Client: Yorkshire Water
Project: New Corporate & brand identity
Agency: The Chase
The branding challenge for Yorkshire Water is a formidable one. The company had been the Railtrack of the mid-90s, with antipathy towards water industry privatisation combining with doubts over company performance to cause a total collapse in the company’s reputation. Although those days were gone, the brand had a high tarnish factor and little had been done to replace that imagery.
Yorkshire Water has an aspiration to be known as the best water company in the UK, and had made major advances in service and operational performance; the trouble was, customers didn’t know much about them. Just to make things even tougher the company’s core product, tap water, has always been regarded as the ultimate commodity product; unbranded at point of use, taken for granted by customers and with few packaging opportunities.
The Yorkshire response was to start with the brand, and use a new visual identity to act as a fresh start for the organisation. The communications strategy behind the brand was to prompt a re-appraisal of the company by a repositioning of its core product, tap water, and specifically the drinking of tap water.
The first stage was the identity, and Yorkshire Water appointed Manchester-based design consultancy The Chase, following a three-way credentials pitch.
Having created identities for more than 50 organisations over the past 16 years, winning more than 120 awards along the way, The Chase certainly had the design and creative expertise to carry out the job.
Richard Emmott, Head of Communications at Yorkshire Water, said “When you embark on a project of this nature you have to have complete faith in the agencies you’re working with. They’re the guys who are going to deliver your vision. You also have to like them. From very early on in the project I knew The Chase would come up trumps with a memorable identity and I enjoyed the process they put together.”
At the heart of the Yorkshire Water brief was a desire to challenge traditional utility positioning by treating drinking water as a consumer product rather than the ultimate commodity. To achieve this, a broader communication strategy would be required. However, as the first part of this communication strategy, the new identity had to herald the change and act as a clear signal that the company had left its past behind.
There were three specific requirements for the new identity. First, it had to reflect the future vision of the company; a modern, forward thinking service provider not a traditional utility company. Second, it had to relate to the core nature of the business; the provision of the highest quality drinking water. Finally, it was vital that it had the full backing and support of the Yorkshire Water staff.
The new identity would have to be applied to all forms of corporate communications with the main applications of the brand being vehicles, signage, stationery, uniforms, website, literature and promotional items.
Establishing and agreeing a totally inclusive design process was the first task. Working closely with the Yorkshire Water marketing team, The Chase developed a 12-month schedule covering the key areas of understanding, creative development and implementation, each section involving consultation with staff, customer research and sign-off by the board. Using seven selected routes as a starting point, a road show was organised to gauge initial reactions from the employees. Customer research was also commissioned to assess the public’s reaction. The results were presented to the board and the preferred routes given the go-ahead for further development.
Following a more detailed development of the logo, typeface, colour palette and exploration of the key applications, the two routes were taken once more to the staff and customers. The clear favourite became the winner and the final identity route signed off for implementation.
The final design features a modern depiction of a Yorkshire landscape, involving hills, sky and a reservoir. It emphasises the environmental roots of the company but presents it in a way that is distinctive and contemporary. The implementation stage was scheduled over a four-month period with high priority given to the 8,000 signs, 500-strong fleet of vans, uniforms and the website. Working closely with the relevant experts within Yorkshire Water from the early stages meant that the identity was applied practically and consistently.
The communications strategy
With the identity in place, Yorkshire Water’s attention then turned to the remaining elements of the communications strategy; determined that the re-brand was not going to become a simple re-badging exercise.
The advertising brief was very simple but at the same time very difficult. Reposition the ultimate commodity as a soft drink, achieve cut-through by challenging traditional expectations of a water utility and make the campaign fully integrated with the in-house PR effort.
Following an internal launch, the identity went live to the public on June 12, with customers in Yorkshire seeing the identity in the first phase of an advertising campaign developed by HHCL and Partners. The campaign sets out to encourage people to drink more Yorkshire Water, whether at home, in the office, in a restaurant or at the gym. It consists of a step-by-step guide to drinking water and exhorts customers to “ask for it by name.”
The campaign broke new ground for utilities and was ranked as ad of the week in the Daily Telegraph.
The second phase of the campaign, called “Operation Fill and Carry”, addresses the fact that you can’t carry a tap in your pocket, by producing 100,000 water bottles and handing them out to customers to encourage them to “chill & go”. Both campaigns were delivered through outdoor and ambient media as well as through the regional press.
The second campaign was timed to coincide with the launch of the Drinking Water Inspectorate’s annual report – a strong news peg that would reveal record levels of compliance with regulatory standards. Close co-operation with the DWI meant that their launch tied in well with Yorkshire Water’s.
Spectacular coverage ensued, with national coverage on BBC Breakfast Time, and strong pieces in both Times and Telegraph. The front-page piece in The Times led with the line “It’s purer, it’s gentler, it’s Yorkshire ...”
An essential part of the campaign, developed by branding consultancy 3CV, was called Cool Schools and set out to attack the issue of dehydration in primary school children. Its aim is to get a water cooler free of charge in every primary school in Yorkshire accompanied by a water bottle for the children, with packaging as appealing as any soft drink.
Cool Schools, the biggest community campaign the company has ever launched, has considerable merits as a branding and community project; it tackles a social issue that is relevant to the brand and it brings brand and product together in a way that is meaningful to customers and staff alike. It creates a branding opportunity at point of use, which has always eluded the water industry.
Commenting on the new identity and campaign, Richard Emmott said, “I’m immensely proud of our new identity. It is exactly what we were looking for and has had an incredibly positive effect for us internally and is central to all the communication tools we are using to help us reposition ourselves.
“In fact, one of the keys for us has been integrating all communications channels, bringing together our own highly innovative communications and PR teams with some excellent outside expertise and really working hard to get the benefit from the synergies. All the consultancies we've worked with, The Chase, HHCL and 3CV, have been great partners.”