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Branding in the Public Sector

Brands In The Public Sector Matter to Everyone

In many areas, a public sector brand doesn’t face competition, so it doesn’t really need to sell itself. Rather, the brand needs to be what the community needs. A public sector brand provides a product, service, or support that matters to us all and has the power to make a difference in the life of a community.

If, for example, you’re a city’s transit company, like VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio or Houston’s Metro, you have vehicles on the right roads, not necessarily every road. Even on the roads not taken, the transit companies make a difference in traffic flow. A public sector brand is everywhere even when it’s not.

Still, there are challenges to building and marketing public sector brands, many of which come in the form of unforced errors brought on when the brands fail to see the big picture that is their local landscape.

Like other types of brands, public sector brands sometimes get lost in logos, product or program names, and tag lines when their purpose should always be the focus.

Public Brands with Purpose

Know your brand’s reason for being, listen to your audience, and it will become clear how to bring stories to life through the people served every day.

A public sector brand doesn’t revolve around corporate initiatives, personalities, or company announcements, but instead around customers in the community and the brand’s role in their lives.

The story of the brand’s relevance is in how it interacts with the people it serves.

For a public sector brand, there is a trust that it will do what is right for the community and will make a difference. It will be relevant to friends, family, and neighbors.

Public sector brands needed to demonstrate their relevance and humanity during the recent COVID-19 pandemic and economic slowdown. They needed to tell the story of just how essential their brands are to the life of the community.

Interrupted by Crisis

Effective brands have often laid a foundation of goodwill and good business that helps them prepare for an unknown future. It’s equal parts “do what we promised,” “check the pulse of your customer” and “make a promise that aligns with a shared future.”

VIA’s 10-year vision of a reimagined public transportation model was spectacular, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. VIA realized there was a more urgent need than educating consumers on its long-term vision. Their community’s new reality was much more pressing than ideas for the next decade. There was an urgent need to keep moving.

The brand, which had been working toward a ballot initiative in support of its vision, was immediately reminded of the essential role it played in a community during a critical moment. It needed to help Keep SA (San Antonio) Moving.

So, VIA temporarily eliminated fares during the height of the lockdown and demonstrated not only its awareness of a community’s need but also its willingness to fulfill that need. Whether it was to work, to care for a loved one, or to keep a medical appointment, VIA was going to get its riders where they needed to be, safely. It championed essential workers and empathized with its core riders, many of whom were furloughed or out of work entirely.

Because the brand was built on a solid foundation in the community, VIA could easily revise its strategy and develop new messaging without losing credibility. In fact, the brand gained new fans by clearly focusing on what was the right thing to do.

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