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Photo Courtesy Basin Electric Power Cooperative

25th anniversary logo

On Thanksgiving Day 2022, Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives began its 25th year of serving the co-op community and uniting this community behind a brand that signifies superior satisfaction, strong member engagement and sustained trust.

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The logo displays the value electric cooperatives offer through the human connections between employees, members and directors, and their unified approach to making decisions that guide the operation of the cooperative. The green underscore represents the cooperative. This unique relationship is just one of the several qualities that define the “cooperative difference” and sets cooperatives apart from all other electric services providers.

Placing cooperatives at the top
The idea for a nationwide brand identity for electric cooperatives began in the late 1990s, when cooperatives across the country sought to position themselves as the superior power provider. Working with a national advertising agency, they surveyed thousands of co-op members, including industrial and commercial accounts, and even nonmembers.

One interview session included members of Verendrye Electric Cooperative in Minot.

“We randomly selected between 25 and 50 members to be surveyed,” says Randy Hauck, general manager of Verendrye Electric Cooperative. “It was a time when retail choice (to allow consumers to purchase their electricity from other retail suppliers besides their local utility) was being talked about across the nation.”

Members who knew cooperatives best, the survey revealed, valued them the most. Cooperatives received high ratings in their quality of service, responsiveness to customers and for keeping rates reasonable. However, the survey also found only 25% of respondents knew much about cooperatives. Forty-four percent knew some and 31% knew little or nothing at all about cooperatives.

The researchers also asked people about what they wanted from their electric service provider.

Many believed the local, small-town nature of electric cooperatives was their main strength. Community and economic development impressed them, and so did the fact members of cooperatives have a say in the operation of the business. This appealed especially to nonmembers, who felt their current provider was too large and impersonal.

Findings from commercial and industrial (C&I) account customers ranked steady with residential customers. Price and reliability were important to all customers, but especially critical to C&I customers. Value was the most crucial driver of attitudes toward electric cooperatives, as customers were willing to pay more for better reliability and service. Customers also thought belonging to a national network added value.

Unifying through a new image
After finding cooperatives already had the traits customers wanted in their electric service provider, the national electric cooperative brand identity was developed.

Again, research was conducted, this time to establish a logo and tagline future customers could identify as electric cooperative service. This name and logo would need to personify the service, so people could relate it to the personal connection they felt with their cooperative.

More than 100 names were tested among a cohort of current electric cooperative customers and potential customers. The name, Touchstone Energy, and the tagline, “The Power of Human Connections,” ranked the highest. Customers felt it portrayed the relationship value of electric cooperative service.

In the fall of 1997, the brand was tested in South Dakota, Arizona, South Carolina and Georgia. After only one month, results showed customer perception of electric cooperatives grew in the areas of innovation, integrity, accountability and commitment to community.

Electric cooperatives must be dedicated and invested in the communities they serve to become a Touchstone Energy Cooperative. They must also pledge to operate with the brand’s core values of integrity, accountability, innovation and commitment to community.

Fifteen of the 16 electric distribution cooperatives and all the generation and transmission cooperatives in North Dakota have been Touchstone Energy Cooperatives since the brand was created.

Through the guidance of directors, who are also members and users of the electric service, and the dedication and commitment of employees, Touchstone Energy Cooperatives deliver reliable, affordable electricity to members. And while delivering on this pledge, they maintain a strong commitment to reinvesting in the communities served by electric cooperatives.

Now, 25 years later, by showcasing the work of electric cooperatives both locally and through this national network, public opinion surveys conducted by the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC) show electric cooperatives are the preferred electric service provider. And electric cooperatives consistently receive high rankings in the areas of integrity, innovation, accountability and commitment to community.

“Communicating the message about the cooperative difference, about how we are different from other service providers, is critical to the future success of electric co-ops,” says Josh Kramer, executive vice president and general manager of NDAREC.

“The work of Touchstone Energy Cooperatives and publications like North Dakota Living serve a greater purpose,” he says. “They unify members, directors and employees in helping to build prosperous, thriving communities in our state, and set a standard of excellence matched by the quality of electric service cooperatives provide. Compound that impact with similar themes and commitments being communicated across the nation, and it makes our cooperative network even stronger.”

Hauck agrees.

“We need to keep telling the story about how the cooperative business model is the best model for the member or the customer of the utility,” he says. “When you return margins or profits back to your members instead of to Wall Street, when you have a locally elected, member-based board of directors running a utility instead of a stockholder-elected board of directors, it’s easy to see that is much better for members.”

National surveys conducted through the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®) in 2022 show Touchstone Energy Cooperatives (that actively measured member satisfaction through the ACSI) scored 84.9, almost 11 points above the industry average of 74.

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A test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing.

Touchstone Energy Cooperatives today
Today, Touchstone Energy helps electric cooperatives strengthen relationships with their members through research, communications resources and employee training programs. The brand provides information for member-consumers on energy efficiency, new electric technologies and the value of being an electric cooperative member. These resources help position Touchstone Energy-branded electric cooperatives to achieve superior member satisfaction and engagement, which strengthens cooperatives and communities here in North Dakota and across the country.

Touchstone Energy Cooperatives stand out as a trusted source of power and information for their 30 million member-owners every day. For 25 years. And counting.

Clarice L. Kesler is communications manager for the N.D. Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives and a Touchstone Energy brand ambassador. She can be reached at ckesler@ndarec.com.