Your Brand Sucks

Do a quick google search for the strongest brands in the world and you’ll find Google, IBM, and Apple near the top. All three of these companies demonstrate how a good brand can go a long way towards building up a lifetime of goodwill with customers.
So it made me wonder: Are agencies missing an opportunity to connect deeper with citizens by failing to deliver a strong brand presence?

Are we doing enough as communicators to promote our agency’s brand? Or are we focusing too much on the mission? What are some of the best brands in government today?

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Elliot Volkman

Coming from an outside prospective and in the Gen Y demographic most of the folks I know feel that NASA has one of the strongest brands. Whether that is because NASA is highly active and a leader in terms of using social networks to speak directly with people, or just due to the nerd/cool factor of it; they seem to be both strengthening their messages and building their brand.

I have to assume not every agency could do the same thing as missions vary, but brands seem to be built more now on the backs of the people that work there and the product/services they produce. The more we see people acting as cheerleaders for their agencies, the more people will want to interact with the person and “brand”.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Elliott is right. Brand is the result of the actual actions of the employees together with their cheerleading (whether they believe). The mistake people make is to think brand can be engineered thru outreach campaigns absent effective coordinated strategy and policy that excites and engages the workforce. If I had to hold up ideals: FBI, State Dept., CIA.

Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci

I am wondering if it might also have to do with the public’s perception of the agency. Having worked in the private sector, I think a lot of people just don’t understand what certain agencies do, and therefore might have a negative association with them … or no feelings about them one way or the other.

Mindy Giberstone

I agree that NASA is probably the strongest brand. The Marines also have strong positive branding – loyal, proud veterans and a lot of good Hollywood/media exposure.

Josh Folk

Among the examples given, I find the size of each (relative to total federal government employment) to be rather fascinating.

1. NASA (.09%)

2. State Dept. (.07%)

3. Marines (~<.4%)


Does this say anything about an agency’s size and its ability to produce a strong brand? The three largest government employers (after Defense) are VA, DHS and Justice.

Josh Folk

Dorothy, completely agree. Perhaps the fact that most people “just don’t understand what certain agencies do, and therefore might have a negative association with them” is a result of a failed brand strategy.

I think one reason why developing a brand is difficult for most agencies is due to changing leadership, policies, and budget. Would the brands of IBM, Google and Apple be as strong with a revolving door of figure heads? I don’t think so — just look to Apple and Steve Jobs for an example.

Elliot Volkman

@Josh – That’s an interesting point. One of the great things about brand building and digital communications is that you don’t need a large team to appear bigger than you actually are. Quality, targeted messages, and consistent or expected content creation will continue to put a brand in front of people. All three of the agencies you have listed are frequently putting on events, blogging, or are active in the social space.

Deb Green

Good question, but are we comparing apples to apples (so to speak)? I don’t think any government agency has a marketing department like an Apple, IBM, Google, Nike, or any company producing a product they want consumers to buy. We’re not really “selling” anything, generally speaking.

As for elements of the DoD, they absolutely do. It’s called recuriting goals! I’m partial to the Corps (married one!) and even though I’m prior Air Force, think they do the best job with advertising/marketing/recruiting efforts. Army also does a good job. But let’s not forget – this brand recognition and buy in, if you will, is with a specific goal in mind. Maintain the size and strength of the force.

Does government service have such funding or goals? Absolutely not. Should we? Ahh, now there’s the rub! I think there’s more individual agencies can do to improve individual perception, but to expect to be Nike or Apple – dunno. Don’t think that’s necessarily realistic.

Mindy Giberstone

Deb’s comment reminded me of my initial thoughtaks about branding. If you discount the premise that branding is for goodwill, the IRS certainly has a strong, recognizable brand.

Andrew Krzmarzick

To bring this conversation to another level of government, some states have attempted to market via TV advertising, most focused on tourism and recreation to solidify their state’s brand as a destination. Some cities have done similar marketing campaigns.

On the Federal level, perhaps the best example of government branding is not about the agency itself, but about the programs, services or information that they want to share with the public. In that regard, I think government gets high marks. Here are the 2-3 most memorable off the top of my head:

– Only you can prevent forest fires.” and “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.” (Forest Service)

– Click it or ticket. (DOT NHTSA and numerous state-level DOTs)

What other campaigns come to mind?