Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Branding Update
December 15, 2016

Year-End Reflections

At the end of the year it helps to reflect on learning and accomplishments, and 2016 was a banner year for both.

The Central Role of Standards -We continue to witness the power of standards in helping utilities enhance planning, deliver compelling value, and increase transparency. We learned to fully appreciate that the essence of a brand is its standards, which define and operationalize the product's value or service experience. And if you want employees to be empowered and embrace the brand, emphasize standards in your internal dialogue and decision-making processes.

An Unbalanced Dialogue - From the beginning, the utility-branding objective has been to secure appropriate investment in resources and infrastructure. We always understood that investment decisions occur in a political environment. What has become increasingly clear is that most utilities engage in an unbalanced dialogue during the approval process for rate increases or major investments. This is because most community leaders, let alone the public, are not plugged-in to the utility's activities, decisions, and accomplishments. This means that the dialogue about rates and investment occurs between a small group of people, typically the utility's staff, policy makers, and members of the public who choose to be engaged. The people who do show up deserve to be heard, but their interests should not be given undue consideration. Unfortunately, absent more community leaders being involved, the squeaky wheels often influence policy.

Reaching the Influential Public - Several utilities are balancing the dialogue by launching communication programs designed to build relationships with community leaders. These programs make it easy to be informed (requiring only 2-3 minutes per month of their time). The marquee content featured in these information briefs does not attempt to "dumb down" technical information, but treats the audience like investors and shareholders. A great example is the DSRSDtoday program being implemented by Dublin San Ramon Services District.

Compelling Arguments for Investment - The Utility Branding Network tool "Making a Compelling Argument for Investment" continues to be well received. The tool is being used for investment proposals in Board Packets, describing major objectives in strategic plans, and for leading a dialogue with the public about investments in resources and infrastructure. Click here to view the tool.

General Manager Forums and Workshops - Helping utility GM's engage in the branding process has been a long-time goal of the Utility Branding Network, and 2016 was a banner year for progress. We held two GM Forums in Southern California and one in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Branding Network also held its first workshop in the Bay Area for staff and managers, sponsored by Santa Clara Valley Water District (held at their Silicon Valley Water Purification Center).
Thanks to those utilities who are supporting the Utility Branding Network, and thanks again to the National Water Research Institute (NWRI) for sponsoring the Network. I look forward to even greater progress and learning in 2017.

Have a Happy Holiday Season!

John Ruetten - Resource Trends, Inc.

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