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“Like a short film festival”: How electricity start-up Electric Kiwi took all of its creative in-house

On 30 May, Electric Kiwi shared a video of its team gathered around a screen as the number on it jumped from 39,999 to 40,000. The challenger electricity company hit its 40,000th customer since signing its first in December 2014.

Seen on camera are about 16 of the 25-strong Electric Kiwi team, including Andrew Cooper who joined as chief marketing officer two years ago.

Prior to Electric Kiwi, his career has seen him spend seven years at Vodafone before cutting his teeth in the power industry at Bosco, Tiny Mighty and Budgie, which he describes as “skunkworks projects” for Mercury (Mighty River Power at the time). There, he says it was like working at a startup as the team learnt as they went and took a digital-only approach to marketing.

It was this experience he brought to Electric Kiwi.

“I took a look at it coming from skunkworks digital-only brands as my way of doing business and I went: ‘I think we can do this here’.”

Build awareness then ditch the agency

But that’s not to say TV is unfamiliar territory for Electric Kiwi.

When it first started, its proposition of ‘an hour of free power’ and lower costs were not enough to get people knocking on its door, so Cooper says Malcolm Phillips was brought on board to really kick start the marketing department. Phillips was formerly the chief marketing officer of 2degrees.

Working with Saatchi & Saatchi saw the launch of its first major campaign with a TVC and billboards championing its ‘Smarter, Smaller’ tagline. And to further its name, Electric Kiwi also sponsored TV3’s Family Feud and Story.

That sponsorship of Story moved to a sponsorship deal with The Project in 2017 and at the time, Electric Kiwi chief executive Luke Blincoe told StopPress:

“We are very focused on ROI across our entire marketing budget – for us, it is a simple philosophy, we look at what works and we do more of that, then we do less of the things that don’t. We had great success with Story last year, helping to establish a brand that very few people knew, as a legitimate player in the New Zealand energy market. We obviously have a mix of activity and TV has proved complementary to our other activity- and we are looking forward to a similar partnership with The Project.”

While Cooper was not with the company until after this activity unfolded, he agrees with Blincoe’s move to invest in traditional channels such as TV and sponsorship.

“It went from no one’s heard of Electric Kiwi to a reasonable amount of people know about Electric Kiwi.

“At the time, I think that was probably a great thing for the brand because you have to get off the mat and you have to get started.”

He says it earned the brand some maturity and when he joined, it was time to reassess the strategy and the decision was made to pull back and home in on its target market.

“Right back at the beginning of our journey the awareness was required and once we achieved that we thought: ‘Gosh we don’t need to be like the big guys spending that much money growing because it undermines our proposition to be lean and efficient and therefore offer Kiwis better value.’”

But who is that target market?

Cooper says it’s worked to create target segments based off those it’s found are interested in its proposition.

Being a digital-only brand, Electric Kiwi is aware its proposition isn’t for everyone and Cooper gives the example of some not being fans of digital transactions and emailed bills.

“We thought ‘our proposition isn’t going to work for everyone’, so we went through a segmentation process and looked at the kind of customers that like what we have and also have similar attributes to us.”

Now everything from its brand communications, channel choices and bid strategies speak to those target segments rather than going out to all of New Zealand.

“This isn’t a right or a wrong thing – it’s about scale,” he says.

“At our scale, we can’t afford traditional wide-reach awareness strategies – they don’t make sense for us, there’s not ROI there. At our growth aspiration, we are better off being really well known in a smaller group of New Zealanders rather than trying to get that broad brush.”

Going in-house

Not only is Electric Kiwi keeping its costs down by identifying the right people to talk to, but it’s also doing so with an approach Cooper describes as “a short film festival”.

While having an agency partner in Saatchi & Saatchi was integral to getting the brand off the ground, it’s since opted to take creative capability in-house.

“I have a background in amateur film and so does my internal creative manager/graphic designer Lance McMinn. We’ve made a bunch of cracking movies together over the years and more and more we started to challenge ourselves to do more in-house on social.”

He says it initially began with bringing in external DOPs, camera crew, and sound and colour graders. Over time, the team has challenged themselves to pick up new skills and those elements have been picked up internally.

“I wouldn’t say our production quality is the best in New Zealand and I wouldn’t even say our creative ideas are but our costs are an absolute fraction of the alternative options and with a marketers’ hat on, what sort of ROI am I getting on those extra expenses? For our budget level, those alternatives aren’t the right approach and we are having fun.”

He adds it also makes sense to be so involved in the creative process, given as a marketer he spends his days agonizing about the brand and who its customers are. If he was to go and brief this to an external party on a bit of paper, the insight and nuance of the brand and its customers may not translate.

But that’s not to say it Electric Kiwi has disregarded agencies entirely.

Last year, it worked with Brand World to produce a TVC that gently takes the mickey out of dubious benefits claimed by the power industry.

The 30-second piece was directed by Chris Graham while the script was written by Cooper.

Cooper credits Blincoe’s approach to governance for allowing him to be hands-on with the creative, saying if he has an idea, he’ll have a chat with Blincoe about it and then be left to get on with it.

“Luke trusts people to do what is right but we make decisions and move at a pace that I’ve hardly ever seen before. We might have an idea and get it live that day.

“We don’t find we spend time and energy talking each other in and out of ideas – we just get on with stuff.”

And Blincoe isn’t the only executive supportive of the approach. Chief financial officer Nick Haines has gone so far as to star in the ads.

He’s seen talking to Electric Kiwi’s marketing manager on a bus in a witty spot about friendship contracts and later seen at a toaster park.

At the toaster park, toasters are compared to children and their ‘parents’ discuss their power needs. At the end of the day, your toaster doesn’t care if it gets expensive power or not.  

“It’s a family-friendly moment of how you can get carried away paying too much for things that don’t actually matter and our biggest play for Electric Kiwi is value,” Cooper says.

Getting outside perspective

Not only does Cooper have the trust of Blincoe in his approach to in-house creative, but reflecting on his journey with Electric Kiwi he says he also has a lot of trust in himself.

When he first started looking at cutting costs by growing its in-house capability, Cooper reached out to experts, some of whom he paid for their opinions.

He recognises the importance of moving outside of the room surrounded by like-minded colleagues all drinking from the same cup and getting some perspective on where it might be going wrong.

In doing this, he admits he was met by a lot of resistance when laying out both the plan to move away from mainstream reach and to take creative in-house. While he trusts those opinions, they also taught him a lesson in backing himself.

“The more I looked at the data and the more I looked at what we were doing, the more I thought ‘this is worth taking a punt on’.

“You want to take risks. Risks can be a good thing and it’s worked out quite well for us so far.”

The numbers agree.

Since going live, Electric Kiwi has saved New Zealanders $15 million in total. And that number keeps going up as more customers sign up to the independent retailer.

Last year, it also won the Deloitte Fast 50 with revenue growth of 3,602 percent.

It’s also seeing growth offshore with it recently celebrating reaching 1000 customer mark in Australia, just weeks after going live.

It’s been setting itself up across the ditch for the last few years and been live for the last few weeks.

Cooper says its approach to the market over there is reasonably similar but adds they are learning as they go, as there are differences in the markets.

“The next year will be interesting.”

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