Capitalising on an unexpected consequence of covid

Local governments can capitalise on some of the unexpected opportunities that COVID-19 has presented, writes Tim Riches.

Tim Riches

One of the major side-effects of covid responses in Victoria and NSW is that people now know what an LGA is.

Residents are engaging more with their local area – even if by necessity. But with this knowledge comes a new expectation around council brands.

A strong local government brand can capture and express an authentic sense of shared local identity, supporting community engagement and improving participation in initiatives.

Consistent, contemporary branding across all services and assets will win local governments recognition for the the value they deliver. When people identify and engage with their local government, trust will grow.

On the flip side, low impact, inconsistent, poor quality branding results in poorer community recognition of the value delivered and ultimately lower trust.

So how can you ensure your local government is putting its best foot forward and, ultimately, building trust?

The importance of story

For local governments, story matters.

First, at the heart of good local government brands is a sense of people and place. A story about who the community is, its aspirations and the shared experience of place. Getting rigour and clarity into storytelling is central to the brand opportunity.

A brand strategy should articulate the core of this narrative, define its themes or pillars, distil personality into a distinct voice and frame its value propositions for visitors, investors and potential residents.

The second level at which story operates is in the story of the brand itself – directed to the council’s stakeholders.

This story brings the value of brand to life for those stakeholders. It articulates the job to be done across community engagement, critical economic development and visitor attraction.

To get to the core of this, several questions need to be addressed: What is the council doing about branding and how will it benefit individuals, businesses and communities?

A brand strategy should articulate the core of the narrative, define its themes or pillars, distil personality into a distinct voice

What’s the story of the branding process and why are we doing it now? How are we getting people involved? What will change, how will we assess the benefit and why is it a good investment?

Brand architecture – the way in which a brand identity is structured – is one of the trickiest branding challenges for local governments.

Councils deal with a complex web of services, facilities, campaigns and stakeholders, many with their own agendas.

There may be lingering generations of branding from years gone by, the brand identity may not be fit for purpose or may be poorly documented with unclear rules for application.

The net effect can be a proliferation of inconsistent, unsupported non-brands that don’t communicate well and are a waste of precious resources.

Master brand

For most local governments, the focus should be on the council master brand.

Council services, facilities and the like should generally use the master brand logo plus a descriptor. They should avoid having their own brands unless there’s provable goodwill in the service.

Creating multiple sub-brands or independent brands almost always dilutes recognition, undermining the main job of branding for councils – the ability to show up and be recognised.

This master brand-led approach should then be supported by a simple, flexible co-branding system so that council can appear alongside another brand that it does not control but is funding or collaborating with.

Controlling brand architecture is mainly about proactive communication

Controlling brand architecture is mainly about proactive communication. That means being able to tell stakeholders why a master brand-led approach is better for everyone.

It also means being able to communicate the council’s branding decision-making principles to stakeholders before they put something on the table you have to say no to. No-one likes being the brand police.

The power of brand voice

Brand voice – the written dimension of brand identity – is often over-looked. But it is a way of knitting together disparate pieces without the challenges of “rebranding”.

A well-defined brand voice brings consistency and distinctiveness – a way of writing and speaking that is recognisably “us”. Done well, it brings greater connection through a tone that resonates with a sense of local identity and human connection.

When coupled with a clarity around audience, message and response, brand voice can deliver a significant increase in communications in a user-friendly way.

In an era of increasing digitisation, an area that should come into particular focus is writing in the user interface – to bring humanity and personality into the interactions that make up an increasing part of the citizen experience.

It’s crucial that a brand is fit for purpose in today’s digital communications and service delivery environment

It’s crucial that a brand is fit for purpose in today’s digital communications and service delivery environment.

Many government brands require modernisation to perform well in digital channels facing functional problems such as accessibility and aesthetic challenges in an environment where design standards are high. Bad or dated design can make a council look out of touch with the digital world.

Get the basics right – story, brand architecture and brand voice – while demonstrating the promise through action and you’ll give your stakeholders something to believe in while fostering trust at a time when trust has never been more critical to the local government and the community it serves.

Tim Riches is a Director at branding agency Principals

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