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American Public Human Services Association
American Public Human Services Association

Branding and Social Marketing

Brand identity is how the public views an entity based on everything they see and hear about it. Every organization, including a public child welfare agency, has an inherent brand identity. Sometimes the identity is the result of proactive work on the part of the agency educating stakeholders about its work through crafted messages and selected communications venues and approaches. Such proactive measures recommended and discussed throughout the Communications Chapter is often referred to as social marketing, which simply means the application of best practices in private sector marketing and communications to social services issues.

More often that not, however, an agency’s brand identity is not the result of its own proactive efforts but exists through default and is the result of an agency not having a communications plan and engaging in strategic communications. If an agency is interested in creating a brand image or in changing or improving the brand identity, a formal branding campaign and branding policy is needed and will need to be reflected in elements of the communications plan.

When disseminating the agency message, it is a good idea to make sure that everything produced has a cohesive and consistent look. Visual branding can create a look and feel for the agency via its printed materials and electronic media and can be helpful in conveying an image that builds credibility in an organization.

Branding campaigns can be intricate and complex. To do an effective, broad-reaching branding campaign from ground level will take financial and staffing resources. Any successful branding campaign should be implemented with the input and buy-in from all levels of staff, stakeholders and even the public. Otherwise, it may not be fully successful. Staff will not want to use a slogan or logo they do not believe in. The public will not relate to a brand if it does not address their needs.

Research in the branding process is useful to find out what people like or dislike about the agency’s current or proposed brand or image. Holding focus groups and interviews with all levels of staff and key stakeholders in order to create the correct message is a way to accomplish this task. A logo and a slogan need to be developed and materials such as letterhead, envelopes and labels need to be printed. But branding far surpasses just printed materials. It is a defined customer service philosophy and the way staff members answer the phone. It involves consistency in messaging, materials, how employees of all levels portray the agency, and, ultimately, how those served and stakeholders perceive the agency.

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