Flavor of the Decade: What Energy Utilities Can Learn from Verizon

For nine years starting in 2001, Paul Marcarelli was the face and the voice Verizon used to break through a crowded telecommunications market and build its brand. Verizon built its brand around a model dressed as a slightly nerdy technician who always asked, “Can you hear me now?” In other words, Verizon would be the company that made sure your calls went through and weren’t dropped. It was focused on what you needed, not what it preferred.

And Verizon repeated that message, using the same person, in a consistent manner, for a long time. It chose its unique horse, it rode it for nine years and it made sure it delivered on its promise.

Nine years is a long time to be the face and voice of a company. But the ads, and the tagline, still resonate because they were relevant to customers and the company delivered on its promise. The model’s clothes showed he worked in the reliability end of the business. He installed lines and replaced switches. He drove a service vehicle. His glasses and haircut ensured he’d never be mistaken for a super model or Master of the Universe. His job was to make sure his company facilitated what the customer wanted—talk to Aunt Susie, order a pizza, whatever. Nothing else mattered.

Times change. Verizon’s name now adorns sports venues in a few cities. Their marketing now emphasizes hardware, not services. And, of course, “cell phones” are now called “mobile devices.”

But what hasn’t changed—either for energy utility customers or users of mobile devices—is the need for service that is reliable, safe, customer-centered, and affordable.

Some time back, I gave a talk on utility taglines. At that time, some top-tier utilities like Duke Energy did not have a tagline, while other leaders, like Colorado Springs Utilities, did. There seemed to be little correlation between whether a utility had a tagline and whether it was a leader in customer satisfaction.

Some taglines emphasized their company’s commitment to connecting with customers, others pledged to go above and beyond the call of duty to serve customers. I’ve always been a fan of OUC’s tagline—The Reliable One—as that touched on an important aspect of service. It also differentiated the utility among its peers. Several pledged to be the low-cost provider, but OUC said it was hanging its hat on one particularly important, customer-centered aspect of service— reliability. For mobile device users and utility customers, reliability is what it’s all about.

Is it better to have a tagline or not? Which tagline is best? In my experience, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s relevant to customers and the organization delivers (if not over-delivers) on whatever promise it makes. Whether it’s lower costs, friendlier service, higher reliability, or greater commitment to communities, your utility must be willing and able to claim a specific place in the customer’s mind, stick with it for a long time, and then deliver on that promise.

—John Egan is the founder and president of
Egan Energy Communications and a veteran electric utility communicator who contributes frequently to MANAGING POWER.

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