Open Water plans national ad campaign for the new year

Open Water is planning an advertising-led campaign in the new year to “promote freedom to choose” to business customers, Ofwat’s senior director for communications Claire Forbes (pictured) told a meeting on Wednesday of organisations representing business, charity and public sector customers.

The campaign, which will be funded by water companies and which is still in the planning phase, will employ principally digital channels and will aim to reach SMEs in particular.

The move follows mounting evidence of very low awareness of the incoming market among groups intended to benefit from it. Ofwat has commissioned a study to scrutinise awareness levels, which will report in January. Darren Ivey of Opinion Research Services, the specialist firm conducting the study, shared emerging findings at Wednesday’s meeting. These included:

  • water company messages on business customer bills to raise awareness of market opening in April are hardly being noticed by customers.

  • customers are relatively satisfied and display a “strong sense of loyalty” to their existing supplier – though three-fifths said they would switch if cost savings were significant;

  • 45% had heard about the market with prompting, but the figure was “much lower” unprompted;

  • many of those who had heard about the market had learned following contact from a broker, rather than from a water company;

  • lots of those contacted were not responsible for the utilities they used; these were managed by landlords, letting agents, developers and so on; and

  • customers frequently expressed a desire for objective information – for instance, on how they could be sure retailers were fit to operate.

Ofwat’s lead on market opening communications, Helen Robinson-Gordon, noted that while Open Water had set out to research straightforward awareness, customers seemed to want help to make an informed choice, not just to be made aware of the existence of the market.

Forbes said membership organisations and industry bodies are an important communications channel for the programme: “The number and diversity of SMEs can mean that they are difficult to reach. Membership organisations and industry representatives such as the Federation of Small Businesses and Chambers of Commerce will play an important role in helping to spread the word about the new market.

“As a trusted source of information, we’re also keen to help the various organisations to provide timely and accurate advice and guidance to their members. It’s very important that customers are able to access impartial guidance and advice so they can make an informed decision about their water retailer, once the market opens.”