Four more meaningful words in the realm of strategic communications may not ever be written. Brand Or Be Branded – these four words address several aspects of effective communications, especially the significance of defining a brand and then communicating it effectively. This blog is an extension of a recent blog written by my colleague, Bill James, President of Federal Business, LLC, who recently wrote on the importance of interpersonal communications while at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Information and Technology (OIT). This blog deals with organizational communications.
A quick search will generate multiple definitions of brand. Here’s my definition:
your brand is the sum of everything your market thinks they know about your organization without regard to its accuracy.
A quick search will result in multiple outstanding articles that can help an organization define its brand. I’m a fan of Simon Sinek and his many articles and videos on the topic. Market Connections, a research firm recently acquired by GovExec,has an impressive library of research on the brand in the public sector market that is definitely worth checking out.
Finally, defining your brand within the context of the public sector market will help it resonate to others in this same market.
Once defined, the next step is to develop messaging that supports the brand and can be effectively communicated to key stakeholders. In most cases, these stakeholders are both external and internal to an organization. The significance of effectively communicating proper messaging cannot be overstated. One need not look any further than the current geopolitical events, such as the Ukrainian War, to see how communications play such a crucial role in that horrible conflict.
The options for communicating are many. Certainly, advertising and event sponsorships are popular and effective options. But they can be pricey. In addition, social media, email campaigns and earned media can be less costly, measurable and effective.
Communicating a defined brand is as important for government agencies as it is for the private sector. After all, almost every organization needs to convey its organization’s purpose to key stakeholders. During my time at VA/OIT, we built DigitalVA, an external-facing website whose audience was potential IT employees and desirable contractors. It has two primary messages: come work for us and come work with us. I strongly urge everyone to subscribe to VA/OIT’s newsletter, VA Connections, click here.
“when you fail to communicate… you fail”
— Reginald Humphries, Director of Strategic Communications, VA/OIT
Obviously, defining and communicating to key stakeholders does not guarantee success however success may be defined. Yet, it’s logical that if an organization does effectively deliver its messaging that captures the what, how and why of its existence, then its chances of success are dramatically improved.
…Or Be Branded
Too often, organizations – both private and public sector – choose not to communicate their brand for a variety of reasons. I’ll try to address several reasons that I’ve heard over the years.
- We know who the decision-makers are. We’ll simply meet with them. We don’t need to spend money on communications. The acquisition process in the Federal market follows strict guidelines stated in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). These guidelines mandate numerous inputs from a variety of participants in selecting the winning proposal. Rare is the occasion that an acquisition decision is made by one person. More often, the acquisition decision is made my multiple people. Trying to call on each participant, while several are probably not obvious to the offeror, is unrealistic.
- Brand doesn’t matter in the Federal market. It’s all about lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA). LPTA is a reality in many awards. Yet, even in those occasions, decision-makers scrutinize the “price” based on their perception – both real and imagined – of the offeror’s ability to meet the deliverables at that proposed price. Federal decision-makers – like everyone – are subject to effective messaging.
- Advertising is too expensive. Advertising can be expensive. However, advertising is only one way to communicate a brand message. Social media, email newsletters, and earned media are just a few additional methods to communicate an organization’s brand.
- Unsure how to measure its success. Too often, private sector organizations – generally small to mid-sized companies – measure the success of a brand communication campaign by revenue. This method can be detrimental to an organization. Capturing revenue in the Federal market is a long, arduous, and complicated process taking many months if not years. Measuring communications by revenue will lead to erroneous conclusions which could prove to be harmful in the long run. More insightful methods of measuring success of a communications campaign is to first articulate realistic goals, such as growth in pipeline, increase of a particular market segment in your marketing database, number of downloads of a particular white paper, or an increase in social media engagement. These are tangible objectives that can be easily measured.
Finally, organizations will never entirely control the communications of their brand
Because an organization may choose not to communicate their brand does not mean there’s a lack of ongoing communications about their brand. Sources of communications of an organization’s brand are numerous. They include employees (both present and former), clients, prospects, teaming partners, and competitors (who will likely add a negative spin) just to name a few. Communications about an organization’s brand are ongoing and cannot be stopped. The best any organization can achieve is to be the dominant player in this communications campaign. An organization can establish and communicate its brand definition. After that, they will need to meet or exceed the expectations associated with that definition.
Brand or Be Branded. Pay heed to these four very powerful words.