I asked French Caldwell, my colleague and analyst at Gartner. He said, “At this point 800,000 of the 2.1 million government workers are not required to go to work. The other 1.3 million have to show up. But social security checks will continue, food stamps will still be provided, Medicare claims will be processed, and passports will still be issued. The typical citizen won’t notice much for a while, unless you had a vacation planned to a national park.”

So what’s the impact on the “citizen’s experience”?

Unlike many “customer experiences” that are developed to appeal to various types of buyers, at different points in time, this one impacts all of us simultaneously. Now that’s an enticing Petri dish to watch. So what will we miss and how will this situation impact the Federal Government’s brand image?

Many government websites are down or have notices that information may be out of date. The National Park Service has closed parks and access to the National Mall and DC-area monuments, too, including bike trails in the area. You can’t go to the Smithsonian or the National Gallery of Art. Our shared waters with Canada better stay put cause no one is watching that. The Federal Maritime Commission turned off the lights at noon Tuesday. You better hope there aren’t any chemical spills or accidents because no one is going to investigate it. There won’t be any funds going to improve state election systems or anything going on in campaign finance. And hopefully you don’t have an employment discrimination claim to file. The FCC is on a break except in situations that threaten life or property.  You might start getting some of those annoying tele-marketing calls again since the FTC is out of commission. The USDA is not functioning so ethics, general counsel, civil rights, and our chief economist – are all furloughed now. No one’s overseeing fraud or waste in the US Postal Service. If you’re homeless, your situation isn’t about to improve. We won’t be promoting our economic interests in foreign countries. No one is handling cases at the national labor board. And I found this most ironic: the Office of Government Ethics is closed for business. There are plenty of partial shutdowns in other agencies, offices and commissions, but the ones mentioned are “closed and not able to function”.

If the federal government were a lifestyle brand, what would it do?

Those brands persist on quality of product, they differentiate with services, and they reward their high value customers. As citizens we’re not really that different from customers in this case since we’re the money trail for everything — “Of the people, for the people, by the people.” So Washington needs some marketing advice.

First, they have a big public relations problem — both domestic and abroad. When a lifestyle brand fails to deliver on its promise, it has to regain trust very quickly or risk alienating its loyal followers. This is about repairing reputation and image and potentially a chance to reverse the inside out approach Washington has practiced like so many brands still do, to a more outside-in exploration of what its citizens actually want.

Second, manage the noise. People love to riff on the negative aspect of anything. I’m reminded of Don Henley’s hit song “Dirty Laundry”. The relevant lyrics being “I make my living off the evening news; people love it when you lose. Kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down.” We are inexplicably drawn to bad news. We can’t help but rubber neck at the accident site, and we’d much prefer the disaster to the Good Samaritan story. So you have to turn up the volume on the good aspects to drown out the negative. Look at all that still continues in our best interest regardless of a government shutdown. So they need to spin up the social media mavens and major influencers that can put a balanced voice of reason into the hyped conversations.

And lastly, creating moments of truth could be a new mantra. In digital marketing-speak, there are literally millions of touch points between our government and its citizens. But which are the most critical for each citizen as we would define them? Each of us is a paying customer albeit with different lifetime values. Imagine using social platforms for the express purpose of identifying the critical touch points and redesigning those interactions. Could we re-engage citizens in ways we haven’t ever explored?

The current administration was the first to name a CTO. How about a digital CMO?



1 Comment
  1. 8 October 2013 at 3:11 pm
    Doug Hadden says:

    I’m not sure that the communications problem can be solved by a digital CMO. It may not even be the proper solution in large companies obsessed with so many CXOs that one wonders what the purpose of the CEO actually is.

    It seems to me that “digital CMO” is an appropriate structural option when digital communications is not core to the organization. In this case, communications is the core activity of government. And, given the politics, it’s as important for the administration under guidance of the President to communicate as it is for the Republican party. Politicians communicate.

    The impact of the shutdown was the critical digital communications challenge here. And, it was poorly done. And, politicized. I’m not sure that a digital CMO could accomplish much more than presenting a more digitally effective “one side of the story.”

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