “It’s certainly more cost-effective for you and most of your customers would prefer it that way.”

Additionally, Lindamood noted that there are many opportunities for utilities to enhance educational efforts with chat, such as answering customers’ questions about program promotions on your website or providing advice on rate plans.

When it comes to voice search and optimization, Lindamood said that the next generation of utility customers will be more inclined to use voice search, as it’s what they’ve been acclimated to growing up.

We suggest creating FAQ pages or other pages on utility websites that list common energy-related questions along with clear answers. These pages will help customers, and they will be easy for voice-activated search engines to find.

Voice capabilities are also great for making content accessible to all customers. Those who are visually impaired may prefer listening to an article, while many people use audio for convenience’s sake, listening to content as they work on other things. Lindamood shared these best practices to help users who prefer to listen to content:

  • Include alt text that describes any images on the page
  • Make sure text is text — not a JPEG of a headline — so the computer can read it
  • Embed audio players within the content itself

Whether customers prefer to chat with customer service representatives instead of call or they prefer to listen to content instead of read it, the modern customer experience demands that options are available and that the end user can ultimately choose their own preference. Don’t force them to communicate in one specific way with your utility.

Increases in video marketing

Matt Irving, Questline Digital’s Creative Director of Video Content, shared the importance of video marketing, including its ability to capture attention, simplify complex topics and make an idea memorable and entertaining. When creating videos, he reminds utilities to think about the audience.

“Video content can do a lot of things. I like to say it’s part of a complete breakfast. It provides a big oomph, it can cover a lot of areas and it can have a really big impact. But it’s not the best choice for everything,” Irving said. “A video, or any content for that matter, should be relevant. It should be relevant to the consumers, it should be relevant to the space you’re talking to the consumers in and it should be relevant to you.”

Quotation about the importance of video marketing as a trend for 2023

Video is already the most popular and preferred content format for all customers, and it’s only going to grow. According to the Content Marketing Institute, video is going to be the “it” content for 2023, given that 78% of marketers plan to invest in video in the new year.

Segmentation and personalization expansion

Segmentation and personalization have been high-profile email marketing trends in 2022, and Lindamood and Cummins agreed that will continue into 2023. “If utilities haven’t started looking into segmentation, then they’re going to, and if they have then they’re going to push the boundaries more and see what they can accomplish,” Cummins said. “I think it’s really going to be a top priority in 2023.”

“Personalization is the thread that ties together a lot of the email marketing trends that we talked about,” Lindamood added. “I think it’s going to be the longest-lasting trend we’ve discussed. We’re still near the beginning of a big shift toward personalization and it’s going to be around for a long time.”

Personalized and segmented messages make those types of communications immediate, tangible and accessible to customers. Questline Digital expects to see more of this as we use customer data and preferences to personalize the experience they have with their utility.

New Year, New Opportunities, New Email Marketing Trends

Quotation about TikTok being an important digital marketing trend for 2023

Of all the email marketing trends and best practices discussed, Cummins shared that data is a low-hanging fruit. Utilities should focus on cleaning and using their data in new ways, including segmentation and personalization, to better reach and communicate with customers.

Additionally, Lindamood suggested that TikTok needs to become a priority for utilities in the new year and beyond. “Utilities really need to start taking TikTok seriously,” he said. “The thing about TikTok is it’s not just popular among certain customers watching videos, they’re also using it as a search engine. They are finding answers on TikTok, and as a utility, you need to be there answering their energy questions. As an industry, we need to start communicating with the TikTok audience in their preferred channel.”

Stay ahead of the latest email marketing trends with a customer engagement strategy from Questline Digital.

For companies in the energy industry — whether utilities, EV charging station manufacturers, solar providers or sustainability consultants — quality content is vital for customer engagement and business growth. Today’s energy customers are looking for helpful resources, not a sales pitch. That’s where content as a service comes into play.

Bridging the Knowledge Gap With Content

Compared to industries like retail, hospitality or entertainment, the energy industry can be technical and complex. Energy topics like beneficial electrification, demand response and time-of-use (TOU) rates are not always easy for the average consumer to understand. For energy companies, it’s essential to bridge this knowledge gap to increase customer awareness, engagement, and sales.

With a content-as-a-service platform, energy companies have the opportunity to educate customers on a wide variety of energy topics. This energy content is delivered to customers on their preferred channel, such as a website landing page, email newsletter or social media.

