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Brand Alignment for Governments

There’s a clear difference that I see between destinations with strong brands and those without. It’s a consistent trend and it pertains to brand alignment.

Brand alignment is a measure of how well your destination states its value promise across all departments, to all audiences. The strength of your destination’s brand alignment is driven by how well your departments are aligned with your brand’s key messages.

For virtually all cities and towns, there are – or should be:

The “Umbrella” Brand: a general brand promise with corresponding messaging, imagery, and media outreach that supports and reinforces more specific efforts.

The Economic Development Brand: a value promise that speaks to entrepreneurs, developers, and investors, speaking to what matters to them most. This includes workforce, innovation, connectivity, etc.

The Community Brand: a message and strategy for residents that builds community pride. This brand promise helps to improve the quality of life within the locality. It’s often bundled with Parks & Recreation.

And finally, the Tourism Brand: the promise, messaging, strategy, etc. to encourage visitation. Most of the time, this brand is the loudest and strongest in smaller cities and towns.
Most small cities (or towns, counties, etc.) only have one and it’s usually either an umbrella or a tourism brand. Many that have more than one brand run into the issue of poor brand alignment, where these brands can confuse or even contradict or work against one another.

How do you achieve brand alignment?

Below are some steps to take that can get your departments aligned, deliver unique but complementary value promises, and break you out of the “A Great Place to Live, Work, and Play” rut that many areas fall into.

1. 360-Degree Research

Departments are likely to ignore or work around any brand guidelines if they’re not bought into the process. Starting with directors of your community, assemble a brand development task force, facilitated by an external authority. An experienced branding expert will guide the process of initial alignment, goals, challenges, and smooth the road ahead.

Next, you’ll need internal research, by department. Your agency should be able to help you create the initial brand surveys, which are intended to get genuine insight from those that live the brand every day.

A couple of quick tips: allow the responses to remain anonymous. You’ll get more truth that way. Also, schedule their time to complete the survey. If they know they have a block of time to complete it and feel more pre-committed, the better responses you’ll see.

The results of those surveys will give you an inside view. Next, you’ll want to reach out to the public. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier article about community surveys, this has to be expertly conducted. Ideally, you want the surveys to be targeted so that the results you get speak directly to each department. Some approaches include:

  • Tourism: QR codes placed as restaurant table-tops or signage at hotel front desks.
  • Economic Development: a personalized, emailed survey to existing businesses in targeted industries.
  • Community: multi-channel social outreach with media promotion

Performing a survey just for an umbrella brand will give you muddy results. Taking a multi-prong approach will keep your results relevant and more actionable.

The results from these surveys will give you a complete view of how your brand is perceived inside and out.

2. Build Solid Brand Guidelines

After the brand development is complete (which is a topic for many other articles in itself, including this one), you’ll want to make sure that you’ve built solid guidelines. These should be comprehensive enough to maintain brand alignment, but not too constrictive.

Brand guidelines are easier to enforce if it’s created as a team effort. I know, this process can feel like giving birth to a Volkswagen but the result is a brand that’s owned by every department and needs less enforcement. Remember – brand alignment is stronger, more authentic, and more consistent when everyone is on the same page.

Your brand guidelines document is the Constitution of your brand. It doesn’t need to be incredibly long – in fact, it shouldn’t be. Long documents are more often ignored. What you need in a brand guide should include:

  • Logo and departmental logo usage with spatial requirements
  • Primary and secondary color palette with builds
  • Typefaces with Microsoft Office equivalents
  • Messaging matrix built by need and audience
  • Message tone and voice
  • Social media graphic/copy direction and page graphics
  • Commonly used templates (email marketing, printed materials, wayfinding) and guidelines

With the framework of well-established brand guidelines, you’re setting the boundaries that ensure brand alignment.

3. Don’t Set and Forget

The practice of brand alignment isn’t a one-off thing. In order for the department brands to run rampant and put your destination where it was at the beginning of all of this work, you need communication and attention to benchmarks.

The branding task force should check in a couple of times a year, keep an eye on each other’s progress, and share experiences that have taught them to adapt and improve their own marketing with this new brand. There’s no replacement for this exercise. Reviewing with your team on a quarterly basis is also helpful to make sure that the new brand is meeting your own objectives.

You should see an increase in your KPIs with a well-built brand. Benchmark and track progress as you go.

In conclusion, brand alignment doesn’t just happen. Brand dis-alignment certainly does. Well-planned and executed brand development with collaboration and getting the hard work done at the beginning will reward your destination with a brand that will attract, excite, and endure.

Where does your brand stand? What's your path to brand alignment?

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Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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