Harrie van Rooij & Bart Vording – Belastingdienst

Harrie van Rooij & Bart Vording – Belastingdienst

Harrie van Rooij is Coordinating Advisor Communication at the Belastingdienst (Netherlands Tax and Customs Administration or NTCA) where he is responsible for the communication policy, both internal and external, and driving innovation and longer-term development. Bart Vording is Campaign Manager and Digital Marketer, managing various public campaigns and as digital marketer monitoring paid media use and the impact of campaigns on the brand and its reputation. The NTCA  is the government organisation responsible for imposing and collecting taxes on behalf of the state and implementing various allowances and schemes for Dutch residents.

Main KPIs

When it comes to their communication, the NTCA  focuses on compliance and trust. Bart shares: “It comes down to why we use communication. On the one hand, we want to support citizens and entrepreneurs from a functional point of view in case of certain life events or changes in regulations. At the same time, we want to be visible in society and share what we do to support them. Listening, and offering support at relevant times. Those are our main objectives, but ultimately, it is about compliance.” Harrie adds: “I like to connect compliance and trust. Compliance comes down to people abiding with the right rules at the right time, which can be a tax return arriving on schedule. Occasionally, we can link our communication directly to these KPIs, but often we have to look for more indirect signals. With the tax returns, we know what percentage of people have already sent theirs in, and we can compare that figure to previous years. We are now trying to connect those hard figures to our communication to find out what the contribution of for instance our campaigns are, and monitoring both sides.” Bart shares how the organisation has developed a new brand strategy and policy to ensure consistency: “We have to be consistent in what we say and be consistently recognisable, which should also contribute to improving brand trust.”

“It is easy to say you don’t have enough data, but you also need to know what you are going to do with that extra data once you have it, and how you are going to interpret it.”

Role of data

As of last year, the NTCA introduced an integrated monitor to measure their brand and reputation, Harrie: “In 2016 we started with the idea of monitoring reputation, as it became much more important for us at that time. The idea of measuring our brand followed as we wanted to make our organisation more visible. We have noticed that the consistency in our story can be improved, so if we could highlight what the tax authorities do and create clear identifiers, then that would benefit the brand trust. These developments came together to create new measurement needs.” From there, the organisation could start working on their reputation with subsequent research, gaining insight into what drives their reputation and what buttons to push. Harrie adds how this has been a learning experience: “We found that some things really matter to people, mainly aspects of service and operational practices. But we also found that some things aren’t as important as we expected, for instance stressing the purpose of tax paying. This past year has really been a learning curve.”

The NTCA looked at various reputation studies and organisations for inspiration, Bart: “We talked to organisations like the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency and Dutch Railways to see how they work with reputation, and we also worked with different types of reputation research ourselves, but we were looking for a more integrated set-up of reputation within brand and campaign. The fact that we have a team of people with broad experience is a huge advantage and helps us to brainstorm within the team. I believe that the role of the research agency is to act as a critical partner. You don’t just involve a research agency to carry out the study, but also to obtain insights and advice.”

A continuous process

Harrie: “We have something fairly new and not every organisation has. Of course, we’re not there yet, but the longer we monitor, the more valuable that information becomes. It’s very interesting to start looking at what we can still add, making those data connections. What affects that reputation and what is the role of our communication? Discovering those questions is also part of the process.” Bart: “Last year was also used to go through the entire annual cycle. Within tax authorities especially, you have a recurring cycle: you submit your tax return between March and May, the new tax plans are presented in September on ‘Prince’s Day’ (Budget Day), and you receive a provisional tax assessment at the end of the year. Up until now, we didn’t know the impact of that. Some factors you can control yourself and others are externally dependent. Given the problems surrounding the child benefits, it has also been very instructive to see what effect this subsequently has on brand reputation, which we have unmistakably seen.” Harrie adds: “This is certainly an issue for the time ahead. The NTCA  is no longer in charge of the benefits, as that branch will continue independently within the ministry. So, what impact will that have on our story, and what is the reputational impact in the long run?”

Getting everyone on board

Bart shares some challenges they faced along the way: “We now have a new brand strategy, linked our brand values and set a specific target: we want to score at least a 7 on reputation. The challenge for us will be getting the entire organisation on board. Within communication, we have the mandate and the opportunity to influence that directly, but to bring that score to a 7, you strongly have to work on other parts of the organisation, like your service. That is the next step, but not one that will be done within a few months.” Harrie: “One of our pitfalls is looking too much at the things we don’t have yet, instead of using the data we already have. We already collect a lot of data, so it’s also about utilising that. It is easy to say you don’t have enough, but you also need to know what you are going to do with that extra data once you have it, and how you are going to interpret it.”