For many non profits, marketing gets no respect, let alone time dedicated to build a brand. So if you’re entering the New Year fed up with the way your organization is portrayed or perceived by the public, or you’ve inherited an internal culture that implies your mission will sell itself, I’ve created the “Brand on a Budget” just for you! First, you must pay attention to my disclaimer: Brand on a Budget in Just Seven Days works best for my friends working hard in the small development shop.
You see, in order for this process to work, the buck must stop with you. Eliminate decisions made by committee; if you don’t, beware – you’ll get bogged down with egos, copy quibbling, and distractions a‘la mode. Your seven-day focus is to efficiently create a Brand Positioning Statement that is effective, timely, fluid and precisely anchors what you can do for others.
WHAT IS A BRAND? A brand is an accumulation of assumptions about your organization disseminated to the public which now defines your organization for better or worse. These assumptions are formed by everything you’ve communicated, acted on, and/or interacted with. For example, when an interested party asks a chance question about your organization, the knee-jerk response from bystanders may be primarily based on a feeling rather than fact. What does this mean? It means that your reputation, identity, and good work are wrapped up in your brand. GuideStar pulled it together best by saying, “Essentially, your brand is the reputation you have for delivering on your promise.” (Levy, 2011) . What we will do today is put you in control of your brand and its authenticity in a manner that is sustainable.
PREPARATION: This blog isn’t meant for you to read and then immediately launch into Day One of your Brand on a Budget adventure. You need to prepare. And you have two to three weeks for this preparation phase. This is what you to do to prepare for Building Your Brand in Seven Days:
- Block off your schedule for the seven day branding crusade; select a day, time, location and invite a minimum of 6 attendees for a full day strategy meeting (described below in Day One).
- Research your competitors. It’s like this: before you can stand out in a crowd, you must know what crowd you’re standing in. In order for your brand to be effective, you need to articulate your brand in a way that is unique and easily explains how you differ from others or focuses on an area where you clearly respond to the cause in a better manner. As a part of your fact-finding, get a handle on what you think they’re doing right, and what you feel they’re doing wrong or could do better for their brand. This will arm you with the “idea starters” you need during your Day One brainstorming session to arrive at your goal of creating your organization’s Branding Position Statement.
- Create and email a perception survey to your stakeholders, family and friends. Because you also want feedback from those who know of your organization but are not directly involved. Ask specific questions like: When you think of [your organization], what comes to mind first? Describe what [your organization] does. Are there other organizations that come to mind when thinking about [your mission]? How do you feel we are different from other similar organizations? For additional resources on creating your perception survey, check out QuestionPro, they offer a one month free trial and will lead you through the development of your survey questions based on the outcome you are seeking. They will also submit the survey and analyze the answers. You can also use free services like Survey Monkey, Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, and Vertical Response to conduct your online survey. Each will email the survey and allow you to see how many people opened the email, how many email addresses bounce back, and of course how many responded and what those responses were. Use those responses as your “idea starters” on Day One.
- Retain a volunteer professional designer; you will need them on Day One and Two. If there isn’t a clear choice for a professional volunteer designer (who is brilliantly creative) search for well-trained designers by contacting your local design school and community college. You should also look into online volunteer banks like Volunteers Grassroots, Corporation for National & Community Service, World Volunteer Web, or VolunteerMatch.
DAY ONE – BRAINSTORMING: It’s Not about You! Now that you’ve done your homework and you are surrounded by the five best minds you could find, you have this one day to create your brand. During this day you have one objective. That objective is to create and define a Brand Positioning Statement that elicits a specific emotion within people so powerful they remember and act on it. Once you are armed with this, everything else falls into place. Awareness. Credibility. FUNDING.
Before I guide you through the brainstorming process, I will tell you what your brand shouldn’t be. It is not your logo, tagline or color scheme. It shouldn’t be about you. Your brand mustn’t reflect what you think you need to tell people; it must be what people NEED or EXPECT from you.
Here’s an example: You’re a K-8 Spanish immersion charter school. You believe kids should learn Spanish at an early age. But what about distinguishing your school as a place dedicated to helping children become informed and interconnected global citizens? Now, this resonates with me because I know it will benefit my son and give him an advantage when he enters middle school and beyond. But guess what? This institution preparing our children to live and work globally also resonates with international companies with offices in Latin America; global companies with foundations who give hundreds of millions away each year. They will invest in a school dedicated to bringing up their future workforce.
- Write your objective. Distribute it to attendees, and post it grandly for all to see during the session. Your example objective: Create and define a brand that elicits a specific emotion within people so powerful they remember and act on it.
