Friday, March 14, 2014

What Is A Brand, If Not Your Logo?

This week a few people shared with me how they got into government. More often than not it was accidental. It was the same with me. I did not plan to be here, and yet it's been more than a decade.

Nobody likes their job all the time. And it may seem odd that an "out of the box" person would be happy working inside the box.

So why do I like it here, in the federal government that is? Why do I stay?

The answer has to do with brand. Not logo. Brand. And these are two very different things.

A brand is nothing more or less than experience. It's that feeling you get when you go to Starbucks and that "whoosh" hits you, a time-out. It's the solicitousness of the customer service staff at Nordstrom. It's that happy-welcome-smiley thing they do at Disney.

When a lot of people experience the same kind of treatment from a particular vendor, and they are willing to pay extra money to get that treatment, then we say that the vendor has a "valuable brand."

From the perspective of a government agency, or any workplace, the brand is what employees and other stakeholders actually experience through interaction. Over time I have experienced -- not read, not heard from others, not seen on TV or in the movies, but experienced -- consistent treatment from the government as an employer:
  • Structure, though it can be hard to learn and to navigate, and though it may be disregarded at times.
  • A belief in fairness, although some people are not fair. A belief in justice. Fighting for justice when the principles of justice are violated.
  • Belief in the importance of process, although reality makes mud of our desire to "do process" at times.
  • Mission-centricity, to the point where people get extremely angry when they think the mission is being compromised. Patriotism. Gratitude to be an American who gets to serve.
  • A central dedication to actually helping people. A desire to cut through the red tape to make results happen.
  • A wacky, wry, sly and sarcastic sense of humor that you are lucky to see when you see it.
All of these are elements of the Federal brand. You will find them wherever in the government you go. And they form who we are - our moral code.

Which leads me to the conclusion. What is a brand, if it's not your logo? It is exactly that - your moral compass. Your operating principle of behavior. When your moral code is clear and consistent your behavior will be, too.

The logo, the naming system, the way you communicate, all of that other stuff is only an extension of your brand, the same way that your clothes are an extension of your personality, not a replacement for having one.

The problem with branding comes up when people use the external symbol to say it all, and forget that the brand has to come from the inside.

When people see that you deliver the same experience over and over again, they come to trust what you will deliver.

But when you say one thing and then do another, they do not know exactly what to think. And having a logo has absolutely no point.

* All opinions my own.