Energy companies are known for breaking ground when it comes to their products, but that spirit of innovation isn't always evident in the way they market them.
For all the solar panel producers, wind turbine manufacturers and renewable energy suppliers out there, there are a lot of dense fact sheets and text-heavy product descriptions that are difficult for the average consumer to understand. These are products and services that can be complex, and content marketing could help to bridge that gap.
So why aren't more energy companies embracing it? From my own experience working with several of these companies, it's not that they don't see the value, it's that they can have particularly daunting hurdles to leap over first.
Here are three of the most common hurdles I've seen and how marketers in the energy industry can overcome them.
The energy industry has always been tightly regulated, but it's become even more so in recent years. The passage of the Dodd-Frank Act gave even more power to regulators like the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, SEC and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to enforce any perceived attempts to manipulate energy prices.
That’s why it’s so important to avoid making predictions about energy prices or making unsubstantiated claims about your product or service.
Something that seems as innocuous as implying your customers will receive lower energy bills in the coming year as a result of your product or service could be perceived as price manipulation.
Most organizations have a legal team to review every customer-facing document to look out for these potential missteps. As necessary as this is, it can be incredibly frustrating. A simple case study can get tangled up in the review process for months.
So what's a responsible, understandably cautious organization to do?
First, involve the legal team from the very beginning, before launching any content marketing initiative. Communicate your intended plan, including preliminary content pieces, and ask the legal department to share concerns before that first piece is developed. It can be helpful to create a shared document outlining guidelines for blogs and any other resources you plan to create.
This document should spell out your brand’s style, primary buyers, tone, topics, imagery and terms to avoid (such as using "hedging," "pricing" or "sustainable" without qualification).
Taking the time to gain consensus on these basic matters first will help you streamline the legal review process and help you avoid missteps along the way.
At times, identifying your organization's typical buyer can feel like shooting at a moving target. Differentiating between residential and commercial energy users is necessary when it comes to segmenting services, but these categories are so broad they can encompass just about anyone. For B2B energy companies primarily focused on marketing their products and services to other companies, it can be difficult to identify the decision maker.
While the largest companies may have energy managers or corporate sustainability managers whose sole focus is furthering responsible energy practices, the person in charge of purchasing and managing energy at most organizations is less defined. The job could fall to the facilities manager, who has much more on his mind than keeping the lights on, or purchasing manager, who is primarily concerned with getting the lowest price.
Before you begin creating content, it's important to understand who is most likely to consume it, who has decision authority and who else has influence over the decision. This isn't necessarily the same person. To help you think this through, take time to research and define your buyer personas.
Buyer personas are narratives about your ideal buyers that include important considerations, such as:
To begin defining your buyer personas, take the time to talk with several people you consider to be ideal clients. You can also glean valuable insights from talking with prospects or people who were considering your company but ultimately chose to go with a competitor.
Large energy companies have been forced to become more lean in recent years, while smaller startups are accustomed to operating this way. That leaves little time for the effort it takes to plan, develop, design, launch and promote high-quality content.
Content marketing is an investment, not an experiment. It requires long-term planning, not short-term trial and error. To see a return on that investment, you need a team that will take ownership of the project and be able to dedicate enough time and effort to do it right. When it's done right, it's a little like managing a newsroom. Someone needs to develop and manage an editorial calendar, assign pieces and ensure people meet their deadlines.
First, look to your company's own experts and determine to what extent they can be involved. Are they willing to host webinars if the marketing department plans and promotes them? Can they commit to writing a blog post once a month? Can they talk about what they do in a way that is clear and compelling, or would they prefer to be interviewed by someone who writes for a living?
Next, consider who can lead the effort. Does the marketing director have experience writing and promoting a variety of content, from blogs to more in-depth whitepapers? Does he or she truly have the time to do it without taking away from other priorities? Can this person coordinate with others and ensure they follow through on their commitments?
If you aren't confident your team has the ability and time to manage all this, consider hiring a team of freelancers to supplement your efforts or outsourcing the project to a content marketing agency.
Working with an agency with specific expertise in writing, designing and promoting content allows your company to focus on what it does best while ensuring you attract the right prospects and nurture them throughout the decision-making process.
An agency can give you a fresh perspective on how to promote concepts that you are too involved in to discuss objectively. It can also help you stay focused on specific goals for lead generation and sales if your company is expanding quickly and things are becoming chaotic.
Outsourcing doesn't mean giving up control. No one knows your products and services better than you, so your perspective will be critical when it comes to giving direction and positioning your company's expertise.
Content marketing is a great way for energy companies to educate and inspire potential buyers. It can help them overcome hesitations to implementing new technology or hiring a new provider, and it can also help them gain buy-in from other key stakeholders within the company.
If your company is ready to consider implementing a content marketing initiative, this helpful guide offers a blueprint for getting started. It covers everything from researching buyer personas and planning the right content pieces to effectively promoting them so you can maximize your efforts.
Sometimes the first step is the most difficult, but putting it off won't make it any easier. You'll just be postponing the time it takes to see results. What are you waiting for? Get started today!