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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Open and Yellow: Effective Advertising Starts with Why

@YellowPages_ca gets a tip of the hat for a brilliant ad campaign currently adding some freshness to Toronto's subway system.
Most ads promote a company, service or product directly.  They tell us what they are in flashy phrases, tell us how they do it better than anyone else and of course, tell us we want what they have to offer.
This wasn't Yellow Pages' jumping-off point.
Yellow Pages clearly thought through why they exist - to provide people access to the services and information they need.  How might they do so more effectively?  Through the development of an App, of course.  They adapted to the times to ensure they were implementing their why in the most effective way possible.
Then, they developed an ad campaign that carried their why further.  Instead of using ad space to tell people what they do and how well they adapt to the times, they designed a campaign that actually demonstrates what they do.  It's mercilessly efficient; no opportunity to implement their why is wasted.
Even better, the campaign is clearly targeted to the end-users that are being exposed to these ads.  What do people using public transit do?  Well, the use public transit to get from point A to B.  Why should the care about Yellow Pages?  Yellow Pages can help them use the tools they use already more effectively, giving them more access within their existing patterns of behaviour.
That's smart, but that's barely scratching  the surface of what these ads achieve.
By promoting local business areas, Yellow Pages is supplementing the work of local BIAs - something individual businesses will surely be appreciative of.  By providing information about things to see and do in Toronto, Yellow Pages is enhancing and aiding the City's Economic Development and Culture division.  The City (and its elected officials) will surely recognize the value of that.
It's CSR, advertising and social capital-building, all at once.  So what's this got to do with #OpenGov and #OpenData?
Across the board, government is struggling to implement it's why effectively.  This is in no small part because governments and bureaucracies are focused on what they do, not why they do it.  What they do is provide services, build and maintain infrastructure, create and enforce laws and occasionally consult with stakeholders (like voters).   
Why they do it is murkier.  That's their mandate is the short answer, but why is this mandate important?  Why do we need government at all?
Government is not focused on individual wins or maximizing the profit of shareholders any more than its goal isn't to put a chicken in every pot.  In practice, government is a Social Gardener - it exists to foster sustainable, dynamic growth across the system.  Strong individuals, strong communities, a strong society.
This is why we are seeing increasing interest in Open Government and Open Data across the board - how might government better empower citizens and companies to cross-pollinate and support each other?  How might government spend less time (and money) in sales or defense and more implementing their why?
Governments could do worse that follow Yellow Pages' example.
Through opening public data and making it accessible as possible, Government empowers citizens to see what the landscape looks like so that they might navigate it better.  Transparency isn't just about letting people see into the sausage-making process; it's an opportunity to clearly articulate the why in each and every decision and engagement.
By embracing the tools that people use and designing both their services and promotions with end-users in mind, government can design services that are actually meant to be used, rather than simply exist should someone decide to look for them.
The other key thing that government could learn from Yellow Pages is that ROI isn't always a clear-cut two-step process.  Sometimes adding value because you can helps achieve your why more effectively than only committing to something transactionally.
There are plenty of people in government who think the way Yellow Pages does, just as there are plenty of external partners ranging from Make Web Not War to Samara to the Maytree Foundation who feel the same way.

Government doesn't need to be all things to all people any more than Yellow Pages needs to deliver every service they promote.  That's not their why.
It's time government rediscover their purpose and spend less time maximizing revenue or downsizing services and instead dedicate their time and resources to improving efficiency by reducing duplication, gaps and overlaps within the system.  They might generate less profit that way, but they'll inevitably reduce costs, which leads to the same goal, and they'll improve circulation within the system.
I can't think of a better why than that.


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