How have you described/defined the relationship between branding and citizen engagement to your management?

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This topic contains 24 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  Steve Ressler 7 years, 11 months ago.

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  • #165158

    Hi there,

    I’m an Engagement Specialist who’s working on internal buy-in for stronger branding efforts in our government public health program.

    I’m finding barriers to creating and supporting strong, consistent branding in the public sphere from established stakeholders. It’s been particularly difficult to define the concept due to lack of knowledge of or appreciation for branding and its relationship to successful client engagement and behavior change.

    I wonder if any of you working in engagement, new marketing, or gov 2.0 have faced similar challenges? What’s your 4-sentence pitch to sell the concept of branding in government to your higher-ups? How do you explain the value of investing in and sticking to a strong “brand” for your agency?

    Much obliged!


  • #165206

    Steve Ressler

    Here’s a bunch of blogs about branding on govloop –

    Another good one –

    I think branding is always a tough sell in gov’t due to your statement – lack of knowledge/appreciation

    I think best way to “sell” branding is to give examples and walk people through exercise (what’s your feeling when you hear Starbucks? Is the coffee better? Why pay more for coffee?

  • #165204

    Daniel Bevarly

    Hildreth –

    I just read an interesting article that you might find useful. It’s premise is that you can’t “brand” something, but you can position a brand.The author defines “brand” as being present when the value of what something means to its audience is greater than the value of what it does for that audience. That’s open for discussion, but it does provide a position statement from which to expand a dialog. Hope it provides some insight.

  • #165202

    Dan Harris

    The government wants to be–and should be–the authority for matters of public interest: public health, consumer protection, and public services and information, for example. Positive branding leads to familiarity and confidence, and it compels people to prioritize the resources they’ll use to pursue information/assistance. Get people to think of you and come to you first, because you’re the authority, and you have only the consumers’ best interests at heart. Leave them to their own devices, and they’ll act on what comes to mind first, and they might never make it to you (possibly to their detriment).

  • #165200

    @daniel that was a great article.

    @hildreth find the pain point, relate it to the mission, and turn it into a problem statement.
    Ex/ “people don’t know who we are” so they go to external sources for info unnecessarily, get wrong info, etc.
    or “we provide assistance but they don’t know where it’s coming from” – so no relationship, reputation built
    or “we are forever reinventing the wheel and have 5,000 different templates”


  • #165198

    Doug Matthews

    Hey there. I’ve actually been pushing this uphill in Austin for a while now. You may want to take a look at the presentation I made to leadership late last year –

    Hope this helps!


  • #165196

    Alex Showerman

    The lack of understanding and buy-in is something that we all have come up against. The best advice I can give, is build your brand one step at a time. To somebody who understands new media, a holistic approach is the common sense route that you want to take, but to somebody unfamiliar with new technology or trends can be overwhelmed and completely turned off. The best way to build your consistent brand and increase engagement is to pick small problems you can address and offer solutions to them. As your success builds you will gain the trust of your higher ups and continue to build a successful brand. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so the best route is patience and continuing to educate one step at a time. I hope that helps!

  • #165194

    David B. Grinberg

    First, I’d go with what Dr. Dannielle says, as she’s a branding expert and noted author on the topic. Second, to supplement her advice with another potential option, I would try to keep it simple, even dumb-it-down, to make the leadership critics understand the general principle of why citizen engagement is an integral part of successful branding and reputation management — you can’t have one without the others. My formula would be: smart branding + effective citizen engagement = positive reputation management, greater customer/stakeholder loyalty, and increased mission awareness. Ask your leadership what they think the public perception of your agency’s brand currently is. Then diplomatically explain that their perception inside-the-bubble is starkly different from the external reality. Perhaps there are some media polls or internal surveys available to help make the case. If all else fails, call Dr. Dannielle’s branding hotline. Good luck, Hildreth.


  • #165192

    doug – that was a great presentation! thank you. i’d love to reconnect and chat about the challenges (and successes!) you’ve had…-h

  • #165190

    @daniel, great article, thank you! to the point @Alex made Friday, i feel like this might be too bird’s eye and big picture for what i’m trying to do right now, but i’m stashing this away for 3 years from now!

  • #165188

    @Dan – succinctly and simply put, thank you. agreed!

  • #165186

    Marie E. Hardy

    I just read an interesting pdf book about the art of the “story” and using it as strategy for branding. May be by sharing a story that people can connect with, it will engage them and educate them about the benefits of branding. Whether sharing with administrators or the public, a good story is relatable. Not sure if this will give you any ideas, but worth the read: I read the book to see how I could explain to my colleagues the relationship between culture change and innovation with the use of story to engage public service employees. For us, the service they provide to the public is the brand.

  • #165184

    all – i really appreciate the input & wisdom, esp. from masters in the craft!

    i’m finding the biggest issue is not seeing the problem(s). “Everything is fine” is a common response to attempts to sell the concept of engagement & relationship management.

    Results borne out by poorly conceived or old client surveys suggest our reputation is fine (b/c no one has said anything bad to our faces), clients are loyal (b/c they keep coming to the clinics for benefits), and our mission is simply to supply accurate pamphlets (so why should we try to enable behavior change outside the clinics)?

    I’m fascinated by the issue, though – so thanks for helping me work it out. I think it might be time for some new stakeholder interviews and field tests!


  • #165182

    @Alex – so spot on. why spin the wheels unnecessarily? thank you!

