For those of us who have never considered themselves high-pressure sales people, this class presented a wee bit of a challenge. Studying strategies to “uncover consumer insights and apply them to brand development, customer engagement, media planning and content creation” as described in the course overview, seemed disingenuous at best. Especially when my focus has been on looking for ways to increase authentic citizen engagement.
However, the usefulness of diving into the class material became rapidly apparent as research revealed the extent of businesses devoted to increasing citizen engagement at all levels of government, local to international. If the goal was to move the needle on government-citizen engagement, I would need to create my own business venture, or formulate an acceptable job description that government agencies would want in their organization.
Exploring Brand Equity
Powell’s Bookstore 44 Years of Branding Our first class assignment asked students to assess a selected business’s brand equity by examining the brand’s current position in the industry, its effectiveness, strategy, market position and customer views. Powell’s Books, a Portland, Oregon icon, has been long-established as a reliable business. With a strong community presence, Powell’s prides itself on their sense of social responsibility to the community, fighting censorship, promoting literary awareness and encouraging writers.
My research showed Powell’s losing market share. Perhaps, Powell’s needed to look for new ways to connect its mission with customer needs? A great deal of Powell’s reputation is based on an in-person experience which is not easily replicable in today’s web-based environment. Word-of-mouth advertising coupled with up-to-date technologies that encourage and support customer ownership and tight-knit relationships with the Powell’s Books brand could help off-set that limitation. Indeed, the careful use of current technologies and social media platforms could can help spread word-of-mouth advertising, intriguing prospective customers interested in experiencing a Portlandia icon.
So, how to apply lessons in brand development and brand equity to citizen engagement?
Most businesses are founded on an idea, a dream, a vision of tomorrow. In this case, my vision was focused on supporting authentic and meaningful citizen engagement. While citizen engagement is touted as desirable and worthwhile — indeed, it is often legislatively mandated — it is also often approached by legislature and government agencies as a one-size-fits-all tactic, with token representation of the affected citizen (or customer). State and local government agencies, as implementing organizations of legislative mandates, have a crucial role in getting citizens to the planning table. Involving citizens fully and authentically in these sorts of activities, however, requires:
- Adequate resources to support citizen participation.
- Nimbleness and flexibility to meet people where they are at, in the times and places that work best for them.
- Skilled facilitation that support people in honestly and respectfully exploring their different interests, needs and life experiences.
By encouraging and supporting agencies to more meaningfully and deeply include citizens, better outcomes in program and policy implementation can be expected. In order to sell the business concept of specialized facilitation services, the proposed services needed to address the value in helping agencies plan and design programs and policies that better reflect the populations they serve. This was the question and the focus of my next three class projects:
What is the value-proposition of the proposed brand?
While it is fashionable to criticize government agencies and bureaucracy, both agencies and citizens have a vested interest in developing a deeper understanding of the role the other plays in community, social and economic development. Skilled facilitation through an intermediary (non-government employee) can:
- Help government authentically engage citizens, especially the marginalized and disenfranchised people.
- Help citizens go fully claim their roles and power in participatory democracy.
The proposed business services would address the need for greater citizen participation in developing the policies and programs created by agencies in response to the laws passed by elected representatives. Authentic citizen engagement is the missing “process” link between legislation and government agency implementation. Citizen participation is not limited to voting activities, and is crucial at all stages of a participatory democracy. Unfortunately, full participation is currently limited. I developed a simple flow chart to demonstrate possible leverage areas where government agencies could benefit from facilitation services:
- Better identify the voices they need at the table, especially those of marginalized or disenfranchised people, whose input is critical to developing policies and services that meet their interests and needs.
- Support honest and respectful dialogue that allows safe exploration of different perspectives and encourages openness to and curiosity about new ideas and approaches to concerns and issues.
Supporting safe and productive interactions can result in citizen-driven solutions that better meet citizen interests and needs, which then have better outcomes and better meet government goals and objectives in a respectful and trusting partnership.
Please click here to review this work.