CHARGE, the world’s first energy branding conference, will take place in Reykjavik, Iceland, from 19-20 September 2016.
The conference seeks to explore the frontiers of energy branding and bring to the industry hands-on best practices and cases, along with academic examples with the aim of demonstrating potential opportunities for the energy space and its customers by utilising world-class brand practices.
In an exclusive interview, the World Branding Forum discusses the conference with Dr. Friðrik Larsen, CHARGE Conference Chairman and CEO of LarsEn Energy Branding. A leading expert in this field of energy branding, he began his career in branding by starting a marketing company with his brother. That company started out in a garage, but it is one of the largest in its field in Iceland today.
In 2007, Dr. Larsen sold the company to pursue a PhD. He really wanted to start something new and saw that electricity was still being sold as a commodity. Around the same time, he was looking at a list of the most valuable brands in the world, and noticed that all of them need electricity to exist – yet none of them sold or manufactured electricity. When he started his courses at Aston University, they originally weren’t too sure about his area of research, and he was told that electricity could not be branded. He persisted and eventually became the first person to hold a PhD in Energy Branding.
WBF: Can you share with us how the idea for this conference came about?
Dr. Larsen: While I was doing my doctoral research and after I received my degree I could sense a similar attitude within the utilities – that they didn’t need branding. They were selling a commodity – what is energy branding – what is branding? Some told me that they had gone through re-branding which in their mind was the process of getting a new logo. It is an engineering focused industry so the mind-set wasn’t a surprise. When I explained branding and how it can help them, they could see how it could apply to energy. But since time is a limited resource, I quickly realised that one on one conversations wouldn’t be efficient, it would be better to pool all the knowledge on the subject into one place and get everyone there to learn and listen.
WBF: Why is there a need for an energy branding conference, and why now?
Dr. Larsen: The utilities have become aware of the threat of disruption in their market. But they are only aware of technical disruption – the key buzzwords here are distributed community energy, the prosumer, internet-of-your-washing-machine and the list goes on. Again, most of them are focused on technical engineering terms that no one has any idea how or if they will cause a considerable disruption. It won’t be difficult for them to adapt to these engineering problems. A bigger threat to the utilities are people who dare to ask questions on why the utilities don’t do things differently, those who are not afraid to frame electricity in abstract terms – basically entrepreneurs who know the consumer better because they are the consumer. Brands that consumers relate to or are proud consumers of that could enter the market as well. The conference will be valuable for newcomers to the market as well since it will guide them from making mistakes that the utilities have made before, and get a sense of how their brands can be different.
WBF: What are some of the challenges facing energy companies today in terms of branding?
Dr. Larsen: I like to say that the utilities have in the past connected a copper wire to people’s houses and had all the business they needed. Today, a different type of connection is needed to maintain and retain their business. That connection is from the utility to people’s hearts and minds. I want to make it clear that I am not being disrespectful on the engineering part here – a great energy brand needs engineering just as much as a utility needs branding. As a branding doctor (pun intended), my diagnosis is Marketing Myopia resulting in an unclear focus on the brand.
WBF: How would energy branding differ from branding for other products or services?
Dr. Larsen: There are two things. For one, electricity is at the early stages of branding – someone making a mundane consumer product as soap is engaging and creating value for the consumer by attributes like fresh-day-at-the-beach-aroma. So the possibilities in product attributes are endless – not only in creating perception but also in ways the service is offered and presented. But most importantly, the consumer hasn’t been king in the utility world. It has been a one way conversation. There is a lot of distrust going on. This is especially true in newly liberalised markets or liberalised markets with inactive competition. So the job for utilities and newcomers is to undo a century of consumer perception in the energy space.
WBF: What can brands expect to learn at the conference?
Dr. Larsen: How communication and understanding is the key to a successful brand, and that a powerful brand affects the bottom line. It is also important for brands in other sectors to utilise energy as an ingredient in their products and services; energy can add a dimension into their storytelling and add value to their brands.
WBF: Which speakers are you most excited about and why?
Dr. Larsen: To be honest and it might be a cliché answer but I am pretty excited about everyone that is participating. When I started talking about branding electricity, I had the feeling that I was the only one. When the idea first got hold of me, I estimated that if I was lucky I would be able to get nine other people to sit with me at a round table and discuss energy branding. And that was a very optimistic estimate. But ever since I started to give talks about the subject, I have found a momentum for the topic. I am extremely grateful to everyone that is talking and I am truly excited to finally meet them all in person.
WBF: How many delegates are expected and from how many countries?
Dr. Larsen: We are limiting delegates to 300 to keep the conference intimate and to allow delegates and participants to engage and learn from each other. I have lost count of the flags but at the moment we have confirmed delegates and participants from all continents except South America and Antarctica – we hope to have participants or delegates from all continents in 2017.
WBF: And finally, why was Reykjavik chosen as the venue?
Dr. Larsen: We wanted to create a strong brand and a strong brand is unique. So CHARGE is not yet another dull energy conference –it’s the world’s first energy branding conference. That means to have interesting content, but also an exciting venue. Everyone has been to a conference in London, Frankfurt or Las Vegas. Iceland is of course the most accessible exotic island in the world, midway between Europe and North America. And finally, we are connecting our brand to the country brand of Iceland, which within the energy space is connected to being the leader in green energy and using geothermal heat to do more than just creating electricity.
The World Branding Forum is an official media partner of CHARGE – The World’s First Energy Branding Conference. To find out more about CHARGE, visit the conference’s website.