In This Issue:
By: Joel Gilbert, P.E., Co-Founder and Chief Software Architect, Apogee
I grew up when TV was first introduced. There were three black and white channels and the images were small and grainy. Sometimes you had to play with the rabbit ears antenna just the right way and have someone stand and hold it to get a picture at all. And get this ─ you had to walk up to the TV to change the channel or even change the volume!
Limited as it was, TV dramatically changed attitudes about almost everything. The news now came to life and products and services were introduced and promoted. Now, we have about a 1,000 channels and there are very few that will not expose us to a constant barrage of images and ideas. I am tired of having my fourteen year old son exposed to discussions of ED. Back when I was a kid, ED was a talking horse.
If Energy Efficiency Was a Cable Channel, Would Any Customers Watch?
So, what is an energy company to do today to compete with the media blitz of entertainment and marketing overload? How can we gain mindshare? Or should we just be happy with the small number of people who do pay attention?
About two years ago, Apogee began searching for ways to introduce “fun” in our applications. We took a serious look at the online world of games to learn why so many of our youth are now spending more time in these environments than watching TV. We interviewed our younger employees and the children of employees to determine what made these games so addictive. We began in-depth research to find what it might take to build our own online world or to tap into other online worlds like Second Life.
We also began dialogues with the experts on these online worlds and online gaming at Georgia Tech and elsewhere who all pointed us to the same obvious answer: Facebook. We had to integrate into Facebook to truly tap into the online social fabric of today. It is the channel that is replacing TV in the hearts and minds of customers, and it is no longer just a young person’s passion. Even senior citizens have jumped in with both feet, in part to connect with their kids and grandkids wherever they are.
The key question is how to interweave your relationships into Facebook, not whether you should. Apogee is about to launch several interfaces to extend our applications into Facebook this summer.
Children are the Future
Our first effort will be to empower the next generation of energy consumers – our youth – to see that life is all about choices and that small things can and do make a difference. We were shocked by the results of the "Save-A-Watt, Save-A-Lot" competition we conducted for the City of Marietta. Three of the twelve schools cracked 20% savings just by turning things off when they left the classroom.
What gives me hope is that today’s youth are looking for a cause. They are not interested in just having a job ─ they want to be a part of something. Perhaps that is our mutual challenge; we need to let them see that energy and environmental stewardship is a lot more than doing without or freezing in the dark. It is a dynamic lifelong quest for ideas and the result of seemingly small choices and actions.
We are launching Eco-Stewards with Bob Boscamp (the person who brought the industry “In Concert with the Environment”).This application will integrate home energy audits performed by high school students into Facebook. It provides meaningful merit badges and karma points for these students to add to their wall showing they are making a difference. We will measure the actual difference they make in the bills and post results so they can show the world they are truly making a difference.
But wait … there is more! Well, we can’t tell you much more than this right now, but there is a lot more. We will cover that next month when the results are in. Stay tuned … film at 11.
Turn “Green Buzz” Into “Green Behavior"
Go green! Be sustainable! Save the planet! Change your light bulbs! Not too long ago only a few of us were paying attention to the “buzz” around energy efficiency.
Today the “Green Buzz” seems to lead utility company messaging across the nation. And the shift to broader “Go Green” and “Save Green” campaigns has helped reignite public interest in energy efficiency.
For utilities, energy efficiency has long been an essential part of a utility’s resource mix to meet regulatory, state and national goals. But today it’s also a powerful social and political platform that encompasses environmental stewardship and economic common sense.
Putting Online Power Behind EE Programs
Today, utility EE efforts can span everything from traditional rebates and onsite energy audit programs to community-wide challenges to reduce energy or carbon “footprints.” But regardless of the programs’ shape or size, volume is increasing.
Take Indianapolis Power & Light Company (IPL), for example. “Two years ago, we supported a couple of EE programs,” said Don Hart, Advertising Manager. “Now we support 16 programs, but with fewer staff resources to manage them.” That’s where online apps enter the equation. IPL started with three online apps on their website from Apogee Interactive – a lighting calculator, an appliance calculator and heat pump calculator – to help increase awareness of how to save energy among residential customers.
By 2010, IPL had added a full online energy audit linked to the customers’ billing data, called the Home Energy Inspector. (IPL’s Home Inspector tool is powered by Apogee Interactive’s RESNET accredited analysis engine.) When the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission required IPL to conduct an Energy Assessment program and provide 5,000 energy efficiency kits to its customers in 2010, the online audit tool soon took on a whole new role.
Six-Month Push Yields 1.5 Million kWhs Savings
“We used our online Home Energy Inspector Audit as the means to conduct our Energy Assessment Program, promote the kits, and get them into the customers’ homes,” said Marcia Anderson, Marketing Program Administrator. “We invited customers to create an online account (which pulled in their billing history) and complete the self-service online home energy audit. Once completed, their name was downloaded to a file and they were mailed an energy efficiency kit.
Between July and December 2010, 6,187 customers completed the online audit and received a kit containing: two low-flow showerheads, two bathroom faucet aerators, one kitchen faucet aerators, two CFL’s, a refrigerator thermometer and a water heater gauge. A multi-vehicle promotional push for the Home Energy Inspector was deployed, including radio promotions, community events, home shows, direct mail and cross promotion through other DSM programs.
