The Water Utility Marketing Mix: Looking beyond Purity, Pressure, Pumps and Pipes

By Dr Peter Prevos, author of Customer Experience Management for Water Utilities

Every single day, water utilities around the world provide a reliable source of water to billions of people. Providing such a high level of service requires the ingenuity and creativity of many engineers, biologists, chemists and many other specialised disciplines. This focus on science and technology is a necessary condition to provide a reliable service, but in a world of ever-increasing customer expectations, it is no longer a sufficient condition.

Water utilities need to complement the physical sciences with the social sciences to develop a better understanding of customers and find ways to maximise value. The science of marketing is an applied social science that explains the process of creating value that water utilities can use to make better decisions.

One of the most common frameworks explained to students of the discipline is the marketing mix. The literature contains many versions of this framework, with the Four Ps (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) as the most widely published version. The Four P model implies that a marketer needs to develop a product for the right price, deliver this to the appropriate place and promote its existence to potential customers. The problem with the existing models is that managers cannot apply these to the public service context of water utilities without modification. These models are most suitable for organisations that operate in a competitive environment and that seek to maximise profits.

To investigate how to create a better fitting model for water utilities, I searched through the more than five thousand journal articles published in IWA journals. I found that about two hundred of these articles mention the words “marketing”, “customer” or “consumer” in the abstract. A cursory reading of these abstract shows that the vast majority of the literature in our discipline discusses technology and science, with very little attention to the social aspects of water. This focus on technology would make it seem that the Four Ps of water utility marketing are Pressure and Purity delivered through Pumps and Pipes. However, when delving deeper into this literature, a different story emerges.

My next step was to analyse these abstracts by coding them and build a network of the articles and analyse this information mathematically. To achieve this, I assigned common marketing topics to each of the abstracts. As many abstracts share common topics, I built a network of topics discussed in the IWA literature, as shown in the diagram below. In this diagram, the size of the bubble relates to the number of times a topic was discussed, and the connections relate to topics discussed in the same article. This network was mathematically analysed to derive the four clusters shown in the diagram.

Communities of discourse IWA journals (Figure 2.8, Prevos, 2018)

These four clusters are communities of discourse, groups of journal articles that discuss similar topics. The topics in the first discourse community mostly relate to value propositions, which are the expression of value from the perspective of the customer. The second community of discourse relates to internal marketing activities that establish the utility as a customer-centric organisation. The third community consists of activities that build relationships between water utilities and customers. The topics in the last discourse community relate to service quality, both from the utility’s and from the customer’s perspective. These four dimensions are more or less in a causal relationship with each other. Management defines a value proposition and communicates this to employees through internal marketing. The employees of the organisation deliver services and manage relationships with customers. The experience that the customer has with these services is expressed in the quality of the service.

Water utility marketing mix (Figure 2.9, Prevos, 2018) 

 

This article provides an overview of chapter two of Customer Experience Management for Water Utilities (© 2018 IWA Publishing). If you like to know more about how to apply marketing theory to your work, consider purchasing this book from IWA Publishing. It discusses the marketing mix for water utilities in detail and will inspire water professionals to take a different perspective on urban water supply and help them to make better decisions.

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