Each year, I crisscross the country speaking at various nonprofit conferences. And while the conversation around nonprofit branding is gaining momentum, many nonprofit leaders continue to hold a narrow perspective on what it means to build and leverage a strong, needle-moving brand. They often equate brand to their logo, a cool color palette, and a set of identity guidelines—prioritizing consistency as the main objective.
The problem with that view, or brand model, is that it’s no longer enough, especially in today’s competitive giving environment.
What is a brand?
A brand is more than your logo, a clever tagline, or trendy color palette. It’s more than a guidelines manual. It’s the promise you make to your many audiences. The essence – heart and soul – of your organization. It’s the experiences you create, the personality you convey, the messages and stories you deliver, and the identity you express. It captures and communicates your mission and distinct culture. A brand defines and differentiates your approach to fulfilling your mission. It makes who you are as an organization known, felt and understood. It builds pride and creates alignment. It inspires staff, donors, board members, corporate sponsors, community partners, and perhaps most importantly, those you serve.
The elephant in the room
So, you’ve created a new logo and the perfect tagline that better reflect the work you do. And you have a shiny new set of brand guidelines. Excellent. Each are important components in your brand toolbox.
But, there’s an elephant in the room: Then what?
All too often nonprofits begin to second guess their investment of time, money and resources in a rebrand. After all the excitement over the new look subsides, they begin to notice the dashboard needles aren’t moving as much as anticipated. Why? Because it’s not enough to simply update your brochure and website, and make everything look consistent. But, how you strategically leverage your new brand and retooled marketing and communications infrastructure that can help take your brand to the next level – and significantly improve your donor acquisition, retention and fundraising results.
What’s the right approach?
The rebrand advice I give my clients and conference attendees is two-fold:
1. Answer, “Then what?” before you lift a finger to rebrand
Knowing why you want to rebrand on the front end can mean the difference between soaring success and disappointing failure. Knowing what problems you want to solve, which opportunities you want to capitalize on, and how you will leverage your new brand – before you invest precious time, money and resources – will help ensure the success of your rebrand.
2. Develop your brand strategy
Your brand strategy will help define who you are and why you exist, the audiences you serve. It will help define your unique role within the lives of those you serve, your community, and the world.
When developed intentionally, your brand strategy will help inform the creation of your new logo and tagline.
Your strategy will guide the creation of the key messages you’ll convey across all touch points of your brand, from programs and services to fundraising campaigns. Your brand strategy will help create your vibrant and compelling brand story. All of which will help you build donor trust and confidence in your organization, improve donor acquisition and retention, forge new corporate and community partnerships, position your organization as a leading authority, align and empower your board and staff to be your best brand ambassadors, and strengthen your ability to attract top talent.
Your nonprofit brand has never been more important than it is right now
A successful brand will help you engage generational donors, maintain relevance, shift audience perceptions, and clearly articulate your organization’s purpose. And most important, it will help all truly get what you do, why it matters and how they can help. Done well, your brand will have the power to educate, and touch hearts and move minds in a way that inspires people to get involved.
Building and leveraging your brand in a way the produces significant results is not easy. But, doing so is so worth the effort. I call nonprofit brands that excel in today’s competitive environment “Next Level Brands.” In the next article, I’ll share the eight behaviors a nonprofit should master to become a Next Level Brand.
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