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A brand is an enabler for sustainable innovation

Suga, the Prime Minister of Japan recently announced a commitment to his country achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. This will encourage significant changes in government policies, business and financial institutions in Japan.

Japan is heavily reliant on fossil fuels to generate electricity. Fossil fuels include oil, coal and liquefied natural gas, all of which emit a large amount of greenhouse gases and consequently contribute to global warming. A substantial effort has been made to increase the focus on renewable energy: power from renewable energy sources has grown on average by 22% from 2012 to 2017 thanks to a feed-in tariff policy. Renewable energy accounted for 19.2% of the total electricity generated in 2019.

Changes in government policy can be perceived as a risk for some companies, but for those who are willing to drive innovation, it is an opportunity. The change this time is a case of changing our behaviour patterns which began during the industrial revolution, and with which we have been familiar for over 200 years. It is a disruptive change.

Brands in Japanese renewable energy

There are several players in the Japanese market who want to turn these changes into a business opportunity by launching new renewable energy products.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is the largest electricity supplier in Japan, with a market share of 29.1% in 2019-2020. They own a brand called ‘Aqua Energy 100’, which sources 100% of its electricity from hydraulic power. It undoubtedly attracts consumers who want to achieve a net-zero carbon footprint for their electricity usage.

How are they building the new brand?

Aqua Energy 100 chose to be a brand endorsed by TEPCO, a supplier associated with a long-standing legacy and a government that backed them during the Second World War. It is wise of Aqua Energy 100 to leverage TEPCO’s credibility as an infrastructure provider, however, their brand presence is not strong. Using the ‘House of Brands’ structure, they could have highlighted the creation of a new relationship between electricity and the environment by building a more independent and stronger brand. This would have inspired consumers to change their behaviour when it comes to choosing an energy supplier.

Aside from its brand architecture, Aqua Energy 100 needs to improve every aspect of its brand experience, from choice of tariffs and customer service to the supplier switch-over process. At the moment, customer service and the switching process are handled by TEPCO. Furthermore, innovation is needed in order to be able to lower the price of sustainably sourced electricity enough to compete with the price of the energy derived from fossil fuels supplied by TEPCO at least, even though some consumers are willing to pay a premium to support green energy.

There are sustainable brands that are good at communicating. An example is ‘Shizen Denki’ (meaning ‘’natural electricity’). Founded in 2011 after the Great East Japan Earthquake, this brand wanted to lead the way in creating a sustainable future. In terms of brand communication, their friendly typography is accompanied by the tagline ‘We can create the world with 100% renewable energy’. Shizen Denki not only provides clear information about their tariffs and the process required to change supplier, they also communicate their purpose, mission and services very well. It was their storytelling that drew my attention; renewable energy suppliers are not as common in Japan as in Europe and so they tell the story of why they established the company and use customer testimonials to communicate how renewable energy benefits the environment.

Brands in British renewable energy

One of the good examples of renewable energy usage is the UK where 37.1% of the total electricity generated came from renewable sources in 2019.

The energy supplier Bulb launched in 2013, with a clear intention to disrupt the electricity supplier market, which was dominated at the time by six suppliers known as the 'Big Six’.

Bulb’s brand strategy and its execution, especially in terms of user experience, is excellent. The reason why this company exists is to be ‘an inspiration in the energy sector’. Bulb is the perfect name for a company to reflect the purpose. Their pink and navy logo stands out from those of the ‘Big Six’ and their hand-drawn graphics convey their approachable and friendly personality. Their website has been designed to clearly communicate their approach: simple, friendly and honest. This approach also applies to their tariffs, which are uncomplicated and do not include hidden costs such as an exit fee. Their emails include the use of engaging animations which fosters a greater connection between Bulb and its customers.

You cannot see their product (electricity) and may not always interact with their staff, however, Bulb proves that offering a great customer experience via a digital channel can build a distinctive brand which is disrupting the market and creating the new normal of the future.


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