Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Non-Profit Branding: Yes, There is a Difference

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My company has been working with several non-profits lately, and I’m constantly asked how branding in that space is different from “regular” branding. There are similarities, but also some important differences. Here’s what non-profits need to know about branding, based on my experience and research.

We start with “free.”
I understand that non-profits don’t have the marketing budgets of corporations so we start by leveraging every existing asset. Rather than creating new social media channels, how can we enhance the channels you’re already on? How can we repurpose your photos and videos? What are some past concepts or campaigns that could be revived with a compelling new angle? My fantastic staff and I have a knack for finding creative ways around limited budgets. For example, we’ve taken a stack of photos and turned them into a beautiful, moving slide show.

Talk to both the head and the heart.
Unlike other brands, non-profits aren’t selling a product or service; you’re selling a cause or a belief or a goal, which can sometimes be hard to define or quantify. This requires creating an emotional bond to donors, employees, and the people (or animals!) you serve. It is important to research that bond, deconstruct it, and examine it from every angle – and articulate it as your brand. As an example, see the World Wildlife Fund, which pairs its logical mission, “To conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth” with an emotional image, the giant panda.

Stay true to yourself.
As Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone point out in their recent study, non-profits run the risk of violating their own ethics or identity when they brand to a wide audience. They give the example of Acumen, which presents photos of proud, dignified individuals instead of pitiful images of poverty which “dehumanize the very people Acumen is trying to help." I discourage branding from vanity, or because you just want a new logo. Branding is about the heart and soul of your organization and can’t be taken on and off like a shirt.


Tell a story
Storytelling was the #1 topic at SXSW and it works for non-profits as well. A strong brand is supported by good stories which allow people to connect to your mission. Brandemix helps non-profits find those stories, whether they’re about important milestones in your history, the life and deeds of your founder, or the success stories of the people you’ve helped. For example, the Sierra Club offers a blog called Explore, which features “stories of personal encounters with the natural world.” This turns large, complex issues, like hydraulic natural gas fracturing, into personal stories of triumph, wonder, and survival.

Non-profit branding is different from other types and requires a specialist. Brandemix has a history of giving back to the community by partnering with organizations such as the Epilepsy Foundation of Long Island, the Legal Aid Society, and Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State Metro Services.

Non-profit  branding is a specialty. Call Brandemix if you're looking for a specialist.

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