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Superbrands case studies: British Gas

British Gas, owned by Centrica, is based in the UK and is a well known energy supplier to homes and businesses, as well as an installer and maintainer of central heating and gas appliances.

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With a workforce of over 8,000 engineers, British Gas looks after customers' central heating systems, plumbing, drains, home electrics and kitchen appliances. It is committed to providing affordable energy while delivering the highest quality workmanship backed up by expert care.

Market
Since the residential electricity market opened to competition in 1998, British Gas has grown to become a significant player in the supply of electricity to domestic customers.

The past two years have been characterised by unprecedented increases in wholesale energy prices. As a result, price has been a key driver of customer switching and online switching websites have proliferated to become a major competitive force in the market. As the energy market entered a period of decreasing prices British Gas was the first major energy supplier to lower prices and followed up with a second price drop which came into effect towards the end of April this year.

The services market is another key area for British Gas. A number of central heating service offerings are available to suit its customer's differing needs. British Gas provides maintenance and repair contracts which offer a yearly maintenance and safety inspection plus breakdown repair. As well as contracts, it offers a one off fixed price heating repair service and also has an installation service for new central heating systems. Central Heating Care is a lead product with approximately 3.8 million customers.

The nature of the home services market is diverse with energy suppliers, insurers, water companies, outsource service providers and small independents making up the main competitors.

Achievements
British Gas is committed to training its employees. The Engineering Academy was awarded Large Employer of the Year by the Learning & Skills Council 2006 Apprenticeship Awards, and Beacon status which is awarded to exceptional learning providers. British Gas also won an award from Women into Science & Engineering (WISE) for its efforts to attract women into engineering. Furthermore, its commitment to identifying employees' potential, providing development and career opportunities within a supportive culture has helped the British Gas business energy supply and services divisions be placed in the Financial Times Best Workplaces 2007.

Improving the nation's energy efficiency is important to British Gas as is responsibly highlighting wider green issues.

In the first half of 2007, British Gas ran a high profile advertising campaign with a key message that the electricity which British Gas supplied to its customers had the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any major supplier in Great Britain. It is one of the few UK electricity generators that does not feature on the WWF's 'Dirty 30' list of Europe's biggest polluters. British Gas has teamed up with other leading corporations and the Government to launch a campaign to encourage and enable members of the public to take steps to reduce their individual carbon emissions. British Gas boasts the largest energy efficiency program of any supplier in the UK. In 2006, over 1.5 million households completed a personalised Energy Savers Report, which identified an average saving for the customer of £176 a year.

British Gas is the only energy provider to sign up to 'Making a Corporate Commitment' - an initiative promoted by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Under this agreement, British Gas commits to goals, including reducing office waste, vehicle use and energy used in its buildings.

British Gas has won the Business Commitment to the Environment Premier Award; Business in the Community Awards for Excellence - Educational & Lifelong Learning Award; as well as Charity & Business Partnership of the Year for its Help the Aged Partnership. Now in its seventh year, British Gas has invested more than £7 million in practical schemes to help improve the lives of around 1.9 million older people.

In 2006, British Gas contributed more than £6 million and 11,000 hours of employee time in support of community initiatives.  It also launched an employee volunteering programme which enables staff to spend up to two working days a year volunteering in their local community.

Product
British Gas has been working to help customers in the face of unpredictable and rising prices over recent years.  In a time of wholesale price rises, British Gas offered peace of mind with fixed price products such as Price Protection 2010, and as wholesale prices started to fall in 2007, they cut prices. At 1st June 2007 the online energy product, Click Energy, offered the cheapest dual fuel prices in the market.  Within the services market British Gas is keen to develop new, innovative products and services to meet a wider range of consumer needs such as the introduction of HomeCare Flexi, launched in 2006, which is designed specifically for those customers who want peace of mind but at a lower monthly cost and a £50 fixed fee for each completed repair.

For customers who wish to have confidence in high quality boiler repairs without a contract, British Gas also offers one off heating repairs for a fixed price.

Recent developments
British Gas recently rolled out a new look and feel for the brand focusing on the 'trusted expertise' associated with British Gas 2007 saw the launch of British Gas New Energy, a business unit committed to educating, engaging and enabling British Gas customers to reduce the impact of their energy use on the environment - for example, it now offers solar panels. British Gas has also made significant investments in developing the latest energy efficient and renewable technologies, for example, highly efficient boilers that produce their own electricity.

Promotion
The animated flame has become an effective creative property for British Gas - it brings strong branding and memorability to communications. In the (not too distant) context of rising wholesale prices, it has also served the brand well in establishing a likeable voice.

In the first half of 2007, the British Gas Services campaign extolled the virtues of the most comprehensive offering on the market; whether the customer wants ongoing central heating care or one off repair, British Gas has expert engineers to rely on. The TV commercial explained this whilst the other channels of poster, press, radio, online and direct marketing focused on one service and carried further details, such as price. Real engineers were used in all marketing material, enabling strong internal motivation as well as external.

The price cut campaign took a simple approach. In the first phase the flames fell to the soundtrack of the Blue Danube as the price cut was announced and the imagery was carried through-the-line. The flames then turned green to dramatise the fact that British Gas electricity has the lowest CO2 emissions of any major supplier. Finally, at the implementation of the second price drop, a flame firework display, set to the 1812 overture, was rolled out across TV, print and online.

Brand values
British Gas is committed to excellence and responsible behaviour. Utilising expertise developed over more than 50 years of supplying energy, British Gas aims to be straightforward and forward thinking to be the supplier that people trust to help them to run their homes and businesses.

Timeline
1948
The Gas Act is introduced creating a nationalised gas industry throughout England, Scotland and Wales, the organisation 'the gas board' is formed.
1996 The market for the supply of gas to domestic customers is opened up to competition.
1997
Centrica plc is created following the demerger of British Gas plc; British Gas' supply, services and retail businesses combine with the Morecambe gas fields' production.
1998 The electricity market is opened up to competition - British Gas successfully enters the electricity market.
2000s British Gas' product range is extended to include home security, plumbing, drains, electrical servicing, kitchen appliance care and telecommunications service.
2001 British Gas now provides care for over four million heating and kitchen appliances.
2003 A new platform is developed to act as a framework to guide the brand's repositioning. The brand promise - 'Doing the right thing' - is manifested both internally and externally.
2005
British Gas creates a new structure with two distinct business units: Residential Energy and Home Services. Also in 2005, the British Gas flames first appear in television ads.
2007 British Gas launches a new look and feel to the brand and British Gas New Energy - a team specifically to develop energy saving initiatives - is launched.

Things you didn't know about British Gas

  • British Gas recruits and trains its future heating engineers at its own Engineering Academy; entry into the training centre is tough and has a higher rejection rate than Oxford University.
  • The British Gas flames have been voiced by a variety of celebrities including Les Dennis and Brenda Blethyn, and five of the flames were voiced by real British Gas customers.
  • British Gas sponsors the route 15 old Routemaster bus - one of only four heritage buses that are still running in London.
  • British Gas engineers have their own British Gas branded London A to Zs.

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