Part 1 - The Importance of Branding; Should You Rebrand?

Advice from Big Duck’s Sarah Durham

Branding is critically important for any business, organization or non-proft, but too often it is overlooked. Powerful branding can launch a company from successful to age-defining, household names: Apple, Coca-cola, Nike, Nestle etc. These brands are so recognizable they are practically cultural institutions. Bad branding can leave even the best-run business struggling to get their voice heard in the noise. It’s understandable that branding has remained low on the priority list for nonprofits, who by definition, rarely have a plentiful marketing budget and as such are compelled to focus resources on fundraising or development. It’s easy to overlook something as abstract, as seemingly cosmetic, as branding which can be incredibly detrimental.

“Increasingly, what we have found is that more and more nonprofits are thinking about branding in a more reflective and smart way than ever before—and, particularly, seeing it as a strategy to communicate more clearly so they can build relationships mostly with individual donors,” said Sarah Durham, president of Big Duck, a communications firm based in New York City. “And that’s a big shift. I started Big Duck 21 years ago, and the first 10 years of the business I almost never even used the word branding. It was almost like a word that nonprofits found offensive. These days, I think that nonprofits understand that branding is really about reputation management.”

So, let’s take a look at branding strategy. If it’s an afterthought—or even if it’s already high priority but in need of a refresh—it might be time to make it an integral part of your audience engagement strategy. Could it be time to rebrand?

There are two big branding concerns that we’re going to unpack.

1. It’s Purely Aesthetic.

Your logo is important, but it’s only a small part of the branding mix. “It really helps for people to understand that branding isn’t just about your logo, or even your logo and your messaging—it’s about everything you do internally and externally that impacts how people perceive you,” Durham explained. “And donors first and foremost have to have a positive sense of what the organization is and why they should support it.” A great logo never hurts, but branding has to do more than look cool. It has to resonate with the audience enough to compel them to your cause. Your nonprofit might have the best logo and the on-the-money marketing, but if those elements aren’t part of a broader plan—a cohesive effort involving all parts of your organization working to communicate a singular story —your branding will fall flat. Branding has to support the story, not carry it.

2. It’s Hard to Measure its Effects.

It’s difficult to analyse something like brand related equity: how do you know it’s your branding strategy, and not your cause or product, that’s influencing customer donation or engagement? This makes it easy to dismiss branding as little more than an ill-defined marketing gimmick. Don’t overthink it, and don’t try and single out the aesthetics in the company success or failures—just look at the bottom line. “We conducted this survey, working with a market research firm, that’s sort of a quantified look at what happens to nonprofits when they rebrand—what do they change, does it impact fundraising, does it impact recruitment into programs, all of that stuff,” said Durham. “One of the most interesting things we found in that study was that a lot of nonprofits had rebranded fairly recently, but those that had rebranded two years ago or more were seeing a sizeable shift in their ability to raise money. We saw that more than 50 percent of nonprofits that rebrand report that they’ve seen an increase in their revenue. […] That’s a very high number, especially compared to only 4 percent who say they’ve seen a decrease in revenue.”

So Do You Need To Rebrand?

Although naturally it varies from nonprofit to nonprofit, but Durham noted that most choose to rebrand when there’s a “transitional moment”—a leadership change, a new organizational strategy, or a shift in focus. “If your organization changes—if it gets older, if you have new leadership or a new strategic plan—and the way you’ve been communicating still works, great. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she continued. “I never recommend a rebrand just as a matter of course. It’s not like getting your teeth cleaned—it’s a lot of work, and it can be time-consuming and disruptive and expensive, so you really don’t want to go through that kind of process unless what you’re going to get out of it on the other side is worth it.”

Why Rebrand? A Case Study.

Is a rebrand worth it? What with the inevitable costs that accompany the decision to rebrand, it has to make financial sense in the long-term. Durham’s numbers suggest that it is, and so does the anecdotal evidence. Cure SMA, a charity dedicated to the treatment and cure of spinal muscular atrophy, a terminal disorder that affects children, is one of the charities Durham mentioned whose rebrand led to increased revenue. When Cure SMA approached Big Duck about rebranding, an issue was the organization’s then-name: Families of SMA. The charity had a strong footprint in the SMA parent and patient community, but it wanted to increase funding for research and was having difficulties reaching a broader donor audience. “They needed people who are not necessarily directly affected by SMA to know what they do and feel compelled to want to support the cause. And so, when we took them through a rebranding process, we looked at all the ways they were communicating, what was working and what wasn’t,” Durham explained. “One of the things that came up in that was that their name, Families of SMA, was kind of restricting—it assumes you were directly affected. So we actually shifted their name over to something they had already been using, Cure SMA—that was their URL—and we just made Cure SMA the name of the organization.” Durham noted that this scenario—an organization outgrowing its name—is one of the most common reasons for a rebrand. The American Association for Retired Persons, she explained, now goes solely by its acronym, AARP, in an effort to reach an audience beyond retirees. “We see a lot of organizations that have those kinds of situations—they’re carrying around maybe language or ideas or visuals that are reflective of the past, not the future,” she said. If you feel a rebrand might be right for your organization, stay tuned! In our next blog post we will be guiding you through exactly how to do that (little hint, video can play a huge part!) For more tips and tricks on digital marketing, and how to use video content to grow your businesses reach more than any other medium, check out our previous blog posts. If you’re ready to use video to start telling your story, or relating it in a new way, contact One Story Productions today and we can help get your voice heard.

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