One of the key challenges that a number of utilities face is customer engagement. Many people only think about their utility when something isn’t working or when they have a billing issue. Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) provides electric and natural gas service to businesses and residents throughout northern and central California.
The utility had significant challenges in engaging small and middle-sized businesses. PG&E wanted to find an innovative approach to connecting with their customer base, leveraging contemporary digital channels. Additionally, marketing needed to support their energy efficiency education programs.
Timing is everything given the low-involvement nature of the utilities category. A digital content program enabled business decision-makers to interact with content when they were in the right frame of mind. Search engine optimized content enables businesses to find useful information when they are online researching and investigating energy-related topics. Creating a resource of helpful information would allow business decision-makers to engage with the utility on their terms. SEO-based content that users view as valuable can change also customer’s perceptions of the utility because information appears as a value-add, not a sales pitch.
The program architecture
The program utilizes search engine optimized content to drive incremental website traffic and demand generation. Content marketing is the essential foundation and starting point in the funnel and customer journey. Demand generation activities are predicated on ensuring users can find a website when they’re in research mode. The program has three key phases:
Search engine optimized content is the central vehicle to accomplish this by intercepting users when they are searching for solutions. Often this type of content is a back-door approach, optimized on search terms that answer customer’s questions versus optimized around a company’s product. Helpful, objective, information-rich content has proven to outperform sales-oriented content at this stage in the funnel.
The next stage of the funnel focuses on converting on-site visitors to a lead. Once users visit the site, the goal is to capture and convert them to leads. Deeper content offers such as ebooks or white papers proven mechanism for this part of the funnel. Landing pages host the richer content, e.g. ebooks. Users complete a form and provide their data for receiving the content.
Data collection then triggers a series of tailored email communications based on previous web behavior. Communications versioned with behavior deliver increased relevancy by highlighting other topics of interest. Most programs require several streams of tailored communications. Each stream is associated with a customer need and set of solutions. Web behaviors such as user’s interactions with web pages, landing pages and viewed content are then aligned to the various needs. Each stream of tailored email highlights additional content and solutions based on previous interactions. While the primary goal is funnel optimization, the program also demonstrates the company’s authority and reinforces the brand’s customer-orientation.
Goals for the PG&E effort
The goals for this program were 5-fold:
- Intercept decision makers with relevant content and energy management ideas for their business and industry
- Position PG&E as a trusted adviser in energy management by creating a Business Resource Center for small and medium businesses that encourage website re-visits and ongoing engagement
- Provide resources such as guides to finding a contractor and energy efficiency products to help businesses save money and be more sustainable
- Develop an education-based content marketing program that engages businesses and generates hand raisers through data collection
- Leverage behavioral marketing by applying and tailoring follow-up email communications by web behavior
The business resource center was born, and housed all SEO-driven blogs. Each blog article incorporates a call-to-action to learn more. The call-to-action drives users to a landing page to download related information to the searched topic.
For example, if a retailer is looking for information on how lighting can impact their store’s visual appearance, they would find this PG&E article during their search.
Users would then be encouraged to get an ebook on lighting controls. If the user completes the form on the landing page, and downloads the ebook, they will then receive emails tailored to continue them further down the funnel, based on assumptions around where they are in their customer journey.
The program is also supported by additional forms of behavioral marketing, including re-targeted ads, and content promotional vehicles. Users that abandon the blog (don’t visit the landing page) are then targeted with re-targeted ads, to revisit the landing page and drive conversion. Additionally, content is promoted through both paid search and a content promotion services such as Outbrain. There are plans to expand additional promotion across existing PG&E vehicles in the near future.
Prior to this content marketing effort, the small business segment was extraordinarily difficult to engage. This utility marketing effort delivered double-digit engagement and continues to be a source of leads for energy efficiency products and solutions.
Benchmarks were established at the beginning of the program for search rankings (of certain keywords), landing page conversions, blog page views, and email nurture rates. The program exceeded its objectives. The program continues to evolve, optimizing performance across many dimensions.
Sheera Eby partnered with the PG&E marketing team to design the strategy and program architecture, and also oversaw the agency team that handled the execution of all program components and the marketing automation. Please see my LinkedIn profile to view the client’s feedback (Megan Porter) on my contributions to these efforts.