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The Branding Imperative

By Jeff McLinden

Why is “branding” an issue you need to consider?

Well, how about “survival?”

Some nonprofit organizations are discovering that rethinking their brand is a necessity for surviving within a hyper-competitive marketplace.  I’m not talking here about a simple change of a logo or adding a tag-line to the organization’s stationery or even a new website.  It’s far more complex than that.

Some are seeing that “branding” means a complete change of identity that coincides with the implementation of a renewed vision and strategic objectives.  Such an identity change includes the selection and promotion of a new name for the organization with accompanying creation and application of a strong visual identity across the ministry’s marketing, fundraising and communications materials.  But while establishing names and creating logos is the traditional view of “creating a corporate identity,” we believe that today’s highly competitive marketing and nonprofit environment demands a more comprehensive approach.

Even in the nonprofit world, strong brands increasingly have become the one and only sustainable competitive advantage.  Brands must be viewed as the primary factor that differentiates a nonprofit organization from others with similar causes.  In this respect, it is not the causal products with which your customers or donors develop relationships…  It is your brand.  Powerful brands are created through a carefully crafted, and even more carefully managed, combination of visual AND experiential factors that work together to create indelible impressions and interactions in the minds and hearts of organizational stakeholders.

The problem is to craft a branding strategy that goes beyond mere satisfaction for various constituent groups…  Rather, you must seek to create and implement an experientially superior brand/image/identity that will not only delight current stakeholders in your organization — if yours is a religious organization, for example, this will include missionaries, staff, donors, churches, board members, etc. — but will serve as a magnet to attract new missionaries, new donors, new church partners and more.

We view this process, not as merely a departmental issue or a communications strategy, but as an organizational imperative.  Branding will affect the name, the look, the feel of your nonprofit, to be sure.  But it will also affect the language of your organization, its customer/donor interfaces, its service to various stakeholder groups, how it recruits and follows-up new staff, etc.

The ultimate objective is not merely to establish a strong brand.  Rather it is to establish and maintain strong brand loyalty.   Creation of a strong brand identity is part of that task.  Successful implementation of that brand identity is the result of creative applications across all marketing materials and customer/donor engagement arenas, and effective marketing and communications planning and execution.

How’s your brand?  Perhaps the best way to find out is to see how your competitors are doing.  And how many of your stakeholders are leaving.