Building Brand Identity
ublic administrators and corporate CEOs alike are recognizing that their single most powerful, strategic and competitive asset is their brand identity. Think of your identity as the soul of your organization-the essence of who you are, why you exist and what makes you unique. Your identity brings consistency and rationale to decisions about which opportunities to pursue, what you say and don't say, and what funding you get. Your branding strategy is about communicating your unique identity so the right people know you, value you, and, most of all, support you.
Commercial marketers have been touting the virtues of a powerful identity for years. Disney, Sony and Nordstrom all have strong corporate identities that translate into better performance and bigger profits. In the last decade, many government organizations have built marketing campaigns based on adistinctive identity. The Postal Service, the Census Bureau and the IRS, to name a few, have all embarked on strategic branding efforts that hit home with their constituencies and advance their missions.
Whatever their nature, organizations creating a brand face two problems: being under-valued and lacking a consistent, organization-wide message.
While government agencies can learn much from the private sector, there are two key differences between them.Government agencies must improve their funding in order to advance their missions. They also presume that because they have a worthy, socially minded mission, they have no competition.That's wrong. Recognizing competitors for funding-even if they are partner organizations-is critical in determining what makes your organization different and how to carve out your marketplace position.
The important question is whether brand identity can help an organization achieve its mission and goals. An effective brand identity strengthens consumer recognition and market share. Some corporate examples: What name comes to mind when you think of a rental car company? Usually, it's Hertz or Avis. When you think of quality and consumer electronics, does Sony come to mind? That perceived edge in quality allows Sony to charge more for its products than its competitors can.
What category or niche should your agency dominate? Take the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Organizations such as CDC have not one, but two or three main attributes that collectively make them stand out. CDC is recognized for its efforts to keep America safer and healthier, for being a trusted source of information, and for serving as a resource for public health partners. Other organizations also are trusted sources of health information, but none can lay claim to all three attributes. It's vital to convey two or three strengths that collectively make your agency unique and benefit key constituencies, such as policy-makers, funding sources, partners, the public, the news media, etc.
To find your position in the marketplace, begin with the tough questions: What is your unique niche? What attributes should conjure up your agency? Which of these is most important to funding sources, other organizations and employees? Who competes with you for funds or public attention? You will identify who already "owns" certain niches-and where your best opportunities lie.
The first step in establishing an organization's best position is to identify exactly what makes it unique and valued. This also helps in gaining internal support.
Write down your mission statement. Now think of an agency that is completely different. Substitute the name of the other agency wherever the name of your organization appears. The better your statement works for the other agency, the less it will work for you. If it doesn't differentiate you from a very different agency, it certainly won't distinguish you from a similar organization. This strategy was developed by Robert Topor of Topor Consulting Group International, based in Mountain View, Calif.
A plan that focuses on identity, brand strategy and market positioning can tell you where the organization stands, where it should go and whether it is on track.
Another exercise can encourage buy-in and help minimize turf battles. Collect and analyze a broad array of your communication materials. Remember, everything "talks," from signage to how phones are answered to promotional publications. Is your identity consistently apparent? What "uniqueness" is conveyed?
Government agencies must care about identity, branding and market positioning for two reasons: mission and money. Every agency occupies some position in the minds and hearts of its constituencies. You can either proactively plan that identity, allow it to evolve on its own, or worst of all, let detractors or competitors determine your niche.
Your identity is your soul. The right identity is not just fundamental to successful marketing, but is at the core of everything your organization does.
Moshe Engelberg, Ph.D., is founder and president of ResearchWorks Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in helping socially minded companies and government agencies develop effective brand identities.