Content as a service, often abbreviated as CaaS, is defined as content that is delivered on-demand to consumers through a repository (typically subscription-based). This allows content to be stored on a content management system and then automatically sized and deployed in the best format for a particular channel. With this service model, energy companies always have access to a wide variety of content topics and formats to share with customers.

“This is a way for energy companies to get access to high-quality content without the heavy lift of creating everything from scratch,” says Ryan Prestel, Vice President of Business Development at Questline Digital. “Content as a service is a great place to get started with content marketing, with the added flexibility to use and edit content in any way they choose.”

Content-As-A-Service Platforms Save Time and Money

Consumers are looking for expert advice and resources, making thought leadership a critical element to an energy company’s marketing efforts. This requires ongoing content that is useful, engaging and speaks to customer needs and interests. Without a content-as-a-service platform, energy companies simply won’t have the valuable content necessary to become industry thought leaders.

“Many small companies are trying to be thought leaders, but they don’t have big marketing departments to make that possible,” Prestel says. “They see the importance of content from a thought leadership and SEO perspective, but they can’t afford to hire copywriters, designers and other creatives. This is where content as a service can make a huge impact.”

Creating high-quality articles, infographics and videos is both costly and time-consuming. For many energy companies, employing a copywriter or designer is not possible. Plus, marketing employees often lack the bandwidth to write and design new content every week.

Outsourcing the work is typically not an affordable option either. Freelance designers and copywriters cost $30 to $100 per hour, while a video production company can demand anywhere from $7,500 up to $45,000 per video.

Chart listing the cost of creating educational content for energy companies

Keeping Up with Industry Changes

Creating quality content isn’t a “one-and-done” task for energy marketers. In particular, the energy industry is rapidly changing with new technology, requiring continuous education to keep customers abreast of these innovations.

Content needs to be regularly published to ensure it’s timely and relevant for customers. However, it’s not always easy to think of new ways to educate or market to customers. By using content as a service, energy company marketers have a repository of articles to choose from that speaks to these industry innovations without complicated jargon.

For example, Questline Digital’s Engage Content Library includes more than 4,500 content assets on a wide variety of topics, including energy efficiency, beneficial electrification, electric vehicles, smart technology and more. This content-as-a-service platform is produced by a team of industry experts who ensure the content is updated with the latest research and trending topics.

Armada Power, a demand management service provider, is taking advantage of the Engage Content Library to help grow their utility clients’ hot water heater program. Through content as a service, the energy company plans to increase program participation by educating customers on demand response, virtual power plants, load management and other related topics.

“Content as a service allows energy companies to show the breadth and depth of their knowledge and capabilities,” Prestel explains. “Customers will start to see them as an expert resource for their energy needs.”

Content for Every Customer Touchpoint

To be effective, content marketing must reach customers at every touchpoint in their journey. Content as a service ensures that energy companies have the right resources for each stage in the customer lifecycle, including awareness, education and action.


  • Welcome email series
  • Social media
  • Outage communications
  • Digital ads


  • Email newsletters
  • Interactive content
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Articles
  • Webinars


  • Program promotions (EV, solar, TOU)
  • Paperless billing campaigns
  • Payment assistance campaigns
  • Energy marketplace promotions

For example, a solar photovoltaic (PV) installer needs content to build awareness on their various customer-facing channels. Topics could include the benefits of solar energy, common myths about solar, and an overview of the installation process. The awareness stage transitions to the education stage where customers receive useful content in their preferred channel, like social media, eNewsletters or webinars.

In the action stage, the company needs content to encourage customers to move forward with solar PV installation. A content-as-a-service platform allows energy companies to access and easily post content for every stage of the customer lifecycle.

Equipping Energy Companies With the Right Content

Becoming a thought leader and energy expert takes time and ongoing publication of relevant and timely content. With a content-as-a-service platform, energy companies have access to best-in-class energy content — without relying on an entire creative department. Through a repository of ready-to-go content, energy companies are better equipped with resources to educate and engage customers throughout their journey.

Educate your customers and boost conversions with content-as-a-service solutions from Questline Digital.

Program promotions are among the most important email campaigns for energy utilities. They help increase conversions, boost participation and generate revenue. However, keeping program promotions from getting stale can be a challenge.

It’s not easy to develop program advertising ideas for paperless billing, EV charger rebates, time-of-use rate plans, and other utility programs. The reality is, if customers don’t find the message valuable or exciting, they will quickly tune out emails from your utility.

