Council Branding: Why Councils Should Be Building Brands
Council branding is tough. In the UK, our Council’s are split into many levels. You can understand how your council works by visiting .gov.uk.
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Essentially, though, there are three main tiers of Council:
- County Councils
- District Borough and City Councils
- Parish, Community and Town Councils
Each level of Council is responsible for different things across their area. Again, these are outlined on the .gov.uk site linked to above.
You might think to yourself “Oh, boring… Councils are councils. They’re dull; they’re not exciting, they never do anything anyway!”
Here’s the deal:
That’s simply not true.
We work with a Parish level council in the North East of England called Seaton Valley Community Council, and they’re always breaking their backs for the betterment of their local area.
They get involved with local community groups, work closely with youth teams, help fund activities across the Valley, and that’s before you even move onto the more “boring” stuff.
Sure, there’s budgets and Council meetings, and the dreaded Council Tax to deal with, but that’s not all that they do!
And that’s why it’s important for Council’s, of every level, to start building their own brand!
Why Is Council Branding Important?
Council’s need to build their brand for many of the same reasons that businesses need to build their brand. Recognition, trust, respect and professionalism are often mentioned when people define branding or its importance. And council branding is becoming important.
Let’s take a look at this in more detail:
Council Branding Builds Recognition
A strong brand builds recognition. Look at McDonald’s. Their brand identity has barely ever changed. Sure, they change up the packaging now and again, but those illuminated golden arches are ever present.
Council branding can be different, as normally it’s not a money-making exercise, but the underlying values are the same.
By having a strong brand identity design, people begin to recognise your council brand.
First, they see it on workers jackets, then on signage in the area, then on marketing materials and so on.
Over time, recognition builds…
It Helps To Build Trust
Once people have started to recognise the Council’s brand, they begin to trust it.
Your council’s logo is put at the bottom of a poster for the Christmas lights switch-on event. People see it, recognise it and think:
“Hey, this event is organised by our local council, and they’re doing a lot of good work in the area. Let’s take the children along and support it.”
Obviously, you want people to recognise you for all of the right reasons.
Here’s another example:
Imagine you’re conducting a local survey about the state of transport in your area.
If you’re wearing a hi-visibility jacket with your Council’s logo design on the back, people will recognise that, and hopefully, you can use that trust to get them to open up to you.
Trust goes a long way, and if people start to trust your Council, it will open up a lot of doors. Soon you’ll be finding out what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and your residents will become more engaged.
But how do you begin to build recognition and trust?
Consistency is key when it comes to branding. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
First and foremost:
The material that you put out into the public domain as a Council should have one consistent look and feel. Your Council logo needs to be on there, and the visual identity needs to be consistent — whether that’s a poster for your Garden Competition or signage for your new Bus Shelters.
But, it’s not just about the visual.
Consistency in branding comes back to delivering on your promises.
If you promise to go out and visit a community group; go and do it. If you send out an email saying a consultation will be held on X date at X time, you need to make sure that goes ahead, no matter what. If people turn up to that event and it’s not happening, they’ll be disillusioned and lose faith in your efforts.
Your Council branding strategy needs to start with building recognition and trust.
Using Branding to Set Your Council Apart
You can use branding and brand identity to set your Council apart.
Think about it: how many great looking Council brands and events do you see? Not many.
Empower your Council with a brand. Make waves where others aren’t, and people will start taking notice.
And that’s exactly what’s happened with Canny.
We’ve been working with Seaton Valley Council for a little over two years now. Maybe six months ago, they let us know that their new website was making an impact and other Councils had been asking who designed it.
Then early in January, we had another Council reach out to us for help.
By starting the wheels in motion, you can make a positive impact in and around the area you live and work.
So why not move into the white space and be a difference maker? Be the leader, get in first and make the biggest splash.
Why Crowdsourcing Your Council’s Design Work Isn’t a Good Idea
I’m going to put it out there now:
Crowdsourcing is never a good idea. Not now, not ever.
It’s unfair to ask designers and design agencies to produce concept work or ideas, on the basis of “If we like it, we’ll pay you.”
Where else do you see this sort of behaviour? Nowhere.
You don’t go to work for free, for someone to judge each task you do, and then assess whether you deserve to be paid.
And it’s not only this that makes it a bad idea.
Think about when you take your car to a garage; you take it to the garage you know and trust. You know they’ll do the job, and they won’t try and pull the wool over your eyes and take your money for nothing.
You don’t chop and change (and you certainly don’t ask them and five others to fix your car, and only pay the one you liked the best!)
Building a great relationship with your design partner is the best way to get outstanding results in the long term.
And more than the moral reasons behind choosing not to crowdsource, it’s the strength of relationship building that should win out.
The more you work with one partner, the more you learn about each other.
You learn that they’ll respond quickest around 9 am. You learn that even though it’s “out of office” that they’ll answer at 7 pm on a Wednesday because they’re working late that night.
