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British Gas’ Brand Director: brand identity, utilities, and our 11 million customers

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James Rhodes

British Gas' marketing strategies aim for better experiences in their service-led environment. Margaret Jobling, Director of Brand Marketing, reveals the direction of the brand.

British Gas is one of the UK’s leading energy suppliers, serving around 11 million homes, and providing energy to over half a million British businesses.

Very few brands in the country can claim that level of customer penetration, which can be an important differential for the utilities brand as conversations around the customer experience develop further.

It’s just one of the reasons Margaret Jobling swapped her career within the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector to help invigorate the energy marketing journey of British Gas and its customers.

“The appeal of British Gas was that it was a very different sort of brand challenge. It’s a lightening rod for utilities that draws a lot of commentary and we make up part of the fabric of this country in a way by being so well known.”

Jobling brought with her several years worth of marketing experience.

Since 2005, she has acted as a brand or marketing director at Unilever, Cadbury and Birds Eye Iglo Limited, after completing a PhD in Laser Chemistry from the University of Nottingham.

Now, as Director of Brand Marketing, Jobling oversees the British Gas brand evolution, its marketing execution, and any point that touches the customer.

It’s a wide remit that requires a new way of thinking when compared to her FMCG background..

“In FMCG you have to work hard to get the customer to poll your product, plus you have a middle man, or barrier, separating you from your consumers: the retailer.

“Here, in a service-led environment, every single action we take is a manifestation of the brand: in every email we send, in every engineer and phone call; we have contact with customers directly, constantly.”

It was a surprise initially for Jobling who thought she was coming in “to perform a marketing role, when really it was about perfecting the customer journey and British brand experience.”

This increased importance placed on the customer experience is reflective of many marketing departments within businesses globally: the energy marketing journey is no different.

With the arrival of new technologies, and many industry leaders facing disruption from lean startups, consumers have been treated to improvements to their services and products as companies compete for their loyalty.

Mobile and social media trends have also revolutionized how people communicate with brands; Twitter has become a forum for voicing poor customer experience.

For legacy companies like British Gas – ones that have had to adjust their operations for new competition and customer habits – controlling an external image, that their energy marketing journey can be aligned to, has become even harder.

“Within the customer legacy trend you realize that there are a lot of indirect influences that can affect your journey and your users…”

Jobling joined British Gas towards the end of 2014, and performed customer experience triage as a strategy for beginning to improve the overall company’s image.

“We began a starter program to rewrite all of the operational communications in a very practical way, as that was the main customer touchpoint for us.

“We looked at it all to see what needed taking out, because some emails, or calls, or postcards even, were extraneous to what our customers needed. We focused on the core journey of our brand so everything could be simplified.

“With billing for example, we already knew it was an area that customers didn’t understand a great deal – our call centers heard a huge volume of calls about customers’ bills – so my task had to highlight the core elements of the bill that informs customers, so they better understand this part of the process, and remove unnecessary extras.”

Her next challenge has been to improve the process of when a customer informs British Gas of a home move, or change of address.

“Customers expect a five minute conversation, one where they notify us of a change of address, we log it, and then we finish. In reality though, because the way some of our systems and processes work, it may end up being as long as 40 minutes.

“I want to make it easy for customers to interact with us, but you need to home in on specific parts of the journey before you look at the overall experience.”

Jobling has strong opinions on the need for the energy marketing journey to become more strategic.

“The days of marketing being an outfit to create nice little advertising campaigns are over; if you don’t understand the value that drives your strategies, you’re not effective as a marketer, and its especially important to remember that in a service-led business.”

With 34,000 active brand managers to task, the Brand Marketing Director is required to continually check how British Gas is being seen, and why – and takes that last part very seriously.

She has signed up for gas and electricity at British Gas (“you’ve got to love the brand you work for”), as well as its Home Care, Hive and smart meter, which allows her to experience the customer journey with British Gas first hand.

“I don’t receive special treatment because I want the authentic experience, and I can come in the next day knowing what the customer feels when they talk to us.”

It’s a personal approach that keeps her abreast of what strategies work and what needs to be tweaked.

Jobling has taken a systematic approach to British Gas’ energy marketing journey, identifying the top pain points for customers and rectifying those, before attempting larger projects which need more consideration.

It may be very different to her past within consumer goods, but strong company brand is a concept still very important in utilities, and British Gas’ national presence hasn’t daunted its Brand Marketing Director just yet.