Bring life to your energy utility campaigns with these creative promotion ideas to increase customer engagement and participation.

Creative Promotion Ideas to Boost Program Participation

  1. Tell a story
  2. Add an incentive
  3. Keep up with trends
  4. Segment your audience
  5. Try an animated GIF

Idea 1: Tell a Story

When looking for program advertising ideas, focus on crafting a story around your target audience. Whether residential or business customers, each audience has unique reasons why your utility’s program or service would benefit them.

Maybe paperless billing would be convenient for a customer’s on-the-go lifestyle, or an energy efficiency assessment would help them save on their monthly bill. Ask yourself how this would make their life easier or solve a problem. These are your support points to build a strong story in your promotional campaign.

To showcase how security lighting could benefit customers, this creative promotion idea for a Southeast energy utility pulled at their heartstrings. The campaign illustrated how special moments in life are made even brighter with the utility’s security lighting program.

Example of creative promotion ideas with emotional message

Questline Digital also partnered with a major Northeast utility to create a successful paperless billing email for customers who are frequent commuters on public transportation. This email performed 1.5 times better than Questline Digital’s benchmark metrics, based on unique clicks. This is just one idea of how creative promotion ideas can hugely impact customer engagement and program participation.

Example of program advertising ideas with easy signup

Idea 2: Add an Incentive

Another excellent program advertising idea is the almighty incentive. If customers can receive a prize for their participation, that’s a win-win for them and your utility.

Incentives always motivate customers, especially smaller incentives awarded to everyone who signs up, like gift cards or LED light bulbs. In comparison, contest entries that award a single large prize (such as $1,000 cash or major league sports tickets) have not been as successful. Yet, every utility is different, so it’s essential to test incentives to see what works for your customers.

Questline Digital data shows that paperless billing promotional emails with incentives have a 17% higher open rate and 28% higher click-through rate than messages without incentives. Additionally, subject lines that clearly state the incentive reach 13% more of their intended audience compared to subject lines that only imply an offer.

Example of program advertising ideas with incentive

Duquesne Light Company took advantage of a smart thermostat giveaway to encourage customers to enroll in its e-Bill program. Because the email was sent ahead of Earth Day, this program advertising idea centered around the environmental benefits of smart thermostats (and paperless billing).

Idea 3: Keep Up with Trends

As utility marketers, paying attention to the latest trends and current events is essential. By incorporating the latest references or topics in your promotions, you’re creating not only a fun narrative, but a timely one. Sometimes a subtle nod to a trending topic is all you need to come up with creative promotion ideas.

To increase interest in a Southeast utility’s security lighting program, Questline Digital created a royal guard-themed campaign that ran shortly after the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. This creative promotion idea was a success, achieving 160 leads in the first 24 hours.

Example of creative promotion ideas with trendy message

Questline Digital helped a Northeast energy utility promote paperless billing during the coronavirus pandemic. This campaign, which spoke to our virtual lifestyle during the pandemic, effectively increased conversions. When thinking of new program advertising ideas, be mindful of the current environment to create messaging that resonates with customers.

Example of program advertising ideas with trendy message

Idea 4: Segment Your Audience

Today’s customers expect relevant communications that speak to their needs and interests. Segmentation is a best-practice solution to deliver promotional campaigns that connect with your customers.

With this program advertising idea, you’re only targeting customers who would find your product or service beneficial. To take advantage of this creative promotion idea, segment your target audience into smaller groups with similar characteristics, including:

  • Demographics
  • Geography
  • Psychographics
  • Behaviors
  • Industry

According to Hubspot, segmented campaigns can see as much as a 760% increase in revenue. Plus, your utility will see increased customer engagement and loyalty. When you send relevant, targeted communications, customers feel understood and appreciated.

Example of program advertising idea with email using personalization

PSEG Long Island utilized segmentation and personalization to promote its time-of-use (TOU) rate program. The emails targeting a segment of prospective customers highlighted the benefits of participation, including compensation for reducing energy use and a no-penalty switch back to regular rates if they didn’t like the new program. The emails sent to past TOU participants announced that the pilot rate program would no longer be available and encouraged them to choose from new TOU options.

The campaign included detailed personalization for each customer, such as the annual savings they would expect to see on the new plan based on their current energy use and that amount calculated as weeks of free electricity. The messages to both segments also promoted a bill credit as an extra incentive to switch.

