I attended the Government ICT 2.0 event last month and had the chance to meet a number of Public Sector customers; we talked about digital, the merits of GDS, ideas around channel shift and the challenge that government has in leading an ever more demanding population in times of austerity. It got me thinking about the commercial sector, and their focus on retaining and developing a relationship with their customers - are there similarities between the government and the commercial worlds, and could government learn lessons from the bare-knuckle-competition that commercial organisations are faced with day in day out?

So what’s happening in the commercial sector? 

Unilever, one of the largest companies in the world, uses a marketing platform to be able to engage with their customers in a completely different way. Their aim is to understand the customer much better, to make their products more desirable. 

We’ve all seen the effect of a fantastic marketing campaign, and probably all shed a tear in the run up to Christmas 2014, when we saw the John Lewis christmas advert featuring Monty the Penguin. This heart-warming campaign ensured that stocks of stuffed penguins were flying off the shelves and selling for £500 each! Thinking about these examples I found myself drawing parallels between the role of the marketing department in commercial organisations, and the role of ANY public body. 

Are Public Sector organisations now marketing departments? 

It boils down to this - Marketing and Sales organisations’ core aim is to get closer to their customers, in order to develop a relationship that is bidirectional - informing them of offers, providing them with an individual relationship and ultimately getting them to invest in more services, upgrades or products.  Is that so different from the aims of Public Sector? In order for Public Sector to do more with less, government needs to have a relationship with the individual, understand their preferences and needs, inform them of services and their availability and be available in the channel of the citizen’s choice. 

The “new” role of a public body is to help a citizen to do something they would not normally do (stop smoking, foster a child, stay at home with a bug), by having a relationship with that individual, in order to reduce the demand on front line services.

There are some fantastic examples of engagement in the Public Sector - the NHS stop smoking campaign and the THINK! safer driving campaigns are two that have been extremely good at publishing a message out to influence behaviour. So how can the Public Sector take these inspirations and apply them to their business in order to create something transformational?

3 steps to engage more effectively with your citizens

  1. First you need to focus on the problem at hand - what is it you are trying to achieve from your marketing strategy? Is it to increase recycling, to make people exercise more, to drive adoption of online channels or to volunteer within society? John Lewis wanted to get people into their stores at Christmas, THINK! wanted to make sure people were driving safer. 
  2. Once your objective is defined you need to think about who you are targeting. Young people, the elderly, people within walking distance of a park, smokers, or any other demographic within society. How are you going to create a targeted list of individuals to address with your engagement strategy?
  3. Next you need to understand the journey of your target - the audience, their channel of choice, the story and success metrics are crucial to an effective strategy - and ultimately what is the outcome of that journey?

The point is, I'm sure if you’re reading this then you know the importance of running effective campaigns; but do you have the toolset to be able to do this at scale, in innovative ways? Communications teams are evolving from publishing, to engaging - a great example being Mattel (of toy fame!). I strongly believe it’s time for the Public Sector to evolve in the same way - from choosing an audience, their channel of choice, creating touchpoints and assessing the success of a campaign - it’s time for you to create amazing customer engagement and change the way you communicate with your citizens, forever. 

We've recently published a document which covers some of this in more detail and how Salesforce can help you on your journey - I suggest you check it out: Expectations of Government Services - Delivering cost effective services to the public more efficiently. 

This article was carefully crafted by Michael Nelson, a Salesforce UK Public Sector expert.