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Leverage an Institutional Brand for a New Age of Service

June 8, 2017

Branding, an essential element in building loyal relationships among businesses and their audiences, is now on the radar of many leaders in the public sector. Within the last few years, the topic has emerged online in straight-talking articles that inform public sector leaders who wish to approach this topic with more confidence. In 2017, discussions of what brand could mean in the public sector have crept into LinkedIn group discussions, Twitter chats, blog posts, leadership panels, and informal discussions at regional conferences. The value of branding is now getting attention beyond the business pages and the private sector, and public service will benefit from this new focus.

Why is Brand Chatter is Increasing?

Our digital and social media world has enabled quick access and fluid transparency that is broadening messaging capability and accelerating communication among institutions and audiences. Exchanges between institutions and those they serve take place in a 24/7 “always on” digital and social world. We recognize that this is an exciting time of change, but the reputation of an institution may be vulnerable as a result of this new landscape of open activity. Fortunately, the public sector can watch how companies fare in their connected communication and learn from their successes and missteps. Because of the openness of information, institutions can examine the ways powerful brand strategies promote an image, especially in times of challenge. The public sector is delivering service in an age of accelerated communication. Owning an institutional brand narrative and telling the stories of good work done promote healthy exchange within communities. And times are continuing to change at a rapid pace.

Brand Awareness in a New Age of Innovation

Over the next decade of our new age of innovation, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will push the need for a brand strategy in public sector institutions. Ultimately, brand is rooted in relationships between people and their shared goals. Machines may make us more efficient, but they may also lead to less personal relationships. In public service, it is important to show who we are as institutions and define unifying, connected brands that will remain despite increased automation. Branding, the defining voice and mission of the institution, can help agencies sustain a sense of humanity. Adapting lessons learned from the world of marketing, brand, and advertising, we can capitalize on our public service and give our clients, audiences, and stakeholders a reason to believe in us and our mission.

Attention to image, promise, and results brings control to an agency narrative. Today’s fast-paced world of digital and social media demands that the public sector define itself internally, or else organizations run the risk of being defined by others. In education, school leaders are turning attention to brand as an idea that unifies. Allowing a leader to act as the “Storyteller-in-Chief” gives a school the chance to showcase its good work done beyond test scores, and with new and transparent technologies, they have new opportunities to communicate such stories. Authentic, powerful pieces portray compelling stories that humanize the school, and, as businesses have demonstrated, storytelling is a primary driver of a unifying brand. Public sector leaders must recognize that when powerful storytelling and brand reflect the internal commitment of an agency, new and beneficial relationships will develop.

If You Build it, They Will Come

The public sector can’t afford to be humble about its strengths in a transparent digital and social media world. Telling stories through authentic content will create agencies that are better connected to those they serve. When taking on this perspective, a public sector administrator disrupts the public sector’s “status quo” and becomes an “edge dweller” who recognizes the value of brand. It is a place of opportunity. Keep the new decade in mind: it is fast approaching.

Here’s a call to action for a public sector leader: initiate new conversations about brand. Use the open resources of organizational psychology, behavioral economics, and the current wisdom of digital and social media marketing. Inform yourself. Follow and connect with thought leaders on social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn. Engage in DIY brand research, which can help you find like–minded communities of thought. Share the results in your institution and begin to explore the organization's core beliefs of service. Explore the ways that established branding principles can be incorporated with those who are naturally brand-minded. Use the resources of your community and network to find like-minded professionals to fire your thinking. In the words of Dr. Yong Zhao of the University of Kansas School of Education, it is time to realize the power of a brand: “Branding instead of being branded. Defining instead of being defined.” This is the rallying point for public sector brand design and execution in 2017.

Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu