Changing perceptions

A fresh identity is a surefire way to change the image of local authorities, if it is consistently implemented. But the right identity can also save money.

Whether it’s within the corporate or civic sector, the introduction of a new identity is an attempt to reassert brand values, reflect a new direction for a business, or a way of wiping the slate clean and starting over.

In a broad sense, a local authority must act like a business in terms of providing efficient and economical services to a defined market. Sometimes, as in the corporate sector, these objectives are not met. But it is communities rather than profits that suffer when councils don’t live up to their brand values.

So what can an identity do to improve the relationship between a borough and its residents, and provide tangible benefits for the community?

Lambeth Council in south London is among the most notorious boroughs in Britain, beset by problems for decades, from riots in Brixton to widespread non-payment of community taxes and accusations of a Loony Left political agenda in operation. But, it has rebranded and relaunches under the new banner name of Lambeth, dropping the old council descriptor, with an identity by Felton Communication.

Robert Blower, director of communications for Lambeth, believes that there are definite benefits to come from the new image which can be transferred, in quantifiable terms, to the community.

This includes money saved during the application of the identity. Lambeth, like all councils, provides a vast range of services, all of which operate under a variation of the council identity, with inconsistency in its application widespread. As a result, says Blower, the public has become confused by, and distanced from, the council’s message.

Under the new identity, which is to be implemented over the next few years, all council service providers will carry the logo, as will all service brands, such as housing and education. Everything will be unified under one identity, making application easier and saving money.

Coventry City Council, which plans to launch its new identity in January, has experienced similar problems, says Phil Townshend, cabinet member, service coordination for the council. “There were technical difficulties in the application of the existing identity, which is still operational until we use up current stocks of stationery,” he explains. “The new identity will be much easier to apply, particularly because of the new colour palette used. The cost savings for the first year of implementation are expected to be around £200 000.”

As in Lambeth, there were inconsistencies in the application of the brand. “The new logo,” says John Spencer, creative partner at Spencer Landor, the design group that created the new identity, “provides clarity and transparency of services. Organisations such as Coventry have to demonstrate what they are doing. It does that by how the logo is implemented and applied, rather than the logo itself.”

Blower agrees that the community needs to have a clear understanding of the authority’s brand values and believes an identity can go some way to achieving that. “Design is visual and tangible. The identity goes some way to making sure that the community buys into our vision.

“Design is a trigger for change, a shortcut for putting across new values and a new direction. It is not cosmetic as long as you look at your objectives,” he adds.

The Greater London Authority has also just launched its new identity, designed by advertising agency EuroRSCG Wnek Gosper. Harry Barlow, communications advisor to London Mayor Ken Livingstone, reiterates the importance of communicating with the target audience. “It’s your message and how you put it across that counts,” he says.

Making sure that values are recognised and understood within the organisation is also necessary. Internal research by Coventry City Council shows that staff members have negative impressions of the existing logo. “If they are faced with an image they are not happy with, it reflects back on to the community,” says Spencer.

Roger Felton of Felton Communication agrees, “The old identity was dated and reminded people of the old Lambeth. The new identity gives the borough a new lease of life and if it does nothing else apart from raising the self-esteem of council workers then it will have done some good,” he says.

A new identity also raises the profile of a borough. Blower, who used to work in the private sector before joining Lambeth, knows it is important for brands operating in the civic sector to look professional.

“If you have a strong identity it makes businesses feel more comfortable working with you, and stimulates pride in council workers, which hopefully translates to the community.”

Barlow agrees. “The way it will be used, such as branding of events such as the Notting Hill Carnival and St Patrick’s Day, and encouraging businesses to come to the capital, will create a pride of the city among Londoners.”

Although brand identities in the corporate and civic sectors work to similar objectives, there are those that believe identities operating in the civic sector work harder and are stretched further. “In the corporate sector you look for an identity that will target your market. With a civic logo you need something broader because a local authority needs to be many things for many people,” maintains Townshend.

Barlow thinks it’s not simply about marketing a service. “It’s an interchange between people, between ourselves and Londoners that goes beyond what a company logo tries to achieve,” he says.

A visual identity can be seen as trying to achieve many things. As long as it is a generator for positive change, it has worked.

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