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Good Government Branding Builds Trust

When you think of the word “brand,” your brain likely jumps to logos, colors and taglines. While these elements are important, they’re only scratching at the surface of what a brand experience entails, especially when it comes to government branding. For government agencies, branding is about managing and strengthening how constituents see them: what is their reputation? How do they make people feel? What assumptions do people have about them? A strong government brand strategy sets the tone for constituents to effectively know who they are, what services they provide, and how they are a trustworthy source of information and support. The most important factor for an effective government brand is trust. According to recent studies, fewer than a third of Americans believe that government officials are credible. This is why a strong brand strategy and plan is crucial. Brands are always evolving, and so no matter what constituents think right now — whether that be positive or negative — there are always a number of steps that government agencies can take to foster trust and improve how they are perceived. Here are a few of them.

Create a good customer experience

Unlike the commercial sector where people choose where to shop, people rarely have a choice about whether or not to interact with government services. Some may have the option to choose between a public and private school; however, for all citizens, taxes must be filed with the IRS, and cars must be registered with the local DMV. In these cases, it’s imperative for public sector agencies to see their constituents as customers who expect a positive customer experience. Not only can it increase trust in government, but it can also facilitate interactions and processes to run more effectively and efficiently. What does a good customer experience look like for a government agency? It involves deliberate steps to:
  • Effectively answer both specific and frequently-asked questions
  • Clarify regulations that are complex or relevant to most people
  • Provide simple and clear mechanisms to pay fees and fines
  • Determine what the public needs to do, and how they can make it as easy as possible
  • Communicate changes to policies and protocols that affect constituents

Strike the right tone

Establishing trust has a lot to do with the tone in which it’s delivered and received. What tone do people need to hear from a government entity to see them as trustworthy? Should it be authoritative and academic? Would a conversational and casual tone be more effective?  The right tone is guided by its audience. For example, if a public service is trying to reach millennials, but comes across as too jargony and stiff, young people are less likely to trust them or see them as a useful resource. If targeting industry professionals but using a tone that is too basic, audiences may not see the service as relevant enough for their needs. A piece of content’s tone — from emails to social media posts — should match what constituents are looking for.

Treat personal data responsibly

Government agencies need to work hard to win or maintain the public’s trust by explaining to them exactly what is done with personal information. This is key to establishing trust. At minimum, have a comprehensive privacy policy linked to each instance where you collect email addresses, payment information, or other personally-identifiable information. These policies and procedures need to be clearly articulated so that they know what you plan to do with their data, and are aware of their privacy rights as citizens. 
  • A solid privacy policy tells the world how an organization is working to protect the data privacy rights of those they are serving. It should not be dense legalese, but written to be easily understood. Learn more.

Ask for feedback

When calling a business helpline or customer service center, it’s common practice to be asked to stay on the line at the end of the call to take a quick survey about how they did. This practice is just as relevant for government entities. Regularly gathering feedback from constituents allows the public sector to better understand what constituents want and need, while also bolstering a positive perception of an agency that is trying to improve in order to help those they serve.  A few ways to ask for feedback:
  • Emailing an annual survey to newsletter subscribers
  • Including a “was this helpful?” box at the bottom of informational web pages 
  • Setting up a call-in line for suggestions and comments
  • Creating focus groups to test new initiatives 
Based on the feedback collected, trends and brainstorming sessions go a long way to making valuable improvements. And once changes have been implemented, it’s important to go back to respondents to let them know that their suggestions were taken seriously. Sending a broader announcement to let people know their input was heard and included is also powerful as it demonstrates how their government is working hard to meet their needs and earn their trust.  If gaining trust remain a top priority in everything that a government entity communicates, then the additional branding details like updating a logo or tagline can be considered. The initial step back to check perceptions and aim to increase trust in an agency’s entire brand narrative will lay the groundwork for a positive public-constituent relationship.

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