Solid branding is just as critical for nonprofits as it is in the corporate world.  A brand that is not aligned with organizational goals, principles, and donor investments, is in serious trouble. And because a re-brand can take time and dollars away from key mission, it scares people .  Nonprofits can also find re-branding daunting because it can be a deeply emotional process for donors, long-time volunteers and staff.  Here are some reasons to do a re-brand and ways to make it a productive, even exciting process.

Why Re-Brand?

1.  Your name/logo/tagline no longer reflect your true mission.

2.  No one knows what your mission is when they hear your name.

3.  You are expanding your mission and want to ensure all your external materials reflect this.

4.  You have gone from being a collection of local or regional organizations to being a national one and need a new, unified identity.

Reasons NOT to Re-Brand a Nonprofit

1. You have multiple and divergent missions that not everyone can agree on (not a re-brand issue, but a good reason to embark on a strategic planning process).

2. You’ve really messed something up (you need crisis PR and brand attention, but not necessarily a re-brand).

3. Your logo style and color is dated (this may be true, but may not be reason enough to give up the brand capital associated with it).

Okay, let’s assume you’ve gone through all the due diligence and decided it’s really time for a change. What’s involved?

A Strategic Plan for Your Brand

Branding is always an act of imagination. The question to ask if you want to re-brand is “will this help propel our mission to where we envision ourselves 10-15 years from now?”  Or, in the lingo of corporate brands, “does it help us deliver on our brand promise?”  And just as you have a multi-year road map for your organizational work, you need a strategy for your re-brand.   Here are three things to focus on in a re-brand and questions for your board and staff to consider.

1. Programs and Services.  Are they consistent with our mission/vision?

2.  Governance Structure.  Do our bylaws, board governance, and staff-board  and staff-volunteer relationships effectively support our programs and services? Do we offer a consistency of vision and goal-setting across all parts of the organization?

3.  External Signifiers. Do our name/logo/tag line/communications channels help people understand our mission, vision and value to our community?

So many organizations start a re-branding with the externals and then fail at the re-brand because the internals are still not quite in sync.

Brand Identity Touchstones

Another element to success is checking in with key constituencies.  I’m not recommending crowd-sourcing your new logo. But when considering changing any key aspect of your branding—colors, logo and/or tag line—consider these useful perspectives:

1.        Current customers/clients/donors.  Organizations that already have deep roots into social networks can use them for feedback. But it’s also good to use old-fashioned focus groups, with a trained professional to run them. However realize that all of these sources are subjective and subject to change from a variety of external pressures you can’t necessarily control.

2.       Prospective customers/clients/donors.  This one is always a bit harder to pinpoint, but a firm specializing in both quantitative and qualitative survey data can help you hone in on key sub-markets and assess the resonance of your new branding with them.

3.       Vendors.  I know, on first blush this seems odd. But as one of the people who often has to deal with people’s new logos (for multimedia/video production), I’m often struck by how they don’t work across multiple mediums.  Check in with your essential communications vendors–from printers to video producers to webmasters–and be sure that you are considering the fonts and colors that work best in their media.

As you craft your new brand vision, always come back to mission. Consider how your donors, volunteers, policymakers and the public will remain confident that you will provide the value they expect and deserve.

©2010 B. DeLouiseLast week I conducted a social media workshop at a staff retreat.  Most of the participants were using social media for at least some personal or professional use. A small percentage were very active. A couple abhorred the idea, and thought I was there to force them onto Facebook. Instead, we talked about reaching vital communities of customers and prospects who are using mobile web, various social networks, and  downloadable apps. We discussed how by sharing their expertise and building personal brands in these communities, team members could further the organization’s overall marketing and client retention goals.   Then we did an exercise looking at brands in various unrelated fields to see how they were using social media to engage customers and generate excitement.  Suddenly the room was buzzing with ideas.  The group set aside more time post-workshop for planning and execution.

The takeaway? Staff teams need support–including just plain old brainstorming time–to feel confident in supporting your brand. So, how can you help them do this?

Use the buddy system.

Many executive staff are not digital natives. They’ve heard all the hype about social media. Maybe they are tweeting or on Linked In. But they are not connecting these communities to their day-to-day goals for the company. They need specific, actionable examples of how to use each medium to promote their personal brand, their expertise as it relates to your business, and build their own contacts and communities. After initial training, one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to support this work is by developing an in-house mentoring program, teaming experienced execs with younger staffers. The former understand your brand and customers, but need help leveraging social networks. The latter understand social media but don’t always understand effective networking or customer relations. The two can help each other.

Identify the goalposts.

