What Public Sector Agencies Can Learn From Private Sector Branding

What Public Sector Agencies Can Learn From Private Sector Branding

By: Michelle Ubben, Partner & COO, Ron Sachs Communications


This week, Ron Sachs Communications helped the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs launch its new brand, defining and refining this critical agency with an eye to its most important audiences — the 1.6 million veterans who call Florida home.

FDVA’s new brand aims to make the agency more accessible and approachable. It differentiates FDVA from the USDVA and establishes it as the premier point of entry for Florida veterans to access services, benefits and support. In other words, it is mission critical.

Major retail companies understand the link between their brand identities and their corporate success. That’s why companies like Nike, Walmart, Volvo, and Coca Cola are so protective of their brands. They have a compact with their customers and continued success depends on fulfilling their brand promise by delivering a consistent brand experience.

The same is certainly true of public sector entities. While state agencies are not often in the business of sales, they all have a mission to accomplish. They, too, have a brand promise to deliver and a target audience that wants what they offer, if they convey it in clear, compelling terms.

So, what can public sector agencies learn from the private sector when they consider their own brands?

1. Relate to mission and be authentic. A good brand is not what you want to be when you grow up. It’s what you truly are, today. For public entities, the lesson here is to stay close to your mission and make that the heart of your brand. While you may have acquired an assortment of responsibilities over the years, your brand should hone in on your primary purpose. Hopefully, this is something you do very well, since it’s central to your existence.

2. Create a consistent brand experience. A brand promise is the guarantee that you will get what you expect from a brand encounter each and every time. If Walmart’s brand is built on low prices, it can’t frequently be undersold. If Apple is selling its brand based on innovation, it needs to regularly bring new, innovative products to market. Similarly, if a public entity wishes to build its brand as a fiscal watchdog, it had better avoid lavish expenditures. FDVA’s new brand is built around “honoring those who served U.S.” and advocating for Florida veterans with passion and purpose. Now, it will be essential for everyone who serves as a point of contact between veterans and the agency to deliver that brand experience consistently.

3. Connect with your audience’s needs and wants. Effective branding exists at the intersection of what your organization really is and what your target audiences really want. People relate to corporate brands because those brands reflect something customers perceive they are or aspire to be, whether it’s eco-friendliness, social consciousness, thriftiness, security or a sense of being hip. Successful companies don’t succeed by forcing things on people who don’t want them. Similarly, public entities should evaluate their brands in light of the needs of their stakeholders. What do various audiences want from your agency? Or what do they need and not even know you offer? The place where your mission overlaps with your target audiences’ greatest needs or wants is where you should focus your brand.

4. Differentiate yourself. You aren’t the only game in town. Even if you are a government agency, chances are there are alternatives to what you offer. In some cases, the competition may not be another entity but simply apathy and inaction. A successful brand draws distinctions between itself and the competition. When we helped the State of Florida rebrand Florida’s public adoption system several years ago, we learned from our research that people are more likely to consider public adoption when they found out that it costs nothing, can be accomplished relatively quickly and that children adopted from the public system qualify for free health care. These facts became important brand differentiators not just because they happened to be true, but because they motivated target audiences to action.

5. Know when to update your brand. Retailers understand the importance of updating a brand when their branding has grown stale, when it no longer conveys the essence of the company, or when it no longer resonates with customers. Similar, public entities should evaluate their brands periodically and ask themselves if the brand is still effective in conveying the central value proposition its audiences need to hear. The FDVA’s branding was essentially the same as it was when it was first created as an agency 24 years ago. Yet, its audiences had changed significantly and had grown increasingly disparate, from aging World War II veterans, to a growing number of women veterans to an especially diverse group of recently returning veterans. The FDVA suffered from brand confusion with USDVA. It was time to refocus the brand and clearly deliver an essential brand promise: That FDVA is here for Florida veterans.