While homeowners are increasingly eager to both save money and conserve energy, when it comes to allowing outside entities to enter their lives and help them manage energy decisions in order to accomplish these goals, the picture is more complicated. Trends, including the electrification of everything and an increasing need to manage energy consumption at the grid edge, are leading brands such as Google and Amazon, as well as retailers and car manufacturers, to flock to the energy space with promises of cleaner, cheaper, and more efficient ways of doing things.
At the same time, consumers are becoming more active and involved in their energy decisions. How will consumers receive these offerings? Who will they welcome into their lives and energy decisions? Who will be rejected?
Utility providers specifically have a vested interest in these decisions as they think about ways to reduce overall energy consumption and strain on the grid—and which companies might make the best partners in that mission. One thing is clear—consumers must have positive perceptions of companies across a mix of trustworthiness, innovation, and baseline competency to gain access to consumers’ homes—and to the broader clean tech ecosystem.
Trust in Utilities
Recently, Uplight and See Change Institute pioneered research that gathered input from 2,400 U.S. utility customers, showing how 16 representative brands, products, and services rank in terms of trust, competence, innovation, willingness to allow brands to connect their homes, and willingness to help manage energy decisions. Overall, trust, competence, and innovation are all strongly correlated with a customer’s willingness to let a third party manage some of their energy decisions. However, across these 16 brands, not all scored equally well. For example, the research showed that a majority of consumers trust their utility provider, but they score fairly low in being perceived as innovative.
Conversely, households are more likely to give technology brands and products—like Apple, Google, and smart thermostats—higher scores for competence and innovation. Importantly, those scores aren’t enough for consumers to readily welcome them into their homes to manage energy decisions—that top honor went to utilities. Trust in utilities can therefore build the strongest association with a willingness to play a role in energy decision making—foundational decisions that, home by home, can help accelerate the energy transition.
Utilities have an opportunity to continue prioritizing consumer trust while at the same time shoring up their innovation dimension by, for example, mimicking the experience and branded messaging of more innovative companies like Google and Amazon. Those practices include seamless digital customer experiences, responsive and speedy fulfillment, and leaning into tools like apps and insight-driven recommendations to reach and engage with customers.
Novel partnerships can also open up a new set of opportunities for utilities, as well as get people excited about having new product options with the potential to solve unique problems and add value. Partnerships can also be beneficial when they complement each other—compensating for each other’s weaknesses in order to provide a complete, compelling customer offer. When brands partner together not only do they widen their audiences, but they also solidify consumer trust and generate more engagement.
Although they may not always be viewed as particularly cutting edge, utilities ranked high on willingness to connect an energy customer’s home and help manage their energy decisions—vital to any brand partnership looking to enter this space. To best meet customer needs and change consumer perception around innovation, utilities have an opportunity to develop partnerships with the brands that customers already view as innovative, and that they may have higher engagement with overall. Brands that scored high marks for innovation in Uplight and See Change Institute’s study included Amazon, Google, and Apple–digital-first brands that utility customers interact with on a daily basis.
For example, utilities can emphasize innovation messaging when working with an electric vehicle (EV) company to help develop better, smarter at-home charging solutions for consumers with EVs that help shape the grid of the future. Solutions could help consumers save money, understand optimal charging times for their household and grid, and even realize the full benefits of owning an EV. Because no single entity alone currently embodies all the characteristics that make the ideal clean tech ecosystem brand—innovative, digital, strong familiarity, and strong association with energy—partnerships are a key way to gain consumer trust and interest.
Partnering with innovators in the home energy space is key for utilities to burnish their reputation as innovators and unlock new customer markets. While consumers are eager to save money and energy in their home spaces, utilities have the opportunity to emphasize their position as a trusted source to lead consumers in the right direction when it comes to their home ecosystem.
—Dan Burak is Senior Director, Brand Marketing at Uplight.