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Government should follow in private sector’s footsteps if it wants digital to succeed

The government should use tactics deployed by the private sector if it wants to encourage the public to use online services

Government services should use a private sector “brand experience” to appeal more to users, according to WPP government and public sector practice managing director Laura Citron.

At a recent Policy Exchange event discussing digital government, Citron claimed government services are too focused on functionality and should use some of the private sector’s methods of brand engagement to take into account the customer’s relationship with the government as a brand.

“We need to go beyond functionality and start thinking about feelings,” she said. “Once we move public services online we’re moving beyond the very transactional ‘transactions’, if we can call them that – tax, identity, licences – and into the much more sensitive and intimate bits of people’s lives.”

Citron used different government services as an example – a member of the public will feel different when paying tax than when booking a GP appointment, for instance – and said the services should reflect the “diversity” of feelings people go through when interacting with different government departments.  

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has been working on several digital platforms to convert previously disjoined or manual processes online, including the creation of Gov.uk as a platform for publishing and Gov.uk Verify as a platform for identity.

But now the functionality is in place, the next steps the government should take are surrounding brand experience, engagement and personalisation of government services, similar to how different brands offer a different experience based upon their products and target audience, advised Citron.  

“If we don’t think about brand experience then there’s a danger that as we move public services from face-to-face to digital that we lose the humanity that’s at the heart of them,” she said.

According to Citron, government services also need to work on a wider digital ecosystem to drive engagement and make sure "the right people use the right services at the right time".

“We know that plenty of people don’t know or don’t want to engage with public services, so we’ve got to go and find them and engage them whether they’re on Snapchat or watching Emmerdale,” said Citron.

Using the example of registering to vote, Citron explained that although GDS enabled online voter registration, it was the marketing work of other departments that drove people to Gov.uk to register – a process which will have to be on-going to ensure online services are a success.

“There’s no point in creating fantastic, efficient digital services which people don’t know about or are not motivated to use,” she said.

Personalisation must then be created to make sure users are thought of individually instead of collectively to provide a good experience, similar to the private sector.

“We’ve seen in the private sector that brands that have embraced adaptive content and personalisation have done much better than their competitors,” Citron said.

“The big three ideas for the next phase are brand experience, engagement and personalisation, and if all three of those have got one thing in common it’s that they require a much closer working relationship between the digital technology people in government, and the communications and marketing people in government.”

Read more about digital government services

  • NHS England commits to patient-facing digital services by 2020 in its Personalised Health and Care framework paper
  • An academic paper suggests the Gov.uk Verify system could be used as a spy network, but the Government Digital Service (GDS) insists this is not the case

Read more on IT for government and public sector

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