• About Tom Dougherty

    Tom Dougherty CEO, Stealing Share

    Tom Dougherty is the President and CEO of Stealing Share, Inc., and has helped national and global brands such as Lexus, IKEA and Tide steal market share over his 25-year career.

    An often-quoted source on business and brands, he has been featured recently by the New York Times and CNN, discussing topics ranging from television to Apple to airlines.

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The brand of the IRS: Does it ever need fixing

Today is the deadline to file your taxes, which causes most of us stress and even anger. It’s a complicated process and we’re never sure we do it right. (That’s why many of us hire accountants.)

There’s another reason for the stress and anger: Most of us hate the IRS.

If there’s ever a government agency, with the possible exception of the NSA, that needs a complete rebrand, it’s the Internal Revenue Service.

IRS_logoLet’s examine the reasons. For one, the brand of the IRS completely disregards one of the primary tenets of branding. Keep it simple. If your brand is not easily understood, the brand will be frustrating, ignored or plainly hated.

Of course, the IRS just manages the tax codes and laws (Congress establishes them) but it’s the IRS that gets blamed for the over-complication. The agency doesn’t help itself by using language and form names (Form 6451B, etc.) that are a cesspool of jargon. Down-to-earth language (The Mortgage Insurance Form, as a suggestion) is always the best way to reflect simplicity in your brand.

The online services, like TurboTax, have made the process easier but the brand of the IRS does not get credit for that. In fact, consider this. The company that makes the TurboTax software, intuit (lower case is correct), has the brand that the IRS would covet. The name suggests intuition and its themeline is “simplify the business of life.”

If the IRS meant that, its brand would go a long way to being liked.

Then there are the other perceptions. The IRS plays favorites with reports that it unfairly targeted Tea Party groups for their tax-exempt status applications. Those charges come after the IRS put the burden of proof on the taxpayer in disputes for decades before a law flipped the burden of proof to the IRS.

Here’s the thing. Whether those charges of abuses of power are true or not does not matter. It’s only important if it’s believed. It can talk itself blue in the face that the charges are not true, but that won’t change many perceptions of the agency until it addresses its fundamental problems.

Therefore, it should address the beliefs about the IRS. That it is a monolith of complexity with no caring for the taxpayers that keep it in business.

The Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), for example, has long been a hated agency, but that feeling has abated somewhat in recent years. It simplified its processes, introduced ad campaigns on highway safety and other topics, and streamlined the entire division. The DMV still has a long way to go (it’s hard to overcome decades-long reputations), but it’s further along than the IRS.

So, yes, government agencies have brands too. They would be smart to learn that making their brands appealing (and embracing simplicity) would make their lives (and ours) a whole lot easier. Especially on a day like today.

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