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Wunderman - Bienalto


The F-word. How feelings could change government service delivery

Laura Citron is a voice we’ve championed on our blog before. As Managing Director of WPP’s Government & Public Sector Practice, Laura’s experience in (and her views on) the value of communication in the public sector makes hers a voice worth hearing.

So we were delighted Laura could take to the stage in person to expand on her views at the Bienalto-sponsored ‘Skills for the future’ session at IPAA 2015.


Emotions matter.

Emotions and public policy may seem like strange bedfellows. But according to Laura Citron, they’re subtly and inextricably entwined.

“As we move more people online, we’re going to move beyond what I call ‘transactional transactions’ – which are fairly unemotional – and in to the much more sensitive areas of people’s lives.”

And if you’re asking citizens to place their trust in a computer rather than a person, Laura argues it’s vital to get the emotional experience right. Get it wrong and you jeopardise the humanity at the heart of social services.

In this regard, Laura says the public sector would do well to take a leaf out of the private sector when it comes to building resources the public want to use. “It won’t come as a surprise to hear that businessmen spend a lot of time and money thinking about their brand experience. There’s a big difference between functionality and brand experience for business.”


From functionality to feelings.

Until now, Laura reckons the focus has been almost entirely on functionality but needs to shift to the other F-word… feelings.

“If I put my taxes online, I want it to feel fair, formal, efficient. But if I register my child to start school online or book an appointment with my GP, I might want it to feel local, caring, personal.”

But how can government deliver such a diverse range of brand experiences without losing all the benefits of integration? Laura believes TMall, a vast ecommerce platform from China, offers a compelling template.

“Most Western brands don’t have their own websites and ecommerce functions in China. They sell by TMall. TMall does all their backend integration for them – delivery, inventory, fraud, transactions and ID – but the shopfronts are completely different. The navigation looks different and the functionality works different but they’re both sitting on the same platform.”


Build it and they won’t come.

But Laura warns against adopt a build-it-and-they-will-come approach. After all, “people don’t just land on websites from nowhere”. Instead, platforms need to be integrated into people’s wider digital lives.

“This really matters so that the right people find and use the services at the right time. Plenty of people don’t know who they need to engage with in Government. And we shouldn’t expect citizens to have a map of how government’s work in their heads.”

In Laura’s mind, that places the onus on the public sector to act like marketers in targeting the right users to engage with the right services. To support her case, Laura offers an example from the UK where a change to the electoral roll meant a million voters ‘fell off’ and needed to re-register.

“ built a lovely online voter registration. Clean. Simple. Easy-to-use. Well designed.” But a beautiful build alone wasn’t enough to elicit change. The electoral commission backed it up with a big campaign across social, TV and search. Civil society organisations and local councils pitched in too, with all elements pointing the public to the online registration platform.

It worked. In the last day alone, almost half-a-million people registered to vote online. “But let’s be really clear. This is not because we built a really nice online voter registration site. We needed to go out and tell people about it, motivate them and bring them in to use it.”


Fit for purpose… and a higher purpose.

Laura concludes her talk with an optimistic take on optimisation. As consumers, we’re pretty familiar with personalisation. From airlines knowing your closest airport to grocery stores spruiking new lines based on past purchases, citizens/consumers expect brands to ‘know me’.

But does it actually work? According to Laura, the answer is an emphatic yes. To back up her claim, Laura reveals a compelling graph. In early 2012, share prices for EasyJet and Ryanair, two, low-cost UK airlines, largely climbed and fell in tandem. Then, in the middle of 2012, EasyJet introduced a new website… one that was highly personalised to individual users.

As a result, EasyJet’s share price soared, leaving their competitor at a lower altitude for some time. Even the CEO of Ryanair attributed the small changes to the EasyJet website as a big reason their competitors managed to get so far ahead and stay ahead for so long.

The public sector clearly has a few things to learn from the private. But Laura is quick to remind us that a citizen platform not only needs to be fit for purpose it should feed in to a higher civic purpose. “If we get this right, we [not only] have more efficient transactional services but hopefully better social services, better policy outcomes and increased trust and engagement with citizens.”


LinkedIn: View Laura’s profile


Twitter: @wpp_govt @lauracitron