Total savings achieved by the program participants is calculated to be 1.5 million kWhs, according to Anderson. Enough to power 120 average residential homes for a year! Traffic to the utility’s website by new visitors rose 18 percent during that time and by 22 percent among repeat traffic, added Hart.
Accuracy, Relevancy and Continual Education
IPL’s commitment to educating its consumers about energy efficiency dates back decades. The Internet just makes it easier. “We believe in educating our consumers as well as the youth in our community,” Hart said. You’ll find IPL’s EE mascot, named “Bolty,” on nearly all external communications and online at the Kids Korner of their website.
“Accuracy is important too,” he added. You need the assurance that the information you are providing is reliable and accurate. If the estimates of savings for “Going Green” are not accurate, or your website has incorrect information, you are certainly less likely to have convinced the customer to “make the switch”.
In 18 years of building Web-based energy efficiency tools and applications for 500+ utilities, Apogee has heard hundreds of stories from its clients about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to delivering a message and getting the results you intended, whether it is encouraging paperless billing, home energy retrofits or EE kit requests.
Apogee also does ongoing usability testing to assess online effectiveness, and testing repeatedly shows that asking the customer questions upfront about what they want to know and crafting the message to answer their questions is a win/win. In the case of the HomeEnergyCalculator, the tool sees a consistently achieves high completion rates and we believe a significant contributing factor is that we engage the customer up front by asking them what they want to know and then tailoring the message for each customer. Placing multiple access points or links throughout the website also helps.
Customers Have the Final Say
Using a survey feedback mechanism in the audit tool, Apogee and its clients receive comments directly from utility customer end users on a regular basis. What they say is a clear testament to how personalized, accurate, reliable and well placed information can lead customers to take action.
So as consumers try to make the connection to “Going Green,” they’re seeking answers from their utilities. IPL’s experience shows that the answer to customer participation and behavior change is sometimes just a click or two away.
Apogee clients dominated the winners' circle in the Best Website category of this year's Spotlight on Excellence competition hosted by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the Council of Rural Electric Communicators.
The award winners were recognized today at NRECA's Annual Connect Conference in Denver, Colo., a three-day event attracting marketing and communications professionals from electric cooperatives across the country. Eight Apogee clients earned honors for their websites ─ the most award winners posted by a single vendor in the Best Website category!
Spotlight on Excellence
Spotlight on Excellence recognizes electric cooperatives for exceptional communication and marketing efforts. The NRECA member websites were judged on criteria such as relevant and concise text, easy navigation, distinctive appearance, and engaging opportunities for visitor interaction.
Wiregrass Electric Cooperative, a member-owned electric cooperative headquartered in Hartford, Ala., won two Awards of Excellence. In the Best Website category, Wiregrass received the accolade for its redesigned website featuring Apogee's HomeEnergySuite™, a live customer service chat function, a digital version of the co-op’s statewide magazine, Alabama Living, and more. Wiregrass also won in the Best Application of Electronic Communication category for its Residential Rate Calculator powered by Apogee.
Pioneer Electric Cooperative, based in Piqua, Ohio, also earned an Award of Excellence in the Best Website category. Redesigned by Apogee, this site features Apogee’s HomeEnergyCalculator™, an interactive outage map, news center, and numerous pages with information on energy efficiency and the environment.
Northwestern Rural Electric Co-Operative Association,
Expecting Excellence for Customers
“We are honored to have so many of our clients receive this well-deserved recognition,” said Apogee President and CEO Susan Gilbert. “While our talented and dedicated team of designers and developers plays an important role in the creation of the website, our clients play an equally vital role by expecting excellence for their consumers. As more people move to the Web for communication, the image members have of their cooperative is increasingly influenced by the impressions and experiences created on their website."
By: Andrew Booth, Web Services Lead Developer, Apogee
If you’ve ever had the glamorous role of maintaining a website and its content, then chances are high you have used Adobe Contribute at some point. Some of you probably still use Contribute to update and edit your website's content.
Contribute was one of the very first user-friendly tools on the market to allow non-Web developers the ability to maintain website content without having to constantly interrupt their IT team for daily and weekly changes. Everyone knows a website that is not kept up to date might as well not exist. Your users want to see changes when they return, and have new tasks to complete while visiting.
While Contribute still helps with website updates, new Web-based tools have come on the market offering greater flexibility and control. Compared to the new products, Contribute is limited in what it can accomplish and gives you limited access to your content. Adobe also provides limited technical support when you need it, making it very difficult if you have a problem with their software.
However, these issues can be easily solved by upgrading your Content Management System (CMS)! During 2009, we researched and tested numerous different CMSs and evaluated them based on ability and ease of use. After many months of research, we adopted Telerik's Sitefinity CMS. It is a gift to small businesses, utilities and even large corporations. It gives you complete control over all your content, as well as a number of modules that can be easily added in to provide a more user engaged experienced.
These modules and features include:
One of the best benefits of Sitefinity CMS is it is fully Web based! I am sure you are wondering what that means, right? A fully Web-based CMS means you do not have to install any software on your computer; it means you don't have to buy a separate software license for every person you want to be able to update your website; and it also means you will be able to update your website from anywhere in the world when you have a computer with Internet access!!
These are just a few of the wonderful features that Sitefinity offers to you and your website! If Sitefinity wasn't easy to use, then why would companies like Coca Cola, AT&T, Toyota, Chevron and Quaker use it for their websites? What are you waiting for? I personally recommend you give Sitefinity a try by testing it out with this demo website!