By Mel and Pearl Shaw
Have you thought about branding – or rebranding – your nonprofit, college, or even your business? Is branding about a logo or something deeper?
Discussions of branding can quickly turn to logos, colors, web updates and a social media presence. Are those your brand or are they expressions of your brand? We believe they are brand expressions and that your brand isn’t as neat and tidy as a logo. Your brand should be what comes to mind when people think about your organization. The simplest way to get there is to ask yourself, “what’s our story?”
Defining your brand (or story) can be a messy process. For many nonprofits it brings up dreams and unanswered questions. It’s emotional, because the leaders of your organization often have different ways of thinking (and talking) about who you are and where you are going. Getting there should involve a group process that engages diverse constituents; you shouldn’t just hand it over to an outside specialist.
When we work with our clients, we focus first on the “case for support.” While this is a technical fundraising term – often confused with a case brochure – we take our clients through exercises that range from defining their unique niche and projected impact to what it would cost to truly implement their mission and vision. The conversations may start slowly but eventually they get heated. The greatest challenge is always defining that niche. No one wants to “close the doors” to opportunity. But you need to know your niche in order to tell your story – and at its heart, that’s what brand is all about.
A colleague of ours, David Riemer, shared his perspective on how to think of your brand as a story:
“Any good story begins with a protagonist; so an organization has to first identify who it serves. Next, you need to think about what makes them tick and what challenges they face. Any good story has a big conflict that the main character has to overcome, and likewise, organizations need to articulate the main problem they solve for their core constituents. Then you talk about how you uniquely help them overcome this challenge, again, just like a character in a story.
“‘We help the character improve their lives in these ways … and this is what makes our organization different from other organizations who do similar things.’ Once you sort out these core questions, you can craft the story about your organization. This is effectively what the brand is. Once you know the narrative in words, you can hire designers to interpret the brand via your website, logo, social media posts, case studies about constituents, videos, etc.”
Riemer, a former vice president of marketing at Yahoo!, has shaped stories and brand for start-ups, established corporations, and nonprofits. We enjoy checking in with him for inspiration and confirmation. Our recent conversation focused on the challenge of defining a niche. Organizations often resist focusing on an ideal client or customer – those who will benefit most from your organization. But unless you can articulate the main character, you’ll have a hard time telling a clear story!
“Once you identify your core audience,” he adds, “you will find people who sit on the shoulders of the core who aspire to the core audience. Those who aspire to your core audience can be visualized as outlying concentric rings.”
We love that image. Defining your unique niche allows others to “aspire” to your core audience. Now that’s different from exclusion!