To paraphrase an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, ‘When you’re not sure where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

By contrast, when the endgame is clear, it’s easier to reach your destination. It’s the same in marketing. When employees know why they are employed and what the company represents, marketing is a bit easier. Marketing Manager Betty Zeman and her Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) colleagues are proof. \

To say Zeman is laser focused is an understatement. Before we begin discussing marketing with our Independent Marketer of the Year, the 13-year CFU veteran lays the ground rules by which she works. After hearing her preamble, you realize why she and CFU have been successful competing against incumbent providers and the satellite companies.

While CFU has been providing water and electricity to Cedar Falls, IA, for more than 100 years, the broadband/cable portion of the city-owned company was established 20 years ago, after a vote by area citizens. “We came into existence to provide broadband service to businesses at reasonable rates. While it wasn’t common knowledge back in 1994 that the Internet was going to become critical to commerce, enough people here thought it would,” she says. “We know the community owns us and we are here to serve it,” Zeman adds. “We like that, but it also means customers have high expectations, so we can’t take anything for granted; we earn that business every day.”

An additional pressure, CFU’s charter proscribes it from serving customers outside city limits. That regulation, common to many municipals, “puts a premium on great service and retaining our existing customers,” Zeman notes. Now we can talk marketing.

Readers may recall in 2013 we lauded CFU for its 1-Gig Internet product. With the total re-build of CFU’s plant completed last summer and take rates rising nicely, we’re honoring Zeman for her marketing of the re-build and 1-Gig. The re-build? She marketed that? Yes. CFU rebuilt neighborhoodby- neighborhood, which lasted two+ years. Zeman and her team contacted every customer and non-customer in each neighborhood in advance, via phone and mail. “We had three full-time employees who did only this,” she says. “We told [customers] why we were re-building, what to expect and what it meant to them… We didn’t want to be the company that just shows up one day on your front lawn.”

The “your local, trusted provider” marketing fit CFU’s brand filter. As a municipal, CFU is bound to transparency. “Our marketing is more informational than purely promotional,” she says, “but we also told [customers] how much faster [1-Gig] would be than their existing Internet service.” Another marketing push coincided with the addition of 90-square miles to CFU’s footprint. This rural area is outside the city, but within CFU’s service limits. Zeman deployed direct marketing, relying on an excellent database. CFU also conducted customer demonstrations and open houses. “We’ve gotten very good take rates, better than we expected.” She’s marketed TV Everywhere aggressively, too.

While she’s being honored for marketing, calling Zeman a marketer is hardly fair. “She wears a ton of hats,” says CFU’s Director of Customer Service and Business Development Steve Bernard. “Betty is responsible for our cable lineup, programming and retransmission agreements, marketing and pricing research, cable advertising sales, regulatory affairs, media relations, product promotion and customer communication,” he says. Oh, she has responsibilities involving CFU’s electric, gas and water services, too. The best part is Zeman considers herself “fortunate” to be at CFU. “I was a big fan before I worked here,” she says. “We have a great attitude and a team approach, which makes our jobs easier.” And then there’s the direction thing: “We know we live and die with this community; we are very focused on why we’re here.”
-Seth Arenstein

Fast Facts
In total, CFU has 160 full-time employees in its water,
gas, electric and broadband utilities.

CFU passes 15,500 homes, serving 11,500 with video and
broadband and about 500 businesses with broadband.

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