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3 steps to understanding and improving your government agency’s brand perception

10 min read


The unprecedented events of the past few years have led to historic surges in demand for public services like unemployment insurance, rental assistance, and small business support programs. Citizens encountered frustrating challenges interacting with these services, whether through websites, call centers, or other channels. Based on the real human toll created by failed service delivery channels, the public is demanding better experiences from its government agencies.

Many government entities are more focused than ever on improving customer experience, and forward-thinking organizations are taking it a step further to address the overall perception of their government agency outside of day-to-day interactions. These organizations understand that how the public perceives them directly affects their ability to achieve their mission, whether it’s getting the public to adopt policies, or attracting new talent to join the government workforce.

In other words: They’re thinking about branding.

What is government branding and why is it important?

We sometimes think of branding as the logos, colors, and clever advertising campaigns that attract most people’s attention. But effective branding runs much deeper, working to build credibility and establish trust with customers. And it’s not just for the private sector.

Branding is quickly becoming an important strategy in the public sector. Governments use branding strategies to promote policies, programs, and services. Local governments often use “place branding” to boost the revenue and reputation of their communities.

Government branding is also important in building the future workforce.  In a recent Qualtrics study, over 30% of post-secondary students surveyed indicated they would not consider federal employment, yet the ability to perform meaningful work is one of the top three factors in choosing a job. Government entities with a handle on effective branding strategies understand their target audiences’ needs compared to their current brand perception, and in that example, can make a concerted effort to convey the positive impact their employees have on the public.

The threat of a large portion of the public workforce on the cusp of retirement, combined with a tight labor market, means that government agencies need to have a better pulse on potential job candidates’ perception of their brand to become the highly sought-after employer they once were – and quickly.

Which government entities are doing branding well?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is one good example of what can happen when a government entity adopts cohesive branding tactics. While federal agencies and government officials aren’t often known for having a sense of humor, TSA’s Instagram account uses silly puns, cute animal photos, and funny videos to exude a friendlier, human image of the organization. And it seems to be working: The account has more than 1 million followers and receives thousands of comments from people of all races, genders, and political persuasions. Motivational speaker Simon Sinek has cited the agency as “a great example of how government can have a good relationship with the public on social media.”

TSA on Instagram:

The TSA’s social media success has inspired another government organization, the Central Intelligence agency (CIA), to leverage Instagram to help counter negative press and dispel conspiracy theories. The CIA has an especially interesting challenge on its hands, as by necessity it must be careful about the information it conveys. The agency also uses Instagram to promote its commitment to inclusivity in the workplace. Recent posts emphasize the importance of hiring and retaining agents from various backgrounds, and some include first-person stories from employees with hashtags such as #humansofCIA and #womencrushwednesday.

CIA on Instagram:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Central Intelligence Agency (@cia)

Outside of social media, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) seems to understand the overall importance of well-executed branding. A recent article in The Marine Corps Gazette states: “We are the few, the proud – whose indomitable spirit can only result in battles won. Yet, the Marine Corps brand is greater than a slogan; it is an idea and an image…  And it is precisely because the Marine Corps has been so zealous in guarding this brand that it has persisted for the last 200 years. It is not an accident that 47 percent of Americans view the Marine Corps as the most prestigious branch in the U.S. military, more than twice the amount of any other.”

How government agencies can improve their brand perception

There are three things government agencies must do to improve their brand perception:

  1. Listen to assess the current state of your brand.
  2. Understand opportunities for improving your brand.
  3. Act on feedback by developing and executing an improvement plan.
Only about one-quarter of Americans say they can trust the federal government to do what is right “just about always” (2%) or “most of the time” (22%).

Listen to assess the current state of your brand

As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has been known to say, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Current-state analysis is the critical first step in any change management initiative, but it’s particularly important when launching a branding strategy. Brand perception is what the general public believes about an organization, product, or service – not what the organization behind the brand says about it. Therefore, it’s imperative to pulse your residents, customers, and constituents and get their direct feedback. This feedback must include both structured and unstructured data, such as conversations from support calls, chatbots, social media posts, and online review sites.

The volume of unstructured data in the world is growing rapidly. More than 80% of an organization’s data is unstructured, according to IDC, yet only 18% of companies are able to take advantage of it.2 As people increasingly share their feedback in different ways – and oftentimes indirectly – organizations that can harness all feedback and act on it will have a competitive advantage.

Qualtrics can help you design, execute, and analyze a brand perception survey to help you understand the impact of your messaging on your agency’s reputation. Questions should touch on emotional, cognitive, and action-oriented factors, such as:

  • When you think of this agency, what comes to mind first?
  • Which of the following words describe how you feel about this agency?
  • How would you describe your last experience with this agency?

This is not only incredibly helpful for avoiding decisions based on assumptions, but it also provides you with a baseline on which to measure progress.

Understand opportunities for improving your brand

Insights revealed in your current-state analysis will uncover any gaps between how you want your organization to be perceived and how the public actually feels about it.

Breakdowns in experience such as slow customer service, lengthy paperwork, inefficient tools, or conflicting communication can all contribute to feelings of mistrust and frustration. Digging into your survey responses to understand where, how, and why these issues occur is key to creating a plan to improve stakeholder experiences, which in turn improves your brand perception.

Our platform consolidates these responses and highlights trends and patterns for you, making it incredibly easy to spot focus areas for improvement and share them with operational leaders. Plus, with Text iQ, we can also mine insights hidden in open-text comments from surveys, social media, chatbots, and more using powerful machine learning and native language processing. Having a 360-degree view of your brand on one platform allows you to pinpoint exactly what residents need to place greater trust in your agency.

Act on feedback by developing and executing an improvement plan

Now it’s time to put what you learned into action to drive meaningful change. Equipping the right people with the right data to take the right steps not only gets you closer to the brand perception you’re aiming for, but it also helps establish a culture of action that puts your constituents at the center of your organization. Sharing the insights you gathered with the public and keeping residents informed of how you’re responding creates transparency – a critical factor in establishing trust and building social capital.

We help you go from insight to action immediately and effectively. Automated workflows, trigger alerts, and closed-loop ticketing enable you to manage issues as they happen, track results, and measure changes in brand experience and perception over time. Building these processes based on feedback also creates efficiencies and reduces burden, which translate into more productive employees, happier residents, and in turn a more positive brand.

The bottom line: Government branding matters

Successful organizations are those whose brand perception aligns with their values, mission, and goals. Whether you’re a public sector official pursuing policy reform, an HR department looking to attract talent, or a town government leader trying to attract more small businesses, your government entity’s brand perception has a major influence on your ability to accomplish your objectives.

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