You learn to respect each other’s time, boundaries and opinions.
I once told the Council we work with that the idea they had for the front cover of their quarterly newsletter was atrocious.
They told me a price I’d quoted for some work was far too high, and we ended up working something else out. The price also filters down into your design and stylistic choices.
We learned the style of design that works for the Council, and what was well received by their residents. Flat, illustrated and sometimes conceptual is what has worked for them. Sometimes pieces with a little bit of history or social commentary also worked.
And these are the things you end up learning, by choosing a design partner, and not having a mix of creatives working on your Council’s branding.
Why Chasing The Cheapest Price Won’t Work Out
Notice we’ve not talked about pricing at all yet? Well, I wanted to let you know about the benefits of building a relationship with a professional design agency before telling you this:
We’ve lost Council branding work recently because we weren’t the cheapest quote they received.
And that’s fine.
We’re not competing on price. We have no interest in being the lowest priced option. We’re focused on bringing an incredibly high level of service to our clients, and we can’t do that for cheap.
Here’s the thing with cheap design:
It’s cheap for a reason. Remember, pay peanuts and get monkeys.
You’re bound to get a lot of low-cost quotes, but can these people really provide the value you need?
Are they willing to pop into the office when they’re needed? Can they come along and see where the signs they’re going to be designing will be getting installed? Can they come, see the space in which you need some work, help measure it and advise on the best solutions?
Perhaps. But after the second or third time you require changes or updates, their £100 budget will be running out, and their patience will be wearing thin.
And not to mention, quality designers know their worth, and if you’re receiving low quotes, there’s a high chance the work won’t be that good when it’s finally delivered.
Will they rework it? Will they charge you for revisions? Will they charge you extra time for all of the trips they made to see you?
Consider all of that, then factor in the strength of a great relationship; you have to wonder whether chasing the lowest price is the best option for your Council’s branding project.
Unifying Your Council’s Brand Identity
Public sector workers and ideas can chop and change. Sometimes, this means several people have had an input into the Council’s branding strategy, and sometimes they’ve even started to play around with (destroy) the brand identity of the Council.
If a design firm isn’t brought in at ground zero, things can become a bit of a mishmash — even if all of the work has been carried out by one company.
It becomes a mishmash easily:
When new staff members are brought in, or people move around, plans change. Things can then start to go awry unless a solid brand strategy is in place.
And, just like the crowdsourcing problem, this is no good for your Council branding.
Different people have different views on how the Council should look, what events they should be supporting, how they communicate with residents and how they act within their respective communities. And when several people keep dipping in and out of one project over many months, things can get out of control quickly.
And this is where a good design agency can step in and help.
By reaching out to a design agency or consultant for help, you’re taking the first step in putting things right.
Your chosen brand partner should be able to help you develop and execute a brand strategy and realise a visual identity for your Council.
We’ve worked with Seaton Valley regularly for nearly three years, and even now we’re still seeing printed documents and emails flying around that don’t match with the rest of the brand. It can be a long process to get everything looking and feeling consistent.
Your Council’s branding strategy isn’t just about the visuals, though. You also need to have your staff team on board.
If only one team member is getting behind your new brand strategy, then it won’t work at all.
Nothing will undermine your brand values and visuals more than someone in the office ripping up quality design work in Publisher and repurposing it.
Everyone has to be pushing in the same direction, and you also need to choose a design agency that’s the perfect fit for your brand.
What Sort of Thing Can a Reliable Design Agency Do For Your Council?
A reliable and professional design agency can add a lot of value to your Council’s brand. Here are some of the things we’ve worked on with Councils in the past:
Sometimes it’s just not feasible to change your Council logo design entirely. Other times it is. And in either situation, your chosen agency will be able to step in.
A lot of Councils have a crest or emblem that really can’t be adapted or changed at all. The trick there is for your design agency to make the most of what exists already. If you don’t have that file in print ready format or a vector format, that should be the first port of call.
Then, they can look at ways of building out your brand identity beyond a logo design. For example, you could be looking at documenting a vision for the brand, constructing brand guidelines and more.
If your logo or emblem is up for debate, then that’s music to your designer’s ears. There’s nothing we like more at Canny than complete rebranding projects.
In this situation, you need your design agency to be all hands on deck, asking questions of the public, of the Council staff, of Councillors and in partnership, developing a new visual direction for the Council’s brand identity.
The best way to achieve consistency through your Council branding strategy is to work with a design agency to formulate a brand guideline document.
This document should outline the usage of your logo, colours, typefaces, space around the logo, illustrative style, photography style and more.
A brand guideline is then used or sent out to any creative partners, groups, or individuals that will be using or working with your brand identity.
This document will come in handy, and it’s definitely something we recommend all Council’s should have in place.
Whether you’re looking to advertise Christmas lights switch-ons, garden competitions, photography competitions or something else entirely, your design agency can help build your Council’s brand through well-designed (and eye-catching) events posters.
