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How Content Marketing Took a Powerful, Vertical Leap to Help Utility Customers

content marketing vertical strategies, CMIAs content marketers, we’ve come a long way. There is plenty of ironclad proof that targeted, relevant content produces amazing results in driving customer engagement, as measured by revenue, response, and ROI. Going vertical can take content marketing to a new level. Industry-based content marketing is a powerful way to customize content around the challenges that are specific and unique to that industry.
Let’s take a look at an unlikely industry for content marketing: utilities. 

The content challenge 

Utility companies — water, power, gas — have enjoyed a largely captive customer base for many years. But the industry is now at an inflection point, making it ripe for content marketing. 

Utility companies today face new challenges such as potential deregulation, smart meters, electric cars, and looming environmental regulations. Thus, they are seeking solutions that build customer loyalty and attract new prospects through more effective content strategies. Add to that the large-scale changes that are also happening, such as expanding areas of deregulation, rising unemployment rates and slow economic growth, and it has become imperative that utilities devise ways of improving content, while reducing marketing spend and improving response rates. 

The million dollar content marketing question is: What do utility customers really want?

Utility consumers want to know that their provider “knows” them, understands their needs, and is delivering high-quality content that meets those needs while saving them money. It goes beyond just “supplying” a utility service; consumers are looking to their providers for tips and suggestions on how they can save money by modifying their habits — such as paying their bills on time, reducing energy usage at peak times, and using resources more responsibly. Impersonal tactics can be detrimental to the customer/provider relationship and can lead to customers seeking out alternative competitive options.  

The best way to implement an effective content marketing campaign here is to leverage data to determine the appropriate target and how to deliver the message at the right time via the right channel. By using rich insights from customer data, utilities can reduce the amount of irrelevant information and effectively target active customers who have the highest propensity to respond, while also finding effective ways to engage those who are inactive.

Let’s face it: as consumers, we really don’t consider our utilities statements — either paper or online — to be powerful marketing tools. But think about how many consumers disregard their statements. What makes bills such a powerful and underleveraged marketing vehicle is the simple fact that customers open them, read them, and linger on the content contained in them. With content, open-read-linger is a marketer’s dream come true.

LADWP’s marketing mission

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is the largest municipal utility in the United States. Established in 1902, LADWP supplies water and electricity to more than 4 million users in homes and businesses throughout the city of Los Angeles. It operates approximately 1.4 million electric service connections and 712,992 water service connections.

The challenge for this large utility was the rising volume and increasing costs of call-center inquiries from their vast customer base. LADWP wanted to improve the overall customer experience by reducing call-center inquiries; providing relevant, clear content; being as green as possible; and improving ROI.

Changing behavior patterns in a city the size of Los Angeles was a lofty goal, but that is exactly what LADWP accomplished through creative content marketing and an innovative technology application (and, by the way, LADWP has also reduced its costs of operation in the process).  

Let’s take a look at what they did:

LADWP’s content solution

In 2011, LADWP took some bold, industry-first steps that proved content marketing can work subtly, but powerfully, to drive customers toward an idea — in this case, energy efficiency and on-time bill payment. Although not a “product,” per se, the content marketing approach simply and effectively created real awareness and change in customer behavior, which can be translated to power, water, and money savings for everyone, as well as reduced stress on LADWP’s customer support system.

Management at LADWP saw a red flag raised with the discovery that 25 to 35 percent of call-center activity related to inquiries about customer statements. Simply put, customers could not read their monthly bills. LADWP took a long, hard look at its complete billing process and spelled out three objectives:

  • To improve clarity and comprehension of customer invoices, thus reducing call-center usage by 20 percent
  • To influence customer behavior by educating them on ways to reduce energy consumption
  • To lower the overall cost of statement operations through process automation  

To achieve these goals, LADWP sought assistance from industry experts to help design a solution, manage the implementation, and measure the new tactics. The gamut of LADWP’s content activities would eventually include everything from creating billing statements, to ensuring their accurate and timely delivery, and implementing useful analytics tools to help encourage customers to act on the content they receive — whether aimed at reducing calls to the center or participating in the next “reduction of carbon emissions” campaign.

Together, LADWP and Ricoh, its selected partner, were able to totally revamp customer billing to include marketing content such as bill payment options, energy initiatives, and more, which paved the way for the use of customized content. The companies worked together to ensure that the important information was clear to the recipient, based on the finding that a large amount of call-center volume was based on a lack of easily comprehensible billing statements. Customized content included newly designed color graphs to show individual power consumption per each home or business, allowing customers to clearly see their usage. The new statement also included educational content, including insight into new energy efficiency initiatives.

The new billing statement design launched in May 2011, and has succeeded in helping LADWP to educate and encourage its customers to reduce energy consumption, especially during peak-use periods. Additionally, the new design established an infrastructure whereby LADWP could relay future smart-meter data, as well as current conservation suggestions, to each of its customers. 

Since the debut of the new billing statements, customer understanding and adoption of responsible energy and water usage has increased, while call-center volume has decreased.

LADWP’s story is one that is common in other industries. Studies show that nearly 50 percent of consumers state their No. 1 reason for brand defection is irrelevant content and communications. Irrelevance often stems from “static” marketing, when insight-driven, dynamic marketing is not practiced. Shockingly, 60 percent of marketing is still based on static approaches that do not optimize content to the recipient. These two statistics are difficult to accept when you add a third element: the increased returns enjoyed by marketers who do choose to use data-driven content marketing approaches (exemplified by companies like Best Western and Max New York Life, and discussed in more detail in my new book). Leading-edge companies that use rich data to leverage deep customer insights for enhanced content and customer engagement are producing two-, three- and four-digit ROI improvements and a minimum of twice the upticks in revenue, compared with those that use “spray-and-pray” marketing techniques.

As content marketing has moved to the forefront of marketing must-haves, it is also becoming a proven approach when combined with insight-driven marketing. Smart marketers are optimizing their content marketing strategies in this way and connecting most effectively with their customers. 

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Image courtesy of Ricoh