Marketing is often seen as the evil stepmother of business. Marketers are portrayed as malicious manipulators, driving consumerism and everything else considered wrong about contemporary culture. The debate about bottled water versus tap water being an interesting case in point.
Best-selling spirituality author Lynn Serafinn wrote a book about ethical marketing called: The 7 Graces of Marketing. Serafinn’s book provides a set of “values and principles for a new paradigm for business”. The book borrows from the principles of Value Based Management. Leaving the philosophical debate besides, I looked at how these seven principles could apply to the marketing of tap water.
Tap Water Marketing
Many professionals in the water industry consider tap water marketing unnecessary as most service providers are natural monopolies owned by governments. But marketing entails more than the recruitment and retention of customers. Marketing is about maximising value for customers and the principles defined in the 7 Graces can be used to provide a framework for the marketing of monopolistic services.
The first of the 7 Graces relates to knowing yourself to communicate better. In marketing speak, this is the so-called ‘value proposition’. This statement is not an empty catchphrase, but an essential aspect of customer relationships. A value proposition is the entire set of experiences that an organisation provides to customers. The value proposition is where the service provider and customer connect with each other.
Advertising aims to convince consumers to become your customers. In a monopolistic environment, there is no need for obtaining customers and advertising can be used to inform and inspire customers. Providing water is a service which people use to meet certain needs, either drinking water for life, a swimming pool for social belonging or a garden to be able to express your creativity. Water companies can increase the value of service by providing information about how to use water in the best possible way and inspire people to maximise the value of the water they purchase.
Most customers of water utilities are not interested in tap water as such; they want the water without hassle. The ideal water corporation, i.e. the Invisible Water Utility, focuses on providing excellent service without being intrusive to its customers. But for those that seek further information, we should provide all the information they need about our services.
Governments own most tap water companies. Their existence and actions are enshrined in law. This situation can lead to bureaucratic communication instead of real customer service. Directness implies placing the needs of the customer first instead of being locked into bureaucratic processes. Directness can be achieved by communicating with your customers in plain English and placing meeting their personal needs before using regulations to justify not helping them.
Deception is a part of the human condition and often deliberately used in marketing. Marketing is just like performing magic tricks, using technique, psychology, misdirection and entertainment to sell goods and services. In a monopolistic environment, there is no need to deceive the customer; there is no need to resort to deception as customers do not need to be recruited nor can they defect.
Water being a natural resource that can only be produced from its chemical components at enormous cost, environmental sustainability is of immense importance. Many water companies propagate a negative message of scarcity instead of abundance, which creates frustration in communities.1 This issue relates back to my comments on inspiration. Although there technically is a scarcity of water, we need to focus on a positive message on how to maximise the value of available water through education of customers and pricing signals.
One of the defining aspects of services is that they are provided in cooperation between customer and service provider. In the case of water, the service is provided through the taps and plumbing owned by the customers. Both service provider and customer need to work together to ensure a high level of service.
The Eight Grace and beyond?
Lynn Serfafinn’s 7 Graces provide a systematic framework to help marketers make ethical choices. But are these the only values? Any value based system will never be complete. Additional dichotomies, for example, injustice—justice (treating all customers equally) or apathy—empathy (understanding customers), can be easily defined and justified. But it is up to the individual organisation which values it wants to focus on. The 7 Graces is an inspiring book, written from a common sense perspective on how to provide value to customers without falling into the traps of the types of marketing used in consumer goods.
- Cooper, B., Burton, M., & Crase, L. (2011). Urban water restrictions: attitudes and avoidance. Water Resources Research, 47(12). doi:10.1029/2010WR010226.