Sax Macy Fromm, an accounting firm in Clifton, NJ. Todd Polyniak, a principal, designs and chairs these forums. Yesterday, I attended one of the best yet. Branding for nonprofits was the topic and two experts discussed the branding makeover they did on two very different nonprofits. It was fascinating to learn about the process and the results. There is a lot of interest in nonprofit branding today and it is with due cause. In this day of information overload and internet clutter, it is easy for organizations to not be heard – or worse, not be heard correctly. Communicating who we are and doing it crisply, accurately and endearing passion of our mission is no small task. It is a job for professionals. And Todd interviewed two professionals about their branding work with two very different nonprofits.
Todd first interviewed Walt Guarino, President and Managing partner at SGW and opened with offering this as a definition of a brand: “A brand is a one of a kind promise about who you are, what you stand for, and what unique and meaningful benefits you deliver.” He asked Walt to comment on this as it applies to nonprofits. Walt’s remarks really resonated with my experience when he said, “Nonprofits have a lot of different things to say and when the name doesn’t connect, it takes effort to get people to understand what they are about. Branding triggers reactions and feelings when you see the brand so it is important to get it right.
Todd then referred to marketing guru, Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow” proposition – the purple cow being that which makes an organization remarkable (worth talking about, worth noticing, exceptional, new, interesting) and asked what methods Walt uses to help find “purple cow” in clients?
Walt discussed a specific example of an organization which is over 40 years old and has been home to developmentally disabled individuals during that time. Although the individuals they serve are now adults there are reasons they cannot change the name of their organization which includes the word children. They conducted interviews with a wide spectrum of constituents looking for the nuggets to capture the essence of the organization to use in their branding statement. Involving the participation of all constituents is an important part of the process - to capture the essence of the organization. “Caring haven” is the short phrase they decided on. They also developed a positioning theme: “More than a home to individuals who are developmentally disabled.” This statement invites us learn more about what the “more” is.
Next Todd interviewed David Kessler, founder of Starfish. His general remarks about branding were similar to Walt’s: “Brands are created not only by what it says, but also how people react and interact with it.” I think that when we try to develop our marketing messages from within we tend to stay to much “inside the box” and don’t think about how what we say will capture the attention and heart of those seeing the message. This came through loud and clear in both Walt and David’s examples.
Todd asked David to name the top blunders companies make in branding and David responded citing a briar patch you don’t want to wander into:
1) Brand is not clearly defined and even people within the organization give different opinions about what the brand is
2) Worse thing you can do is send a message with expectations and not meet those expectations
Next Todd brought out a rather wordy plain looking bottle of Dr. Bronner’s all in one soap that doesn’t advertise yet is able to fetch a premium price in stores such as Whole Foods and asked David to comment on why. David’s assessment was quick – It looks “authentic” – that’s the message that people are getting. And when Todd asked about how a nonprofit should go about developing and promoting their brand, David responded with:
1) The nonprofit has to clearly understand what they stand for and actively promote that.
2) Understand your primary purpose, core competencies and the competitive framework you are working in
A brand is an “idea that spreads and to spread it has to be simple, compelling and relevant.” Word of mouth advertising has always existed and today it includes social media and these characteristics are especially important with social media. The potential today via social media is greater than word of mouth advertizing has ever been.
David worked with a Newark, NJ based nonprofit which is expanding the types of programs it offers and would like to expand to have a national presence. David worked with them to develop a new name and logo/identity with the following goals:
• Not limiting
• Has stature
• Competes well nationally
• Works in all media – print, web
Coupled with a key line “transforming young lives through the arts and innovation" the new name and logo captures what they are all about and has a clear, bold look.
The audience was awed by the potential impact the new organization names and positioning statements could make for these organizations. We felt the brands speak.
Here are some great online resources for nonprofits on the topic of branding.
Nancy Schwartz at Getting Attention - Search categories Branding and Taglines for great ideas on this subject. Nancy’s annual tagline contest and report are not to be missed and will inspire your branding ideas for sure.
Kivi Leroux Miller at the Nonprofit Marketing Guide always has great marketing and communications articles including on branding.
An excellent basic article at Guidestar is Nonprofit Branding: Unveiling the Essentials
Just published by Wiley/AFP:
Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding – by Jocelyne Daw and Carol Cone