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Notes & Planned Talking Points – GovExec #CXSummit, Nov. 2, 2017


Yesterday, November 2, 2017 I participated in an event called “The Customer Experience Summit: Building Trust In Government,” on a panel about branding and trust, in a personal capacity. The discussion was sponsored by in Washington, D.C. and included Chuck Young, Managing Director of Public Affairs at GAO, and Jeremy Zilar, Director of the GSA’s DigitalGov. It was facilitated by Frank Konkel, Executive Editor at NextGov. This was a public event with media present.

What I Planned To Say

How Do You Measure A Brand? How Should Agencies Measure Brand?

First Understand Basic Things

  • To measure a brand you first have to define what a brand is. I think of it as your image.
  • To measure a brand you also need to know what your unit of measurement is. To me the brand of an agency is complex because we are measured as part of the federal government as a whole.
  • You also need to know who your audience is, and it’s easy to say “everybody.”
  • Most agencies are not this granular.


  • Brand is measured in terms of equity. It is a math equation. It is the difference between what a consumer would pay for the branded version and what they would pay for the unbranded version. Think of a Sunkist orange.
  • In accounting terms brand is measured as goodwill.
  • There are several methodologies for brand valuation today that aim to capture what is essentially an intangible factor that leads to tangible outcomes.
  • For a consumer product you can look at things like sales, revenue, awareness, loyalty, recruitment and retention but it is often difficult to know what the source of the value is.
  • For a government brand the simplest thing and possibly the most effective is to look at what people are saying about you on social media.
  • This gets you out of your echo chamber and forces you to confront the gap between who you think you are and what your friends tell you, and how you actually appear to the public which does not care to stroke your ego.
  • If you don’t want to go on social media, ask disgruntled employees.

Customer Service and Brand

  • For many federal employees they are providing service to senior leadership. We manage up. The key is not to kiss ass but to provide rational and reasonable assessments backed by data.
  • The concept of customer service is an excellent rallying cry because it makes intuitive sense in a way that branding does not. Branding sounds like brainwashing.
  • To deliver an excellent customer experience is to be operationally sound and accountable and secondarily to provide audience segments with the information they want, need and are entitled to in a manner that makes sense to them and is easy to access.
  • It goes without saying that if the agency is dysfunctional and/or corrupt it will be impossible to build a sustainable brand absent dealing with those issues.
  • The reason is that people talk, they talk out of sight and out of reach, and their words have more impact than yours.

What I Actually Said

Reactions To My Speaking Here

  • Unlike the other speakers I am a government communicator who is frequently critical of government communication, speaking in a personal capacity. Comment: “Do you want the public affairs version or the truth” – public affairs is a mediated reality
  • When I shared this event title people thought the title of this event was a joke (“trust in government”); read an article online that actually lifted slides from an FBI PowerPoint with the message that the government is using “branding” as a form of brainwashing


  • The brand of government is the entire government, not a single agency – you’re affected by perceptions of everybody else
  • The public is equally concerned about corruption as receiving benefits

Social Media

  • Look at how the public receives, consumes, and communicates information on social media
  • The Twitter screenshot of one piece of a document, with words highlighted, can eclipse the nuance of your message – that is what you need to speak to, to get the word out
  • Anticipate and communicate proactively and frequently on social media

Unleash Your People

  • Let employees talk in their personal capacity relatively freely – give them consistent clear guidance (optimally this should be governmentwide) – it is the many messages filtered throughout culture from their personal points of view that has more impact than official speech – the Coast Guard public affairs manual is available online and is a model of excellence
  • Internal communication is optimally a Facebook type environment where employees communicate with each other – formal internal communication is important but undervalued and rarely works as versus organic talk that is unfiltered – particularly important during times of change when there is pressure from outside to streamline vs. pressure from inside to maintain the bureaucracy

Innovation and Creativity

  • A senior executive is not going to take chances on innovative programs unless innovation is in the performance plan – nobody is going to go out on a limb only to fail and be punished.
  • Creativity inside the agency is an important source of value but workplace bullying is frequent, inside and outside the government, and it’s the job of management to root out toxic employees who prevent others from contributing to their fullest (e.g. to make the agency work better, to innovate, to demonstrate great work)

The Town Square Model Of Communication

  • From the perspective of the town square (where people talk about government) public affairs speak is massaged conversation and sounds false – all the more reason to let humans speak in an unofficial capacity (with specificity about areas that are off limits)
  • Don’t focus only on your website, focus on where the public actually goes to find things out – websites and social media not managed by you
  • If you focus on your website, focus on the parts of particular interest to the public – e.g. FOIA

Ask Your Communication Experts

  • Internally it is a problem when leaders think they can communicate without any input or with minimal input from the communicators.
  • The federal government has many extremely intelligent and well-trained employees who can tell you when a message is unclear, inaccurate, misleading – use them.
  • Consider working with GSA because GSA is able to apply governmentwide standards to bear on very agency-specific environments


  • Customer service is uneven across agencies, but it works where it’s measured continuously and consistently

What The Other Experts Said

Note: Obviously they said a lot more than this…just sharing what I could recall. – DB 

Frank Konkel, NextGov, Facilitator

  • Often very difficult to understand what the government is saying
  • Difficult to get access to government subject matter experts – times have changed
  • Trust in government is obviously low – data on this is plentiful
  • How do you measure your brand – something to think about
  • Government brands don’t rank high when you look at which brands have a positive perception

Chuck Young, GAO Managing Director of Public Affairs, Co-Panelist

  • Important to get the word out about the work you’re doing
  • Important to defend your brand
  • Social media is important – “digital natives” across the agency can convene and advise on social media
  • Meticulousness about content of information versus responding to the Twitter version, which may be wildly inaccurate or may be accurate but bring up difficult points

Jeremy Zilar, GSA, Director of DigitalGov, Co-Panelist

  • Highlight the good work that is often hidden from the public
  • Focus on changing the one thing that is very annoying
  • Brand is built from a series of interactions, optimize the interactions
  • Work with agency counsel, they are your partner
  • User testing doesn’t have to be complicated; key is to incorporate this type of thinking into your communication efforts – how does it work for the user

For More Highlights From The Panel

Watch the video here or search for #cxsummit on Twitter.

Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal’s own. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of GovExec.

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