Insights
3 min Read
October 4, 2016

Why bad brand architecture happens to good organizations

As nonprofits grow and evolve over time, their brands can get complicated. Rather than maintaining one unified look, organizations often create new logos, names, and other unique elements for their programs and initiatives. More often than not, this happens because an organization lacks a strategic framework for managing its brand over time. Things can get very messy.

Brand architecture is about defining and expressing the roles and relationships among the various brands and sub-brands of an organization. Sometimes having more complex brand architecture is the strategic thing to do, but usually, less is more.

Managing a single brand successfully is a time-intensive discipline. Managing multiple brands can be nearly impossible—and usually not strategic—for most nonprofits. Complicating an organization’s brand architecture can be counter-productive—both for the staff managing the various brands internally and for the audiences the brands are intended to engage.

What causes nonprofit brands to get so complicated and disconnected? We see two big reasons.

Internal factors

Without clear guidelines to follow (for instance, in the form of a brand guide or a communications director’s coaching), staff often take the opportunity to develop a new name, logo, color palette, or other elements for a program or initiative. They may feel it’s easier to do that than to navigate red tape, or they may be taking the opportunity to express their own personal tastes or vision for their program.

Organizational silos can also cause issues when it comes to branding. Without strong internal communications, and the clear role of a communications team, brands can take on a life of their own.

No matter the size of your organization’s communication team—whether it’s one person or five—there should be a go-to person or “brand champion” you can seek approval and guidance from about the brand. They should also oversee a simple set of brand guidelines that all staff have access to and make sure new hires and old are clear what they are and how to use them. The brand champion should clearly communicate their role to staff and follow up regularly so that new and long-time staff members are reminded of the guidelines in place.

External factors

Brand architecture often gets complicated because of concerns about external perceptions or buy-in. Some of these concerns are less valid than others. For example, in an organization merger or acquisition, one organization may decide to keep the established identity of another in addition to its own to retain any brand equity it may have. Staff may feel like the risk of alienating or confusing longtime supporters by changing the identity of a program just isn’t worth it. Plenty of organizations also choose to name a program or facility in honor of a major donor or influential person in the organization’s history.

Both approaches may seem wise in the short term but can cause branding complications long term. We recommend thinking about what brand architecture system is going to be clearest to your key audiences in the long term. Then work backwards to decide on what interim changes need to be made to your current brand to get there.

Ultimately brand architecture is usually the result of unasked questions about whether all the various sub-brands under your organization’s umbrella are really necessary. To be able to navigate these decisions, define a brand architecture strategy that maps out guidelines for sub-branding. This should all be codified in your organization’s brand guide: your organization’s go-to resource for all things branding.

Need help? Just give us a call! We regularly help larger organizations navigate these waters.

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