My research area is tap water marketing. When I explain my dissertation topic to other professionals and academics, it usually raises some question marks. Tap water is, after all, an undifferentiated essential service provided by monopolists. Water utility professionals don’t understand my drive to research this area because they are focused on the technological aspects of tap water. Marketing scholars struggle with the concept because it is a monopolistic service—there is no need for customer retention. There are distinct differences between the way water professionals—mostly engineers like myself—and marketing scholars and practitioners view water utilities.
In marketing several frameworks exist to analyse organisations, with the marketing mix (the famous 4 Ps) as the most well known.1 To allow for the complexity of services, some scholars have added three more aspects. The Marketing Mix is the marketer’s lens to view at water utilities is: “Product, Place, Price, Promotion, People, Process and Physical Evidence”.2
The engineer’ s version of the seven Ps of water supply are: “Pressure and Purity through Plants, Pumps and Pipes, for People”. Yes, there are only six here, but my inspiration did not reach any further than that.
The 7 Ps of the Water Utility Marketing Mix
The 7 Ps of the Water Utility Marketing Mix are, however, not about pipes and other technological means to provide service. The water utility marketing mix needs to describe the experiences of customers.
Marketers and engineers come from very different thought worlds. In my work, I aim to build a bridge—I am an engineer after all—between the physical sciences that dominate the decision-making processes in water utilities and marketing theories based upon the social sciences.
An example of how this difference is expressed is that water utility professionals often focus on the tangible aspects of the service, while marketers would look more broadly at the intangible aspects and make them tangible. Many water utilities show pumps, pipes and plants on their website. It would be much better, however, to communicate the intangible aspects of the service as it will increase your customers’ perception of the value they receive from their water utility. These four images below were created to demonstrate this point of view.