  • #165180

    Robert Bacal

    IMO, I think you need to stop using the terms popularized by social media — branding, and engagement. Those are often words seen as coming from advocates trying to convince than problem-solvers trying to present both sides of the story.

    In fact, what you wrote above says it all, and it’s probably quite transparent to decision-makers.

    What I find is that for those in social media, and tech (in particular) their ability to see through the decision-makers eyes is so poor, and they are so disconnected from the problems they think they are solving, that they don’t deserve credibility.

  • #165178

    Robert Bacal

    If I put myself in the decision-maker seat, why should I listen to you? Sitting in that seat, I wouldn’t listen to you, and I’d end up viewing your attempts to sell private sector concepts to me as excluding you from a credible seat at my table. I can suggest an exercise here, and that is to formulate a series of questions decision-makers are asking, and should be asking about what you are “selling”, and the answers you have to offer.

    We could actually do that as an online exercise here, if you want. BTW, I think you can make a case for “becoming the goto source for information about…” as someone else suggested. I do NOT think you can make any credible case for citizen engagement to the C-level, unless they’ve already bought in to such a fuzzy idea.

  • #165176

    @Robert, I’d love to engage in an online exercise. It sounds like a good practice run.

    I agree that the discussions at the tables of decision-makers are distinctly different from those happening outside the conference room. I disagree that the concept of citizen engagement is fuzzy to C-level management, generally. My daily discussions with mine indicate a clear dedication to engagement, but not so much the connection of ‘branding’ to it (which is my original question to the forum).

    I’m just curious about how to make government the authority, the ‘goto source for information’ for public interests as @Dan Harris said, if we as public entities aren’t top-of-mind or don’t have a relationship with clients that they value and trust.

    thanks for your insight!

  • #165174

    Dan Harris

    I think the fact that public entities aren’t top-of-mind is precisely why branding is important. It’s a mistake to assume that the public views the government as the defacto authority, and competition for the public’s attention is fierce (especially online). Of course, it’s more difficult to measure market share or ROI in this scenario (without the benefit of revenue indicators), and maybe that’s why leadership is slow to get on board; but “in the interests of the public good” should be good justification.

    I think any public entity carries the responsibility of keeping its constituents informed and educated, and that has to include awareness, perception and engagement. And I think that’s where positive branding can help.

    Good luck!

  • #165172

    Amen Dan, thanks for addressing my questions so clearly!

  • #165170

    Dan Harris

    I think I’m just restating your challenge, but I appreciate your cause.

  • #165168

    Robert Bacal

    Ok. I like the phrase “goto source for information”. Branding is a sales/marketing term from for profit and while it can be force fit, it’s not standard enough to be clear to anyone else outside of the “converted”.

    If you insist on the “brand” word, let’s be clear that it’s a process by which a company distinguished itself from all possible competitors. If you are going to do that, WHO are the competitors? Why SHOULD you be the go to place? Perhaps your “competitors”, if they exist, are better?

    So, before I start throwing c-level management questions at you, what IS it you want decision makers to do? What are you asking for?

  • #165166

    Robert Bacal

    I’d suggest leadership is slow to get on board because in general, you are asking them to buy into bad ideas, or ideas that are mistimed. The first step is to show respect to the decision-makers by listening to them.

    I’m on board with the responsibility of government to keep its constituents informed. Branding is not part of that, unless you want to ignore its meaning, or redefine it, a common practice in this era.

    What you are talking about is straight-forward communication strategies, which governments have been using for….well…maybe forever. Branding doesn’t mean communication. It has all kinds of other meanings attached to it that have NO relevance to government.

    I have a few articles to send you guys to, when I get a chance.

  • #165164

    Robert Bacal

    Just to add to this:

    You want government to use taxpayer dollars to present itself as the authority, and win the competition for public attention? That sounds funny to me.

    Second, what is the responsibility of citizens to act like adults and take advantage of the existing tools to find government related or sourced material? Is it hard? Have their been PREVENTABLE TRAGEDIES OF LOSS OF LIFE resulting from poor branding? (I’d think there has to be some examples).

    Third, but related, on one hand people hate government nannyism, but on the other hand, government uses taxpayer dollars because nobody can find them, so gov has to lead them by the hand?

    Is there even a problem here? Are people generally not aware they can, and should go to government sources for health info, emergency information, and all that stuff where it’s really important?

  • #165162

    Robert Bacal

    Citizen engagement is a concept which is currently in vogue, and pulled from the general “engagement movement”. It’s a buzz word, and to come outright and say “We don’t want to engage with the public”, would be suicidal.

    But where the rubber meets the road, once you get to practicalities, the game changes. Government, at least the non-pollitical arm, is not in the engagement business. It’s not set up structurally to do that. Representative democracies don’t “run on engagement”, or even input.

    One of the huge flaws with the way citizen engagement is used is that almost never is there specified with what or who citizens are supposed to engage with? To talk about “citizen engagement” which has a subject and an object, without specifiying both is…well, I’m going to say stupid.

    Citizen engagement is apple pie and mom. Decision-makers will pay lipservice, and even make small steps towards it, but that’s it. You need to disguise it (reframe it) if you want C-level buy in, and the reframing will vary from one context (what you want) to another.

  • #165160

    Steve Ressler

    Another example may be to look at how much time/money/energy CDC & HHS puts into branding for public health programs. I’m sure you could find budgets online but I get a sense they understand the importance – see campaign’s like Let’s Move

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