Retaking control of the energy industry’s brand narrative | SLB
Retaking control of the energy industry’s brand narrative

Retaking control of the energy industry’s brand narrative

Giles Powell Headshot
by  Giles Powell
Whether you’re new to this industry or a veteran, one thing is clear: The energy industry has a branding problem. Decades of quiet innovation without open communication have allowed the media and public to construct our brand narrative as their subjectivity saw fit. Nowadays, however, silence is no longer golden. We’re faced with increasingly interactive audiences that demand we share more of our stories, personify our brand values, and explain to them clearly what the energy transition means—thereby giving us all the push we needed to retake control of our industry’s brand narrative.

As brand leaders, we have the great privilege of helping craft the story of everything our companies are doing to grow and evolve the field of global energy. It’s also a sizeable responsibility with its fair share of challenges. Big, complicated challenges.

Chief among those challenges is that energy companies have historically had difficult, even contentious relationships between their brands and the public, for reasons that are both legitimate and, at times, misguided. In other words, energy has a long-standing branding problem that has resulted in general skepticism and public distrust.

If this were the Apollo 13, we would have sent the transmission long ago: "Houston, we have a branding problem."

This mismatch threatens to undermine our efforts to create a better future—for our companies, for our planet, and for the people who make up our world. But this challenge, like so many others, is an opportunity in disguise—and a large, exciting one at that. Energy companies are uniquely positioned to tell their stories in ways they never have before and to connect more deeply with the people our companies serve.

That’s the most important word, in fact: people. Because above all, telling the story of any energy brand—especially one striving to positively impact the fight against climate change—begins and ends with people. From the people who build and use our tech to the people heating their homes on cold winter nights, there is a human present at every plot point in our companies’ stories.

With the global effort toward net zero now in full motion, the energy sector is home to many of the world’s most inspiring and talented people. Our industry continues to attract people who know what’s at stake, want to make a difference, and take pride in playing an active, direct role in this new story.

By sharing these narratives of where we’ve been, where we’re going, and how we’ll get there, as long as we remain true to that principle—to the people at the heart of what we do—our large and complicated branding problem becomes remarkably simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The myth of the monolith

Energy brands contend with the perception that our industry is a singular, monolithic entity. It is large, of course, but it’s far from homogenous. From operators—be they independent, national, or international—to tech companies and startups, they all play a different part. Ever since decarbonization was deemed a top priority in combating climate change, many energy companies have been driven to change their ways. Some have been ahead of this curve for years now, continuously innovating of their own accord. Others have stubbornly lagged several steps behind, with no apparent intent to move forward.

In a market driven by massive demand as well as public perception, energy companies have the chance—no, the need—to distinguish themselves from this monolithic myth and those “competitors” still dragging their feet. So, don’t be shy! Telling the world how your company is uniquely and meaningfully striving to propel the global effort toward net zero makes your brand more recognizable and trustworthy.

And that’s only the beginning. The job of telling our revolutionary stories in such open and cohesive ways will most likely never be finished. Moving forward, for our brands to create deeper and more positive engagement with our customers and the general public, we need to consciously commit to a few fundamental (and people-centered) storytelling strategies:

Lead with authenticity (meaning people)

The first key to invigorating an energy brand is to tell the story of its evolution authentically. Greenwashing, or falsely presenting one’s contributions to positive climate action, can create an even greater adverse reaction toward your brand, if an increasingly discerning public perceives your messaging efforts as insincere. People, once again, are at the heart of this principle, and people respond to authenticity.

What does this mean? It means honestly portraying what we're working on and being transparent about the next steps forward. It means seeking to understand your customer’s values, needs, and desires, and responding with messaging and content that legitimately engage those human concerns. It means highlighting the practical, daily impact of your products and services in the lives of actual people and on the planet we call home.

If you can’t do this authentically, however, then you shouldn’t do it at all. If your revamped, planet-conscious messaging doesn’t align with actual, planet-conscious business efforts, it won’t be long until your proverbial horse crashes into the cart you’ve put before it.

