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Nautilus-1 To quote @ScottMonty Global Head of Social Media at Ford Motor Company, “What’s the ROI of not putting your pants on in the morning?” He’s talking about social media marketing. But the same applies to branding. In other words, you can’t afford not to brand.

So if the ROI of good branding is huge, how do you minimize the costs?  Here are three cost-effective tools you can start using right away.

1. Email is Free Ad Space!

I often receive emails without any “signature” –what a lost opportunity! A signature line doesn’t just give you a chance to tell your name and title, it gives you space for a blog link, twitter hashtag for an upcoming event, or YouTube link to your latest video.  This simple free advertising can be employed unilaterally—and uniformly–across your organization. (Send a “signature of the week” email to everyone with easily copied info.)

2. Mine Your Own Content!

A tool everyone has, but rarely maximizes—is your own media library. Maybe because it’s not so much a library as a pile, a box, a series of files that no one can find.  Graphics, photographs, audio interviews or videotape footage–these all have sunk costs, and can be re-purposed for much less than the initial investment. The key is to use metatags and an archiving and workflow system that makes sense to everyone in your organization. Avoid those awful automatic names (IMG_001) by batch renaming–but always maintain the original name in the data. (Adobe Bridge is a handy tool for this, though there are many others. Here’s a “how to” video by my friend @richardharrington on how to do this.) But whether you use a sophisticated archiving system or a spreadsheet,   the ultimate cost savings to promote your brand is large, since you will avoid re-shooting or re-acquiring images or footage where something from your own “stock” library would work to tell the story.

3. Video Sells!

According to IndieGogo, “Crowdfunding pitches with video content raise 112% more than those without.” Video certainly is one of the top-most searched items on the web. But producing a branding video in-house can be daunting, and commissioning one to be made can be costly. So consider starting small, with a podcast. With just the investment in a digital audio recorder or a small digital camera, and some basic audio recording/mixing software (here),  you can give out some useful information, and cross-promote your organization’s other content–books, websites, conferences, upcoming events.

Just using these three low-cost or free tools can help you gain ground with your brand, which in turn can help you increase fundraising, sales, visibility, memberships or issue awareness.

Nautilus-1“We can’t afford branding” is a frequent refrain I hear from smaller nonprofit groups.  In reality, you can’t afford not to brand.

The term branding seems to carry with it the image of an expensive and long-term contract with ad agencies and experts.  Advocacy groups are generally the exception to this rule.  Because they are trying to make bold changes in policy—whether towards the environment, social welfare or healthcare—they have learned that their brand alone can mean the difference between getting or losing a donation, a volunteer, or the attention of a lawmaker.   Greenpeace is an excellent example.  Whether or not you approve of their tactics, their name immediately conveys action on behalf of the environment.  If someone from Greenpeace approaches you about making a contribution, joining a petition, or setting up a meeting, you don’t need a lot of time to learn about what they do.  It is already conveyed by the brand.

Organizations of all sizes can benefit financially from better branding. And it doesn’t always have to cost a lot. Here are three cost-effective branding tools.

1. Email is Free Advertising

I often receive emails from executives at nonprofits without any “signature” that indicates who they are, who they work for, and how to reach them.  This is a missed opportunity for free advertising, which should be employed unilaterally—and uniformly–across the organization.

But e-mail isn’t just an opportunity to give out contact information.  An e-mail signature tag can be updated, creating a free way to notify all your email recipients about current events related to your issue, programs, or membership opportunities.  You can also include web links other than your main site. For example, if you have an upcoming conference, that website can be included. Here’s a simple and free way you can give donors, members and the general public a better sense of the “value” of being part of your cause.

2. Use Podcasts to Cross-Promote

One of the main reasons people become involved in nonprofits, whether as staff members, donors or volunteers, is that they believe in the mission and want to create change.  And one of the keys to creating change is educating ourselves about what needs changing. Millions of people got involved in the green movement because Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” made the case for climate change visually compelling.

Now you can do the same thing with a podcast.

With just an investment in a digital audio recorder, or a small digital camera, and some basic audio recording/mixing software, you can give out some useful information, and cross-promote your organization’s other content–books, websites, conferences, upcoming events.  Here’s an example of an organization that is helping to promote its cause and its members through podcasts

3. Mine Your Own Content

The other terrific resource nonprofits have—and rarely use—to promote mission and brand is their own media libraries.  The cost is essentially free, since you have already paid to acquire these materials, which include graphics, photographs, audio interviews or videotape footage.  The only investment is the time to organize it in such a way that it becomes useful to multiple people for a variety of projects.  The ultimate cost savings is large, since you will avoid re-shooting or re-acquiring images or footage where something from your own “stock” library would work to tell the story.

Just using these three low-cost or free tools can help you gain ground with your brand, which in turn can help you increase fundraising, visibility, memberships or issue awareness.

c 2009 Amy DeLouise