Guest Interview with Cindy Sargent (brainspur)

   How long have you worked at
   Brainspur is a new strategic brand / marketing think tank, recently launched by my partner,
   Kevin Hinson, and myself. Though brainspur is only about seven weeks old, we are both
   veterans of the marketing-communications industry, having a combined 50 years in the
   business between us.


We started brainspur because we believe that opportunities and important insights are often overlooked that can be the key to marketing a brand in ways that resonate more deeply with consumers. Our job is to find those missed opportunities and articulate them into marketing messages that are most relevant to an audience and believable for a brand. Right now, in the demand response industry, we believe there happen to be some real missed opportunities.

What is your role at brainspur?
I am Co-Owner/Co-Creative Director, which means I’m co-responsible for helping businesses tell the stories that will cause people to think and act differently

How long have you been involved in demand side activities?
I have worked with some energy-related companies throughout my career, but within the past 18 months I have been more deeply involved in conducting qualitative research and developing strategic marketing and messaging platforms for demand response, on both the utility and consumer sides, for clients in the energy industry with demand side solutions. 

What challenges have you faced as a DR professional within your organization and within the industry?
Coming from the marketing side, I have seen some hesitancy from companies and utilities to make the first bold move towards educating and engaging consumers about the realities of our electrical infrastructure and the need for them to play a more active role in conserving energy from a demand response perspective. Change is hard, but people don’t feel the need to change unless they feel a problem actually exists. That has yet to be communicated effectively to the public from a “What’s in it for me?” point of view. The consumer benefits need to be sold in a way that are really understood, because what we’re talking about is a paradigm shift in thinking that requires people to be more accountable for their energy output rather than take it for granted, like we have been able to for decades. The great thing is that if communicated the right way, consumers will see they have more control than ever and will view their utility as more of a trusted energy partner and advisor.

What changes have you seen within the industry as it relates to DR and EE over the last few years?
People do seem to be more aware of the importance of conserving energy, if not for environmental reasons, then for those that certainly affect their pocketbook. The media’s coverage of energy issues, such as smart meters and TOU pricing, has brought some of these matters to the forefront and has at least gotten people talking about them. At the same time, utilities are becoming more committed to reaching, engaging, and communicating with their customers in new and different ways that push beyond their traditional comfort zones.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge with implementing DR over the next decade?
Other than creating a comprehensive national energy plan and uniform regulations, I would say getting the message right to the consumer is a major challenge; because once a perception is formed it is hard to alter it. Utilities, energy companies, and other demand response players will need to get beneath the surface of simply communicating information and facts to customers and address what real emotional issues lay at the root of their concerns about adoption and embracing change.

The industry will need to identify segments (e.g. those who are most sensitive to price, those who love the technology, and those who care more about reliability), and be able to communicate the demand response benefits to them that they can most relate to and deem important. Whether a C&I or residential customer, consumers need to be able to see how demand response fits their individual usage needs.

Hopefully, there will be enough of a priority placed on marketing and communications tools that deliver the message in the most compelling, user-friendly ways that reverberate on a deep level. As customers are more informed, they will realize the control and management benefits that demand response technology provides.

What advice or guidance would you give to young professionals who are considering a career in demand response and smart grid?
Energy is an exciting field, particularly the areas of demand response and the smart grid. The building of strong, interactive customer relationships through new technology and social media, the implementation of deeper IT support, and the development of new revenue streams for the utility industry seem to offer a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurial ideas and businesses.

Find out more about brainspur here.

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