CONNECT—the national communications and member services conference for electric co-ops—is one of my favorite events of the year. (My other favorite is NWPPA’s Northwest Communications and Energy Innovations Conference, of course!) I love learning best practices with 500+ of my closest public power friends.

Last week I used WordSwag (a $4 iOS and Android app) to share my key takeaways in the CONNECT app. Since many of our members and public power friends couldn’t make it to Texas last week, here are 4 of my favorite learning CONNECTions.

Branding: It’s Not About You

Branding has nothing to do with what you think go your brand. It's what your members think.Too often we focus on what messages we need to get out, instead of thinking about what our consumer-members want to hear. Branding—what people think of when they see your company’s name—has nothing to do with how you (or your management) see yourself. It has everything to do with how your consumer-members feel about you.

Scott Stratten of Disruptive and UN-traditional Sales, challenges us to stop pushing messages and marketing. Instead, focus on experiences. Spark emotion. Forget the metrics. Make connections that matter.

To inspire CONNECT attendees, he shared the story of a child who lost a stuffed animal, Joshie, during a Ritz-Carlton stay. A member of housekeeping and a loss prevention worker worked together to not only return the toy to the family, but to create an unforgettable experience—a story that continues to wow parents around the world.

Do things worth talking about. When we evoke emotion, we spread emotion.What kind of experiences do you provide? Instead of focusing on utility messages, listen for stories with impact. How are your staff and programs changing lives? Talk to lineworkers and member service representatives. What stories stick?

Our More Powerful Together effort is the perfect platform for sharing consumer-member stories. We provide staff talking points and are adding a set of office flyers and a staff newsletter story this month to help you engage frontline employees in the quest to gather stories that will spark meaningful connections.

Having a tough time letting go of your traditional marketing methods? This closing thought from Scott hit home for me.

Disruption is not destruction. Be flexible. Adapt. Then get ready to grow.

Think Small, & Start with Goals (Not Content)

Our new marketing director, Ryan Hakes, teamed up with NRECA multimedia producer Alexis Matsui to share 5 steps for a post-production video workflow.

We create content, but no one pays attention. We don't have big brand budgets. Think smaller.“There’s only so much time in the day,” Ryan says. “Why am I going to give you 3 minutes of my time?”

Big brands start with the creative, often opting for crazy images that tend to win awards. Want examples? Watch Superbowl ads, where avocados are the prize in a dog-ish show and a football player, a mermaid, and a bird horse tout cell service.

“I can’t tell you what a bad idea this is,” Ryan says.

Many big brands start with creative, move to the budget, pick channels then think about targeting. Metrics and goals are the last thought. Instead of following this model, be relevant.

Start with your goals. Pick what metrics matter. Target the right people. Pick the channels they use. Set a budget. Then create.“Want to increase views and reach your goals? Flip it,” Ryan offers. “And remember, the goal is not to get views. It’s to get communication.”

Ryan encourages everyone to follow Wendy’s on Twitter for a lesson in the interaction game. Here’s a sample tweet from Sunday night, when many of us (me included) were watching HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Sample Wendy's tweet

Responses are not long. Punctuation and capitalization? No need. But every comment sounds like a friend, someone you can joke with (albeit dad jokes), someone who gets you. This post is not selling spicy nuggets. It’s forming an emotional connection with fans. Brilliant.

“By having utility social media channels, we make implicit promises,” Ryan says. “People will start saying, ‘Why is my power out?’ And because you’re active on social media, you’re making a promise that you will respond to me. When you don’t respond, you’ve broken your promise.”

Ryan asks communicators to stop pushing messages out without being present and able to answer individual questions.

“Pick channels where you can best communicate, not where you’re comfortable,” Ryan challenges. “Talk back. Answer questions. Be part of the community. Otherwise you have no right to be there.”

If you post videos to YouTube, respond to every comment. Interact with your consumer-members on Facebook. Engage your community on Instagram. And remember, video is not the right choice for every message.

Wish you were there to hear this firsthand? Me too. We missed you! But watching it on Facebook is the next best thing.

Give Your Community Curb Appeal

Make sure your community has curb appeal. Develop local pride. And keep existing businesses happy.One of More Powerful Together’s key messages, Driven, was echoed during a general session on economic development.

Lorie Vincent of Acceleration by Design helps rural communities attract new business and retain current companies.

“Electric co-ops are driven to generate jobs and lay a foundation for growth in our communities,” Lorie says.

Not sure where to start? Never underestimate the importance of a fresh coat of paint. According to Lorie, when businesses scout a community, they look for curb appeal, just as you would when looking for a new home.

Attention to detail matters. Take a step back from your communities’ main street. Are the sidewalks repaired? Do buildings look cared for? Curb appeal is the first step toward courting new neighbors.

Touchstone Energy, the national marketing brand for electric co-ops, is sponsoring a community development contest. Main Street Makeover hopes to spur rural community growth by helping utilities:

  • Rally the troops
  • Flex your resources
  • Create the big idea
  • Build the model
  • Tell your story

“Make a plan,” Lorie advises. “Have the important conversations. Think big, and start small.”

If you feel your utility is driven to generate jobs and make life better for your neighbors, use the More Powerful Together messages that center on economic development.

We are More Powerful Together

Have you ever seen an Olympic torch passed around a room? That’s what it was like last week as our members shared the excitement of the More Powerful Together 2019 Spotlight on Excellence Award win for Best Total Communication Program, Class 5. This video captures a bit of the excitement!

Congratulations to everyone who uses these tools and made this national recognition possible. The best part of the win is that these materials are timeless.

We’re adding a new editorial, set of ads, social media content and staff flyers next week.

There’s never been a better time to help consumer-members discover how we are #MorePowerfulTogether.

Were you in Texas last week? We’d love to hear your favorite learning moments. Share them in the comments below so we can all grow together!