Idea 5: Try an Animated GIF

Another program advertising idea is to give your customers an eye-catching visual to increase engagement. An animated GIF captures more attention than a static image, helping to increase customer engagement in your program promotions.

According to Litmus State of Email data, more than 51% of marketers use animated GIFs in their campaigns to draw customers in. Research finds that emails with GIFs are more successful, with a 6% higher open rate than emails with static images. According to an Experian study, 72% of marketers who took advantage of animated GIFs in their email campaigns saw higher transaction-to-click rates.

GIFs are a great alternative to video because most email browsers support them. Plus, this creative promotion idea can tell a story much better than a static image, engaging customers before they read the copy.

Example of creative promotions ideas with animated gif

Questline Digital helped PSEG Long Island promote the utility’s $500 Smart Charger Rebate through a fun animated GIF. The animation illustrated the money that EV owners would get back through the rebate.

Improve Engagement With Creative Promotion Ideas

When it comes to program promotions, there is no one-size-fits-all formula. Use these program advertising ideas to infuse some creativity in your promotions, keep your campaigns fresh and improve customer engagement.

Reach your goals and boost participation with creative promotion ideas from Questline Digital.

Personalized communications are no longer a nice-to-have when engaging with energy utility customers. In fact, 74% of customers feel frustrated when content is not relevant to their interests. For energy utilities, segmentation is critical to better understanding their customers and developing long-term relationships.

In Questline Digital’s webinar, “How to Segment and Personalize Utility Customer Communications,” our expert speakers Jason McGrade with the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) and Tony Todesco and Kristen Calvano with Con Edison shared insights on how they are using segmentation to improve their research and marketing efforts.

Understanding Utility Customers Through Segmentation

Segmentation is a vital component of SECC’s 2022 “Consumer Pulse” report, which focuses on consumer attitudes toward technology and energy. According to McGrade, this was a significant departure from previous reports that focused heavily on the environment. SECC is a nonprofit organization made up of about 150 utility partners working to better serve consumers.

“For this year’s report, we really wanted to look at the attitudes and values of utility customers around technology and engagement with their electric provider,” McGrade says. “We wanted to know where they stand in that customer journey, so we created five new segments focused on technology and electricity attitudes, moving away from an environmental focus.”

SECC commissioned Maru/Matchbox to answer the following questions:

  • What devices do consumers own and do they use them to save electricity?
  • How do they view their electricity provider?
  • What information do they want and how do they want to receive it?
  • Do consumers know what impacts their bill?
  • Do consumers know the impact their behaviors have on the grid?
  • How do these answers vary by consumer segment?

Maru/Matchbox conducted an online survey of 2,500 American households with energy decision-makers (ages 18 and older). The survey utilized Implicit Association Testing (IAT) to better understand what sentiments consumers unconsciously associate with their energy provider. Survey respondents were shown a series of statements and asked to either agree or disagree if it applied to them.

The survey responses created five new customer segments:

  • Simply Sustainable (28%): Customers who are environmentally conscious and open to new technology.
  • Connected Pragmatists (22%): Younger and tech-savvy, but not fully engaged with their energy provider.
  • Green Pioneers (21%): These customers are the sweet spot for utilities. They want to engage with their energy provider to maximize energy savings.
  • Trusting Traditionalists (17%): These customers have a high level of trust in their energy provider, but they are overwhelmed by technology.
  • Comfort Seekers (12%): These customers value comfort and convenience over everything else. They are typically older and middle-income.
Example of a customer segmentation strategy for energy utilities

SECC’s “Consumer Pulse” report provides insights and advice on the best ways for energy providers to reach these segments of unique customers. To increase trust, most consumers are looking for rebates or discounts and reduced outages. Overall, energy providers are viewed as the best source of information for all segments. The majority of consumers would like to see more energy-efficient products and offers from their provider, with email being the preferred channel, McGrade explains.

Key takeaways from SECC’s utility customer segmentation:

  • Green Pioneers are the ideal customer. They should be the target for new energy efficiency programs and offers.
  • The Simply Sustainable segment needs further education on technology, while Connected Pragmatists need to develop a sense of urgency toward energy efficiency to take action.
  • Trusting Traditionalists and Comfort Seekers are the most difficult groups to reach. Efforts should focus more on Trusting Traditionalists due to the high level of trust in their energy provider.

