Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Branding Update
September 17, 2013

Standards, Brands, and Transparency

Standards are the Essence of a Brand - In past Branding Updates we have discussed the terms above. However, it is interesting to explore how they are related. It turns out that the foundation for a good brand is its standards. These standards can be broad, like Rolex focusing on producing luxury watches. They can be more detailed, like Starbucks making sure the coffee in its stores is a certain temperature or strength. In every case, the value embedded in a product or service is determined by standards. Related terms are specifications or requirements. Regulations are an imposed standard, and failing to comply is a negative branding moment.

Utility Branding and Standards - A utility’s mission and brand commitments are its fundamental standards, for example ensuring water-service reliability, water quality, or public health. However, within each of these categories there are multiple standards that drive activities and proposed investments (and add meaning to the value that the utility provides). For example, stating that a community’s water supply will be climate-change resilient qualifies and enhances the meaning of the water-service reliability commitment. Deciding that each customer-service interaction must create a positive impression triggers the need to define more detailed standards that ensure this occurs. This would almost certainly include a maximum hold time for customers who call to report a problem. Making sure all important standards are identified and meaningful is an essential element of effective strategic planning and communications.

Standards are the Key to Meaningful Transparency – It is easy to think that transparency means sharing everything. But if we ponder this idea for a moment we know it is not true. No utility would go out of its way to share specific dimensions from the drawing of a pump, or the chemical composition of the chlorine product it uses for disinfection. However, utilities share information all the time that is not very meaningful or transparent. Content tends to focus on facts and figures rather than the motivations or standards driving a decision or activity. So, when communicating with the public or policy makers about needed investments or rate increases, the utility needs to articulate the standards pertinent to the recommendations. This must include relevant planning and financial standards. Without this information, the value embedded in the proposal will not be clear or compelling, and there is arguably no real transparency.