Finding the right voice

CGL has been consulting with young people on the best ways for its youth services to get their message across. DDN reports on the outcomes, and the potential lessons for other providers.

Promoting services to young people, particularly in an area like drugs and alcohol, can be fraught with potential pitfalls. It’s important not to seem intimidating or off-putting, and to come up with something young people can relate to, but at the same time it’s vital to avoid slipping into patronising or embarrassing ‘down with the kids’ territory – something that’s likely to alienate your target audience even more.

Following the re-branding of change, grow, live (CGL) from Crime Reduction Initiatives (CRI) (DDN, February, page 11), the organisation felt that it still needed to do more to reach younger people. ‘Prior to the national rebrand many of our YP services created their own local branding,’ CGL’s national head of operations for young people’s services, Raj Ubhi, tells DDN.

While the organisational rebrand ensured a ‘refreshed visual identity and national consistency’ in how services were marketed to service users and potential referrers, it didn’t necessarily appeal to younger audiences in the same way as it did to adults, he says. ‘We therefore decided to work with young people themselves to develop a specific, distinctive and recognisable brand which young people could more closely relate to and engage with.’

The process started around six months after the national CGL re-brand was introduced, and following a period of extensive consultation, development and implementation, all of CGL’s services across the country adopted the new young person’s brand from April this year.

‘What young people want from a brand often differs from what adults want – I think there was a consensus that actually we can do something that better appeals to our younger audiences that’s separate to something you might expect to see in an adult service,’ he says. It was ‘a big piece of work’, however, involving more than 20 services working with varying ages, backgrounds and needs, all of which CGL wanted to cater for.

The organisation consulted more than 180 young people, but also extended the consultation to commissioners, professionals and partners, because ‘a lot of the marketing material has to appeal to them as referrers also’, he explains.

A key element to get right was one of the most basic – the actual naming of the services. ‘One of the things that is central to our values is service user voices informing and influencing the services we offer them – ultimately it’s their service,’ says Ubhi. ‘Therefore, young people often inform what our services are named locally. We want something they can relate to and something that’s going to appeal to them.

‘Generally we go into local areas to consult through competitions or raffles to help determine service names, and it’s important that a national brand has the capacity for localisation. So although the logo for all our services is now the same – and the design architecture that sits around it – the actual service names are going to be local. There are quite a few of our services named Wize-up – young people seem to like that name.’

Just as important were the visuals – an area it can be easy to get wrong. ‘A lot of that came through in the consultations – young people didn’t want a brand that contained patronising images, language and designs,’ he says. ‘Some of the key messages were that they wanted something that looked current, bold and minimalistic. They liked the dark backgrounds, black and white images and bright colours, so something quite striking but simple at the same time. We took into account national commercial brands that they were particularly fond of.’

They also wanted images that ‘represented young people in general’ rather than pictures of the type of people generally perceived as ‘substance misusers’, he stresses. ‘They were against using young people’s faces more generally because they thought that could stereotype the type of person that might access the service. There isn’t a typical young substance user – most young people will have some level of interaction or relationship with substances, whether that be curiosity, recreational or more problematic use.’

It was important to try to increase visibility and accessibility for all these audiences by reducing stigma, he says, another reason to move away from ‘traditionally deficit-based images that represent problematic drug use, or that scream out “drug and alcohol misuse”’. There may be a bit of resistance in terms of engaging with that type of service, depending on the young person, parent or carer – that was key feedback that we tried to take into account.’

On the subject of feedback, the reaction since the re-branding has been positive, he says. ‘It’s really good that young people were involved throughout – not only did we do a consultation via a survey, we actually sat down with them to create the brief that we gave to the developers. We showed the final designs to the young people and asked if they thought it closely met their brief, and it did.’

Creating a brand that could appeal across the age ranges covered by the services isn’t necessarily easy when that goes from as young as ten up to 25, not to mention parents, carers and the professionals who might direct young people towards the services. ‘But it seems to have been effective in meeting these diverse needs,’ he says. ‘Visual identity is important to young people, and hopefully this brand will appeal to young people universally and encourage engage­ment where others may not have traditionally done so.’

In terms of the challenges facing young people’s services generally, while cannabis and alcohol are still the main reasons for presenting, the key issue is ‘not only the substances being used by young people who present, it’s the substances being used by young people who don’t present, and are at increased risk’, he states. This could be down to a lack of awareness around services generally, or the simple fact that they don’t see their substance use as an issue that needs addressing, he points out.

The substances falling into that latter category include NPS, PIEDs and even ‘smart’ drugs. ‘This can be seen as more aspirational use to better themselves rather than engaging in any particular risk to their health. And where excessive alcohol and cannabis use is normalised in peer groups, or substances are used as a coping mechanism, there can be a reluctance to access services for support. Responding to this “hidden” risk is an important prevention agenda and the marketing of our services is a key factor here in terms of proactive engagement.’

To help achieve this, all of CGL’s services now adopt a ‘peripatetic’ model, he points out. ‘It’s very rare that we operate from premises where we’d expect young people to come to us to access support or any kind of intervention. We go out to young people to offer one-to-one appointments, but we also try to increase visibility by being in places young people are – not in an intrusive way, but just so we can engage and open up conversations in a more meaningful way around drugs and alcohol.’

This could be in-reach work with partner agencies where people could benefit from drug and alcohol advice, such as sexual health services, youth hostels, children’s homes, A&E, or schools and colleges, or via traditional street outreach in the community, the night-time economy, festivals or fresher’s fairs. There’s also a major focus on whole-family approaches and delivering interventions to parents, carers and wider family members. ‘For a lot of our young people their key protective factor is their parent or carer, so trying to involve them in any support that we offer the young person is in both their interests,’ he says.

Perhaps crucially, the ‘we won’t judge you or tell you what to do’ message is as prominent on much of the literature as the description of the service or contact details. ‘When we’ve done consultations, often the reluctance to engage is because they may think they’re going to get a lecture or be told to stop using substances. They’re not always going to want to stop, and there might be young people who feel ashamed or guilty about their substance use, so that’s a barrier to accessing services. So we thought we needed to address that one head on in some of our key branding messages.’

However good the branding is, there’s little point unless it’s used properly, however. ‘We wanted to better understand how young people learn about our services – a lot are searching for information on substances or other support services online, so it’s about how we make this brand compatible with a real sound, comprehensive digital presence,’ he states.

‘The national rebrand is to create a recognisable brand for young people, raising the profile of CGL as a specialist provider of young people’s substance misuse support, information and advice,’ he continues. ‘Expert advice is important for young people – they told us that they’re more likely to engage if they know that the service or worker “really knows their stuff” – more than they might easily be able to access online. I think that consistent brand will help young people recognise it and trust it for up-to-date, accurate, relevant advice.

‘There’s a whole host of information out there of varying degrees of quality, so that’s something that we’re really keen to do in terms of raising that profile and that trust and credibility among young people.’