“In terms of the key segmentation, we really want energy utilities to take advantage of these marketing opportunities and better understand who their customers are,” McGrade says. “It’s not just about marketing to everyone in the same way. Utility customers have individual values that will motivate them to either gravitate toward or away from a particular marketing message.”

Uncovering New Utility Customer Segments

Con Edison, which serves 10 million people in New York City and Westchester County, took advantage of segmentation to deliver more relevant marketing communications. The utility has 3.5 million electric customers, 1.1 million gas customers and 1,600 steam customers.

According to Todesco, Con Edison finds great value in survey-based segmentation like SECC’s research. To complement survey findings, Con Edison began layering insights from third-party companies to create data-driven segments specific to their customer base.

The utility partnered with Experian Marketing Services to develop personas that uncovered new customer segments, which helped define the marketing strategy for a variety of programs, including heat pump incentives. “Our residential customer database has been appended with these fields so other departments can leverage this data in their analytic platforms as well,” Todesco says.

For example, Con Edison has an outreach team that frequently hosts events in local neighborhoods, Todesco explains. They now have a dashboard that allows them to look up zip code-level statistics when preparing for outreach events. The team can use data, such as language preference or the number of families in an area, to help fine-tune their approach.

Leveraging Data to Personalize Utility Communications

The customer analysis created personas for customers who own geothermal heat pumps and mini-split heat pumps. Through segmentation, the marketing team discovered that geothermal customers are more likely to own or be in the market for an electric vehicle. While geothermal customers aren’t necessarily innovators in tech adoption, they do have an above-average interest in EVs. With this research, the marketing team discovered a great cross-promotion opportunity between the two technologies.

Example of research conducted by a utility to create customer segments

“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.”

The insights for mini-split customers revealed that their homes are much more modest than geothermal homes. They are also older homes (built in 1942 on average) and don’t have the ductwork common in post-war construction, making mini-splits a great solution for heating and cooling. According to Todesco, the team was surprised to learn that over a quarter of mini-split installations were occurring in rental units. While not as costly as geothermal, it seemed unlikely that renters would take on such an expense.

Example of a customer persona created by a utility to personalize communications
Example of a persona used by a utility to personalize customer communications

“What we found through the data was that renters had lived in their units almost as long as homeowners,” Todesco says. “They are considered ‘settled renters’ who would be more invested in making their space comfortable. Targeting both long-term tenants and their landlords/property managers presented a new opportunity for us.”

Demographically, 44% of mini-split customers are Asian and Mandarin speaking compared to 13% of Con Edison’s overall customer base. They are mainly multigenerational family homes based in Brooklyn and Queens. The main takeaway for Con Edison’s marketing team is that the heat pump communications should be written in Mandarin to connect with this multicultural segment.

Impact of Personas on Marketing Campaigns

Prior to these findings, Con Edison was utilizing its existing email list of 23,000 oil heating customers to promote geothermal technology. According to Calvano, the messages were mainly based on cost savings. They started seeing a decline in readership despite retargeting efforts and creative refreshes.

When the research team conducted the persona data, the marketing team was able to gain new insights into the detailed demographics of the utility’s customers who were geothermal adopters. They used various filters, like home type, mosaic segments, land square footage and home value to create a new list of 13,200 gas customers. The new email campaign consisted of four total sends (to oil and gas customers). The oil customers received a cost savings message, while the new list of gas customers received an environmental benefits message. Both emails surpassed industry benchmarks:

Email to oil heating customers:

  • 1.59% CTR
  • 5.07% CTOR
  • 31.44% Open Rate

Email to gas heating customers:

  • 1.53% CTR
  • 5.84% CTOR
  • 26.27% Open Rate
Example of emails using customer personas to personalize utility communications

Due to the mini-split offering winding down from overperformance, the marketing team didn’t have a chance to utilize the Experian data in 2022. When they first launched the Clean Heating program in 2020, the utility was only targeting single-family homeowners to promote mini-splits. After learning that 26% of mini-split adopters are renters, Con Edison’s marketing team plans to expand targeting to renters once the program relaunches in 2023.

Segmentation is the Key to Personalize Utility Communications

For both SECC and Con Edison, segmentation has been vital to better understanding utility customers. According to McGrade, it’s best to let the data speak for itself and not make any assumptions along the way. As Con Edison’s experience demonstrates, segmentation has the power to create targeted program promotion campaigns that resonate with customers.

Learn how Questline Digital can create a segmentation strategy for your utility to better understand your customers and personalize communications.