Is your brand healthy? Four steps to give it a check-up
When it comes to branding, it’s easy to get caught up in building your identity—the debates over your new name or logo, the fine-tuning of your color palette, the wordsmithing over your mission statement and elevator pitch, and the back and forth over your shiny new website. But while the creation of your brand is both exciting and intense, keeping it consistent and relevant over time can be just as essential to your reputation. Just like it is important to check on your own health every year, so is too is the need for a periodic brand audit or check-up.
Big Duck conducts several brand check-ups every year—both for organizations we’ve developed brands for and for some we have not (we would be happy to tell you all about it—just drop us a line here). If you think this is something you might want to try in-house, here is a four-step process you can follow to check on the health of your nonprofit’s brand.
1. Book an appointment.
Start by carving out time to focus on this review. Begin by blocking out a morning or afternoon and commit to tuning out the usual distractions of emails, social media, calls, and other meetings. Invite a few of your colleagues from different teams or departments to participate on a brand review committee. Getting diverse perspectives, especially from those that know different members of your community (e.g. donors, volunteers, program participants, funders, activists, etc.), will help you better understand how your organization is communicating with others. Be sure to invite not just the most senior members of the team, but also the ones who interact most frequently with your community. If you have any board members that are connected to specific groups of constituents and/or have communications expertise, consider inviting them, too.
2. Take the pulse of where you are.
Now it is time to revisit your brand strategy and see if it still matches your organization’s strategy and communications. Most nonprofit organizations develop strategic plans every three to five years and/or create annual work plans. Does the explanation of your organization’s purpose, vision, and activities line up with the written, spoken, and visual explanation of who you say you are? And how closely aligned are elements like your mission and values with the thoughts and feelings evoked by your logo or “about us” boilerplate copy? Use your desired positioning (the big idea you hope others might associate with your organization) and personality (the tone and feelings you hope others would use to describe you) as a barometer. If you’ve developed these tools in a recent branding process, use them to review recent publications, your website, your appeals, etc. If you have not developed a brand strategy yet, facilitate exercises with your brand review committee to hone in on what you hope your reputation could be—keeping one foot in ideas that you might authentically be able to own and the other in ideas that are more aspirational. Assuming your brand strategy still feels relevant, look at the messages and visuals you are using in your communications, ask staff members to recite how they explain your organization, and push to see if you are being as clear and consistent as possible. Here’s a look at a similar process Sarah Durham led for the National Brain Tumor Society several years ago.
3. Ask for a second opinion.
Just like many people will recommend you question an initial diagnosis from your doctor, getting the opinion of others is a crucial step as you review the health of your brand. Here is where you want to test internal perceptions against external ones. Consider conducting a few phone interviews, an online survey, or a focus group among people who know you. You might also reach out to a few people who don’t know you but should. Use these conversations or questions to learn how others see you and who they say you are. You might also benefit from asking colleagues at similar organizations how they define your organization in relation to who they are and your overall field. It may feel awkward to do this, but trust me—your peers, donors, current or future staff, board members, and others are asking those organizations how you compare, too, and hearing what they say can be hugely helpful in understanding how well you are (or are not) in tune with your desired positioning and personality. These exchanges with your community and your peers is also a great moment to ask or test how compelling or engaging you are. It’s no longer enough for people to understand what you are about—they need to also understand and connect to the why.
4. Diagnose and prescribe: retrain, refresh or rebrand.
Time to gather your brand review committee, determine how healthy your brand is, and recommend a next step. We typically see three outcomes:
You are fit as a fiddle. How you communicate on the outside still seems to match who you are on the inside. Your desired perception is generally in line with your reputation. Congratulations! As you enjoy a moment of pride, make sure to also keep up the great work. Keep your brand alive through regular trainings at staff meetings, periodic reviews of your style guide, and ongoing application of your brand strategy as a decision-making tool for your communications.
You could be doing better. The way others see you is only somewhat aligned with who you are. Take a deep breath and hone in on what parts of your brand or communications are not working and give them a tune-up. Maybe your core identity (name, tagline, and logo) still ring true, but your messaging is off. Or perhaps your approach to using images tells the story of who you used to be and not who you are now. Figure out what may be broken and give it a refresh.
You are unhealthy and need help, stat! Those who know you well get it, but there is confusion among members of your community or peers. And those who don’t know you but should, have a hard time understanding what you are all about. It can be difficult to admit that your communications are not doing all they can to advance your mission, raise money, increase visibility, and create change. Fret not, we are here for you! First, double-check your assumption that it might be time for a rebrand with this handy decision-making tool. Then get buy-in from your colleagues and make the case for rebranding. Once everyone agrees, consider bringing in an outside consultant, agency, or volunteer to lead a rebranding process and support your efforts to make significant changes to your brand and communications. If you are wondering how we might help give your brand a checkup or rebrand your nonprofit, just drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to chat.
So when was the last time you gave your brand a check-up? Any advice to share with fellow nonprofiteers? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below.