“Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer.”

John Williams, Entrepreneur Magazine

Everyone’s got to have a brand, right? Your organization has a brand, some of your internal departments are branded, a lot of individuals even have “personal” brands. But what IS branding and how to we make sure that our branding is accurate?

For starters, let’s just address the biggest branding misconception. Branding is NOT a logo. A logo is an important – and often critical – piece of branding but, in itself, it isn’t branding. Branding is every touchpoint between you and your audience. It’s everything that helps them understand who you are. It’s your logo, sure. But it’s also your organization’s name and your tagline. It’s the way that you answer the phone or how you lay out your website. It’s the color scheme that you use on signs and the language that you use in print. It’s how you look, sound, react, and interact. Any time someone interacts with your organization, they’re experiencing some aspect of your brand.

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room.”

~ Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon

Your brand doesn’t just influence your audience, either. Branding has a role to play internally as well. Great organizations with strong employee cultures all have one thing in common: they have strong branding. Your brand is something that your employees and volunteers will either boast about – proudly claiming their workplace on social media and sharing your successes and milestones with their friends and families – or obscure from public view, distancing themselves from your organization’s image.

When you break it down, branding really does two big things for us:

It Informs and Identifies

Good branding makes it clear, explicitly and implicitly, exactly who your organization is and who you do work for. It lets your audience know that you are there for them specifically and it gives them an idea of what you do and how you do it. It lets your employees know who you are and, as an extension, who THEY are when they’re a part of your organization. It gives them the cues to know how to act and what values to make decisions based on. Branding is emotional, ideological, and even procedural.

That seems heavy, right? All of that is branding and that’s why we spend so much time working through branding with our clients. Thinking about branding strategically is critical to creating effective and powerful branding elements and guidelines.

“Identity is cause; mission and brand are effects.”

~ Larry Ackerman

What are the elements of a solid branding strategy?

Identify the Challenges

The problem is never “we need a new logo.” When someone “needs a new logo”, they’re really trying to address a deeper issue. Maybe the old logo doesn’t match who the organization is anymore. Maybe it’s just not connecting with the audience. Maybe it’s actively pushing away a desired target audience. When someone comes to us looking for a new logo, the first question we always ask is “why?” When we create branding that answers the “why” and doesn’t just look good, we start winning.

Identify Your Competitors

It’s hard to stand out in a crowd if you aren’t willing to look at the crowd.  In the non-profit and ministry world, we don’t like to use words like “competition” (we’re all trying to make a better world, right?) but the fact is, donor funds are finite and we’re all fighting for a piece of the charitable pie. It’s only by identifying and analyzing your competitors that you can get a feel for your place in the crowd. Who else is talking to your audience? What are they saying? What are they doing differently than you? What are they doing BETTER than you? The reality of the situation is that your competitors are winning customers that could be yours. If a competitor is doing something that works, you can’t afford to ignore it. You need to learn from it.

Identify Yourself

Branding is a distillation of your organizational identity. You can’t distil your identity if you can’t quantify and understand who you are. What are your core values? These identify the attributes that you strive to exemplify and define the lines that you’re unwilling to cross. What are your mission and purpose? Your mission is the reason that you exist and it’s what drives you towards excellence. What are your goals? These are the concrete, achievable milestones that you have set for your organization. What is your personality? Are you friendly but not overly familiar? Professional but not stuffy? Funny but not silly? It’s just as important to determine who you aren’t as to define who you are.

“When you brand yourself properly, the competition becomes irrelevant.”

~ Dan Schawbel

Identify Your Audience

Who is your audience? Who do you WANT to be your audience? What do they care about? How do they think? How do they talk? What are their obstacles to giving and what do they need in order to overcome those obstacles? Understanding exactly who is and isn’t in your current audience and deciding who is and isn’t in your desired future audience is critical to creating branding that works.

Establish Personas

Marketing personas are a great way to create a relatable way to speak to your audience. You imagine an average member of your target audience – their personality traits, pain points, desires – and you give them a face and a name. Something like, “Working Mom Molly.” Creating personas like this makes it easy to ask the question, “How will Molly react to this? Will she care?”

Establish Profiles

Audience profiles work a little bit differently than Personas. Where a persona helps you visualize your average audience member, a profile gives you the context for that persona by identifying average income and education levels, geographic locations, age and health information, and so much more. This lets you think through their lives and identify what we call “resonance points” – other areas of interest that can be used to create resonance between your audience and your brand.

Establish Branding Tone

Tone isn’t just about the words that you use when communicating with your audience. Tone determines the colors of your logo, the imagery that you use in your marketing materials, the shape of your signage – every aspect of your branding “speaks” with a particular tone whether you’re aware of it or not. Being intentional about your tone ensures that your branding remains consistent and targeted.

What’s Next?

The truth is, almost anyone can benefit from taking a step back and thinking through their brand strategically but not many people realize that their brand is in need of help. How do you know that you need a refresh? Sometimes, it’s as obvious as a slow but steady dip in donations. Most of the time, though, the signs are much more subtle. Maybe you have a slowly decreasing amount of traffic on your website. Maybe you’re seeing articles published in your field which mention your closest competitors but not you. Or maybe you have a donor base that is steady but not growing.

Do you feel like you’ve outgrown your logo? Do you still feel like a small-time player in your segment? Have you made any major structural changes recently? Do your current activities match your brand’s perception among potential donors? Has your audience shifted and left you scrambling to catch up?Are you starting out from scratch and want to start on the right foot?

When was the last time that you looked at your branding side-by-side with your biggest competitors? Bring up both websites or grab two similar pieces of print marketing and look at them with a critical eye. How does your branding stack up with theirs? Which is easier to read? Who has a more compelling call to action? Sign up for your competitor’s email list. How often do they send email? Is their template responsive? How well do they communicate the importance of their mission?

At AM, we work with ministries and nonprofits in all stages and situations and we have a system for getting to the core of the issues and building branding elements and guidelines that help ensure success.

Our process generally starts with in-person strategy sessions where we listen to your story, struggles, goals, and wants. We then do a ton of research and present you with what we’ve heard and learned (accompanied by extensive documentation). This lays the groundwork for creating branding elements such as logos and wordmarks, color palettes, textures, iconography, photography and other imagery, branding guidelines (how and when to use what), tone and voice guidelines, signage, stationery, and more.

At the end of the branding process, you’ll have a powerful, targeted brand, all the elements that you need to deploy your branding, and guidelines to help you stay on brand and on target with your audience.

Ready to get your brand on track? We are too. Let’s talk.