Project Date: 2006 – 2010
Project Type: Corporate Rebranding
American Water (NYSE: AWK), the country’s largest and most prestigious water services’ company was sorely in need of an effective brand identity and supporting strategy to solidify its leadership position within its industry. While the 125-year old company had nearly 7,000 employees and delivered high-quality water service to more than 15 million people across the US and parts of Canada, research found that name recognition was so low that not even half of its own customers knew its name and even less understood the value of the services provided.
With an upcoming initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange, American Water had a unique and enviable opportunity to relaunch its brand, reposition itself as the industry’s undisputed market leader and capture media attention as the company was spun off by its German owners in what would be one of the largest IPOs of the year.
The challenge was to preserve American Water’s historical legacy while positioning it as the innovative market leader that it was. Additionally, the rebranding initiative had to remain confidential and could not be launched in any manner prior to the IPO, given Securities and Exchange Commission quiet-period restrictions. A comprehensive brand redesign was developed in secrecy and only unveiled in its entirety on the day of the IPO: a new brand identity, website, collateral, signage and comprehensive lobby overhauls at over 220 locations nationwide. And the grandest unveiling was at the New York Stock Exchange – both on the floor and outside, as a 100 foot banner of the new identity was draped across the façade of the building.
Development of a comprehensive brand strategy began with a robust research study. Understanding current perceptions of the brand was important, but determining how best to position the brand for maximum effectiveness moving forward was critical. Baseline indices on brand awareness, engagement, and support were established, and the voice, tone and tenor of the brand emerged through the research findings.
As the brand identity began to take shape, imagery moved away from showing the “source” of the water – i.e., rivers and streams, and evolved to dynamic photos of American Water employees. The voice of the brand was shifted to conversational and engaging; and bold, memorable statements through powerful type and a palette integrating sepia-tone and color images, earth tones, and bright blue helped bring the brand to life.
These actions, combined with the development and implementation of an integrated strategic communications plan, and augmented with a comprehensive staff redesign, produced more than three million dollars in avoided costs over four years and delivered compelling results.
The success of American Water’s re-branding strategy is evident. Within two and a half years of launching the new brand results included:
- Reputation and Advocacy Improvements
High brand advocacy increasing 12 points, marketing material recall rising 15 points and the company’s reputation improving by 20 points
The company leapt to the forefront of the industry, winning the coveted REBRAND 100 Global Award, 56 MarCom Awards, five Communicators Awards, three Telly Awards, four American Graphic Design Awards, and three Interactive Media Awards
- Earned media
Coverage in business, financial and trade outlets exceeded $90 million in advertising equivalency value further validating and solidifying the company’s industry leadership position
The new website saw visits doubling, daily sessions increasing 33 times and page views jumping ten-fold
- Investor Relations Communications
Enhanced engagement by deploying new media including quarterly webcasts, virtual annual meetings and interactive annual reports – which were a first in the water industry – and received national recognition from the Interactive Media Council in 2009 and 2010, respectively