In the private sector, a company is nothing without its brand. A company’s brand is more than a jingle, more than a logo. It’s what separates one company from another and it’s how customers recognize products and services. We trust what’s familiar.
However, in the public sector, we tend to be recognized as one brand—the federal government. This blanket recognition presents challenges on many fronts. Honestly, the biggest challenge we face is the public’s low opinion of government at all levels. That’s a tough barrier right out of the gate.
Regardless, we all have a mission and customers. It’s just a little tougher these days to break through and reach the people we’re here to serve. That is why your agency’s brand is important—we have to ensure the public knows what each of us specialize in and how we are working to provide them the services they need.
For government agencies, a strong brand can help build public trust in our work, raise awareness of our services and help us connect with the very people who fund our agencies. For us, branding is not about selling products, it’s about identifying us as a trusted service on behalf of the public.
When customers take any one of our Census Bureau surveys, for example, they should have no doubts that the survey is legitimate, that it’s actually coming from us, and that their participation is important and will be kept confidential. Recognition of and trust in the Census Bureau brand is especially crucial because we rely upon public trust to achieve our mission to collect and distribute data about our nation’s people and the economy.
Here are a few reasons government agencies should consider the strength of their brands:
Boost Customer Trust
At the Census Bureau, we take pride in our reputation—here’s how: we count every one once and in the right place every ten years through the Decennial Census, and we do the best job possible in collecting and disseminating statistics while ensuring confidentiality. The key to our protecting our brand is ensuring that whenever and however we communicate with customers, we’re emphasizing the ways we accurately collect and disseminate data.
When we live up to our reputation, people trust us more.
Let’s say, for example, a small business owner is looking to expand into the East Coast. To do so successfully, he or she needs to understand the economic climate in the area, which industries are thriving, and where there may be a need for his or her services. The customer goes to census.gov for their search because the Census Bureau is a trusted brand when it comes to economic data.
The trust a customer has in the Census Bureau brand and its work shows just how important branding is. If it weren’t for the agency’s reputation, the customer might not have thought of the Census Bureau as a go-to source for free and reliable data.
Keep Everyone Consistent
Brand management keeps everyone at an organization consistent, whether communicating with internal or external stakeholders. From fonts to color palettes, websites to letterheads, the entire organization is on the same page. A white, gray, and blue color scheme with a simple font is what we went for at the Census Bureau, and you can see our “United States Census Bureau” logo on everything that we do. But while color schemes are important, that’s only one part of the overall brand. It’s all about consistency on all platforms.
Seeing emails or letters generated from the same source, with the same language, tone and letterhead, lets customers know that the organization is legitimate. It also helps employees keep the purpose of the organization up front in their minds.
At the Census Bureau we have a group dedicated to making sure we are consistent in all of our materials. This group puts the Census Bureau logo on badges, computer bags and other Census Bureau items. When an enumerator is in the field conducting interviews, customers will see the Census Bureau logo prominently displayed. It will look the same as the letter they received and as the logo on census.gov. Seeing the Census Bureau logo reminds all of us that we’re ambassadors for our organization and need to communicate our work consistently with the tone set by the organization.
Ensure Work is Mission-Centered
Your brand should tie directly to your organization’s purpose. Some companies have a tongue-in-cheek persona. For most government agencies, the tone will be serious and professional—but the focus will differ depending on your mission. Do you help others? Do you conduct research? Do you gather statistics? Do you keep America’s highways safe? Brand identity helps everyone at your agency keep the mission in mind when answering the phone, writing an email, creating a website, going to a conference, or doing day-to-day work.
The Census Bureau is a statistical agency and that’s the whole of our mission: collecting and delivering quality data. The Census Bureau logo builds upon two of our most recognized activities, the decennial and economic “Census,” but it also represents all of our surveys, research and dissemination activities.
Branding is crucial to government agencies so the public will recognize who we are, know what we do, and have confidence that we are legitimate public entities. That way, should any one need assistance with, say safety information, or business statistics, they’ll know exactly who to reach. Gaining the public’s confidence may be a tougher sell these days—all the more important that we keep the faith in our brand by being reliable and helpful public servants.
Jeannie Shiffer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.