As an energy utility, it’s essential that your customers are satisfied — after all, they’re the very lifeblood of your business. And while customer service and energy supply are obviously major factors in retention and loyalty, there’s another powerful component when it comes to delivering an exceptional customer experience: marketing.

Leveraged correctly, marketing can help you reach a greater number of customers than ever before and create relationships built on trust and understanding. Marketing can be an invaluable tool in raising awareness of your services, engaging customers, and creating a positive experience.

Keep reading to discover the top five components of your marketing strategy that can enhance utility customer satisfaction (CSAT).

5 Ways Marketing Can Improve Utility Customer Satisfaction

  1. Easy-to-use websites and portals
  2. Personalized communications
  3. Entertainment
  4. Helpful content
  5. Honesty

When customers see that you’re attending to their needs and making it simple for them to take advantage of offers, they leave interactions feeling pleased. You can make it enjoyable to engage with your utility by developing easy-to-use websites, investing in segmented email marketing and sharing content that entertains and improves customers’ daily lives.

“I believe that any effort that connects on a personal level with the consumer improves the customer experience,” said Angela Catton, Manager of Member Relations and Development at Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative (NIPCO). “Marketing efforts that can reinforce how that specific product or service can improve a customer’s life strike a chord and make that experience memorable.”

Easy-to-use websites and portals

Navigating the world of electric utilities can be a daunting task for customers. That’s why an easy-to-use website and customer portal can have a tremendously positive impact on CSAT.

When customers can easily access information about their bills, seamlessly make payments and intuitively find what they are looking for, they feel more empowered and in control of their energy consumption.

An intuitive website can also reduce the need for customers to call in and wait on hold for extended periods. This can lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction as their experience is more efficient and hassle-free.

As a customer of an electric utility, the last thing you want to encounter while trying to navigate a website or customer portal is a clunky interface. Not only can a clunky website be confusing and frustrating, but it can also contribute to a negative perception of the utility as a whole.

What exactly makes for a website that successfully serves the needs of customers? The annual Website Benchmark report published by E Source includes a public ranking of utility sites. In 2021 the report assessed 85 electric and gas utility websites, focusing on four usability components: findability, functionality, content and appearance.

Features of top-ranking utility websites:

  • Use responsive design
  • Follow standards for accessibility compliance
  • Prioritize self-service
  • Emphasize security
  • Have intuitive navigation
  • Provide content that customers need

Common pitfalls for utility websites:

  • Slow loading times
  • Difficult navigation
  • Broken links
  • Multi-click pathways to important information
  • Or, lack of important information altogether
  • Poor design
  • Text-heavy or jargon-heavy messaging

Personalized communications

With options such as personalized emails, text messages and mobile app notifications, personalized communications provide a straightforward, cost-effective way for energy utilities to strengthen their customer relationships.

Utilities can personalize communications by understanding their customers’ needs and interests, using data like customer energy use, program participation and content consumption. Con Edison adds insights from third-party companies like Experian Marketing Services to create data-driven customer segments, according to Tony Todesco, Market Research Senior Specialist at the utility.

“Our residential customer database has been appended with these fields so other departments can leverage this data in their analytic platforms as well,” Todesco explained during a webinar.

For example, Con Edison’s outreach team, which hosts events in local neighborhoods, has access to a dashboard that allows them to look up zip code-level statistics when preparing for events. The team can use data, such as language preference or the number of families in an area, to help guide their approach.

Energy utilities have an opportunity to improve customer satisfaction by employing such personalization strategies. By tailoring messages to individual customers, whether through their preferred communication channels or by providing energy-saving advice specific to their household, utilities can build trust and loyalty.

With the rise of technology and data analytics, energy companies can now analyze customer behaviors to create messaging that resonates with their needs.

Entertainment

NIPCO uses virtual reality videos to educate and entertain consumers about the work done by cooperative line workers. Customers can wear headsets and experience a climb to the top of an electric pole through the magic of 360-degree video. The “Lineman 360” experience directly brought the message of line worker safety to the watcher, making it feel personal and memorable.

