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Public sector branding: Ignore it at your peril

BRANDING IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR means different things to different people. For some, it’s simply a logo; for others it’s an underpinning philosophy. Public sector brands are some of the most powerful and engaging in existence. The NHS, the BBC and the Metropolitan Police elicit tremendous goodwill from employees and the British public have a strong emotional attachment towards them.

Often however it seems few people outside of marketing and communications departments understand the true role of their brand. Few realise that effective public sector brands are about engaging with people, understanding their beliefs and behaviours and delivering a business model they can buy into, it’s not just about logos and banners. Although, of course, the visual expression is an important communication tool to capture interest and loyalty. I have seen some ‘lets paint reception and change the logo’ transformations over the years and they don’t fix the underlying problems. The general public is too shrewd to be tricked by a superficial re-brand.

The number of public sector brands has grown exponentially in recent years. Finding a point of difference and an effective means of communicating has become vital to standing out in the crowd. Take one example, prior to the incoming administration there were no less than 48 environmental brands at the Greater London Authority. There are a number of drivers behind this proliferation, including the growth of government and its extension into all aspects of society, devolution, more outsourcing and less command and control from the centre. In the words of the US police force is the primary message for public sector ‘to protect and to serve?”

Public service is interlinked to commercial ideology more than ever. The trick is retaining the public sector philosophy while applying commercial principles to ensure an efficient and effective service to the country. Brand is more than a logo is it an underpinning philosophy. In effect we must:

– Recognise that the brand perception needs to be addressed through perceptual and hard delivery.
– Lead and create a vision of what the organisation strives to be, and lead by example, in good and in bad times.
– Ensure all stakeholders, especially staff, recognise that the brand is the core of their business.
-Encourage our employees to ‘live the brand’ and creating the appropriate culture and environment’ around them to enable them to do so. This means they eat, breathe and sleep the values that your brand conveys, but more importantly, truly believe them.
-Be consistent…..constantly changing the logo does not solve the problem.

Branding is a big part of our lives today. It informs choice and perception. We ignore it at our peril.

Mark Lumsdon-Taylor is finance director at Hadlow College

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