Every entity that interacts and communicates with the public needs a brand. A brand is a way to present yourself to people – something that makes you instantly recognizable and reminds your audience who you are. That’s just as true as government entities as it is of privately-held corporations.
Of course, there are some things about branding a government entity, whether it’s a municipality or an agency that differ from branding a consumer-oriented business. As a government entity, you’re not trying to sell a product. Rather, the key is to establish trust and reliability in the long run.
How Government Branding Differs from Commercial Branding
Let’s begin by talking about how government branding works. There are some clear differences between government branding and consumer branding.
Instilling Trust and Respect
The first and biggest thing that the brand of a government entity must do is establish trust. It’s important to keep in mind that government entities work for the public and not the other way around. That’s basic civics, but it can be easy to lose sight of that when walking in the world of marketing.
The brand that you establish, including your logo, must convey trust to everybody who sees it. Many government entities in the United States use the United States’ colors of red, white, and blue to express their connection to the country as a whole. Traditional colors help to inspire confidence.
The same is true of the fonts you choose. Many government entities choose Serif fonts, which are classic and maybe even a bit old-fashioned, for their logos and letterhead. Others use Sans Serif, which is a bit more modern but still professional and easy to read.
There are other ways to convey trust, including the symbols and images that appear in your logo. For example, a local park service might include an image of a ranger to remind the public of the people who work to protect the public land.
How to Create a Balanced Brand
One of the most difficult things for a government entity to do is to appear modern and relevant while also embracing tradition and patriotism. It’s a balancing act.
You can achieve that balance by combining patriotic colors with a modern flair. This logo that we designed for a local election board is a good example. It uses the stars and stripes, but imposes them onto the shape of the county.
The addition of some gold lettering in a modern font makes this logo more than just a placeholder.
When attempting to achieve balance with your branding, including your logo, try to remember what the public wants and expects from you and balance that against design considerations.
Example of Government Logo
Now let’s look at a sample logo in a bit more depth. Not every government logo needs to be red, white, and blue to be effective.
This logo is one we designed for the International Council for Quality Care, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of medical care around the world. This is the logo we designed for them:
As you can see, this logo uses gold. Psychologically speaking, gold can represent various things in a logo. In some instances, it may symbolize wealth, luxury, or exclusivity. However, in this logo the choice of gold symbolizes excellence. This organization aims to create an international gold standard for physicians.
The gold combines with the image of a caduceus, the medical staff with a snake around. This, too, is an internationally-recognized symbol that lets people know, instantly, that the care referenced in the organization’s name is medical care.
The shape of the logo is a circle, which in ordinary circumstances might convey hominess, warmth, and security. Certainly security is relevant here, but in this case the circle is a seal which gives conveys the idea that this organization serves in an official capacity.
Taken together, the gold, caduceus, and seal shape do a great deal to establish trust and authority while still providing some excitement. It’s a memorable logo.
Building a Positive Public Image
There are few things more essential for a government entity than building a positive public image. When people mistrust the government it can lead to serious problems both in terms of civic responsibility and civic trust.
Marketing a public entity varies from marketing a private company in some significant ways. First and foremost, you’re not trying to sell a product, per se. Instead, you want people to find the value in what you do. You may also want them to:
1) Feel comfortable turning to you in times of need
2) Be prepared to do their duty when required (e.g. voting or serving on a jury, to name two examples)
3) Have confidence that they can count on you to do what is needed
In other words, marketing a government entity entails thinking about how you want people to think of you, and then creating content and marketing material that helps foster the image you want.
Symbols of Service
Symbols plan an important part in branding government entities, and they fall into two categories. The first category includes symbols of service.
Symbols of service help illustrate what you do. For example, a logo for the park service might include images of trees as well as colors that remind the people who seem them of nature, such as green, brown, and blue.
When you think about how to present yourself to the public, think about the images that they expect to see, as well as considering what you do and how you can visually represent it in your marketing.
Symbols of Trust
The second type of symbol to include in your branding is a symbol that represents trust. Trust symbols can be subtle, such as the seal shape we used in the logo highlighted above. However, they may also include other images.
One example of a trust image might be a gavel or scales to represent justice. Sometimes, trust images and symbols of services overlap.
It’s also important to note that, as stated earlier, colors and fonts play a part in establishing trust. Finding new ways to establish and represent trust is a must when communicating with the public.
Marketing and Communication for Government Entities
Creating a trustworthy brand is only one part of the battle when it comes to communicating with the public. You also have to be know how and when to share with the people who you represent.
How to Use Social Media Efficiently
Many government entities maintain a presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. These sites make it easy for you to communicate directly with the public on important issues and they also provide a way for you to establish trust and authority.
You have a lot of options when it comes to using social media. Here are a few ideas that you might want to consider.
1) Figure out which information your followers are most interested in and then post it regularly. You don’t have to guess – consider taking a survey or asking for feedback in the comments.
2) Make sure to post frequently – but not too frequently. A good rule of thumb is to do two or three Facebook updates per day, for example. You don’t want your followers to feel that your posting is intrusive, but it’s a good idea to make sure that they don’t forget about you, either.
3)Keep in mind that some social media platforms are more suited for certain kinds of content than others. Facebook is ideal for posting a mix of content that includes writing, graphics, and video. Pinterest is strictly for visual content, but you may include photographs, sketches, or even infographics.
You don’t have to have a presence on every social media site to be effective. Pick a few where you feel confident that your public is active, and then use them appropriately.
What to Share with Your Followers
The final thing to consider with content marketing is what kind of content to share with your followers. Here are a few things that you might want to try:
1) Post updates about new legislation or regulations that affect what you do.
2) Share profiles of government officials or civil servants and highlight their work.
3) Tell followers about your success stories.
4) Encourage involvement where it’s appropriate – for example, an election board might post reminders to register to vote.
5) Create and share infographics to explain complex ideas and data.
You can also feel free to use some humor where it feels appropriate. Federal agencies might want to adopt a serious tone, but it’s not uncommon for local police departments and other entities to let their funny side show when sharing safety tips and other useful information with their followers.
The key to creating a meaningful and effective brand for a government entity is to start with a foundation of trust and build from there. The colors, fonts, symbols, and methods you use all play a role in creating confidence in your agency or organization.