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The case for an energy ‘mega-brand’

This is a guest post by Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of sustainability communications agency Futerra

When Clement Atlee was asked how Churchill won the war, the answer was “He talked about it”.

This quote opened last Monday’s launch of Green Alliance’s new report Neither Sermons Nor Silence: The Case For National Communications On Energy Use. The report has a single clear theme: it’s time for government to get back to communicating. Especially on energy and climate change.

Our panel debate included Greg Barker MP, minister of state, DECC, Neil Clitheroe, chief executive, Scottish Power, Jill Rutter, programme director, Institute for Government and Hugh Treacy a successful ad man with Arnold KLP.

At one point Greg Barker accused us of being in violent agreement. Which we were. About the fact he needs a proper plan for selling energy efficiency to the British public.

DECC’s current plan for promoting the Green Deal includes:

  • Provide impartial advice via a helpline and website to consumers
  • Create a ‘quality mark’ for Green Deal providers
  • ‘Support Communities’ on Green Deal (nope, I’m not sure what that one means either)
  • Create materials.

The rest of the communications needed will be left to Green Deal providers. That will be a long list of advertising, outreach and even door stop visits.  There is precedent to learn from. Working with Engage, the EU wide Energy Cities campaign to engage citizens and stakeholders locally in efficiency and refit has taught me a few things. From Leicester to Pamplona, galvanizing home energy action requires:

  1. Large scale communications to catch consumer attention
  2. Building public trust in the whole process
  3. Busting myths about energy use
  4. Protecting people against cowboys
  5. Properly training up SME providers rather than just the big guys
  6. Reach those who would benefit most
  7. Change behaviour, especially the unconscious habits in the home

Some of that the private sector IS best placed for. For other parts of the job there simply isn’t a business case for. Government communications is needed to ‘fill gaps’ and make energy efficiency policy greater than the sum of its parts.

Confusing times
Green Deal, FITs, RHI, ECO, Smart meters. There a lot going on in energy efficiency. Although you could be forgiven for missing the wood for the trees.

Each of these instruments alone carry a burden of complexity. DECC published a summary report on the Green Deal in 2010, including a helpful diagram of the ‘customer journey’. This multistep, multi level, multi coloured decision tree process not only reveals how immensely complicated the Green Deal process is. It also misses a first step of “consumer knows/cares about the Green Deal”.

Policy specific confusion isn’t helped by a missing grand reason to want energy efficiency in the first place. With a veritable smorgasbord of initiatives, we have a lot of ‘what’, but we’re missing strong ‘why’.

Gluing it all together
That message doesn’t need an expensive advertising campaign. It doesn’t need billboards. It doesn’t need a Digital Switchover little mascot or a Change for Life media package. It simply needs a brand.

That was the conclusion from our panel. As the Minister left we tried to wheedle an agreement out of him that we need an encompassing energy efficiency message in the UK. However the affable Greg Barker is far too consummate a politician to snap under my Paxman-esque questioning. At most we planted a seed.

This “mega-brand” idea would hold together all the various private sector communications, all the different policies, and reassure the consumer in a market that is still relatively new. Health warning: a brand isn’t a logo – it’s a promise, a story and set of values that help the consumer make sense, and remember, what’s being offered.

A masterbrand also sits neatly between two extreme scenarios that have been suggested. Neither sermons nor Silence cites research commissioned by the Green Deal Network on how to sell the Green Deal. Scenario 1 assumes a fully funded, multi-channel, central national campaign, while the second scenario sees minimal PR work, particularly around launch. It concludes that traffic to the website, call-centre enquiries and installation uptake would be dozens of times higher with a full blown, central campaign.

Scenario 2 is clearly too weak, and the first scenario is not realistic – as Minister Barker pointed out, “there ain’t no money to pay for it”. A masterbrand combines the best of both worlds. Government communications can act as a unifying brand that builds trust in all energy efficiency programmes – the providers can then build the aspirational, status-driven call to action. That’s what they’re best at, not at persuading the consumer to trust them. Like so much of sustainability ; we have a good product, we just need better packaging.

Developing a Masterbrand, a promise, a linking device and a clear rationale isn’t a huge burden on government brains or coffers. The hard work was the policy. It would be a shame if that policy missed its potential for want of something somewhere between a sermon and silence.

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.