If you can tell your story authentically, whether it’s about new technologies that bring us closer to carbon neutrality, internal incubation to support innovation, or more open communication about our processes, you can begin to shift those misconceptions and build a more positive, reciprocal relationship with the public.

Do you know what this means? It means never forgetting the humans uniquely positioned to comprehend, adopt, and emulate your brand qualities and business principles: your employees. Avoid the common mistake of placing customer perceptions or those of the wider public above the inclusion and motivation of your workforce. Employees are the nearest and dearest opinion influencers you have—motivate them with your brand purpose, culture, and leadership to do good, and they’ll naturally feed that power back into every interaction they have.

Address energy illiteracy with education

Education is always in the best interest of both your brand and the public. When companies demonstrate a commitment to informing the public about their industry and their work—whether in illuminating technical concepts typically reserved for the experts or sharing meaningful research findings—it fosters a stronger bond between your brand and your people. Creating content that enables the public to learn not only signals a deeper commitment to your audience, but it also establishes a good faith relationship which, with consistent, high-quality educational content, continues to grow.

As we lead the way in the energy transition, it’s also crucial that we tell our stories in ways that reflect the complexity of the process. When we hand the narrative over to other parties, we run the risk of this message becoming diluted, trivialized, or misrepresented. It’s our responsibility as those immersed in the process to provide the clear yet comprehensive content others need to truly understand what it takes to progress. Which brings us to our third point: realizing that your experts are probably the most qualified to share the inspiring and complicated story of the energy transition.

Provide and leverage thought leadership

Thought leadership is a brilliant way to make the insights of your company personal. It gives the public faces, voices, and, most importantly, points of view to associate with your product and brand. Thinking back to the myth of the monolith, personalized thought leadership is a proven way to chip away at the stoic facade of an organizational brand. Like education, thought leadership builds relationships and goodwill, and it demonstrates that your people are the ones leading the way toward net zero.

Many brand leaders make the mistake of thinking that thought leadership is only the responsibility of those employees already in the limelight. That it only applies to C-suite executives who have remained with the company through thick and thin. But neither of these is true. It’s important to continue supporting highly visible brand ambassadors in the building of their personal brands, of course, but your efforts should not stop there.

Why? Because promoting thought leadership across all levels of your organization highlights the depth and dynamism of your people. It teaches and encourages those you’ve carefully hired to depict their knowledge, experience, and ethics in ways that not only align with your brand but bolster it. To the outside world, it shows—in a very personal and engaging way—that the best and brightest are moving toward the energy industry to make a difference and play a role in this vital mission. This is when high-quality thought leadership also becomes an essential tool for recruiting the most ambitious and talented people in the job market—in other words, your future thought leaders and the beginning of a virtuous cycle.

All companies, including ours, have at their fingertips a wealth of opportunities when it comes to building their brand via the personal brands of their people. Thought leaders can be found anywhere within your organization, regardless of hierarchy, job function, or location. Imagine all the brilliant engineers and scientists we have making breakthroughs daily—do they not fit the description of knowledge-filled individuals with relevant insights and stories to share? They do and, together with them, you can proactively articulate the brand narrative you want across your entire organization’s communications.

When energy brands create positive relationships with the public through authentic storytelling, it has a lasting, reciprocal impact. And when it comes to telling the brand story of an energy company, people are always the best source of sustainable energy.

Contributors

Giles Powell

Director of Brand

Giles is responsible for deploying the new SLB brand that he recently helped develop and launch. Based in London since 2021 and with over 18 years of industry experience, he started at SLB as a field engineer working on deepwater developments in West Africa before moving into tech roles advancing the global fiber optic monitoring business. After 5 years in tech, he moved back into operations management across Kuwait and Oman, followed by regional HR leadership roles in which he was responsible for talent strategy, development, and engagement in the Middle East.

Enjoyed this article?