I was engaged as a communication consultant with ENERGEX, the energy distributor in South-East Queensland to develop and implement a marketing campaign for the second phase of customer recruitment for an air conditioning demand management trial in Albany Creek and Arana Hills in Brisbane in 2008/09.

The trial involved recruiting customers in a target area to volunteer one or more household air conditioners to be fitted with a device that turned off the air conditioner off (although the fan keeps running) for minutes at a time during peak demand periods, to trial the effectiveness of the technology in managing peak demand on the energy network.

The project was part of a 2-year pilot trial to measure the effectiveness and acceptance of the technology. Approx 1000 customers had been recruited the previous year with an integrated community marketing strategy for the trial and this phase of the implementation involved (a) re-engaging a best-case-scenario of 90% of the existing 1000 customers for further participation in the trial and (b) recruiting new customers to volunteer one or more air conditioners in their household, as well as pool pumps.

MARKETING OUTCOMES:

Following focus groups, it was clear a financial incentive would have the most impact, even if a customer said it was not their biggest motivator. A financial incentive of a $100 gift voucher of their choice (Coles-Myer or Bunnings)  and up to $50 per air conditioner offered for the trial over three years was offered for participating and re-engaging customers, as well as a $50 incentive for the pool pump trial. Offering a choice of voucher created extra logistical issues but appealed to customers, as the trial did not launch until late in the year – November – not long before the Christmas period.

At the time of the focus groups and planning (2007), climate issues were at the fore. Brisbane was in a severe drought, with dam levels at 15% and Level 6 water restrictions. An ‘infrastructure management’ issue resonated strongly with the community. Doing something good for the environment was another motivator to take part in the trial but the climate message could not be overstated.

The trial design also sought to incorporate other energy efficiency activities, such as offering free CFL lights and professional advice about adjusting thermostats and switching to off-peak electricity rates.

Key marketing tool: The brochure mailed to customers to invite them to participate in the trial was A4 size over 4 pages. I took the decision to move to an A4 four page brochure, because the value proposition/offer was a more complex offering than it had been the previous year when only one air conditioning unit had been sought. A successful feature of the brochure was the use of local participants in the first trial, who allowed us to photograph them at home.

Messaging: The brochure headline was ‘energy smart communities begin at home’ with a sub-head message bundling up the total value of the offer (with the appropriate caveats included). The main image on the cover was one of the trial participants from last year’s trial, with her two young children, with a quote: “It’s an easy way to help out. We didn’t notice any difference.”

Mailout: We were fortunate to have names as well as addresses of customers to contact with the offer in this inner-city northern suburban area. In the previous launch of the trial (where access to only one air conditioner was sought), information on the trial had to be mail-dropped in unaddressed envelopes to households. I chose an A4 window plain white business envelope to mail out the brochure – I wanted something that looked like it should be opened. A letter from the CEO accompanied the brochure and results from last year’s trial.

Response: Following the initial mailout, some 15% of eligible customers out of a group of around 13,500 residents, registered to be part of the trial – subsequent to a follow up visit from contracted electricians to confirm their eligibility to be part of the trial.

Advertising: Full page advertising in the local community newspaper in the region was also very effective. The newspaper adverts featured the photos of local participants in the trial and highlighted the incentives on offer. The call centre, which had been trained by ENERGEX staff to provide information to householders on the trial, began to receive calls the day before the local newspaper was due to be published from people who had seen an advance copy of the paper. The previous launch of the air conditioning trial had used advertising on bus shelters and networked with schools. Schools and shopping centres were also engaged in this trial.

Nature steps in: Only days after the launch of the trial, as the staged mailout of the initial offer was still in progress, Brisbane suffered a particularly severe summer storm which directly affected the trial’s target group. Many customers in these areas were without electricity. An immediate decision was made to halt the mailouts and planned follow up contact from the ENERGEX call centre until these issues had been resolved for customers. This also freed up valuable call centre resources to respond to the emergency. (N.B. the ENERGEX South East Queensland energy distribution network suffers the highest number of lightning strikes in Australia, after Darwin).

Summary:

In all, a better than ‘best case scenario’ customer sign-up for the trial was achieved – around 900 new participants out of a trial group of 15,000, and 95% retention of existing participants. In fact, most of the people who did not continue on with the trial did so because they had moved addressed.

The marketing and communications developed for the trial were evaluated by CSIRO as part of a broader study to identify the factors that motivate people to take-up energy demand management. Nine out of 10 customers surveyed by CSIRO recalled receiving the invitation brochure – the trial’s key marketing tool.

Probably the key factor in securing access into customer’s homes and permission to modify their home air conditioning units for the trial was the trust and support that customers had for their energy distributor – ENERGEX, which is a Government-Owned-Corporation and energy distributor for south east Queensland.

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