Jessica Venning-Bryan of Flick Electric on digital marketing, going up against the big guys, and the rise of home battery tech

Jessica Venning-Bryan of Flick Electric on digital marketing, going up against the big guys, and the rise of home battery tech
In a congested space like the electricity market, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd. But, Flick is on a mission to do just that with its educational, customer-centric approach, socially conscious advertising and digitally savvy service. And making sure the brand stays true to its purpose is general manager of brand (and recent PledgeMe board appointee) Jessica Venning-Bryan, one of the company’s leading lights.
Despite [the electricity market] being huge, it’s really static and hard to break into. There’s a lot of talk about how it’s fantastic and how there’s competition with new retail brands, but to get really genuine cut-through in the market is really hard. And only 20 percent of electricity customers change their retailer regularly, the other 80 per are apathetic. So half of the job is to educate the market that here is an alternative way and to break through the apathy and tell them it is worth looking around and finding something new that adds more value to what they’re used to. But then you need to be really competitive with prices and offers and you can’t just rely on differentiation. We probably slightly over assumed that people would see something differentiated and go for it, but you have to get through to [consumers] and break through the apathy … We are a really new business, with high growth, and we have to work really, really hard on doing everything a bit smarter and we are watching every dollar and using them to our advantage, we never have lazy dollars. We work primarily digitally as it gives us the ability in an agile way. 

Is it hard to establish a point of difference when electricity is a commodity?

It’s one of those things that is the most boring, unengaged with commodities but also one of the most amazing, wonderful things that makes our lives possible. When people flick that switch they don’t think about the product they are purchasing. It’s the only thing we spend $2,000 a year on and we just don’t even think about. It is an amazing, magical wonder of engineering that adds all this value to our lives. We couldn’t watch TV, charge our phones, cook dinner, heat and light our homes and yet we are utterly disengaged from it. It’s quite peculiar. We get a bit excited about electricity and we laugh about being electricity nerds. You have a power cut for 20 minutes and people have a meltdown … We have a hard job of getting people to value it because until you value it you don’t think about the things that could be better about it. Otherwise it’s a thing that’s invisible to you. But once you apply value and understand how much it costs and what it took to get it there and the difference between companies and how much it costs per day it changes things. Lots of customers that started getting bills [from Flick] showing the cost per day, were going ‘Whoa seven bucks a day to run my house’, with people feeling okay about what they are spending rather than getting a $300 bill and being like ‘Whoa’. When people start realising the value you can engage them in the category a lot more. 

Why have you decided to have more of a digital presence?

We are a digital business so it makes sense for us. We don’t send out [mailed] bills, we don’t send out letters, we don’t do flyer drops, we don’t have brochures. Our whole interface is digital and you get the best from our product when you engage with us in a digital way. We have done some traditional outdoor [advertising], but it’s hard when you are a small business on a lean budget to put dollars behind something that you just can’t measure. I absolutely believe that people don’t decide to engage with your brand after seeing it in the same place once, so you want to give them lots of opportunities to be exposed. We don’t even talk about digital marketing internally anymore we just talk about strategy in a digital world rather than digital strategy. We don’t think about digital as different. It’s just the platform we use to market it. 

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How important is customer service to your brand?

The customer is everything to us. First of all the whole model is built around transparency with the customers, breaking everything down, showing [them] all the bits that make up their bills and giving them the tools to show how they can use electricity. We talk to them every week and tell them about market conditions. It can be anything from a planned outage on a cable to an outage at one of their power stations. Having that weekly billing model gives us an extraordinary line of communication. And we treat every line of communication the same as a phone call. We reply to every tweet, every comment. We put huge amounts of emphasis on answering questions … And that goes a long way with our customers. We also have this saying internally: ‘Suck up the fuck up.’ It speaks to a culture of ownership and owning stuff internally. If we do something wrong or mess something up, we own it and it all goes back to our core nature around transparency and honesty and that goes back to our customers. Last year we topped the Consumer NZ energy customer satisfaction survey. We work incredibly hard on our customer service.

Why have you decided to target a younger demographic?

They found us. Every marketer will tell you ‘Don’t say everyone is your target audience’, but actually that’s what we did with the launch. We had a gut feel but when you have a market where everybody needs the service, where do you begin? We took it very, very broadly initially and then after about 12 months we saw where it was landing and where customers were coming from. We attract people who are really digitally savvy. We also attract people who are really senior in business, people who understand innovation and love innovation in different business models … I think you are limiting yourself if you don’t reconsider who your customers are all the time. If you’re true to being customer-centric, you should be thinking about them all the time. 

What do you think the future of electricity is? How will people power their houses in five years?

There’s a bit of a saying circulating that we are going to see 30 years of change in the next five years. I absolutely agree that will happen. How it happens and who drives it will be interesting to see. There are some big advances like battery storage, which has huge potential to transform how we use energy. But there’s a whole lot of infrastructure that has to happen to use those technologies to their full potential and a lot of that stands with companies that have an entrenched old school way of thinking. So, it will be interesting to see how quickly New Zealand is able to adopt the new technologies that are possible depending on how fast the industry is willing to evolve. 

Why have you decided to focus on strong feminine characters in your advertising?

When you’re marketing a business, you’re doing the best thing for that business, but I also think—as a feminist and someone who feels strongly about women—you’re being represented in marketing. I have done lots of reading and thinking in that space. Generally, in household spending women make the main purchasing decisions. But, in the electricity industry I have never seen ads talk to women in a realistic way. The idea behind the story in that video was devised by Double Denim but totally in keeping with our beliefs as a business and my personal belief that as marketers we should be showing a broader range of characters and more honest representations of what women’s lives are actually like. There are these little milestones when you launch any campaign and you do something a bit different for the first time. People were saying ‘Is that a vibrator on the table?’, and just lots of funny little things. We saw someone had searched for ‘Flick dildo ad’ and we were like ‘Yes we’ve made it’. People have actually got it and that’s where we wanted it to land. And you can be confident and push play and still wonder if we’ve done the right thing. But the response has been overwhelming. We had the most hilarious messages from people saying ‘Have you been stalking our flat’. 

How did Flick team up with the Comedy Festival? It seems like an unlikely partnership for a power company.

That came about in a really funny way. We had started thinking about this year and what we might do in terms of partnering with other organisations. When you are a brand you look at different ways of how you can reach customers outside of traditional advertising. I totally out of the blue got an email from the Comedy Festival and they said they liked our brand attitude and asked if we’d be interested in having a conversation with them and gave us a breakdown of people who would be going to the festival. And all their customers sounded exactly like our customers … So we rang them and they got us straight away and said our brands make sense together. And they are amazing people to work with. Just so massively accommodating, really creative, it’s a really genuine partnership and it’s an excellent brand alignment. We just shot that ad with [comedian] Laura Daniel in it and they also have this great, open honest ‘call it like it is’ kind of dialogue with their customers. This is our first adventure in this space and hopefully we will make lots of funny stuff together and it’s not something any power company could do.  

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This article was originally published on Stoppress.