Ofgem, the UK gas and electricity regulator, published research by Lawes concerning bills, statements and price rise notifications across dozens of energy suppliers. The report is called Retail Market Review: Energy bills, annual statements and price rise notifications; advice on layout and the use of language [hyperlink]. It uses a combination of research methods, principally including discourse analysis and semiotics, to show how meaning can be both displayed and concealed using various kinds of words, phrases, sentence structures and graphic devices. The findings not only show how to design energy communications so that customers can understand them but also help to explain the dynamics of consumer psychology that cause people to read and interpret energy communications in different ways.

Did you know?

  • Energy customers make sense of energy communications, which can often be quite technical, with reference to experiences and concepts imported from everyday life. This is why concrete amounts of money (twenty pounds) is easier to understand than 20%, which in turn is easier to understand than 20 units of energy, which are almost entirely abstract. There’s a sliding scale here, from material reality to abstraction.
  • When you want customers to take action or understand how to take action should they desire, framing instructions as a set of three steps is easy to understand, seems accessible and gives the impression of a complete process. This technique makes energy communications more motivating and easier to interpret and customers have experience with it in other categories such as health and personal care.
  • When suppliers issue different types of communications, they need to make the differences clear to customers, otherwise customers will impose their own systems of classification such as ‘letters that need me to do something, possibly by a set date’ and ‘letters that I don’t need to act on or even read’.

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