“These videos immerse the watcher and build empathy with what line workers do daily by experiencing it themselves,” Catton explained. “Lineman 360 improved the consumer relationship because when the lights go out, they remember their experience when they virtually climbed a pole or trimmed a tree and understand that it takes time to restore the power safely.

“By making them ‘virtual line workers,’ they connect personally with their power provider, and consumers become advocates for what they do. When they become advocates, that customer relationship is deepened.”

To get a 360-degree view of a line worker’s pole climb, use your mouse to click and drag the video’s perspective.

Helpful content

As an energy utility provider, your customers want more than just reliable service and competitive prices. They also want to feel informed and empowered when it comes to their energy usage.

By creating and sharing helpful content, such as energy-saving tips, tutorials on how to read their bills, appliance efficiency guides, and regulation updates, you can show your customers that you care about their satisfaction beyond just their monthly bill.

“Finding good, digestible, and engaging content that connects with the consumer is gold,” Catton said. “It draws them in and conversationally communicates good advice on how to save money, improve their lives or live greener.”

Questline Digital’s 2023 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report found that residential customers were most engaged with the following pieces of content:

  1. Myth Busting: Home Energy Use
  2. Wasting Energy is a Hard Habit to Break
  3. Listening for Energy Savings in Your Home
  4. Holiday Season: 12 Days of Energy Savings
  5. Your Home: The Hidden Costs of Summer
  6. How to Keep Your Upstairs Cooler This Summer
  7. You Can Upgrade to a Smart Outlet
  8. Your Home: Sealing in Savings and Comfort
  9. Is Your Home Ready for Winter?
  10. 5 Signs That You Need a New Heating System

Education is also critical for business customers. Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) works to inform its business customers about rising costs, state decarbonization efforts and other imperative issues, according to Denise Galambos, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations and Chief Customer Officer.

“We spend a lot of time counseling business customers on energy efficiency programs, grants, and other ways to save on energy costs,” Galambos explained in a recent Utility Dive article. “Maryland is a state that’s very focused on its decarbonization goals, requiring us to continuously educate customers about what’s happening at the legislative level.”

Honesty

As energy costs steadily rise and renewable energy becomes an increasingly prominent topic, the importance of honesty in marketing strategies cannot be understated. Energy utility companies can benefit from being transparent with their customers about the sources of their power, any associated costs and details about their operations.

In turn, customers can make informed decisions about their energy consumption and feel confident that their provider has their best interests at heart. This transparency can lead to improved utility customer satisfaction, as consumers feel like they have a better understanding of what they are paying for and how it impacts the environment.

During a recent webinar, Morgan Kriley, Customer Experience Associate with Duquesne Light Company (DLC), explained that transparency is central to DLC’s focus on being a “Trusted Energy Partner” to its customers.

“The honesty and transparency piece played a major role” in a campaign to inform customers of changing energy rates, Kriley said. DLC created website resources, including a website banner and resource hub, in addition to social media posts and newsletter articles to explain the new rates. Each resource directed customers to a link that explained why energy prices were rising and what customers could do to help lower their costs.

Boost Utility Customer Satisfaction with Positive Experiences

Energy customers have more control than ever before, from choosing their energy providers to using smart home devices to automate energy savings. But along with this control comes a need for information to help customers better understand the impact of these decisions on their energy consumption and costs.

With an effective marketing strategy, utilities can be the trusted sources of that information and ensure that customers can take control of their energy use. By providing easy-to-use websites, personalized communications, entertaining and helpful content, and transparent messaging, energy providers can have a positive impact on the customer experience and achieve higher levels of utility customer satisfaction.

Learn how a digital engagement strategy from Questline Digital and help you boost customer satisfaction at your energy utility.

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.

Awareness:

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

Education:

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

Action:

  • 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.