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British Gas’ Brand Director on Gen-Z, new technologies and collaborative strategies

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Despite technology increasing insights within marketing, predicting how customers will act is tough, as Margaret Jobling learned from visiting Mark Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley.

When Margaret Jobling is asked to consider the energy and utilities sector in five years time, she knows that it’s almost pointless to try and predict the “already complex category” and its direction.

Almost 10 years ago, when Jobling was Global Brand Director, Male Grooming, at Unilever, her experience from a trip to Silicon Valley, California, meeting Mark Zuckerberg and various executives at Google and eBay, cemented this belief.

“The CMO of Unilever and I went to look at the future of the digital landscape, so we headed to America. It was the best two weeks of my life, but it was also fascinating because, after meeting Mark Zuckerberg and everyone else, we quickly realized that everybody was paranoid about everybody else.

“No-one really knew how the landscape would evolve.”

Today, as British Gas’ Director of Brand Marketing, Jobling understands the concept of unknown unknowns, but she also needs to keep abreast of any trends within utilities marketing and the wider industry.

Driven by the advancement of technology, smart meters and connected homes, energy and utility use can become a much more measurable, and tangible, commodity for consumers.

“I will be able to tell you how much you use by the day, by date, compared to your neighbor, and we will advise on how to run your home more efficiently: it should be transformative.”

Her role oversees the brand’s evolution and public image, but the marketing function has increasingly had to engage with technologies that not only change the customer experience, but marketing as a vertical.

As an example, her utilities marketing department now works closely with British Gas’ insights team in order ensure customer engagement over time.

“We’re still trying to understand exactly what each customer needs from us, and how we can deepen their engagement over the long term, which requires data and insights.

“The Head of Insights is one of my best friends. He’s the one generating all of that digital knowledge which drives action into my world.”

Structures, or departmental silos, are starting to collapse under a growing movement to foster collaboration in the workplace and encourage strategies that bring understanding from one area of a business to the remainder of the company, and vice versa.

“The joy of any structure is that it’s imperfect; a lot of wins now come from each person understanding their roles and responsibilities, but approaching a problem together rather than siloed in their own function.”

“One of my key learnings has been that when you sit people together from different areas, the more effective the outcome becomes; all businesses are on a journey to try to figure out how best to organize and experiment.”

Within the utilities marketing team at British Gas specifically, the task for them is to process the new insights that digital strategies now provide.

“One of the biggest challenges is, as a marketer, how you get your head around all this new information and digital technology…do you learn, or do your collaborate?”

Prior to British Gas, Jobling acted as Marketing Director for a number of well known brands, including Birds Eye, Cadbury, and Sara Lee UK, where she was responsible for a portfolio that included Radox, Ambi Pur and Sanex.

There, the marketing model encompassed an advertising campaign that integrated with the intermediary store, such as Tesco, where it would be bought off their shelves, with limited exposure to both customers and digital strategies.

“In the service-led industry of British Gas, we have direct communication with our customers so utilities marketing needs very different strategies – mainly to increase trust and improve experiences.”

British Gas serves up to 11 million homes in the UK, and that customer distribution covers people of all ages. Some demographics are more digitized than others, and Jobling has to take that into consideration when launching new strategies.

“My parents, for example, would do everything by letter and write their complaints, but we have now a growing customer base of highly tech-savvy customers who want to be interacting with us via our app, who want to know their usage, and want their Hive to talk to them.

“Marketers and businesses alike have to figure out how to serve both ends of the spectrum, how they digitize inside and out to create the best content for their customers.”

What especially excites Jobling is this emerging customer base, that have grown up, or are growing up, in a more digitally mature world.

Millennials, Generation-Y, Generation Z, all buzzwords for proportions of society born roughly between the 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s, are “the current and future customers, and its phenomenal how savvy they are already compared to us – I sometimes feel like a dinosaur!”

Even a decade ago, it would have been hard to have predicted the rise of technology within the energy and utilities industry, which is the point Jobling has tried to remember since her journey to Silicon Valley.

The utilities marketing function still needs to engage its customers, but new technology and data insights have allowed it to collaborate with other departments and generate more understanding within their campaigns.