Everyone loves to talk metrics. I’ve certainly talked about them plenty in other posts on this blog. But the best measurement tools are the ones your own team develops. And good measurement usually starts with good questions. What communications are most valued by current customers? How many contacts does it take to turn a prospect into a client?  What unique expertise can your team offer or curate from other reliable sources? What outcomes will determine your success? If one approach isn’t successful, what’s the next step?

Choose team captains.

To stay with the sports metaphor a moment longer, who will be the key points of contact in the organization for social interactions (and not just online ones)? Are they trained on how to respond to all kinds of feedback and queries? Are they comfortable being the face of your organization in the community? What’s the crisis response plan and what triggers it? These leaders–who by the way aren’t necessarily department heads–can also reward colleagues for innovation and creative thinking (MVP awards).

Review the 50,000 foot objectives.

Key staff are often connected to your organization through only one pathway–their department.  They need to be periodically briefed on new initiatives and the big picture about your brand promise to all of your customers. That includes the experience you promote for your own employees (i.e. the people who report to your key staff).  Everyone on the team needs to be able to easily deliver an “elevator pitch” about your firm and connect it to their own experience–why they like working there, what drew them to the business, etc.  This is where social media really shines, as employees can tweet or post a Facebook update with their own personality and perspectives.

Offer recognition.

Staff need more than their names on the masthead or business cards. They need to be publicly thanked when they do a good job of supporting your mission. When staff receive recognition for bringing their own brand to bear on yours, then others are more inclined to invest more of their time and talents connecting to the wider community.

Helping your team use new tools can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s one worth the effort. When they feel supported, the customer and the company wins.

As part of my series of guest posts from colleagues here is contribution from Kim Foley, president of Professional Image Strategies. Kim teaches credibility workshops for organizations, as well as being a television stylist and author. In a world filled with casual Friday attire, I though she could shed some light on the relationship between branding and credibility.

Everyday my challenge is to help my clients be seen as the credible experts they are. Whether my client is on the cover of a magazine or professional journal, being interviewed on television, or executing a presentation or speech, it is critical that their visual message supports and enhances their verbal message. Think about it – have you ever been watching a TV interview and wondered, “Where in the heck did they dig this person up?”

Your credentials and reputation are only part of the story when it comes to credibility and branding. It is far too easy to dismiss those who do not conform to the picture we carry in our heads of a credible person. All societies and tribes have cultural, unspoken rules about what communicates integrity, and garners trust from those around us. Everyday we all have the opportunity to either enhance or to sabotage our personal brand. The hard truth is – it is impossible to inspire or persuade others if they do not see us as having credibility.

The fight or flight reaction is still part of our primal response. The result of this response in modern times is to either confront or disengage from those whom we do not trust. Everyday in the workplace there are lost opportunities and derailed dreams all because of a person’s credibility. Those with questionable credibility will not get the job promotion they are seeking; those running for office will not get elected; and those trying to sell, persuade or lead will be left feeling confused about why they are powerless.

So how do you assess your own credibility factor, or the credibility factor of those who are representing your organization? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is driving your ‘look’? Is it style? Comfort? Or is it (as it should be) credibility. Successful people are intentional about their choice of clothes, shoes, hairstyle and accessories, and credibility is their motivator.
  2. What are the cultural expectations for your profession or position? When you are introduced to a person of influence, do you fit their view of what a “_____” should look like? Is your look too casual? Is your wardrobe up to date?
  3. Do you understand the subliminal statements of color? Everything from the color of your tie to the color of your organization’s logo should be chosen with care. They are making impressions on the minds of those you meet, visit your websites and receive your brochures. What is the message you want to communicate? Is it strength and power? Is it reliability and trust? The color and design you choose will either support or negate that message.
  4. Do you know what your clothing is saying? Your outward appearance is like the frame on an artist’s masterpiece. It should be complementary, without distracting the eye of the viewer. You want them to remember you, not what you were wearing. Your visual message must support your verbal message.

The assumptions that people make about us when we are first introduced are critically important. These assumptions, or stories, that are constructed in people’s minds, strongly influence whom they do business with, whom they take seriously and whom they desire to build a relationship with. We need to take control of that story. We need to carefully craft the message that we project.

If we want people to perceive us as a person or an organization of value and integrity, someone they can trust, then we need to understand the value of appearance when we are planning and implementing branding. When we don’t take the time and effort to create the visuals that match the message we desire to portray, we make a subliminal statement to everyone around us about how little value we place on ourselves and the organization that we represent.  When we acknowledge the role appearance plays, we can support our personal and professional brand.

–Kim Foley