Combine uniquely designed events posters (or a rotation of well-designed posters) with your logo and marketing materials, and people will start to recognise and trust your brand. The events become well attended and end up recognised and discussed within your community.
Marketing and Communication
For Seaton Valley, we design a quarterly magazine that gets distributed to every house across the valley.
This sort of marketing and communication material can appear to be quite costly at the outset, but when broken down, it costs less than 50p to have a 16-page magazine delivered to each resident every quarter.
And this magazine is a great way of keeping residents and businesses up to date with what’s going on across your service area.
Another benefit of a regular magazine or similar publication is that it allows you to sell advertising and build revenue. Over time, you can demand higher prices for advertising and eventually the magazine will become cost neutral, allowing you to communicate with your residents for free.
Website, Social Channels, and Online Presence
Keeping consistency between your Council’s branding and online presence is also massively important.
It’s no good having good looking print work, and a shoddy looking website. In this day and age, more people will see your website or social media than your posters.
Council websites should be clean, easy to navigate and informative. Nobody wants to visit a website to report a missed bin or apply for a waste permit, then spend a lot of time looking for information on how to do it. Don’t hide your information away!
Stay consistent across your chosen social channels, and make sure your website is up to date and easy to use, and you can’t go far wrong.
By consolidating all of your Council branding touch-points, it becomes easier to build trust and brand recognition.
But like I’ve mentioned several times already in this post. It’s not just about the visual elements of your brand identity.
The core elements of what makes up your Council’s brand come before any visuals are designed. It’s about the belief system that’s instilled in the employees, and the message you put across to your residents.
Ensuring that each of your Council’s touch points is of the same high quality, and looks great, will go a long way to achieving what we talked about earlier: recognition and trust.
So, What’s The Importance of Council Branding?
Council branding is important because it helps your build recognition and trust and it lets your residents know what to expect from you as a governing body.
With a consistent approach to your brand identity, you can improve your Council’s visual appeal and recognition across the area you function.
Whole countries and regions are making a bid to appeal to tourists, and it would be wise of Council’s to follow suit. If as a Council you can make your area a desirable location for people to visit and live, then you can reap long-term rewards.
But, Which Places Already Have a Strong Brand Identity?
Place and city branding are huge business. There are already a lot of destinations cashing in on the value of brand building.
Let’s take a look at some of the most successful council branding examples:
The City of Melbourne, Australia
Landor Associates brought a fresh new look to Australian city Melbourne back in 2009. The City’s mayor said this about the rebrand:
The new design will become an icon for melbourne, synonymous with the modern, vibrant, cool city melbourne is today and will continue to be in the future.
The cost of rebranding Melbourne was reportedly somewhere in the range of $200,000. However, it was staged over a period. The first phase was the research, and then the actual design work took place.
Overhauling Melbourne’s brand was a huge project, and not many other city or place branding projects would be anywhere near this size.
Except for the next city on the list…
New York City, USA
Wolff Olins worked to rebrand New York City, one of the biggest and busiest cities on the planet. NYC is made up of five boroughs, approximately 191 neighborhoods, nearly a million buildings and over 8.2 million people.
The impact of Wolff Olin’s rebrand on the city was huge. Directly from their website:
The NYC brand has become the singular and strong voice for the city. It is now used across a range of city-wide initiatives, including greenNYC, BeFitNYC and milliontreesNYC. The new brand has driven tourism marketing, and comes alive in the city’s visitor center, NYCgo. In 2007, the year following the launch, the number of visitors to the city increased by 5%, resulting in the creation of 350,000 jobs. 2010 became a record breaking year, with 49 million visitors, generating $31 billion in visitor spending and propelling New York City to the most popular tourism destination in the US for the first time in 20 years.
If New York City can change their brand identity, then your Council can do it too!
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The hugely popular “I Amsterdam” campaign from Kesselskramer (in conjunction with Amsterdam Partners) is a photography campaign designed to give a personal and diverse portrait of the city of Amsterdam.
The campaign grew out and formed the basis for the new brand identity for Amsterdam. With the city’s brand being badly managed until 2004, I Amsterdam was developed to give the city a new look and bring consistency to the way the city presents itself in the global market.
Sure, all of these examples are cities, but the same value and principles apply to branding your Council’s service area. Like I said earlier, get in ahead of the wave. It’s coming, so be the first one to ride it!
A strong brand will help your Council compete in the marketplace. Residents, businesses, and visitors can be attracted or retained through your brand’s articulation, defining characteristics and differentiation.
Partnering with a reliable and professional design agency is the best way to build and grow your Council’s brand and whilst branding isn’t purely about the visuals, they certainly do help.
Place and destination branding are seeing a massive upswing, so get your Council branding in line and get in on the action. Sure, you may be the first in your area to do it, but watch how many follow suit once you do!
If you have any experience working with Council’s and their branding problems, or if you’re a Council looking for help, we’d love to hear from you! Either contact us or leave us a comment below.