Love or Hate it: Powershop – talking purpose with Australia’s leading marketers
Remember greenwashing? Maybe we should start talking about purpose washing, says Warren Davies. Beginning this four-part interview series, Davies will be speaking with a few of Australia’s leading marketing minds on the modern state of purpose – on both sides of the line. This time, he chats with Powershop’s Catherine Anderson about how to communicate purpose in one of Australia’s least trusted industries.
Brand purpose is currently the source of many debates across the table at brands and agencies – and in pretty much no pubs, buses or child-care centres (ever). Tired of the circular, cynical conversation about it online, we left the bubble this month to go a little deeper.
For this four-part series we’ll be speaking to four people in diverse roles that intersect marketing – a chief procurement officer for a global fast food chain, a chief customer officer, a 2018 Agency of the Year founder and perhaps the only chief purpose officer in Australia.
We wanted to ask them: What is Purpose? Does it matter? Should we keep it to ourselves or run from the meeting room and hide under our desks?
To declare my own position, I run a creative agency helping brands with purpose to act. Pretty Neat believes there is no other choice now and that sometimes making hard choices is a good thing. The evidence is compelling too. Organisations with purpose find people who work there are happier, the organisations are more profitable, they are sought after by customers and can spend less on advertising. It’s not a new point of view though. Let’s call it today’s defiant, desperate hand washing Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.
But I’m happy to learn and be wrong so, off we went.
I met Catherine Anderson of Powershop for a quick morning coffee in Melbourne. Anderson recently made the move from chief marketing officer to chief customer officer. She is a source of clean energy herself, transmitting good thinking and initiative after initiative while straddling a to-do list most of us would bolt from. We had some general shop talk and then moved on to the rise of purpose for business.
Warren Davies: Does Powershop have a purpose? How do you view it?
Catherine Anderson: We do, it’s to be a better power company. However, I would shy away from saying we’re purpose-led. It’s more than that. We have an impact on our customers, the planet, our staff and our communities. As a key part of society, when we act as a business, there’s a ripple effect. If you think about the planet, in particular, the energy industry has a massive impact on it.
At Powershop we have very strong environmental credentials. I want people to understand that those credentials don’t just exist, they exist because we want to leave the planet in a better place than it is today – and that’s a big part of our purpose.
Have you read Green Giants yet? There are entrepreneurs out there today building better businesses to last 100 years or more. Based in good ethics and practices for then and for now.
No I haven’t yet. It’s interesting you mention business practices for the future because I’ve realised we’ve been quite shy in talking about our business’ purpose this way. For example, we’re Australia’s greenest power company. But a lot of people thought that meant we’d be more expensive [ – which Powershop isn’t].
This meant in some ways we were often shy about communicating our ‘green-ness’ but in reality, it’s time for us to step up and take more leadership. The government is not leading and we know people are really concerned about climate change. We’ve always been doing it behind the scenes and now we want to say it more proudly.
What does this purpose mean to you?
I don’t know that it’s something you think about every day – what is our purpose – but, if it didn’t exist, none of us would turn up to work each day. It’s part of many initiatives we work hard on. For example, we recently launched a demand response program (an energy saving measure to handle peak load times), when there’s huge pressure on the grid we text our customers and say ‘if you use less, we’ll reward you with discounts on your bill.’
The benefit is: customers get rewarded, we take the pressure off the grid and we hopefully avoid blackouts. We’re also helping to avoid the government making the costly investment to take the pressure off the grid. And that again fits with our purpose; we genuinely want to be a better power company.
I realise now if you’re going into work and trying to patch things up and make them sound good, it makes your job a lot harder. We come in and say, ‘this is good, let’s do more of this’. I didn’t realise how much of an undercurrent of force it provides to us.
Do you communicate it?
I think it’s something we can work on – how do we help people see us as a company doing good things? People are attracted to companies like that. And they research. What does the company stand for and why? Why would I choose you? There’s a lot of energy retailers in Australia.
To help people notice us, consider us, choose us and stay with us, it’s a really, really big job. We’ve often struggled to articulate our good work, but I think it’s time to get better at that.
What has been the result of having this culture, this drive to do better? Either internally or externally?
I mean, energy is an industry that people typically hate. Something like under 40% of customers actually trust their power company. That’s pretty bad. It’s an industry that people hate and we’re aiming to be a power company that people can love. We’ve got an NPS of +50, the industry average is -18.
We’ve got a really strong cohort of customers who get what we’re trying to do. If you look at social media and someone’s talking about energy, we’ve got customers actively saying good things about Powershop and what we do. These people are taking their time to defend their power company, advocate for their power company or to refer friends to their power company. It’s amazing.
Also, we have to be careful and not be preachy and say ‘you need to join us’ because we’re Australia’s greenest power company. We need to be humble and admit we’re trying our best too and there’s plenty of room for all of us to learn and grow.
Does everyone at Powershop walk the walk? Follow this culture or purpose you have?
Good question – it’s something I’ve become more aware of. For example, in our Melbourne head office, it is easier. We talk all the time about these issues, but importantly we need to make sure we’re matching our talk with actions and improvements all the time.
It’s also easy to forget that we have staff working outside of the Melbourne office. For example, we’ve got teams (working for our parent company) on various renewable generation sites around Australia, including hydropower stations in the middle of New South Wales. I’m sure we could be supporting each other much more with ideas and actions. It’s the perfect example of where groups of people can learn from each other.
There’s a saying that we don’t need a handful of people being perfectly sustainable, but instead millions of people doing it imperfectly – that’s what we want to encourage ourselves and others with.
Do you think customers care about what you’re doing?
I think they do. People contact us all the time with ideas, change requests, inputs and improvements. Someone got in contact recently via Twitter and said ‘there’s no express car charger location that allows me to go from home to the Great Ocean Road. Can you guys do anything about it?’ He tweeted a lot of power companies, we were the only ones that responded and we’re trying to work with him to help solve his problem. We genuinely want people to tell us what more we can do.
Would you like to cultivate an understanding of what you are doing?
We’re sort of in that awkward phase. It’s genuine and it’s in every person’s brain and inherent in most things we work on. I think the challenge is: how do we cultivate it and give it structure without losing that natural ebb and flow with our purpose? How do we hold onto that startup vibe of an organisation holding strong to its purpose and not go too corporate? We need to cultivate it for staff, to keep it alive and to be sure it’s right.
Should we each communicate our purpose as a business?
Absolutely. I mean it’s why we come to work every day. I’m proud to work at Powershop. My colleagues are proud to work at Powershop. Why would we put our heads down and not talk about it? We are the greenest power company in Australia and we think it’s the right thing to do.
A lot of people don’t understand how the power industry works, if we can help people find greener solutions and use less energy, even though that’s using less of what we’re selling (and that’s okay), then we should. I think when it gets murky is when brands are using purpose for an ulterior motive; then people are smart enough to see through it.
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Image credit:Matt Artz