Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Branding Update
July 8, 2015

Drought Happens, But...

Getting People's Attention - When we discuss branding for utilities we need to address the issue of whether our customers are paying attention.  And in most cases they aren't, unless they are resolving a problem with their service or paying their bill.  We call these customer-service interactions "branding moments" because these impressions about the utility's service may last for years.  And in this sense they affect the utility's brand.  So when someone is paying attention, there is a clear opportunity to make a positive impression, or communicate important information.

Communicating Scarcity or Reliability? - People are paying attention during a drought.  The public is bombarded with messages to "conserve our precious resource" and encouraged (or required) to limit their indoor and outdoor water use.  Outdoor water conservation often includes allowing lawns to turn brown or changing to very different landscapes that use less water.  But with all of this communication about drought and conservation, what is the message that utilities are sending to the public about the future?  Will it be defined by water scarcity, water reliability, or is it just unclear?  And if the future is one of water reliability, what are the standards that define this reliability and drive needed investments?

Standards and Water Reliability - In previous Branding Updates we have talked about the connection between brands and standards.  The consistent product performance that attracts us to brands we value is determined by standards, standards that apply to the manufacture of our favorite golf club or govern the service we experience at our favorite restaurant.  Likewise, a water utility's commitment to water reliability should be based on standards.  So what are these standards?  Is the utility committed to ensuring that the risk of a sustained water shortage is extremely low?  Is the water supply resilient to drought, or more importantly resilient to climate change?  Will people have to bury their swimming pools?  Will communities in certain regions have to worry about their water for the foreseeable future, and the effects this has on quality of life and the economy?  Is loss of confidence in the water supply a failure in itself?

People are Paying Attention - Talking about drought and the need to conserve is not enough.  It's imperative for water utilities to communicate their commitment to future reliability, the standards that describe this reliability, and the investments needed to make this reliability come true.  The cost of failure, meaning ongoing water uncertainty, is much too high.

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