- Set a time limit, up to 4 hours.
- Capture all ideas as they flow from the group and specifically follow this process:
- Hand out a stack of note cards
- Bring up one Idea Starter (see below) and ask each participant to write down four (4) ideas per starter on one note card, then hand the card in and so on.
Idea Starters are the outcome of your research. Use present tense when presenting the category or goal for discussion, for example:
Category: Emotion Evoked
- We are warm and nurturing (Red Cross)
- We are nonjudgmental (Planned Parenthood)
- We are Aggressive and Energetic (DAP – Domestic Abuse Project)
Category: Perception Evoked
- We are Mature (AARP)
- We are Youthful (Tree House)
- We are Activists (PETA)
- We are a Service Organization (Catholic Charities)
Category: Target Market Appeal
- We appeal to East African Immigrants (American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa)
- We appeal to parents of children with a life-threatening illness (Ronald McDonald House)
Now address your brand goal by asking participants to provide at least 4 answers on how to accomplish the goal, and then prioritize each goal. Then determine which goal is your priority and how to accomplish it.
Goal: Our brand engages a sense of community not only externally, but inside our organization as well (Nike)
Goal: Our brand motivates groups of strangers to come together because they feel a shared experience or passion (Susan B. Komen)
Goal: Our brand is our lighthouse – guiding and driving all messages, strategies and identifiers back home (Target)
Goal: Our brand is clear and simple (Geek Squad)
4. Display ideas by category on white sheets of paper around the room – place slash marks next to similar ideas. Take the two most popular ideas for each category and as a group agree on one idea per category.
5. Take the top idea per category. You may feel that you fit many of these profiles, but choose the one(s) you want to come through the strongest in your brand. Your brainstorming session is now adjourned.
6. You and perhaps one board member take those top ideas and define your “Brand Positioning Statement” which I promise will match your brand objective.
If you feel you need a bit more guidance on using your top ideas to create the brand, I found brandeo.com to be very helpful. They say there are four elements, or components, of a positioning statement (Simons, 2010):
- Target Audience – the attitudinal and demographic description of the core prospect to whom the brand is intended to appeal; the group of customers that most closely represents the brand’s most fervent users.
- Frame of Reference – the category in which the brand competes; the context that gives the brand relevance to the customer.
- Benefit/Point of Difference – the most compelling and motivating benefit that the brand can own in the hearts and minds of its target audience relative to the competition.
- Reason to Believe – the most convincing proof that the brand delivers what it promises.
My Brand Positioning Statement for the Spanish immersion charter school: “For parents who want their children to have the added benefit of bilingualism, Spanish Immersion Academy is the Spanish education cultural gateway that delivers an added advantage for young minds as they enter middle school and beyond because only Spanish Immersion Academy is firmly positioned to groom our future decision-makers to live and work in an interconnected world and economy.”
Now that you’ve defined your Brand Positioning Statement, what do you want to accomplish with it and how will you measure those accomplishments? According to brandeo.com the criteria for evaluation follows (Simons, 2010):
- Is it memorable, motivating and focused to the core prospect?
- Does it provide a clear, distinctive and meaningful picture of the brand that differentiates it from the competition?
- Can the brand own it?
- Is it credible and believable?
- Does it enable growth?
- Does it serve as a filter for brand decision making?
DAY TWO – BUILD YOUR BRAND BRIDGE! Now that you’ve defined your organization’s Brand Positioning Statement, you need to give it a face. That face is your organization logo and tag line. And while the logo, tag and colors you choose are not your brand – they do bring the brand experience full circle and serve as expressions of your brand that communicate it to your core prospect. It’s possible your current logo and tag line remain relevant even with a new brand. When possible, build on the brand equity you’ve already developed. It’s possible to update your look while still retaining recognizable hints.
Creating or renewing your logo doesn’t have to be daunting. In fact, the single most important element of a logo is oftentimes your organization’s name or acronym of your name, combined with a color scheme that fits your brand. Your volunteer designer was a participant in the brainstorming session and has a handle on an appropriate font, color(s), and design elements which augment your brand. The tagline is your mission sound bite. A good tagline doesn’t just tell people what you do in a few short words – it instantly evokes a feeling that is consistent with your brand. These elements must resonate, poised for recall. If your brand is memorable, it will last a long time.
Recently the YMCA of the USA was ranked the #1 nonprofit brand by Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100 (DaSilva, 2009) report. It makes sense, all you say is “The Y,” or see The Y. And getting back to my point about tag, logo and color; I didn’t realize until this blog that the Y changed its color “Y” from Red. Of course there is a reason for the new assortment of color s and that creates various new impressions related to their brand, yet, by keeping their logo, “The Y”, their brand equity was not tied to the color of their logo whatsoever.
