Friday, May 22, 2015

When Building a Brand, Trust Your Mission and Your Employees

By Aubrey McMahan, internal communications specialist, U.S. Geological Survey

At first thought, launching a successful branding campaign sounds like a big undertaking: you may ask yourself, would my office require special staff? Special funds? Special resources?

Not necessarily so. A panel of experts in strategic and executive communications sat down with FCN at the Partnership for Public Service to discuss their approach to building a successful branding campaign (as well as defining the audience for their campaign).

The Panelists (l-r): Dave Hebert (U.S. Geological Survey, moderator), Suki Baz (National Park Service), Bill Walsh (AARP), and Dannielle Blumenthal (National Institute of Standards and Technology)
Here's what we uncovered:

Threading your mission throughout your agency’s branding is key. Your agency’s mission should be driving everything you and your employees do. Campaigning a brand is no exception. The first trick to having a brand that will “stick” is developing a message that truly conveys your mission or acts as an extension of it.

For example, AARP’s Director of Strategy, Planning and Executive Communications Bill Walsh shared some of the branding challenges that his company has faced: namely, that AARP is not just for retired people. To help overcome this misconception (largely attributed to the organization’s original name), it has re-branded itself to stress the “RP” in “AARP” as “Real Possibilities.” With products and services that provide benefits to more individuals than just the retired crowd, AARP has been deliberately catering to these larger audiences in its re-branding effort. Advertising things like career assistance, the organization is helping its wider audience see the “real possibilities” AARP’s mission is committed to delivering in people’s lives.

Success is often seen by building your brand from the inside out. Begin your re-branding campaign internally, and your communications team won’t find itself alone in its external outreach efforts. Focus first on getting your employees on board and living by the brand, and they will emulate it through their enthusiasm for the work they do. In short, an agency full of committed employees means a complete cohort of brand ambassadors.

National Park Service (NPS) Employee Communications Specialist Suki Baz describes her agency’s park rangers as a perfect representation of these brand ambassadors. Most of these employees sought employment with NPS because they were so passionate about the lands that they preserve and protect. Often donning the well-recognized Eisner hat, these uniformed rangers have become symbols and ambassadors of NPS’s mission because the delight they feel for the places they share with the public rubs off on the visitors with whom they interact. Which brings me to the last point...

Provide quality service, and this will shape your agency’s brand. This last remark seems to go without saying, but too often it seems an organization can get caught up in developing a clever strategy to sell its brand when the solution may be much simpler: your organization should continue to do what it does well, and do it better. Your customers will appreciate the good experience that your employees provided them, and they’ll remember it.

According to National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Office of Advanced Manufacturing Associate Director for Communication Danielle Blumenthal, “a brand is a living dynamic thing that is changing all the time. It’s a relationship between you and your audience.” Entrust your employees to represent your agency during their interactions with the public (they’re brand ambassadors, remember?). By providing good customer service, your employees are positively influencing your audience’s opinion of your agency, and thereby influencing the brand.

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