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Rebranding Local Government

EDITOR’S NOTE: We continue our publication of the ASPA Founders’ Forum Fellow (FFF) papers with this piece, number 7 of 14. As stated previously, the papers will appear in alphabetical order, with two papers posted each week until all 14 are online.


Jason Nau

Developing a brand is the most important action an organization will face during its existence. Once a brand is created, whatever expectation the brand delivers to the customer, is exactly what the customer will expect to receive. Unfortunately for local government, during the recent past, our product has been unaccepted by our customers. I believe that through re-branding local government, we can turn the hearts of our customers towards all the positives we achieve.

During an interview with CNN Money’s Betsy Morris, Steve Jobs was quoted saying the following, “It’s {product branding} not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too” (Morris, 2008).  Jobs mindset here is exactly what we must have as public administrators; in order to have a brand that our customers love, we must choose wisely what products we take to the market.

I use Steve Jobs’ example because he has achieved an amazing feat; he has created products, that even during an economic recession, people will still buy for a high price.  Over the past two years, during the current recession, Jobs released the revolutionary iPad.  iPads cost on average over two times the amount of any other tablet on the market, yet Apple’s sales of iPads are expected to double any other brand of tablet on the market (Satariano, 2011).  Apple is achieving this because they have created an extremely faithful following that will purchase every new Apple product, no matter what the price.  This all relates back to Apple’s brand and knowing what products should be developed a taken to the market.

Understanding this, I would like to assume, that if an organization’s brand is positive enough, the public would follow that brand even during less then ideal situations.  Local government currently is overwhelmed by a brand that the public does not want and will not follow.  This lack of loyalty and faith was arose by local governments creating products that were substandard and unattractive to the public.

Over the past 10 years, the Sacramento County’s libraries have seen a steady decline in public participation and overall circulation of books (Turner, 2011).  The current trend is that citizens are not renewing their library cards, and some even do not know where the libraries are.  Sacramento County libraries have been one of the landmark destinations for county residents for a long time, why the sudden drop in interest?  I attribute this to the library’s lack of maintaining a current and desirable brand.

While recently visiting the Sacramento area, I interviewed Heather Bills a Rancho Cordova citizen, on why she felt the libraries are struggling, she said, “…the libraries are stuck in the old way of doing things, none of the events are current or up-to-date”.  Notice her answer did not mention a lack of books or services, but rather it just seemed “old.”  These libraries have been sticking with what has worked, so by choice, they were not ready for what now works.

Public administration must accept and integrate this concept that branding is not a one-time event, but a consistently evolving process.  By branding once and thinking it will last forever, public administration will experience what is happening with the Sacramento County libraries.  As our society develops and changes, public administration must keep a steady eye on what lies ahead.  By maintaining this focus on the horizon, in search of potential changes to branding, public administration will not be caught in an old brand that no one wants.  In order to achieve this, public administration must be willing to step onto a ledge and be the frontrunner for change.

In Eagle Mountain, UT, they recently experienced stepping onto a ledge.  Eagle Mountain is a city that is just close enough to bigger cities that you feel you are a city slicker; but at the same time, just far away that you feel you are a cowboy.  Unfortunately, many retail and bigger businesses see them as cowboys, so they are battling with their brand to help boost economic development in the city.  So Eagle Mountain decided to think outside the box, step onto the ledge, and proactively change their brand.

Eagle Mountain recently developed a “business incubator”; this incubator is a fully furnished office building the city has developed without the use of taxpayers money (Alvarez, 2010), and offers qualifying businesses free rent for a year, and then modest increases to rent for years two and three.  The businesses participating in the incubator have generated positive results in growth and income. Keeping this form of growth mindset has been a blessing for Eagle Mountain and they are no on the cusp on transforming a preexisting brand, to a brand of high economic developmental value and desirability.

Transforming public administration’s brand into a positive and desirable product for the public, will require a complete adjustment to what we have been doing, to one that is evolved for what will work now.  The American public is desperate for a local government brand that is worth holding on to, worth sacrificing for, and worth being prideful for. Until we adapt and change out current brand to what the public needs, they will continue to find solace in an iPad, something that will never give them lasting value, like a well branded local government can.

Jason Nau is a student at Brigham Young University. Email: [email protected]

Constructive comments and responses to the papers are encouraged and can be submitted directly to the scholar at their email address listed below each article, or by clicking on Post A Comment below each article.

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