Brand New

Ten reasons every agency should focus on what makes it special.

Agencies with strong brands enjoy at least 10 advantages over their weakly branded counterparts.

Top talent: People want to work for agencies with strong brands, and their employees are proud to be there. As reported in the book Brand Warfare: 10 Rules for Building the Killer Brand by David F. D'Alessandro and Michele Owens (McGraw-Hill, 2001), Fortune magazine found in 2000 that the average number of job applicants per opening was twice as high for companies on its Top 10 Most Admired list as for those on its 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Improved reputation: Strongly branded agencies have improved credibility among key stakeholders. The perception is that they're doing a good job at achieving their mission.

Leadership: A strong brand implies that the chief executive officer knows how to guide and direct the agency based on its mission, core values and culture, and managers know how to direct front-line employees.

Citizen compliance: People are more likely to comply with rules set forth by a name they know, recognize and understand than one they are unfamiliar with.

Customer service: The strong brand instills in employees core values that lead them to listen better and respond to citizens.

Citizen education: Employees have a clearer sense of mission and communicate it consistently in guidelines and educational documents they issue to the public.

Decision-making: The vision, mission, values and common culture clarify for employees at all levels how to make decisions about matters large and small.

Reduced confusion: Customers are better able to distinguish a well-branded agency from others that are a former iteration or sound similar.

Internal communication: Employees are united by a common vision, values and culture. They communicate openly about matters of importance.

Funding: Congress is more apt to fund the programs of a strong brand, based on a perception that the agency deserves significant appropriations.

How do you build a strong brand like those enjoyed by the FBI, Secret Service and Coast Guard? It starts with brand assessment, that is, finding out how your key stakeholders see you versus how you see yourself. For example, you may think your agency is "citizen-centric," but the public might see it as remote and indifferent.

Next comes brand strategy. Based on research inside and outside the agency, you articulate the vision, core values, common culture, positioning and other key attributes. You focus more on the vision, values and culture because you already have a name and a mission.

Third are brand communication guidelines: How do you want your graphics, Web site, press materials, recruitment documents and other materials to look? The goal is to arrive at a consistent identity that allows for some variation to keep things interesting. You want to reinforce the vision, mission, values and culture in all you say and do.

Fourth is a brand launch. No matter how well you do your research, think through your strategy and sharpen your presentation, you'll need a change implementation program to prepare your employees and customers for a shift in the way you communicate about yourself.

Everyone, at every level, should be encouraged and rewarded for living the brand in a way that will be visible both on the inside and on the outside. Some organizations even produce a brand reference book to guide employees in this endeavor.

Finally, you'll need a brand management system-ongoing measurement and tracking of how the brand is doing. This can range from how well identity and image standards are upheld to measurements of the brand's reputation as portrayed in the media to programs that assess how well employees are upholding the values established by the brand. The key is to tie a business outcome metric to a combination of elements of the brand.

If you haven't thought about your brand lately, or have discarded the work you've done on it recently, now might be the time to pick it back up and do some new thinking. Your brand can provide an opportunity to meet and even exceed your agency's strategic goals.

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a public affairs specialist in government. She is a former brand consultant, and was a vice president for Young & Rubicam's futuristic trend consultancy, The Intelligence Factory.

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