In 2001-02, TXU Networks trialled a Victorian first the installation of elevated natural gas pressure in new residential areas.
Elevated gas pressure provides substantial benefits to consumers through lower costs and greater choice. Despite this, industry, government and regulatory bodies were resistant to the change, and approached the trial with considerable caution.
This presented us with a formidable marketing communications challenge:
How could we break through 60 years of tradition and convince stakeholders to embrace and adopt an elevated gas pressure system as the best option for Victorian consumers?
The answer lay in consulting with a diverse range of stakeholders, and running a targeted campaign which communicated the benefits of elevated gas pressure, addressed their concerns and encouraged them to adopt the new system. Working within a defined timeframe and budget, we used a variety of above and below-the-line marketing communications tools.
The campaign was highly effective. Demand for elevated gas pressure exceeded expectations immediately following the campaign, and even now, shows little sign of abating. TXU Networks has strengthened its relationship with key stakeholders, who praised the quality of the campaign. We also received a coveted award for the campaign and its contribution to the plumbing industry.
Whether we realise it or not, natural gas plays a crucial part in the lives of all Victorians.
Despite this, for more than 60 years, industrial, commercial and residential customers in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Victoria have been supplied with a relatively low natural gas pressure of 1.1kPa (kilopascals).
This practice continued despite strong overseas evidence of another, more effective option the use of elevated natural gas pressure (2.75kPa). Elevated gas pressure:
enables consumers to run more gas appliances, due to lower installation costs
provides consumers with a greater choice of appliances, as many of the newer appliances run more effectively on higher gas pressure.
Elevated pressure also enables natural gas providers like TXU to respond to market demand for more sophisticated appliances such as the increasingly popular instantaneous hot water heaters.
Despite such clear benefits, TXU and its predecessor Westar had to lobby for five years before convincing cautious government regulatory authorities and peak industry bodies that higher gas pressure may be advantageous for Victorians.
Finally, in June 2001, the Office of Gas Safety granted TXU Networks (see Appendix 1) permission to offer elevated gas pressure on a trial basis to new developments and residential housing estates. This created a considerable marketing and communications challenge.
Read on to find out how well we succeeded
For more than 60 years, the Gas and Fuel Corporation of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Victoria, and in more recent times, the Office of Gas Safety (OGS) and the Essential Services Commission of Victoria (ESC) had been hesitant regarding the introduction of an alternative domestic fitting line pressure. They believed that a major change like this would be difficult to implement.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
However, after entering the Victorian energy market in 1998, TXU Networks worked closely with the OGS and ESC to convince them that by introducing 2.75kPa gas pressure in phases, the perceived implementation difficulties could be alleviated.
We believed this would amply demonstrate the effectiveness and efficiency of elevated natural gas pressure, while also addressing ESC and OGS concerns about the difficulties of implementation.
We also believed that, once the trial had been run successfully, the ESC and OGS would have good grounds for introducing 2.75kPa as the new standard for all gas-consuming premises across Victoria.
TXU Networks extensive groundwork on elevated gas pressure meant that once the trial had been approved, we already had a clear idea of why stakeholders were resistant towards the introduction of elevated gas pressure.
While changing a 60-year long mindset was the biggest hurdle of our campaign, the diversity of stakeholders who made up our target publics also presented its fair share of challenges.
Gas appliance industry
Employees of TXU Networks and our business partner Abigroup
We reached consumers indirectly through their key points of contact plumbers, gasfitters and gas retailers.
This diversity of target publics demanded that we plan a broad-ranging campaign encompassing above-the-line and below-the-line tools.
The following is a summary of our strategys key elements for each stakeholder group refer to Appendix 2 for further details.
State government and statutory bodies
Hold consultations and information sessions
Tradespeople, gas appliance industry, housing industry, gas retailers
Establish a multi-disciplinary Committee to consult on a bi-monthly basis
Offer elevated gas pressure training at plumbing and gasfitting trade nights
Make a training video
Produce an information brochure
Produce a CD containing the request form for residential gas service connection
Place advertising and editorial copy in key trade journals
Direct mail plumbers and gasfitters with information material
Post material on websites - TXU, Office of Gas Safety and Plumbing Industry Commission
Prepare a media release for distribution to relevant trade journals, as well as suburban/regional press in areas where elevated pressure was being trialled.
TXU Networks and Abigroup employees
Write articles in monthly newsletters to inform all staff about the trial and acknowledge the achievements of individuals who helped make it happen.
Post articles on the TXU Intranet to ensure widespread and cost-effective circulation.
- No direct communication required (see above).
The Committee agreed to the proposed communication strategy. TXU Networks Communication and Marketing staff managed the campaign in consultation with key stakeholder groups.
Implementation occurred exactly as agreed, and we met the allocated budget. The key to this was a well-disciplined timeline:
Established an agreement with stakeholders to implement elevated natural gas pressure on a trial basis.
Prepared an agreed strategy and associated tools for implementation from July 2001.
Began the campaign with a launch and announcement by Minister Thwaites, ran six trade nights, direct mailed the video and literature, placed journal articles and advertisements.
Evaluated the effectiveness of the campaign by examining the uptake of offers by developers, plumbers/gasfitters and customers. Found that demand exceeded our expectations.
Evaluated the uptake on an ongoing basis. Demand still exceeded expectations. Updated the marketing communication campaign to include further direct mail, advertising and two more trade nights.
Pleasingly, all elements of the strategy were very well accepted and easily understood (the secret of our success!) The key results were:
Short-term (first 10 weeks of the campaign - June 2001 onwards)
There were over 150 installations on large residential estates - exceeding expectations of 40.
TXUs Call Centre received around 30 applications per day for elevated gas pressure from interested consumers exceeding expectations of 10 per day. The Call Centre had to employ two more staff to cope with demand.
Consumers benefited from lower gas installation costs and a greater choice of gas appliances, resulting in word spreading more quickly than expected.
TXU strengthened partnerships with key stakeholders.
Plumbers, gasfitters and developers remarked on the ease with which the initiative was communicated. Left with a positive impression, they quickly adopted the new gas pressure system.
One year later (June 2002)
Almost 900 installations have occurred - exceeding expectations of 300-400.
TXUs Call Centre is now permanently engaged to answer 20-30 calls per day to discuss installation requests.
The State Government, regulatory bodies and other key stakeholders have recognised the pilot program as a success, and agreed to implement it Statewide. Now, all residential property owners have the option of installing 2.75kPa gas pressure two years ahead of the expected timeframe.
Elevated gas pressure has now been adopted (unfortunately!!) by two competitors, Origin Energy and Pulse.
The campaign has been recognised by the Plumbing Industry Commission, which presented TXU Networks with the PIC 2001 Partnership Award in December 2001. The award recognises the campaigns outstanding achievement and its contribution to the plumbing industry.
See over for a specific example of how we communicated the benefits of elevated gas pressure to a new residential market.
We evaluated the success of this campaign in two ways:<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
- By measuring the take-up rate of elevated natural gas pressure by plumbers and gasfitters working on new residential properties and housing estates throughout the trial area (see Results for short and long term take-up rates).
- By monitoring feedback received through TXUs Call Centre regarding application process and costs. To date, TXU has not received any complaints.
At the moment, demand for elevated natural gas pressure has snowballed, indicating that there is no need for a further concentrated marketing communications campaign. However, as with any new venture, demand may decrease over time. We plan to ramp up the campaign at a later stage to maintain interest and awareness among our target publics.
TXU Networks is proud to have used the correct range and mix of marketing communication tools (above and below-the-line) to excite a diverse range of target publics about the benefits of switching to elevated natural gas pressure.