OPINION: MILLS ON BUSINESS

Speaking from a personal point of view, I can’t get too excited about the technology that handles my bills for water, phone and gas.

Speaking from a personal point of view, I can’t get too excited

about the technology that handles my bills for water, phone and gas.



But I know a few people who can. You could start with BT, where billing

technology is having a major effect as shown by the advertising for its

Friends and Family scheme, the telecoms equivalent of a frequent user

programme or a supermarket loyalty card.



Of course, that billing technology is also available to all sorts of

other organisations, not least the power utilities. This is what makes

Campaign’s story last week about the search by ScottishPower and Eastern

Electricity for agencies to run national corporate campaigns later this

year so intriguing.



Thanks to deregulation, any supplier can supply any household anywhere

in the UK with any utility service. The only things holding them back

are billing technology and consumer perception.



It’s the latter that’s the tricky one. If you live in London and have

dealt with LEB all your grown-up life, it’s a bit difficult trying to

get your head around buying your power from somebody based in, say, East

Anglia.



In fact, if you take ScottishPower as the model, it’s even more

intriguing.



Not only does it own Manweb, which sells electricity to consumers in the

Granada region, but it also owns Southern Water and Scottish

Telecom.



In April it bought Demon Internet, the UK’s largest internet service

provider.



What seems like a ragbag collection of utilities and services looks more

cohesive if you tie them all in together by applying the right brand and

customer service values. This takes us back to billing technology - and

the one thing consumers don’t like is screw-ups with their bills.



Utilities were once engineering-based monopolies. Now they must woo

consumers with service-based values and a human face as they expand and

compete. It’s not an insuperable challenge but it’s an interesting one.

And if it gets it right, there’s no reason why ScottishPower couldn’t

spread into financial services or other areas.



No wonder it needs a corporate campaign.



I’m not feeling sufficiently bright to claim to understand the new

system for designating car number-plates. But there’s no doubting the

fact that putting an end to the August car registration lunacy is a good

thing.



What we don’t yet know is what this will mean for the ad industry.



Non-car advertisers will hope that introducing two registration dates a

year will reduce TV car clutter during the July-August period (which may

also be a relief for viewers).



There’s the danger that, far from levelling out car adspend over the

year, it will create two blips - in March and August.



We can speculate on other changes. Will consumers become less or more

obsessed with newly registered cars? And what will the effect on the

second-hand market be? It’s odd that among the big manufacturers, only

Vauxhall with its Network Q appears to take this sector seriously.

Somewhere there must be an opportunity crying out to be grabbed.



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