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The fountain of youth: Rejuvenating a legacy water utility’s brand reputation 

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 The fountain of youth: Rejuvenating a legacy water utility’s brand reputation 

How Sterling Communications created new marketing channels to refresh the company image and customer interactions for San Jose Water

  • Engagement: Monthly marketing customer interactions increased to 64,000 from 600
  • Readership: Customer email open rates exceeded 58%
  • Attendance: Customer webinar attendance jumped more than 200%

The challenge: Increase customer engagement with webinars and newsletters

San Jose Water (SJW) is a private water utility providing water delivery services to more than one million San Jose area residents. In early 2022, San Jose Water selected Sterling Communications as its marketing agency of record. SJW’s primary marketing challenge was to increase customer engagement on a limited marketing budget. SJW’s existing customer interactions were primarily through social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram) and through onsite town hall events. During the pandemic, the company converted those events into virtual meetings, which evolved into quarterly webinars. At the time, webinars were mostly attended by local officials and SJW employees, drawing limited customer participation.

The strategy: Clean up and build up the marketing database

Sterling conducted a market audit to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities as part of its onboarding process. A key objective was to identify additional marketing channels that could dramatically grow customer interaction, and do so cost effectively. From the audit, Sterling identified email marketing communications as a top opportunity, given email’s ability to reach a large audience at a minimal cost and overhead. Unfortunately, SJW did not have an existing customer marketing email list. However, SJW collected email addresses from its popular online bill payment services and ongoing customer service activities. Sterling flagged two challenges with the emails: First, since customer service didn’t need to send emails to the entire list, it wasn’t clear that the emails on its list were current. Second, customers never opted-in to marketing communications, raising concerns about compliance with the US CAN-SPAM Act. As a result, Sterling recommended an opt-in re-engagement campaign to qualify the list, remove invalid emails, and ensure compliance.

The work: Start spreading the news

The challenge with re-engagement campaigns is that email platform providers (e.g., ConstantContact, VerticalResponse, AWeber, etc.) usually only accept lists of users who have already opted-in to email marketing communications, supplying no avenue for creative re-engagement. Sterling evaluated and met with multiple email platform vendors, resulting in our recommendation that SJW use MailChimp for the campaign. Over two months, Sterling executed the email re-engagement campaign, yielding approximately 113,000 opt-in customer email addresses.

Next, Sterling recommended developing and producing a monthly customer newsletter to meet SJW’s customer engagement goals. Ongoing monthly emails also ensured the list remained current, minimizing spam complaints and bounce rates. Sterling designed and created all newsletter content, including timely articles on SJW construction projects, drought updates, and customer service information. The newsletter has been well-received, with an amazing average 58% open rate (more than 64,000 customer opens per month). The 64,000 monthly newsletter interactions represent an exponential increase from the 600 monthly interactions SJW had garnered from their social media channels.

Sterling also leveraged the new email list to increase customer attendance at SJW’s quarterly webinars. We designed and executed a customer registration campaign for SJW’s informative webinar on water distribution services. The campaign uncovered untapped interest and yielded 443 customer registrations, with 145 real-time customer attendees. The 145 customer webinar attendees represented a jump of more than 200% in customer attendance from the previous webinar.

The results: 10x more interactions, 200% greater participation

Sterling Communications helped completely transform San Jose Water’s marketing outreach. Our results have increased customer interactions more than 10 times, increased webinar participation by 200%, and kickstarted a new marketing channel. Metrics of that magnitude would not be possible without a keen understanding of SJW’s objectives and business requirements. And it’s just the beginning of how Sterling and SJW are partnering to increase brand awareness, customer engagement, and participation in SJW events.

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Customer attendees responding to a post-webinar survey submitted overwhelmingly positive feedback

  • “Just the right amount of detail.”
  • “Loved the water leak repair information.”
  • “Great to learn about SJW’s operations.”
  • “Great information. Everything was interesting!”
  • “History of the system & photos were fascinating.”