Does government and the G-Cloud need Apple-style marketing?

Following Derek’s write up of this week’s EuroCloud meeting in London on the future of the G-Cloud initiative, I came across a rather timely posting from Forrester Research on the need for CIOs and CMOs to unite in government.

The reason this caught my eye is because one of the criticisms most commonly levelled at the G-Cloud programme of late – not least by me! – has been what I perceive to be a lower profile for the initiative. That’s why we went ahead with our special 2 part report earlier this year in which we expressed our concern about the G-Cloud’s then state.

In her posting, Forrester’s Jennifer Belissent makes the point that when we think of the marketing function, it’s in the context of the private sector where companies need to identify target markets and opportunities. But in government, she observes:

Public-sector organisations don’t typically have the luxury of choosing their target market or their products and services. Or at least that’s what most organisations think. But even if that is the case, it doesn’t mean that these organisations shouldn’t get to know their “customers” and understand how best to meet their needs. While the service might be prescribed by legislation or regulation, public organisations can influence the customer experience, and the rising focus on citizen engagement mandates they do so.

Most government organisations have public affairs or communications departments, but these groups are focused on outbound information flows. Governments need to embrace the inbound function of marketing: understanding the “market,” gathering requirements for products and services, beta testing prototypes with focus groups, analysing feedback to inform product and services upgrades. None of these concepts are foreign to most public organisations. Whether the role is labelled “marketing” or “customer experience” or something else, public agencies must embrace a marketing function.

Belissent goes on to list the reasons there needs to be greater alliances forged between the tech gurus and the marketing wizards:

The CIO-CMO partnership enables government organisations to:

Better understand the organisation’s “customers.” How do constituents use public services? How often? Via which channels? Would they use web or mobile services? What are their preferences and profiles.

Design programmes to improve the customer experience. Knowing your customers’ personas and preferences helps you tailor programmes for a better experience. Think online to relieve pressures on in-person services. Experienced marketing leaders bring new ideas for creative engagement and improved experience.

Drive outreach to continuously engage customers and solicit feedback. Everyone has an opinion on public services, whether it’s the lines at the department of motor vehicles or overcrowding on rush-hour buses. The only way to address these issues is to know what they are. Marketing leaders have experience in asking the right questions.

Effectively collaborate on and realise complex new projects. An effective CMO and CIO partnership can drive successful citizen engagement. Working together, the roles of marketing and tech management can provide a united front combining customer experience with IT execution.

My take

Now, the G-Cloud programme has upped its game without doubt. I can see more and more public appearances by senior G-Cloud team members at various regional events around the UK, emphasised by a brief Twitter exchange with Tony Singleton, Head of G-Cloud, last night following his appearance at a G-Cloud seminar in my home town of Brighton.

Tony’s referencing a national engagement programme with tech industry group TechUK which are aimed at both the buy and the sell side’s specifics needs in relation to the G-Cloud.

For our part, diginomica will be partnering with Think Events for a series of public sector cloud events over the next 6 months at which members of the Government Digital Service – custodians of the G-Cloud – will be keynoting. All of this is a very welcome development and a healthy upturn on the past 12 months.

But the fact remains that there’s still a lot of work that needs doing. Just this week, out came another study from services firm Six Degrees Group, that found that 66% of UK civil servants claim to have no knowledge of the G-Cloud. Of course, this can be pitched another way, which G-Cloud supporters have done in recent days:

But at this stage of G-Cloud’s life, even if awareness is heading in the right direction, that still leaves a lot of evangelism that needs to be heard in a lot of places.

One thing that emerged from the EuroCloud meeting was the need for more and more best practice exemplars of organisations and authorities that have used the G-Cloud framework effectively.

The supply side needs to play its part here, although I am all too conscious of the frustrations of trying to get public sector bodies to sign off on use case studies, but I can only urge them to keep plugging away. It is worth it!

Perhaps one thing that GDS might usefully do would be to redirect more of its comms and marketing efforts into sourcing and publicising such exemplars?

I can certainly promise that diginomica for one would be only too keen to promote such content to our audience and beyond.