for water and waste water agencies
Increasing Trust, Support and Investment
Utility Branding Network
Welcome to the Utility Branding Network website. Established in 2007, the Utility Branding Network is designed to help water and wastewater agencies better understand branding principles and to help them build a strong, positive brand that clearly communicates the value they provide to their communities. A strong brand increases trust, support, and investment.
Become a Member
The Utility Branding Network provides direct support to water and wastwater agencies who subscribe to the Network. Direct support includes customized branding assistance, such as:
Conducting branding workshops
- Evaluating City Council or Board meetings
- Setting strategic direction or imperative
- Auditing communications materials
- Reviewing strategic plans
Rumbles Article on "It’s Time to Get Good at Local Investment"
John Ruetten, UBN consultant, published a short article on using the utility brand to secure infrastructure investments in the January 2012 (Vol. 51, No. 18) edition of Rumbles, a joint publication of the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association and Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association.
Making the Case for Rate Increases: A UBN Branding Brief
Rate-increase proposals often focus on rate models and complexity, but often do not tell a story that makes a compelling case for investment.
A new "Branding Brief" from the Utility Branding Network (UBN) outlines how to create a proposal that is meaningful, builds trust, and increases the likelihood that policy makers will support the needed increase. Without this clarity, the approved rate increase often defaults to what policy makers think is "politically palatable."
Presentation on "Utility Branding Trends" Available to Download
John Ruetten, UBN consultant, recently gave a presentation on "National Utility Branding Trends" at the 2011 Fall Forum held by Schmueser Gordon Meyer (SGM), a Colorado-based civil engineering and surveying firm.The theme of the forum was on "Nuts, Bolts, Dollars, and Cents - Tools for Optimizing Infrastructure Management," with the goal of providing attendees with information on relevant and emerging issues that directly affect business and/or operations.
The presentation on “National Utility Branding Trends” covered the following topics:
• National Investment Trends
• Local Investment and Rate Setting
• Principles and Power of Branding
• The Utility Branding Process
• Branding of Tap Water and Recycled Water
• Tools for Efficiently Building Trust and Support
Using the “Consumer Confidence Report” to Build a Positive Brand
Because the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) is a regulatory requirement, utilities may not think of it as an actual opportunity to build confidence in tap water and public trust in the utility. With CCR season just around the corner, now is a good time to review important branding and trust-building principles that can be embedded in your CCR.
The “CCR Checklist,” a Utility Branding Network tool, is a good place to start. Proven branding and communication principles highlighted in the CCR Checklist include:
- Use meaningful headlines throughout the document.
- Provide a context of value - Begin with the commitments (promises) of the utility.
- Provide a summary of what is included in the report (highlights).
- Establish the utility as the source of water quality, as opposed to the raw water source.
- Clearly define the difference between source (raw) water and water fit for drinking.
- Describe the multiple barriers employed to produce safe drinking water.
- Outline water testing processes.
- Highlight plans for enhancing water quality in the future.
- Provide local support related to contaminants in water - not just EPA contact information.
- Solicit public involvement.
Tough Economy Highlights the Need for an “Efficiency” Brand
Efficiency is an important element of a utility’s brand.
Public (or “government”) agencies are often categorized as inefficient because they do not operate in a competitive business environment. Elected officials often want to “brand” themselves as the ones who will ensure that inefficiencies are eliminated. Inefficiency is also used as the excuse for refusing to vote for necessary rate increases.
This tendency understandably gets worse during tough economic times.
An ongoing efficiency improvement program that is regularly shared with policymakers builds an efficiency brand. This brand discourages policy makers from playing the efficiency card when considering rate increases. Without this brand, utility managers often get asked to benchmark the utility’s efficiency as a precursor to increasing rates.
It is very difficult to “prove” efficiency. Sometimes managers resort to rate comparisons with other utilities, but these comparisons are misleading. They aren’t a reliable indicator of efficiency because they don’t take into account unique local issues or the current state of investment in water resources and infrastructure. Rate comparisons also fuel the idea that “low rates” is the goal, independent of services and reliability ramifications.
It is better to stay away from benchmarking and to discourage rate comparisons by being efficient and building an efficiency brand.
For more information on utility branding, or to get a free utility branding manual, contact John Ruetten.
Manual Provides Step-By-Step Instructions to Develop Utility Brand
The Utility Branding Network is pleased to provide complimentary copies of “Building the Wastewater Utility Brand,” a 52-page management manual that focuses on how utilities can adopt the marketing strategy of branding to establish the value of their organizations and to successfully compete for customer investment dollars.
The manual is designed for wastewater utilities, but is applicable to water agencies and anyone else interested in learning more about defining and implementing the utility brand.
Topics include the politics of investing in water and the environment, recycled water branding, negative branding, nurturing key relationships with decision makers and the public, and the benefits of building a strong brand, among others. Step-by-step instructions on developing a utility brand are also included.
The manual was originally published in 2008 by the Southern California Alliance of Publically Owned Treatment Works (SCAP) in collaboration with the California Association of Sanitation Agencies, California Water Environment Association, Bay Area Clean Water Agencies, Central Valley Clean Water Association, and NWRI.
Please contact the manual’s author, marketing and branding expert John Ruetten to discuss your interest in utility branding and to receive a complimentary printed copy of the manual. You may also click on our publications page to download the manual.
Sound Rate Setting Requires a Clear Process and Starting Early
The setting of utility rates is often very political and always interesting.
There is arguably nothing more important for utility managers than ensuring that a community invests appropriately in water resources, water quality, and infrastructure. However, deferring investment is all too easy, and the process for ensuring that policy makers feel "safe" to vote for necessary rate increases is often unclear.
The “Utility Branding Process Tool” released by the Utility Branding Network defines the process of building a strong brand (trust), supporting policy makers, and securing rates that fully fund needed investments. Having a defined process allows utility managers to improve planning and start early.