What is your brand? An interview with Christopher E. Lee

We hear a lot about “brand” – it is the secret sauce of marketing. It’s what differentiates your nonprofit from another. But what exactly is a brand? How does a nonprofit create a brand, and how does it live into the promise of its brand? For answers to these questions and more we reached out to  Christopher Lee, CEO of Think Inspired.

What is your brand? An interview with Christopher E. Lee

Christopher E. Lee, CEO of Think Inspired

In answering the question, What exactly is a “brand?” Lee turned to Google, an obviously well-established brand. “According to the Google definition, branding is the promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design. Therefore, any nonprofit organization needs to be able to effectively tout its core objectives in a way that appeals to their various stakeholders.”

Most of us can recognize brands such as Nike, Coca Cola, and McDonald’s. In terms of nonprofits we recognize St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity to name a few. Each has a visual identity and we associate the organization’s mission with their name. “St. Jude’s” is about curing childhood cancer, the Red Cross is disaster relief, and Habitat for Humanity is about building houses for local residents. These might not be the “official” definition of each nonprofit, but these are the perceptions often associated with each. The perceptions and associations – or brand – are what we think of when we hear the organization’s name.

Across the nonprofit sector there can be a reluctance to invest in brand, especially for those organizations that are small or locally based. Donors and funders often want their money – our money – to go to the cause, not to something as “superficial” as brand. We understand, but we also know that if people don’t know your nonprofit, and don’t have positive associations with it, you may have a difficult time raising the money you need to deliver on your mission. We’re not suggesting an irrational investment in your brand; rather that you know what it is, that you build it, and tend to it.

Here’s Lee’s grounding guidance, “Branding is no different for a nonprofit organization than it is for a for profit entity. Successful branding elements go a long way in differentiating one organization from their competitors. In the case of a nonprofits, many compete against other worthy and viable nonprofit organizations for valuable resources; such as funding, board members and governmental support”

Your brand can also help your constituents “better understand the character and attitude of the organization; while elevating its standing in an ever-growing field of nonprofit organizations globally.” Yes, globally. You may serve local residents, or educate students within a region, but nonprofits from across the country and the globe are competing for philanthropic dollars, resources, and talent. Think of the commercials you see on TV, the direct mail that comes to your home, Facebook campaigns initiated by your friends and family, and internet or email marketing and fundraising campaigns. These are your competitors.

How to develop your nonprofit brand

Many people confuse marketing and branding. Some think a logo is a brand. Not so, a logo is one manifestation of a brand. According to Lee, “Branding is a component of marketing. Within the promotion element of a marketing campaign, branding is the way in which an organization informs its target audience of why it is relevant.”

How does the branding process begin? Branding begins with questions: What is your mission and vision? Who are the key individuals – internal to the organization, and external – who are responsible for delivering on your mission and vision? How do they view the brand? Do they see their brand as a local, regional, national or international one? The branding process also includes a close look at organizational culture.  If an organization is rife with turmoil, mistrust and/or apathy, the branding process can become complicated.  You also need the key organizational leaders and their team on board with the branding process. Without that alignment and support it can be very challenging to execute a branding strategy.

How to develop your nonprofit brandWhat can an organization expect as the “deliverables” when engaging in the branding process?  Organizations can expect to receive a unique set of brand identity components such as; a logo, official color schemes, and tagline.  These will be the basis for all future, online and offline marketing elements.

What are the key elements of a branding program? Branding is a component of marketing. Specifically, it is part of an organization’s promotion. As such, the most critical aspects of a brand campaign are “reach” and “frequency.”  How far does the organization’s branding tactic reach? How often are members of the organization’s target audience exposed to the brand (frequency)? The third critical element is the brand’s “call to action.” Is your desire to garner donors, get votes, or increase turnout at an event?  Whatever your desired response, a successful branding campaign will incent viewers to take the desired action.

How to develop your nonprofit brandHow does an organization know if its brand is “working?” There are quantitative and qualitative analyses that can be conducted regarding the opinions and perceptions of stakeholders, relative to their brand experience.  Many mature, national and/or global nonprofits, have focus groups and opinion surveys performed by outside researchers to gain nonbiased results re: what people think of their brand and/or specific elements and activations the brand at various points in time.  Smaller, more grassroots nonprofits may want to look at conducting an internal and community-wide opinion survey every three-to-five years to assess what people are thinking about their brand. These opinion surveys can also serve as benchmarks for identifying organizational, branding, and messaging improvement opportunities.

When is the time to rebrand?

Nonprofits focus on making change, serving residents, healing patients, education students, conducting research, and advocating for civil rights and liberties amongst other priorities. But what about a focus on “brand?” Should that be a nonprofit priority? Our opinion is “yes.” Your brand is, quite simply, how your constituents, donors, funders, and community know who you are, what you do, and why they should care. Here are Lee’s thoughts on brand measurement, when to rebrand, and what rebranding entails.

Measuring a branding program. There are several ways an organization can measure the impact of a branding program. As mentioned earlier, specific quantitative and qualitative analyses can be performed to determine the success of a campaign or identify improvement opportunities. Additionally, a brand’s management team can tabulate results based on their specific call to action, within the campaign. For example, did you see an increase in donors, attendees, or another key performance indicator deemed appropriate for the specific campaign.

What are the clues that indicate your organization may need to rebrand? If you are in a mature market or if you are noticing new and innovative competitors rising within your market or community, you may want to begin gaining insights into market perceptions of your brand. Based on these results your organization’s leadership team may want to explore brand modification tactics.  Also, if you have noticed several quarters of decreased giving; or a drop in the number of donors, funders, sponsors, students, or event attendees; or challenges to revenue in general, your leadership team may want to seriously consider rebranding efforts. You want to take action to maintain your brand equity while updating messaging, visual brand identity or market positioning.

When does your nonprofit need to rebrandWhat does a nonprofit need to do as it prepares to start the rebranding process? The first thing is to be honest in evaluating the current perceptions and market analysis of their brand. Many times, long-tenured leaders have a difficult time accepting the fact that market dynamics are ever evolving and that a once-held position in the marketplace may no longer be valid. The first step in the rebranding process should be to conduct a S.W. O.T. Analysis. This allows a brand to understand their brand’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  The results should provide insights into the rebranding process.

How long does it take to complete a rebranding campaign? There is not specific time frame allotted to a rebranding campaign.  Like most things in the life of a nonprofit, the budget allocated to the process will dictate the scope and time required for rebranding.

Our experience is that your brand communicates who you are and how operate. Whether you are aware of it or not, your brand impacts your fundraising. Take the time to review and leverage your brand: your organization is worth it.

You can reach Chris Lee at clee@thinkinspiredmarketing.com or 901-201-4419.


Copyright 2019 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

When you are ready to build a fund development program, grow your fundraising, or increase board engagement we are here to help. (901) 522-8727. www.saadandshaw.com.

Image courtesy of 123RF.com.

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