By David H. Martin

Wesley Bleed, WQA Marketing and Communications Director, provided association communications committee members at the annual convention in Orlando with a road map for marketers seeking insight and guidance from the recently completed National Study of Consumer Opinions and Perception Regarding Water Quality. Later that same day, WQA Executive Director Pauli Undesser joined Anita Kantak, PhD, of Applied Research West (ARW), a professional opinion research team retained for the sixth time in 13 years, for a verbal analysis of the residential dealer market.

Since 2004, WQA has conducted consumer research on water quality on a biannual basis. This allows the industry to look at trends and perceptions over time. The purpose is to let water quality professionals communicate better with their customers to improve sales outcomes. The latest survey was taken online for the first time and was conducted between February 1–15. A total of 1,711 adults over the age of 18 and living in private households were interviewed. ARW used a random sampling procedure and the survey results are accurate within +/-2.2 percent. The results are representative of all US adults over 18.

Consumer awareness of contaminants was consistent with the last survey, with the notable exception of lead, for which awareness has more than doubled since the Flint, MI water crisis. Those surveyed voiced concerns about other contaminants, such as chlorine, arsenic and pharmaceuticals in their water. The study reports further erosion in public trust regarding water quality since the last survey. People clearly look to local and national governments to provide the resources for safe drinking water.

On a positive note, the 2017 survey revealed increased awareness and trust of water treatment professionals, including WQA-certified specialists. Among the major findings:

  • When it comes to perceived contaminants in water, the number of respondents who identified lead more than doubled since the last survey (from 15 percent in 2015 to 33 percent in 2017).
  • The number of respondents who said they learned about health contaminants from the media rose from 27 percent two years ago, to 43 percent this year.
  • When asked, “Who is the water quality expert in your area?” 38 percent cited water treatment dealers, technicians or certified water specialists. That’s up from 24 percent in 2015.

“News coverage of the Flint lead crisis likely played into the rise of awareness of water quality issues from the news media,” said Undesser. “This might have also contributed to the increase in the number of respondents who identified lead as a possible water contaminant.”

More than half (52 percent) of those surveyed perceive the federal laws governing drinking water quality are not strict enough. A sizable majority of consumers (75 percent) believe that the primary responsibility for ensuring safe drinking water lies outside their home, with the municipality. These results suggest increasingly that POU/POE water treatment may present a viable solution for communities with problematic water supplies. More than 99 percent of the water coming into our homes is not used for drinking. By installing protection at or near the tap, consumers can protect the water that is most important to them.

The findings also reveal that boil-water alerts tend to trigger the purchase of water filtration systems. Close to half of respondents (41 percent) said they purchased a water filtration device after an ‘unsafe water for use’ or ‘boil-water alert’ was issued in their area. Many of these respondents said they bought a filtered water pitcher, refrigerator filter system or reverse osmosis system. In addition, over half of respondents would be willing to pay more for home water treatment systems to remove lead (63 percent), arsenic (60 percent), pharmaceuticals (57 percent) and other contaminants.

Summary and highlights
What issues cause Americans to worry about the water in their homes? Awareness of water quality issues and the contaminants that might affect water has risen over the past two years, while the number of Americans who identify lead as a possible contaminant rose significantly.

Some observations:
•  Refrigerator filters tend to be replaced on a regular basis. In fact, 20 percent of respondents say they replace filters quarterly, 51 percent said twice a year and 19 percent said once a year.
•  A majority (59 percent) of those who purchase a water softener tend to purchase it within one year of buying or leasing a home.
•  About three-quarters of respondents (69 percent) chose to purchase a water softener rather than rent it.
•  One-fourth (25 percent) of those who currently do not have a water filtration device in their home said they are likely to install one in the near future. Only five percent, however, said they were ‘very likely’ to install one.
•  Concerns about contaminants and a health-risk association with tap water are considered the most important factors influencing the decision to purchase a water filtration product.

Other observations:
•  Nearly half (44 percent) of respondents said they consider a brand-name product as a ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ factor.
•  Product knowledge and the ability to answer the consumer’s questions about water filtration equipment were considered the most important attributes in salespersons.

Overall, market opportunities for the sale of water treatment products remain steady. The consumer wants to have a reason to purchase. Affordability, brand, benefits guarantee/warranty and water safety are key factors.

About the author
David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at [email protected]


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