Does your Nonprofit Have a Brand?  

I’ve worked in corporate marketing for some large companies for many years.  So I understand the politics that exist when you talk to your Board or your Executive team about evolving the brand. In fact, the common response from some of your more established stakeholders and staff is that everything is just fine. “Why mess with something that isn’t broken?” they ask It’s a challenge  keeping everyone happy.  So let me describe a little scenario with you and see if it sounds familiar:

You launched your brand identity through a vision statement a number of years ago. Everyone was excited.  You tested it with focus groups and they liked the message, as did staff and, yes, your Board and partners too. You may even have thought you could rest on your laurels for a little while.  But today, some years later you wonder if your messaging  has gone a little stale.  You wonder if you are truly communicating your value proposition and your core purpose.  When you asked key stakeholders at the latest focus group, “What does our organization stand for?”, no one could really describe who you are.  And no one could actually distinguish you from others in the same space.  So you are thinking… Hmm… maybe we do need to reboot the brand… after all,  so many things have changed over the years.   We really aren’t the same organization. But that is followed by a second thought… perhaps it never was bold enough from the beginning?

So you do some soul-searching and make a list of the words you use in your communications campaign.

-          We listen to our clients and partners

-          Easy to access

-          Knowledgeable and compassionate

-          Providing the highest quality

-          Serving our communities

All true statements but in retrospect it sounds pretty much like what other organizations state in their communications.  Now let’s think about your brand imagery.  Warm, friendly client faces and testimonials – even showing diversity.  People can relate to this, right?

Well, the real question you need to ask years later --is not whether your people smiled and said they liked your brand position, but whether your brand provoked emotion or a reaction.  Is the voice and message memorable among the crowd and clutter of advertising, social and the other communications that hit us every day?  And is it provocative?   

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make when they brand and create advertising, is to play it safe. The goal being to find a brand voice and look and feel that everyone likes from your leadership team and board members to the people you serve.  The easiest way is to just focus on your programs – how great they are, instead of the core narrative or story of the organization. Unfortunately, with this approach you end up watering down the excitement of your singular identity or brand and it becomes vanilla. 

And to complicate branding, individuals today, get easily distracted with all the digital entertainment that surrounds them. They hunger  for novelty and change and get bored easily. 

So yes, it is time for a rebrand, just please be imaginative and creative and take some risk! Because the unexpected makes people pause and remember and look twice. 

Here are some 6 key questions to ask yourselves to help decide if it’s time for a brand refresh.

1.       Does your brand statement surprise and entice you to learn more?

2.       Does your brand campaign play it safe or shake it up?

3.       Do some customers feel a little out of their comfort zone in terms of what to think or expect? 

4.       Do you always use photography, customer stories and testimonials to get your message across? (Those work, but let’s take it up a level.   People today engage with the imaginative .  Think illustration, characters, animation to tell your story.)

5.       Do you use bold words that provoke and create emotion?  Verbs like: dare, avenge, break, shape, invent instead of the common ones like build, create, support, start

6.       Does  your brand mobilize people to do something bold, even serving to create a movement and launch evangelists who will share the message on social media?

If these questions make you or your leadership team and Board pause, it’s time to refresh your brand. It’s time to create new energy.   Perhaps a vision or identity that will challenge, provoke and position the organization as strong and bigger than life.   Something people can rally around. And most importantly, something that make your clients, donors and partners feel pride and POWER!