Why does the public sector get branding so wrong?

From a sector that was such a late adopter of marketing communications, it seems to have embraced the concepts of brands as a panacea for all ills. However the misunderstanding of some of the basic principles is like giving the young George Washington a chain saw. 

The first principles behind branding must be clarity and differentiation, but the public sector seems to spawn a myriad brands for every department, division, product, quango, agency or office. Each of these fiefdoms demands its own share of voice with the result that the poor consumer of these services is presented with a confusing tangled of ill-differentiated brands. Documents, ads, websites etc. are then covered with conflicting logos – more spattered than a decorator’s radio. No commercial organisation would spend so much time and money competing with itself for its customers’ attention. 

The work I have done with SMEs underlines that confusion as they struggle to know which organisation or department to turn to for help. 

The other point which is missed is long term investment in a brand.  Any commercial organisation thinks long and hard before changing or tinkering with their brand. They recognise their long term investment in their brand and its values.  The public sector on the other hand seems to delight in developing, changing, re-branding and re-launching faster than they can communicate with their audience. 

One thing should be understood, the most successful brands have little to do with clever ideas, cute names or flashy design. They are about clarity, consistent communications and a consistent offer. 

Keep it simple – don’t tinker – don’t change – prune, prune, prune.


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