In everything you do on Day One and Day Two, remember that your brand is your bridge to the public’s head, heart and ultimately hands, either by their gifts of time, items, funds, or all three. Your brand has to be versatile and meaningful for everyone it speaks to, including those who support your work, and those who benefit from it.
DAY THREE – GET ON THE SAME PAGE: Part I, Organizational Training. During the Preparation Phase, schedule a mandatory 1 – 2 hour staff meeting for Day Three. If your entire staff didn’t participate in the brainstorming session or some board members couldn’t make it, this time will be blocked off on their schedule for you to announce your new Brand Positioning Statement and the detailed process (including those involved in the process). It’s important to illustrate the brainstorming process you used to arrive at the new brand. You need organizational buy-in. Next, train your staff and key volunteers on your new brand and how it’s to be used. Ensure that every person working or volunteering for your organization has this information, or that it’s accessible to them.
I like to invest in a supply of 2 GB flash drives (priced between $1 – $5) to save all your branded materials on and distribute to staff and board for use. It’s often helpful to create key messages and talking points for the organization. Include those on the flash drive and strongly emphasize the importance of using the brand consistently across departments.
Many organizations feel the need to create a dense and rarely read brand style guide. I don’t believe in them. Brands are no longer static. Today they’re fluid, flexible and nonlinear (Greenberg, 2008). In order to stay on track with your brand and organization identity you need to revisit it annually to ensure your message remains relevant – if not, adjust. This doesn’t mean you change your logo (as we know, that isn’t your brand), you subtly adjust your brand messaging.
This is a fast paced society – an on-line environment is in a constant state of “real time” change. It could be prompted by a current event, negative publicity, or economy shift. You must position yourself to evolve as our world evolves. Change is hard; one can make it an easier transition if they are prepared to remain fluid, flexible and open to the likelihood of change whenever needed.
Next, review all organizational materials to ensure brand application, bringing it to life and use as soon as possible. Review your letterhead, business cards, website, newsletter, brochures, flyers, signage and more. Then assign a watch dog to ensure that the integrity of your brand and messaging is maintained.
DAY FOUR – TRAIN YOUR AMBASSADORS TO BECOME STORY TELLERS: Part Two, Organizational Training: Everyone associated with your organization has a life outside of it. I train my nonprofit clients to use all opportunities available to them in their daily lives to become ambassadors of the organization. What you do or what you’re involved in comes up as a topic of conversation. Whether you are at your child’s soccer game, your book club, at dinner with friends, or in a grocery line, prepare your ambassadors to acknowledge these opportunities and then use them to tell your organization’s story, giving your new brand legs. This is where talking points become useful.
Storytelling remains your single most powerful communications tool in verbally reinforcing your brand identity because it innately creates an emotional connection between you and the person you are speaking with which can then be reinforced using social media.
Your story must be concise, clear and compelling. Begin by writing out the story you tell donors, from your perspective. What motivated you to get involved, what motivates you to stay, the good that you have witnessed and how it made you feel. Keep it short and share with your fellow storytellers. If the story is confusing and poorly conveyed, the intended audience will dismiss it in a matter of seconds. However, if it’s engaging and touches the heart, he or she will likely become entranced and moved to use their hands – either by volunteering, giving stuff, money or all three. Prepare your internal family to become enticing storytellers as they move through their day.
Here is an example of the key message and talking points to provide your ambassadors to use in creating their personal story and emotional appeal:
Key Message: This is a description of how you are delivering on your promise. “Spanish Immersion Academy offers parents of elementary-age children the opportunity to give them a bilingual education which prepares their children to live and work in our increasingly interconnected world.”
Talking Points: Describe the unique benefits of your organization, or a unique way the organization provided an advantage to you or a member of your family.
- Full Spanish Immersion (from the moment dropped off, to the moment picked up, students speak Spanish)
- A maximum of 18 children per classroom
- Offers advanced classes and classes for learning disabilities, along with extracurriculars like band, art, gym, and music
- A close-knit community – every teacher not only knows my child’s name, they know my name
- While at work with me, my 5th grader overheard a gentleman ask for directions to the elevator in Spanish. My child answered the question and had a fluent conversation with him. Lyndon was beaming with pride afterwards. It was the first time he fully understood what his Spanish education will mean for his future.
