British Gas hopes ‘functional benefits’ will transform it into a ‘modern British brand’

Following a major reorganisation last year, British Gas is gearing up to transform into a digital-first, service-led business – rather than an energy company – through the launch of its reward scheme, a move away from price and a focus on smart homes.

Last year British Gas ended its 14-year relationship with media agency Carat and appointed MediaCom, who won because they answered the pitch question: ‘how would you turn British Gas into a modern British brand in a modern British society?’.

Speaking to Marketing Week at ISBA’s annual conference, director of brand marketing Margaret Jobling says the brand’s reorganisation last year is now embedded and it’s aiming to be more “digital-first” both internally and externally.

She says: “We have been, at its worst end, a telephone billing business where we send you a paper bill, you call us, and if there’s a problem we will call you. [We’re now] saying we need to move to be digital-first, self-serve, always-on, personalised and targeted in how we talk to our customers.”

READ MORE: British Gas makes bid to be ‘first port of call’ for the connected home

This plays to the brand’s ambition to shift from being seen as an energy business to one that is service-led, which Jobling describes as propositions that deliver against customer needs based on how British Gas helps its customers run their homes.

She says the brand will focus on the “functional benefits that customers look for – warm and working, safe and sound, clever and connected”. So rather than advertising a series of products the brand will talk about “the brand narrative, underpinned by new innovation and products that help you run your house”.

British Gas has reorganised so it can engage customers “throughout their entire life value” so it can “help move customers on the value ladder from being just gas, or electricity [customers] at one end of the spectrum [to] all of the connected products and smart meters” at the other end.

Why the industry will never move away from price

The price game “is a race to the bottom” that makes it “hard to differentiate”, says Jobling but “it’s always going to be in the mix unless you can position yourself in a very different space, which is [where] you are paying for the service rather than just the commodity”.

That is where British Gas would like position itself but Jobling says “price is always going to have a part to play in why customers choose products and services”. The brand recently ran ads to say it is freezing current gas and electricity prices until August.

But Jobling says as long as the brand stays “in the energy space”, consumers will continue to ask, ‘how much am I paying for my energy and does that compare to what I’m paying over there’.

She says: “Gas is gas and electricity is electricity. There’s no better or worse quality gas – you can’t price-tier your gas, the only thing you can do is differentiate your service proposition and help customers understand what they are getting and what they’re paying for.”

You can’t price-tier your gas, the only thing you can do is differentiate your service proposition and help customers understand what they are getting and what they’re paying for.

The brand is soon to launch a reward programme that be offered to millions of customers next month. Rewards include discounts on energy, Sky TV packages and deals for boiler servicing, insurance products and wireless heating controls.

The aim for Jobling is to deepen the relationship with customers across all of its products and services and give something back. She says: “If you have been with us for five to 10 years it feels like you are getting benefits rather than [being] just another customer who is sat there waiting for something to happen.”

“If we hold on to the customers we have in a world that is increasingly becoming about price, we will grow our business and grow value,” she adds.

Data as a key driver of transformation

Jobling’s biggest regret from its media pitch last year is “not having insights at the table”. She says: “It wasn’t even a consideration going into the pitch”. However the brand director appreciates the understanding, analysing and auctioning of data an insight team does is “going to be fundamental” to the success of the brand going forward.

She says: “Both internally and externally, they provide massive consumer understanding but also massively improve our ability to create products and target.”

As British Gas “enters the world of a service-led business” it has to makes sense of its first-party customer data and the direct contact it has with customers, which requires the right skills set and means it must work collaboratively with the insight team.

Jobling adds that bringing the marketing and insight departments closer together, so the brand is using data in a “much more sophisticated way”, has been one of the biggest changes in how it operates.