How EDF Energy stopped looking for love and found a meaningful place in their customers’ lives

EDF Energy’s Head of Brand and Marketing Mel Stanley explains how the energy company’s new insight-based approach led to a new brand proposition and its biggest ever integrated campaign

What sparked your change in approach to insight and personas? 

“When I joined EDF Energy our insight team was gathering extensive, but fairly rigid data, often asking the same questions – whether people support nuclear, how important price is… lots of rational questions with binary answers. 

“I was told all the research said consumers only cared about price – which was no good to anyone. When a power company can be so easily undercut, how can we build a valuable brand if we appeal to nothing but price? 

“We needed to find something else customers were interested in that connected at an emotional level.

“A chance to trial a new approach came up this year as we were exploring the electric vehicle market.” 

What worked? 

“We put demographics aside. Instead of profiling via age, wealth or gender, we did a lot of social profiling and cross-matched data sources to find correlations. We also looked at social psychographic profiles, to identify those people intent on lowering their carbon and matched back to Twitter handles. By combining all the data we had from different sources and applying various lenses, like technology adoption and environmental consciousness, groupings started to appear. 

“It doesn’t matter how old people are, or how affluent they are. We found unifying behaviours driven by concern for the future of the planet. So now we’ve got personas which cut across demographics with the same one including a Waitrose shopper who brings their own bags, and a protester out there with Extinction Rebellion.

“This bottom down segmentation works because it’s based on attitude not stereotypes and it became the basis for Generation Electric. 

“Happily the brand DNA fits with low carbon energy so we were able to fuse this together with environmental consciousness. 

“Our campaign tagline is ‘Everyone’s Welcome’ because as well as appealing to those who want to go electric we want to reach people who don’t yet realise how well it could work for them.” 

Did you face challenges in bringing in this new segmentation? 

“We had some pushback from the business. Mainly being asked to quantify the size of the environmentally-conscious audience, which is really difficult, because how do you quantify an attitude? 

“The demographics approach is so entrenched in companies like ours. It comes down to that underlying question: how many can we sell? But that’s often the wrong question. 

“Fortunately there is a cultural change going on in EDF – an acceptance that you don’t always know what the outcome will be, but it’s worth giving it a go. My argument was we can’t keep talking about price with so many new competitors in the market and we have to find a way to engage at an emotive level.” 

Where did the decision to get into electric vehicles come from? 

“It started with our team at Brilliant Noise running search and keyword analysis alongside social listening through Brandwatch and Affinio. They found insights about people’s concerns around electric vehicles. From battery life and availability of charging points to some pretty out there ones – do they slow down when going uphill? Can an EV go in a carwash? Sounds daft, but if people are asking it, it’s valid! 

“We realised there was an opportunity to create a combined product and service offering, while lifting the brand by engaging with customers on something they care about.

“Speaking to these concerns gets us in on the customer journey early on and we found a compelling way to do this with videos co-created with influencers.” 

What are your sales targets?

“This isn’t about revenue so we don’t have targets for Go Electric packages. It’s about shifting the brand and building on our legacy as the UK’s biggest provider of low carbon energy. 

“But we do have brand perception targets and will be analysing the first month’s data in July.” 

Why influencer marketing? 

“These influencers are already part of people’s lives so it’s a great way to get engagement and reaction to this new brand position. This is a long term investment in reaching those who aren’t yet customers, as well as a way of shifting perceptions about EDF Energy amongst those who are. The films tackle the things people are interested in and worried about when it comes to getting their first electric car.

“The influencers we’ve chosen are deliberately very different. We wanted to reflect the different tribes of people that are quietly making changes to lessen their impact on the planet. This ranges from an aspirational family like the Michalaks to a group of crazy 30-something guys on a zipwire when Jim Chapman joined Yaya and Lloyd.”

What’s the big challenge for brands looking to use data to better understand customers? 

“There are so many sources of customer insight now available, from social listening to panels and behavioural psychology, we have more opportunities than ever before, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple.

“If you want to buy in best of breed insights you have to go to lots of different sources. It’s resource-heavy as well as expensive. Every form of research looks through a different lens, some complementary, some contradictory, which is good because it’s how you get those real golden nuggets, but our insight team has to join the dots between suppliers and it’s time-consuming. For me the gap in the market is in matching it all together.” 

What’s the key to better personas? 

“We’ve come a long way from the days of pen portraits. Digital communications have created trackable, measurable, one to one experiences, which makes it easier to understand who your customers are and how they behave. There’s depth and richness that wasn’t possible before. 

“Alongside cross-referencing data and looking through various lenses, another interesting route to personas is a kind of back-to-front way of looking at influencers. 

“Brands usually try to find influencers that match their personas, but they can inspire personas themselves. Many people follow influencers because they have similar views and aspirations – that’s thousands of kindred spirits. These people document their lives online so are a great source of insight. What better way to create personas than to be led by influencers who represent a certain way of thinking with a defined following?”

How do you balance data with marketers’ instinct to see beyond the numbers? 

“That’s a good question. I think where we’ve got it right has been focusing on outcomes. Instead of taking data at face value you need to dig deeper, but you also have to look at outcomes too. What are you going to do with that knowledge? 

“Interpretation steers you away from red herrings. We were looking at some data on higher billing customers recently and in the meeting someone described a ‘red light moment’, when it absolutely wasn’t. There was a correlation with higher billing customers and their likelihood of buying insurance – well no sh*t Sherlock. So there’s a propensity to spend more, but how? On what? Why? You need to be relentlessly curious about what sits behind the data.”

You recently told Marketing Week that consumers will never love a power company and “pragmatic, realistic” aims are smarter. If you’re not looking for brand love, what’s the emotional goal and how do you figure out where you can sit in consumers’ lives? 

“EDF Energy’s old brand position was ‘Feel Better Energy’. With that and the cute little character Zingy, we were really asking to be loved. It was before my time, but that sounded like a tall order to me. 

“We live in a media environment where power companies are press whipping boys. Where once it was price now it’s smart meters. You also have to be a realist about the interactions customers are going to have with you. Inaccurate estimates will still happen and there will be times when someone calls up and needs to wait to speak to an advisor. 

“Yet there is still a place for emotional connections. Through looking at customer insight in a richer way we saw a chance to be a facilitator for those who want to live a lower carbon life. 

“We’re not doing this to be loved, but people might end up liking us more along the way for enabling them to achieve something they really care about.” 

Read more about the work we’ve been doing as EDF Energy’s lead content strategy and creative agency.