Not many would miss the energy sector’s clichés, buzzwords and catch-phrases, so why do we still use them?

Written by Michael Zdanowski, Head of Energy

For those of you who may still happen to watch terrestrial TV, the BBC’s Room 101 has been a welcome staple of easy, early-evening entertainment since the mid-1990s.

The programme’s central premise is to encourage celebs to identify and consign to Room 101 the elements of life that really get their goat and make their blood boil.

The original concept of Room 101 is inspired by the torture room of George Orwell’s prescient novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which allegedly held the ‘worst thing in the world’.

As a communicator in the energy space, it got me thinking about the energy clichés, buzzwords and catch-phrases that I would send to an ignominious end.

Here are a couple for starters:

1) “Getting close to the consumer”

Every company, particularly retail energy businesses seem to talk about ‘getting close to the consumer’ as if understanding the needs of those they sell energy to is a fundamentally new revelation.

Isn’t it also mildly patronising to sidle up to consumers without addressing the fundamental issues that have caused plummeting levels of consumer trust in the energy industry in the first place – namely, the high cost of energy, poor levels of transparency, anaemic customer service and a Byzantine approach to billing with hundreds of different tariffs?

Moreover, as this classic British Gas ad from the 1990s with the Tom Jones’ loving Brian Glover clearly shows, ‘getting close to the consumer’ has been a prominent feature of energy companies’ communications pre-deregulation let alone in the noughties. Businesses have been trying to get closer to the consumer since the advent of mass consumerism.

2) “The Energy Transition”

We all know that the energy system is changing. To use a recent phrase buzzing around the industry, it’s decarbonising, decentralising, digitising and democratising. Not too much disagreement about that. But why then should the phrase ‘energy transition’ grate so much?

For starters, the term ‘energy transition’ seems to be owned by the oil and gas industry to present the global energy sector on the move to a decarbonised world of renewables – a world which most of us would whole-heartedly welcome as the threat of climate change becomes more self-evident each and every year.

It’s only fair to recognise that we continue to need oil and gas for travel and to heat our homes but is it justified to talk about an ‘energy transition’ when global oil demand is growing rather than declining?

In fact, the International Energy Agency has recently estimated that demand for oil will grow by 1.36 million barrels a day in 2019. Viewed through this lens, ‘energy transition’ appears disingenuous if not outright misleading, particularly in light of last week’s UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that warned that much more needed to be done to guard the planet from rapid rises in global temperature.

Just last week, Shell’s CEO Ben Van Beurden spelt out the parameters of the energy transition in unambiguous terms.

“They might even make people think we have gone soft on the future of oil and gas. If they did think that, they would be wrong…”

While such frankness is refreshing, it speaks to the conflict and even ‘double-speak’ at the heart of the contemporary energy industry. What exactly are we transitioning away from?

Though it might be unrealistic to expect more imaginative and less prosaic positioning from the energy industry there is an opportunity for communicators in the space and particularly those with influence at boardroom level to strive to move beyond the empty clichés of ‘transition’ and ‘getting close to the consumer’.

The alternative is that Room 101 no longer remains a dystopian metaphor but becomes reality for many energy companies as customers stop listening, give up on renewables, swap suppliers and continue to distrust a sector in which so many amazing, transformative things are happening.

Madano advises clients across the energy and industry sectors – if you’re interested in learning more please drop myself or the team a line. You can also follow Madano on Twitter.

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