Associating the word “brand” with treatment courts may seem to be a mismatch. Taking a closer look at what branding is, however, opens up possibilities for how we talk about the work of treatment courts with professionals, clients, and the larger community. In communication studies and rhetoric, one of the most prominent scholars who explains narratives and story is Walter Fisher. According to Stache (2017), “In 1978, Walter Fisher proposed a theory of narrative communication, which advances the idea that humans inherently tell stories and like to have stories told to them.” The idea of branding and brands comes from this human need for stories. In the commercial, business-to-consumer sense, brands function as a way for humans to create relationships with consumer goods (Twitchell, 2004). We sometimes call these “brand narratives.” Organizations tell stories in order to gain their stakeholders’ attention and every communication interaction between an organization with its audiences has an impact. In addition, Fisher explains that stories ideally have narrative coherence and narrative fidelity. Narrative coherence means that the story makes sense, and narrative fidelity means that the story rings true to the audience’s experience (Stache, 2017).
What does this look like for treatment courts? It means that the responsibility for communication falls on every member of the treatment court team, because every interaction is an opportunity to create a new reality – a new story – that builds on the mission and vision of your program. Does this mean every interaction must be perfect? Of course not. That’s neither realistic nor human. However, it does mean that open, honest, and authentic communication that aligns with a program’s mission and purpose can create a strong brand story. This strong brand story also means that the inevitable messiness of human communication happens within the context of a coherent story with fidelity. The process of developing your program’s brand can also build goodwill and trust with your intended audience, which will serve you well in times of both crisis and celebration.