DAY FIVE – TAKE IT GLOBAL! By Day Five you’ve defined your brand: 1) The organization is differentiated from others and can authentically deliver on its promise to fulfill the mission. 2) The logo and tagline enhance your brand by instantly evoking a consistent emotion or feeling. 3) Your key message and talking points are defined and the organizational family will convey your story in a manner which inspires involvement.
Now you’re ready to use technology to take the brand online! Believe it or not, there are people out there actively seeking brands that are right for them. In your case, they are seeking a nonprofit organization brand that matches their personal value system. Furthermore, they are actively seeking a nonprofit brand because they are ready to dig in and help. This typically happens in the New Year, as people solidify their New Year’s resolutions or goals.
It could be my industry or the fact that the information age is “nearly” as old as I am, but the fact is that if something piques my interest – a phrase, name, organization, association, topic – I Google it. Depending on what bubbles-up – website, Facebook page, LinkedIn or Twitter account – I check in to find out more. If what I find strikes a chord, I “share” it.
Honestly, if you’re not online with your brand, you don’t exist. You certainly aren’t fully respected by your peers, nor will they believe you can deliver on your promise to fulfill your mission. Let me imprint the importance of creating your online home in a manner that you will retain beyond this reading. Remember what I said earlier? You must be poised to evolve as the world around you evolves. And today an individual’s first interaction with a brand is commonly first witnessed through digital technology. If you ignore the place of social marketing in today’s world, your brand will remain invisible.
Chris Garrett of chrisg.com recommends that if you want to build your online brand, you have to know how all your activities work together. You need consistency and congruency. Each part of the social media puzzle builds into a picture people have of you; how they imagine you to be relates to how you really are to the degree you get this stuff right (Garrett, 2008). Chris also suggests that the best way to approach social media is to choose your venues and connect them in some way to your blog. I agree, because that’s what I do. My blog is the truest representation of my company and its brand. Yours should be too. All our best stuff originates and is archived in this place. When I Google you, you want me to land on your blog or your website which clearly links to your blog.
DAY SIX – COLLABORATE FOR SUSTAINABILITY! If all is done well, your most dynamic donors are inspired to collaborate or form a solid partnership with your organization because they are invested in its success and sustainability. You have successfully attracted newcomers, increased interest in current donors and recovered lapsed donors into more active participants, all because you now express who you are in a way that builds your close-knit community of donors, volunteers and community partners.
Now that you are out there standing tall, proud and true to who you really are – you’ve attracted new attention, gained renewed respect – it’s important to acknowledge your hard work and sustain your newly found presence by sharing blog-posts, event announcements, and newsworthy articles on a monthly basis. In January 2011, my blog topic was how to Build an On-Board Strategy. This is what I’m asking you to address and create on Day Six. Ensure you are fully prepared to retain and grow the new and renewed interest you have now created within your organization. Here are the six steps I provided in order to build your on-board strategy: 1) Email quarterly newsletters, 2) Send out regular press releases and press clippings, 3) Add your website, Facebook Page, Twitter ID and current blog topic to your email signature, 4) Host an open house, 5) Solicit letters of endorsement from donors, city officials, celebrities, etc. and place them on your website and social media sites, 6) Meet with new donors or renewed donors in person, not to ask for a gift, but to solicit feedback on any aspect of your organization, mission, or brand.
DAY SEVEN – MAKE SURE IT WORKS! The last seven days have been trying, I’m sure. It’s important that what you’ve created is working. In all you do, you must evaluate and track your outcomes. There are free tools to track your online success such as Google Alerts. Simply choose keywords associated with your organization and Google will send a link to your email with any online news that has this keyword. It lets you know who is writing about you or reprinting articles or blogs you have posted online. With free analytics, you can also track if your renewed brand and online presence is driving more traffic to your website. Again there are free tools through Google called Google Analytics. You can also use the free tool Clicky Web Analytics. Both are easy to understand and will show you how many people found your site, the total number of visits, bounces (people who leave the site without going past the first page) and so much more.
Google Analytics will let you know where your website traffic is coming from (Arkansas, Amsterdam, Uganda), who it is (male/female), and their IP address. Using Google Analytics, I recognized that many international NGOs where visiting my website and staying. I began to market directly to NGOs. As a result, my international business went up by almost 40%.
In closing, developing a strong brand is hard work; it takes a lot of time and a commitment to giving your organization a recognizable image in the community. But you wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t realize how important that is to every single aspect of a nonprofit’s activities, from bringing in clients, to fundraising, to collaborating with partners, to getting great board members and volunteers on your side. The hard work a good brand will do for you is well worth the effort. Ultimately, it’s all about building brand equity and the amount of money a donor will give just because it’s your brand.