August 11, 2014
The "Target Market" for Utilities
This cartoon sends a warning to consumer branding professionals to avoid a common temptation: trying to be all things to all people. Unfortunately, this loss of focus usually leads to declining market share and potentially failure of the brand.
Many water-utility professionals would say that they serve the entire community, so their audience for outreach efforts is everyone who uses their services. It is important to remember that the strongest consumer brands build relationships with specific people, with the ultimate objective being that these people choose to buy their product at full price. Constant discounting from the retail price is a sign of a weak brand. So the brand objective is to influence the choice and the price that people are willing to pay.
For water and wastewater utilities, consumer choice is typically not in the picture, and the price (rates) is set by policy makers (city councils or water boards). The brand objective is ensuring that rates reflect appropriate investment in water resources and infrastructure. So, when planning proactive outreach, utility managers should avoid ineffective and costly efforts to reach the general public. They should prioritize building relationships with policy makers and those specific community leaders who are influential. Having very strong relationships with even 15-25 of these community leaders can have a significant impact on rate setting, even if only to counter those vocal community members with strong biases or special interests.