that your constituent base (donors, volunteers, clients, customers) is also mushy. They drop in; they drop out.
I was reminded of the basics of effective branding: (1) Make a promise; (2) Stand by your promise; (3) Communicate what you stand for with a simple, clear message, and (4) Motivate people to take action.
Will the Occupy movement be able to strengthen its brand enough to sustain and build a loyal following? The aforementioned article quotes Russ Meyer, chief strategy officer with branding firm Landor Associates, noting that the movement needs a simple, clear message that motivates people to take action. Peter Sealey, adjunct professor at the Peter Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University and former chief marketing officer for Coke reminds us that “Every brand needs to do two things.” One is to create awareness (and Sealey gives Occupy Wall Street an A+ on this test); the other is to articulate a promise or benefit. Here, Sealey says, is where the protesters fail.
A strong brand can lend itself to donor loyalty, increased donor investment and distinguishing one nonprofit from another. A nonprofit’s brand – its reputation for delivering on its promise – should be: (1) clear; (2) consistent; (3) relevant to the nonprofit’s mission, and (4) emotionally connecting to the organization’s target audiences.
The kicker these days is that we are in a Darwinian digital world of empowered consumers; we no longer create our own brands. With so much of a brand’s identity channeled through informal social networking and other web 2.0 user-directed interactivity, how do you protect and nurture your brand? We can’t just decide upon our promise and then say this is who we are. We have to be who we are. And for that to happen, our constituents need to perceive us to be exactly who we claim to be.
There are real consequences today for not delivering. Consider what United Airlines spent to flog us with Rhapsody in Blue coupled with touching animations of weary travelers returning home to family and friends; then the nearly 11 million hits for United Breaks Guitars, a four-minute video created by a disgruntled passenger.
For branding to work, consumers must feel a connection and relevance. The United Airlines passenger must agree that flying United feels warm and fuzzy and caring. The guitar video accumulated tens of thousands of five-star ratings, likely attributable to the number of viewers who identified with the singer’s experience.
Of course, the best way for us to appreciate our own constituents’ experience is to ask them. Today, this can be accomplished via numerous social media channels. We can create conversations, participate in ongoing conversations, and get into the minds of our audiences in ways never before possible. What we must do is find the common thread that connects everyone.
The Occupy movement hasn’t yet settled on this common thread, although key points are emerging through the “We are the 99%” slogan that is being brandished. But good messaging, while important, is not sufficient standing alone. It works only if it supports and communicates a clear promise. Now is as good a time as ever to remind ourselves of branding basics, and ask:
The old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts applies. Your brand is the sum of your constituents’ perceptions of your organization. The more aligned you are with these perceptions – not just in word but in deed – the stronger your brand. And the stronger your brand, the more known you become and the more others become willing to invest and stay loyal to you – what you stand for (your promise), how you deliver (on that promise) and the results that ensue (your promise fulfilled).
I particularly like this point: "If we think that saying we’re “caring” or “supportive” or “transforming” or “trustworthy” distinguishes us from the crowd, we need to think again. To the public, these are general “nonprofit” values." Thanks for reminding us how ubiquitous these terms are.
In some future post, I'd like to see you discuss the relationship between "personal brand" and "company brand"–which is a major overlap in many entrepreneurial ventures, including B-corps. Does that play out anywhere in the nonprofit arena?
This is an interesting point. Certainly B Corporation certification signals to investors, consumers and employees that you are using business to solve social and environmental problems.Generally, this grows out of the founder's personal passions — so who they are, what they stand for, and what they promise to deliver should be more or less 100% aligned with the raison d'etre of the business. In this case, the difference between the personal and company brand would not be that significant. EXCEPT… it is incumbent upon the leader to assure that these personal values and characteristics are incorporated as company values, and that everyone within the business walks this talk. In ADDITION, there must be coherance between the founder's vision and the desires of the contituency the B-Corp was formed to serve. Without this, the personal and corporate brands could begin to diverge.
For B-Corps, certification is like an umbrella brand that helps alert consumers that the organization's motives are driven by considerations other than profit. Similarly, organizations with 501 (c) (3) status are automatically viewed as socially beneficial. These categorizations give an aspect to the brand of B-Corps and nonprofits which is immediately valued by external stakeholders.But it's still just one, general perception.
In the nonprofit arena, just as with B-Corps, any organization with a strong, visionary, charismatic leader (especially a founder) will have a tendency to mirror the leader's personal brand — especially in the beginning. The founder must try to institutionalize the brand through infrastructure, staff and board leadership. Over time, however, the personal characteristics of the founder may begin to fade and the organization's brand may emerge as something somewhat different. This is generally a healthy sign, as time never stands still.