October 7, 2013
Using the "Branding" Word
Employing the term branding in connection with managing a water or wastewater utility triggers a variety of reactions, ranging from very positive to very negative. The negative reactions are often rooted in the following sentiments:
- Utilities are monopolies and don't have competitors, so there is no need for branding
- Branding is spin, and is designed to fool people into buying products they don't need
- The public will react negatively to utilities spending money on branding programs
Here are some of the reasons why the branding term is appropriate:
Branding Brings Attention to Needed Change - The term gets people's attention, which can inspire utility managers to improve planning, communications, and making cases for investment.
Utilities are Being Branded - Public utilities are being branded whether they like it or not, which means they are being categorized in ways that affect public trust. An example is the often-heard claim that government organizations are inefficient.
The Need for Category and Audience Focus - Branding efforts strive to ensure that a target audience properly categorizes a product's value (safe car, leading energy drink, best smart phone), and ultimately decide to buy the product. Similarly, utilities need to focus on ensuring that policy makers and the influential public (the target audience) trust the utility's planning and investment proposals.
Good Brands are Genuine and Long-Lasting - This is a testament to the power of branding and demonstrates that competent branding is not spin. Utility brands must be true, helping people to accurately categorize the utility's roles and expertise.
The Brand Determines Price - Likewise, perceptions about the utility by policy makers and the influential public ultimately effect rates.
Branding is Powerful and Cost Effective - Utilities need to tap into the power and efficiency that comes with being brand focused. In fact, good branding is more cost effective than unfocused outreach efforts that often fail to make an impression on the "general public."
It's Wise to Use the Term Appropriately - Announcing to the community that you are undertaking an expensive branding program that focuses on logos, slogans, or advertising is asking for trouble. Good utility branding is the quiet process of clearly defining your value and important standards, providing great customer service, making compelling cases for investment, and building meaningful relationships with those who can influence policy decisions on rates and investment.