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Branding: Defining Your Public Health Organization

This news item is the second in a 10-part series on public health communication. This installment focuses on how to develop and implement your brand.

This news item is the second in a 10-part series on public health communication. This installment focuses on how to develop and implement your brand.

May 7, 2013

When people think of the word “brand,” they might think about McDonald’s golden arches, Nike’s swoosh, and the “Always Coca-Cola” jingle. Brands are symbols, phrases, images, and colors used consistently to represent a product. But, as marketing pioneer Seth Godin puts it, these elements form just a shadow of a brand. Godin defines “brand” as including “a set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product over another.”

As public health professionals, you don’t sell products, but you do ask people to choose one behavior over another. You also ask the public to use you as a resource above other resources. Before you can hope to influence people, you have to figure out who you can be to them and how to become recognizable in their eyes.

1. Define how you are seen.

Visual cues and symbols inform the public’s first (and sometimes only) perception of your organization. Creating an approachable logo and design for your website, brochures, social media icons, and materials will reinforce the fact that you are a credible, approachable resource. NACCHO suggests that visual branding not only helps with public perception, but actually builds pride within a public health department.

2. Define how you are heard.

The importance of words—and how those words are said—cannot be overstated. Your organization should speak with a unified “voice.” Every Tweet, poster, web page, and presentation should sound like it was written by the same person, and that “person” should embody your department’s mission, vision, ideology, and position within the community. Do you want to sound like a physician? A politician? A next-door neighbor? Once you decide, consider the tone and word choices this particular voice would use. For more information on how to do this, we recommend reviewing a case study of branding for public health nurses to increase recruitment and visibility around the career.

3. Define how you are understood.

How you are seen and heard shape how you are understood and perceived in your community. Effective branding helps raise awareness about your organization, and it actually helps bolster your public health efforts. For example, a 2011 report on the Walla Walla County Health Department found that only 27% of the population was “very familiar” with their health department. This report also indicated that a familiarity with the health department correlated to healthier behaviors, like getting a flu shot. Public health branding is more than a pretty face on a website—it actually increases a community’s wellness.

4. Maintain consistency.

Once you’ve established your brand, make sure it touches everything you do. Organizations usually develop brand standards that they share with employees to ensure consistency across all divisions and outreach. Look through some of the examples listed below to get a better feel for how to use your brand effectively.

Your brand may change over time, and it may require deviation or adjustment for specific programs, audiences, or events. Your audience should drive these decisions, so keep their perspective at the forefront. Brands should not be thought of as strict rules, but rather frameworks for messaging, storytelling, and presentation.

The brand development process takes time, but it gives you the platform you need to be seen and heard in the community, and it helps bring your organization to life. Before you develop a communications campaign or dive into specific communication channels like social media, establish your brand. It will provide a solid foundation for improving the public’s health.

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