CAMPAIGNS: B2B - August.One helps British Gas SME push

British Gas has a high profile in the energy market but little recognition as a supplier of energy services to small and medium-sized firms (SMEs). Regulatory changes altered its pre-eminent status as an energy supplier from the beginning of the 1990s, and its market share among business users had shrunk.

Objectives

To defend British Gas's market share by building the company's profile among small businesses. To attract new gas and electricity SME customers and to retain existing ones. To improve the perception of British Gas as a supporter of small businesses in the eyes of the media. A key task was to make the client 'highly regarded' in this context within one year.

Strategy and Plan

As part of an ongoing process, beginning in December 2000, a six-monthly survey was undertaken with 500 SMEs. The primary message arising from these was the amount of time small business owners lost by dealing with non-core activities in the working day. Therefore the campaign was themed around 'time', highlighting a service that helped small businesses concentrate on their main activities.

British Gas set up a 24-hour free helpline for SMEs, which would arrange an approved, local contractor - for example, plumbers, electricians, glaziers, locksmiths, roofers, heating and drainage experts - to be on-site to deal with any eventuality within two hours. These covered: water leaks, burst pipes, electrical failures, broken glass, roofing problems and damage caused by break-ins.

Under the scheme, charges were agreed in advance based on local rates.

August.One spent time explaining the idea behind the campaign with trade journalists and small business correspondents on regional and national newspapers.

It also used direct mail and British Gas's own quarterly small business newsletter, In Business, which is sent to 45,000 SMEs.

Measurement and Evaluation

August.One decided the campaign would be deemed a success if press coverage of the new helpline was broken down as follows: 70 per cent positive and 'on message', 20 per cent neutral and 10 per cent negative. The target was to achieve 100 articles about the campaign.

In addition, the profile of British Gas should rise to a level where it was considered 'highly regarded' by relevant media.

In the event, 144 articles were generated by the campaign. Each was deemed to be 'on message' and positive.

Results

In a survey by August.One, British Gas Trading was ranked in the top five of companies that have useful things to offer to the small business community, ranked by relevant media alongside organisations such as Lloyds TSB, which is well-known for communicating with the sector.

The message that British Gas was committed to developing products and services to take away non-core business concerns had been understood.

British Gas will not release figures of new customer uptake, but insists it has risen.

Through the campaign, the company has also developed associations with the Federation of Small Business, the Institute of Business Advisers and the Institute of Directors.

The third Time survey into SME working regimes is currently underway.

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