Prosper Business Development Corp., along with Energy.com Corp.,has launched the energy industry’s first cooperative marketingcampaign aimed at eliminating the confusion about gas retail choiceat the small commercial and residential level, and at making itaffordable for gas marketing companies to target these two customerclasses.
The effort was kicked off in Chicago last week, with more than100,000 businesses receiving the 16-page Energy Values Guidefocusing on gas unbundling by either direct mail or as an insert inCrain’s Chicago Business. Prosper Business plans to conduct similarmass mailings of the publication to gas consumers in the Columbus,OH, market in September, and to 450,000 homeowners in Atlanta, GA,in November.
The Energy Values Guide provides small commercial andresidential users with “straight-talk information” on customerchoice in natural gas markets, including “tips on how to choose asupplier [and] how marketers make money,” said Philip Rist, vicepresident of Prosper Business, a marketing and consulting group inColumbus, OH. “It’s almost like a Consumer’s Report type” ofpublication. The guide is supported by cooperative advertising fromColumbia Energy, Nicor Energy, WPS Energy, UtiliCorp EnergySolutions/Energy One and other companies.
Prior to mailing the Guide, “we also support it with radioadvertising,” urging customers to watch for the publication intheir mailboxes or to visit the www.energy.com Web site forinformation. “The Chicago radio spots actually said ‘featuringoffers from Columbia Energy, Nicor, UtiliCorp…,” Rist noted.
While the aim of the publication is to eliminate the confusionabout retail choice for commercial and residential customers, italso has enabled companies to market to these smaller customerswithout it costing them dearly. “What this Energy Values programdoes is basically allow companies to come in for less than sevencents a household and be included in a mass market program withprint, radio and also an Internet connection,” he said. “So all ofa sudden it makes marketing to the residential market and the smallcommercial market very affordable. Also it’s very convenient forthe customer.”
Risk believes there’s going to be a big demand for this type ofmarketing program by energy companies, whether they be gas- orelectricity-related. Many of the companies have been “working in amonopolistic environment and the whole idea of competition,actually kind of like fighting it out in the street, is a talentthey haven’t used in a while. It’s kind of like taking Joe Frazierand putting him in the ring today.”
Energy.com, which is involved in the program and is a client of Prosper Business, is an Internet-based company that serves theneeds of energy consumers through news and information, andeventually will provide on-line shopping services. Furtherinformation about the mass marketing program can be obtained fromeither logging on to www.energy.com or www.4prosper.com.
In a related development, Belden & Blake Corp., a gasmarketer and producer, has entered into an license agreement toexclusively use Prosper Business’ Direct to Market and InstantSavings Analysis interactive marketing systems in specific Midwestmarkets.
Belden & Blake, which is headquartered in North Canton, OH,markets 200 MMcf/d of gas to a six-state area, including Ohio,Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky. Anestimated 93% of all the gas it markets is its own production, thecompany said.
The Instant-Savings-Analysis product is aimed at shortening thetime it takes between a company salesperson giving a quote to acommercial account over the telephone and closing the actual salein person, Rist said. The Direct-to-Market product “takes thatprocess a step further and it actually links advertising with salesdirect by allowing a customer who sees an ad or gets a direct mailpiece to fill out a form with their [current] billing informationon it, and to send the form in via fax. [From there], it goes intoan automated computer system where it’s read by the computer, notby a person, and the computer automatically in 2-3 minutes sendsback to the prospect a savings analysis and rate quote without theneed for the company to have a staff of people.” He said ProsperBusiness, which specializes in increasing the marketingproductivity of companies that are in industries going throughderegulation, piloted the latter product for UtiliCorp Energy Onein the Chicago market in 1996.
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