By Bill King
Water and wastewater operators are increasingly having difficulty understanding the differentiating features of water and wastewater equipment manufacturers’ brands. In an industry where state regulations fuel a diversity of vendors getting their equipment approved for a variety of tasks in individual states one at a time, the water and wastewater market is more cluttered than ever. For example, a recent browse by category of WEFTEC 2017 exhibitors returned twenty seven odor control equipment companies, twenty eight submersible pump vendors, thirty one providers of backflow prevention valves and forty one manufacturers of data acquisition and datalogging equipment.
The EPA’s Environmental Technology Innovation Clusters program encourages more and more start-up companies to find their way out of university research departments and into the commercial marketplace, further complicating the operators’ selection process. We often assess press releases from university departments suggesting that a new “disruptive” treatment process has been developed which sounds way-too-familiar with what is already available out on today’s market. The new just isn’t that different from the tried-and-true. And we all know in our risk-averse industry, tried-and-true will trump new almost every time.
A quick review of company names in the industry also exposes just how confusing the purchase process is for your customers. From the list of WEFTEC exhibitors whose company name starts with “A” we have AA, ABB, ABBA, ABEL, ACD, ACME, ADI, ADS, AFL, AK, A-LOK, APG, APG-Neuros, AP/M, ARCOM, ARI, ARVIA, ASA, ASCO, AST, ATC, AUMA, AWC and AWI. And that’s without getting too far down into the weeds of companies that use an acronym of their corporate name on a regular basis (Think ADS for Advanced Drainage Systems, not to be confused with ADS Environmental Services listed above). I feel a little queasy just writing out that list. I can only imagine the difficulty keeping vendors straight in the mind of operators during the selection process.
As cited in a WPP/Kantar Millward Brown BrandZ study, the average rating of clarity about a brand’s value proposition is down one-third since 2008. And yet an analysis of the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands as a ‘stock portfolio’ over the last seven years showed 58% growth over the S&P500 which grew 23%, suggesting that although becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate your brands, it remains critically important.
The only way forward is to stand out from the crowd. Focusing on a small feature enhancement that your customer doesn’t value is not going to cut it. It’s ironic that in a world where 90% of water and wastewater systems are buried or concealed from the public’s view, water and wastewater equipment manufacturers need to support their brands with bold, noticeable content. When you think about your next piece of content, you should be challenging yourself to be disruptive. Ask yourself whether or not your content concept is going to stop your desired audience member in their tracks. Or at least slow them down enough to click on what it is you have to say. Being safe by simply creating supporting literature for your latest product is understandable in our cautionary industry. But only by throwing some of that caution to the wind will you risk enough to compete for the attention of new customers.
Image credit: "Stop!," Rodrigo Olivera 2015, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/