Managing a Growing Brand: An interview with Ask Big Questions’ Director and Founder
In 2011, the team behind Ask Big Questions hired Big Duck to craft the program’s brand strategy and refine its identity. Over time, we’ve developed messages, communications plans, marketing collateral to help them recruit and engage diverse audiences. We’ve also given them tools to manage the brand and train staff and students to be brand ambassadors.
Ask Big Questions recently hired dedicated communications staff. I sat down with Josh Feigelson, founder and director of Ask Big Questions, to catch up and see if he had any insights to share with other nonprofits as they set up and manage new communications teams.
1. Why did you start Ask Big Questions? What was your original motivation?
JOSH: After six years working on campus, I came to believe that our universities do a great job of helping 18 year olds take apart their identities, but a really lousy job of helping 22 year olds put them back together. I thought we literally needed a different set of questions for our students to engage in, which would lead to different kinds of conversations than they might normally have—reflective, trust-building, soulful. So we started Ask Big Questions to bring those kinds of conversations to students and campuses across the country.
2. Big Duck worked with you to develop the brand identity and a suite materials to help you tell the campaign’s story and recruit students and campus partners to participate. Looking back, what was the most valuable part of that process?
JOSH: Our early work getting some of the key language down was really essential and has held up. Five years later we still talk about our methodology of “Ask-Share-Learn-Do,” and use our tagline, “Understand others, understand yourself.” Perhaps most important was our logo and style guide, which really created a strong brand image that has helped us stand out.
3. After several years of working together, you’ve fully taken the communications strategy, writing, and design in-house. What roles did you create? What’s changed?
JOSH: Last year we did a website redesign to reflect our new strategic plan, but we still used all the basic elements—colors, typefaces, logo—that we had from five years go, just with a more targeted purpose. The style guide has proved really versatile and adaptable. We’ve also used it for a bunch of different types of print materials, a few different email configurations, and for social media ads.
We hired a full-time designer who has been able to take the style guide and build new materials and products using it, including a game that we’re working on and hope to launch this fall. We’re also hiring a communications manager who will oversee our email and social media marketing, again using the basic elements that have held up so well over these last five years.
4. Are there any challenges associated with keeping the look and feel of Ask Big Questions fresh?
JOSH: I think we were both smart and lucky in that freshness and accessibility of language are core to our methodology: a Big Question is, by definition, a question that matters to everyone and that everyone can answer. So our challenges have really been more around segmenting and being smart about which audiences we’re trying to reach.
5. It’s been five years since you launched the campaign… how is it doing? What are some of the results or changes you’ve seen? How has your community reacted to the campaign?
JOSH: Our conversation guides were downloaded about 35,000 times over three years, and we gave away over 30,000 little blue conversation card booklets. That led us this year to re-examine our strategy, because we learned there’s demand there—we don’t, and probably shouldn’t, just give stuff away for free! This year we launched a line of three distinctive card booklets, and we’ve begun to take custom orders for schools to distribute in quantity to their students. We’ll actually be sending 5,000 booklets in Aggie maroon (Texas A & M’s colors) down to Texas A&M this summer! I think there’s a bright future there.
6. What advice do you have for nonprofits who are thinking about starting new initiatives or organizations?
JOSH: Get really clear on your theory of change: Who are you trying to serve? What problem are you trying to solve? And does the problem you think you’re solving match the problem as they would articulate it? I think you have to be just a bit ahead of the curve—you don’t want to simply mirror back to people their own language, but you also can’t be too far in front of them either, otherwise no one will know what you’re talking about. So really take the time to listen to the folks you’re trying to serve, and get lots of feedback from them along the way.