Insights
3 min Read
November 3, 2016

Don’t make it harder to get the attention you deserve

Even organizations with a well-developed and up-to-date brand sometimes overlook one essential element of a strong communications strategy: brand architecture.

Brand architecture is the name we give to the complicated network of roles and relationships between your organization’s programs, initiatives, events, publications, spaces—all the things that you do, own, and are known for. You might refer to them as “brands” or “sub-brands.” Perhaps you don’t think of them as distinct entities with identities of their own. But your audiences often do.

Most nonprofits have grown their brand architecture  in an ad hoc way—a clever event name here, an interesting icon there, a legacy group maintained from a merger. It may all seem like small stuff, but eventually it adds up to a big problem: a brand that lacks a coherent, purposeful narrative and fails to make a powerful and focused impression.

Evidence of brand architecture problems pops up in the conversations you have with your team every day.

“Should we put our logo on our Walk t-shirts?”

When you have clear and purposefully maintained brand architecture, questions like this won’t be up for debate. If your event is closely branded with the overall organization, the logo will be thoughtfully incorporated into the visual standards you’ve established. If the event has a completely separate brand designed to reach a completely separate audience, the main organization logo won’t be appropriate—and everyone will be clear about that ahead of time.

Either way, clear brand architecture saves you time, spares you headaches, AND ensures that the choices you’re making on the ground reflect a smart strategy. Win-win-win.

“We need a separate website for this program.”

Setting up lots of unique websites is usually a sign that your team has a tendency to think and communicate in siloes. When you maintain separate sites for each program or event, you give each one a distinct identity—and discourage people from seeing your work as many parts making up a coherent whole. You’ll have to work even harder to help them see the other great work you do and feel inspired support your organization overall.

[Side note: this issue could also be a sign that it’s time to redo your website.]

“Our gala is coming up in a few months: time to start thinking about a logo.”

Sound the alarm! If your team is in the habit of making logos and coming up with names for lots of events or programs or initiatives, odds are good that you’re creating unnecessary confusion and weakening your overall brand impression.

That’s not to say that you can’t have special treatments for certain programs or a distinct look and feel for your big event—but it’s important to be strategic about it. Well-developed brand architecture strategy usually includes clear criteria for when it’s appropriate to stretch your brand and how far (e.g., a customized name or theme might be okay—but not a separate logo).

When you allow key programs to take on lives (and messages and audiences) of their own without thoughtfully connecting them to your organization’s overall brand, you’re missing an opportunity—and you’re making it all too easy to stay lost in the shuffle of great causes. Strategic brands with clear hierarchy, a consistent look, and a unified message have a leg up in a messy and inconsistent world.

Any of these challenges sound familiar? If so, it might be time to step back and consider whether you have a problem with your brand architecture (it happens to the best of us—check out this helpful piece by fellow Duck Ally Dommu on some of the causes of brand architecture issues).

On November 11, Sarah Durham, Big Duck’s CEO, and Debi Goldberg, The Union for Reform Judaism’s Director of Communications, will be speaking about brand architecture and sharing an in depth case study with tips. Details are online here, or just let us know if you can’t make it and we’ll share the resources.

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