The public brand between new
practices and public values
University of Clermont Auvergne, France
The public brand is a relative newcomer to the public sphere. It is an expression of
public marketing and an outcome of New Public Management (NPM). It is a lever that
allows public organizations to get across their identity, assert their legitimacy and provide markers for the evaluation of their actions, but little research has been conducted
into what it actually covers. The analytical framework of the social representation and,
more specifically, that of the central core theory, makes it possible to identify, on the
basis of a sample of 20 public brands, the values it carries, the influence of context on
the configuration of the values and, more broadly, the use made of the public brand.
Points for practitioners
In a context of growing competition, a legitimacy crisis, fiscal pressures, technological
revolutions that change relations with the user-client and staff, the place and operation
of public organizations are being turned upside down. The brand is an important but
under-exploited lever to restore legibility and legitimacy to public organizations, and
also to assert its difference, express its skills and mobilize its officials. It is a way of
combining traditional values and new practices dictated by performance requirements.
Too many public brands are registered without coming into any real use. The establishment of the brand first calls for thought to be given to its anchoring, by defining pillar
values that allow practices (that are sometimes misunderstood or poorly accepted) to
be converged with the historical values associated with public services. Values are the
basis of the discourse, they build the representation and are the key to the identity of
public organizations. Furthermore, the field of public action is characterized by several
branding levels that need to be considered according to the potential for legitimation
presented by each.
New Public Management, public brand, public values
Corinne Rochette, EUM Pole tertiaire site Rotonde, 26 avenue LeÂ´on Blum, Clermont Ferrand 63000, France.
Email: [email protected]
The rollout of a marketing approach within public organizations (POs)1 stems
from the NPM movement, which advocates the implementation of the management principles and techniques used in the private sector within POs to improve
their performance and develop a market orientation (Hood, 1991; Pollitt, 2007).
It mobilizes new tools and practices that give rise to a great deal of criticism and
tensions (Mazouz et al., 2012). Unlike NPM, it takes place in small steps because of
the impossibility of transposing a comprehensive marketing approach to POs.
Market orientation (MO) in its customer dimension is usually considered to be
the main marker of adopting a marketing approach, but for some (Brewer, 2007;
Denhardt and Denhardt, 2000; Muller, 2006) it proves incapable of offering a
satisfactory integrating explanatory framework to understand the peculiarity of
PO marketing practices because of its emphasis on economic value that weakens
the central values (legitimacy, trust, justice, equality, continuity) (Hood, 1995),
insufficient consideration given to the political dimension, the excessive attention
paid to the customer (Brewer, 2007) and the lack of recognition of objectives other
than profit (Gromark and Melin, 2013). In the absence of an overall analytical
framework, the place and the issues associated with marketing are discussed in
terms of the practices of public organizations; however, only a few marketing
practices have been studied beyond user satisfaction.
Urde (1994) and Melin (1997) propose that consideration be given to the brand
to study how marketing transforms the organization.
Few studies explore the public brand development process, despite the fact that
the public sector is an important part of the activity, that the names and logos are
known to the general public and that the question of identity is crucial for these
organizations (Brunsson and Sahlin-Andersson, 2000). While, for some, brand
development in the public sector is the logical continuation of NPM and the concurrent adoption of the market orientation, for others (Gromark and Melin, 2013)
it deserves to be studied on the basis of the new framework provided by the brand
orientation developed by Swedish researchers (Melin, 1997; Urde 1994). This
makes it possible to overcome the criticisms levelled against market orientation
and to understand the marketing practice of PO as a whole, starting with the public
The brand is a matter of survival for POs operating in a difficult environment:
shrinking operating budgets, pooling of administrations (mergers of the ANPE and
ASSEDIC in France, of universities, regional groupings) and the crisis of citizen
confidence. POs seek to assert their place by expressing commitment and legitimacy
through a strong brand (Dahlqvist and Melin, 2010). The public brand must create
the trust necessary for the smooth operation of the institutions (Delgado-Ballester
and Munuera-Aleman, 2005) and contribute to their transparency and visibility.
It expresses a strategic intent (Urde, 1997) and an organizational intent (Urde,
1994). It is a strategic resource (Melin, 1997), a management tool for the organization (Urde, 1999) built on core values (Urde, 2003). But what is the brand in
question? It covers a variety of situations that this research aims to identify and
re-situate in the form of a typological outline. It uses potentially conflicting values
(public service mission and performance goal derived from NPM). How do these
values exist side by side? The theory of the central core, using values as input,
provides a simple but tried-and-tested theoretical framework to decode the representation given by the PO of the public brand on the basis of the mix of values and
the attention given to legitimizing the action. Based on this theoretical framework
and the outline of a typology of public brands, after we present the methodological
framework, 20 brands will be analysed and the results discussed before we present
The public brand
The development and use of public brands is part of a broader strategy to develop
the intangible heritage of the state. For LeÂ´vy and Jouyet (2006), the state is a bad
manager of its intangible rights, including its brands. It is in this context that the
Agence du Patrimoine ImmateÂ´riel de lâ€™Etat2 (the Agency for the Intangible
Heritage of the State) was created.
The public brand for the development and legitimization of public action
When addressing the issue of public brands, the first obstacle encountered is how to
define it. A review of the literature reveals a lack of definition of the public brand,
probably because of the recency of the concept and the low quantity of research
conducted on this subject that has not yet made it possible to stabilize the conceptual elements. It is succinctly defined in its sectoral application (hospital brand,
museum brand, university brand). For the APIE, the public brand basically
appears in the form of a corporate brand. It has similarities with the private
brand (corporate and product) in terms of the factors conventionally applied to
define the brand (graphics, legal protection, practical and utilitarian dimensions of
identification, recognition, warranty), but differs on a number of points, such as
the dominant issue, its nature, the priority desired effects, the targets and the
orientation given to it (Table 1).
It cannot be confused with a simple name (that of the PO) or be nothing more
than an institutional communication devised for the short term as it implies setting
something in motion and is based on a long-term logic. By embracing a brand
approach, POs are forced to question their identity, their specific values and the
particular project (intention) that it expresses (Vernette, 2008) as well as the image
they want to convey, elements that are particularly significant due to the significant
transformations undergone by the PO (operating principles, values triggered by
NPM). The public brand can be defined as â€˜an instrument with a managerial and
communication dimension intended to give visibility to the organization, to carry
its values, to support the transformation of the organizationâ€™s link to the user and
to facilitate internal mobilization and external rallyingâ€™. It expresses an intention, it
328 International Review of Administrative Sciences 81(2)
helps to enhance its features, its know-how and its skills and to shore up user
satisfaction by paving the way for â€˜accountabilityâ€™ that â€˜could be based on the
ability to give a full account at any time on respect for a set of valuesâ€™
(Joannide`s and Jaumier, 2013).
The public brand as an uncoordinated set
An overview of the public brands registered with the INPI3 reveals a significant
heterogeneity and plurality of the brands. They are associated with territorial
authorities, public institutions or the state (ministries in most cases). They can be
the marker of an institution (the Marine Nationale, INSERM, CHU), of an object
(Parc natural regional des Ardennes, Vulcania), a service offered (AMELI, Bison
FuteÂ´), a programme or a campaign (Nutrition santeÂ´, Vigipirate), an event (Annecy
2013), a management and/or project territory (Le Grand Paris). Can this set be
interpreted on the basis of the principles of portfolio management of brands or
brand architecture (Kapferer, 1999) developed for business? It appears that they
are proving difficult to transpose. The recency of the phenomenon shows an
Table 1. Distinctive features of the private brand/public brand
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