Insights
November 13, 2018

When you know you’ve got a brand architecture problem: an exercise

So you’ve read the e-book. And you’ve seen case studies for nonprofit rebrands that included brand architecture. Maybe you’re even able to remember how Big Duck defines it—your strategy for organizing and expressing the hierarchy of your organization’s programs, events, initiatives, and master brand. That’s right: we’re talking about brand architecture. But you’re still not sure how this all relates to your work, or more specifically, if you’ve got a brand architecture problem on your hands.

Nonprofit programs, events, and sub-brands often grow and multiply, fueled by a variety of variables like staff capacity, grant availability, and audience support. These initiatives can quickly gain traction and establish a life—and a voice their own. Brand architecture defines the roles and rules for each part of your brand. Establishing rules does the work of making sure that each initiative works together to strengthen the overall organization, rather than divert attention, or distract audiences, away from the primary brand.

Here’s a simple way to assess the current brand architecture situation at your nonprofit. This exercise will reveal if you’ve got a problem and can begin to point the way towards thinking about solutions.

  1. Write a list of all your organization’s sub-brands, programs, initiatives, and events. 
  2. Gather all the communications materials you can from each. Grab all the brochures. Print out the first page of facebook pages. Snatch the invite from your last gala. Snag a tee from the annual run. Get a branded mug from the break room. 
  3. Book the conference room, and spread it all out on a table. 
  4. Either solo or with a group of colleagues, absorb what you’re seeing. Make it into a brown bag lunch. Look at everything with a fresh eye, pretend like you’ve never seen the materials before. Ask yourself these questions for each initiative, and write down your impressions. 
    1. If you weren’t in the know, would you immediately understand, based on the visuals, that the materials all were a part of your organization?
    2. Which, if any, initiatives feel like they have their own brand?
    3. Which have their own social media accounts?
    4. Which have their own logo?
    5. Which have their own separate website from the parent nonprofit?
    6. If they do have a distinct website, does it have unique branding (colors, typefaces, photo style, logo)?
    7. Do any of the materials use a unique typeface?
    8. Do they have the same colors as the larger organization?
    9. Do they have the same style of photography as the larger organization?

If they’re all very distinct, or if you don’t see a lot of evident strategy in how they relate to each other, you might have a brand architecture problem. Sometimes visual distinction is purposeful, but often it happens organically over time and isn’t benefiting your organization.

At a programmatic level, it may seem like your sub-brand program or event needs its own identity, and with that it’s own logo, website, facebook page… but ask yourself if it really does, or instead if it could more closely align under the master brand of your organization. More alignment, and more consistency, does a better job linking all the work you do and connecting the dots between programs for your audiences. What to do next? Here’s a roundup of resources that may help as you delve deeper into your organization’s brand architecture.

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