The value of water narrative is complex—there are so many characters, storylines, and plot twists. There’s no way that we can expect customers to understand, let alone relate to, this story in one sitting. However, this is what we sometimes do in our communication efforts. We begin the story from where we are now and expect them to catch up on their own. That’s essentially like showing them the most recent Avengers movie and expecting them to know all of the back story and character storylines. (For those of you who aren’t Marvel fans that’s about 11 years and 19 movies worth of content.)
While the value of water story itself may be complicated, the importance of communicating to our customers is not. As with any campaign, program, or idea, it’s essential to begin with why. Why are we telling this story? Why is it important? Helping our customers understand the value of water and the services the water sector provides is vital to building trust. We need public trust, support, and buy-in to finance capital improvement projects, adopt new technologies, and to prevent avoidable public relations snafus. We can’t expect to receive this trust and buy-in blindly if we’re not effectively communicating how our industry is positively impacting people’s lives daily in a way that matters most to them.
We have our why so now how are we going to communicate this message? Water utilities across the country are getting creative in their communication efforts. Gaining insight and ideas from others is great for brainstorming, but one of the most critical pieces of any communication plan is understanding your audience. Everyone uses water, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the challenge of having to communicate with everyone. While everyone may use water, everyone is not the same.
By better understanding your audience you can segment them into groups with similar needs and psychographics to build your campaign around. Demographics don’t tell the whole story. Imagine walking into a room full of people your age and gender. There’s no guarantee you’ll have anything in common with each other aside from those two characteristics. However, parents, retirees, and young professionals may care about different water issues and get their information from various sources. This kind of segmentation is more useful as you strategize how and where to reach each audience.
The next series of blogs will focus on how to use the various touch points water utilities have with customers. Some of these touch points include your website, newsletters, customer portals, local magazine and newspapers, community advocates, and internal communication. Each blog will offer some tips, things to keep in mind, and some examples of real-life examples. Depending on characteristics such as size, geography, and water system, to name a few, the situation and challenges can vary. However, crowdsourcing ideas is an excellent way to get inspired and start the conversation.