Monday, June 30, 2014

Branding Update
July 1, 2014

Depersonalize the Dialogue

It is all too easy for the staff of water and wastewater utilities to assume that policy decisions are being made based on politics, personal gain, or political ideologies.  And it's equally easy for policy makers or the public to assume that staff is proposing a course of action based on personal opinions or beliefs.  One way to head off these often erroneous preconceptions is to make sure that the dialogue centers around standards. So, any discussion related to an investment proposal or policy decision should begin with a review of the relevant standards.  It is perfectly reasonable for someone to disagree with a standard.  In fact, a debate about standards is the most meaningful and transparent discussion that a utility can have with its community.  This is because standards determine both value and level of investment.  Finally, a dialogue about standards is less personal. This reduces the likelihood of unproductive conflict, and provides the best chance that policy decisions will be aligned with the best interests of the community.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Branding Update
June 5, 2014

"Quote" the Standard

When writing news releases utility communication professionals usually need to develop quotes for senior managers or policy makers.  Quoting a standard is very effective because it provides the context and articulates the value associated with the events or investments covered in the press release.  For example, "We are investing in recycled water to ensure that we have a highly reliable and climate-change resilient water supply."  In this case, highly reliable and climate-change resilient are the water-supply standards.  Or, "We have added aesthetic features to this pumping station to meet our standard of minimizing the impact of our facilities on the environment and our neighborhoods."  This quote illustrates that it's more powerful to explicitly refer to a motivation as a standard.  In fact, being a standards-driven organization is in itself a positive branding idea.

This "quote the standard" advice reminds us that what is meaningful to our audience is motivations and standards, because the utility's value is embedded in its standards.  This is true with any product or service.  How many standards do you think are in play when you enter a Starbucks store or any fast-food franchise?  Maybe more importantly, if the motivation or standard is not made crystal clear in a communication piece, it will be less interesting and will leave the door open for the reader to misinterpret motivations.  People misinterpreting motivations is common and is often the root cause of conflict.  Communication professionals benefit from having a comprehensive list of the utility's standards.  This helps them create content that is brief, meaningful, focused on value, and builds the utility's brand.  And by the way, this list of standards should also be the basis for strategic planning and proposing capital investments.