July 12, 2013
Unique Aspects of the Brand
Previous Branding Updates have addressed common elements of the utility brand. However, each agency will have aspects of the brand that are somewhat unique. The unique elements will depend on the specific roles of the utility (its mission) and the distinctive aspects of the community the utility serves. For example, a wastewater utility that serves a small affluent community in the mountains with a pristine watershed will have a different brand than the city of Chicago. The smaller utility in the mountains will likely need to have a very strong environmental ethic, resulting in high standards for preventing sewer overflows and ensuring that water discharged into the river is high quality. A sewer overflow is bad anywhere, but it will arguably be viewed differently in Chicago than in Vail, Colorado. And the political issues facing as a large municipal utility are clearly different than the challenges in a small town. These unique qualities and roles must be considered when defining the brand.
Branding Applies to Small Utilities - As noted above, a distinctive quality of a utility is its size. Some may argue that a small utility cannot implement branding because they do not have the financial resources to fund a large outreach program or to even have a full-time communications person. It pays to remember that branding is not just about what you say, but who you are. Utilities, big and small, are being branded due to their customer service, policy decisions, and the way they interact with their communities. This is true whether or not the utility is "advertising" and independent of how many communication people are on staff. Utilities that serve small communities are not exempt from the challenge of building trust with the influential public and securing appropriate investment. In fact, branding may be more applicable in small communities because of the intimate nature of the relationships. Sewer spills can make the front page of the newspaper. A person can call and ask for the general manager of the utility and actually get to talk with him or her. Because of this intimacy, the brand (especially the personal characteristics of the staff) is very important in a small community.