By Tom Peterson
A story is going around about a rat and hamster relaxing by the backyard pool. The rat asks the hamster, “What gives? We’re about the same, yet the family here loves you. They think you’re cute. They’ve given you a nice home and bring you food every day. Meanwhile, I’m out here in the rain struggling to survive. People hate me, think I’m disgusting and try to kill me. What’s the difference?” The hamster responds: “It’s just branding.”
Businesses like Starbucks, Google, Walmart have known the power of brands for many years. More recently branding has spread to celebrities—think Oprah, Trump, Bono, Tiger Woods. And branding can make a giant difference to your nonprofit or cause.
Some think brand is the logo. And it is. But it’s also the name, design, color, font. And it’s your website, printed materials, how you are portrayed in the media, how supporters talk about you to their friends. It’s how someone sees you in a hundred ways, their entire experience of your organization. (see brand as place). It’s everything a customer or supporter feels about you and your products and services. It’s up to you to create and manage the brand so it works in your favor. And it’s worth obsessing over!
Why Does Your Brand Matter?
The lifeblood of your cause is that important supporter. Ideally, they’d pay attention if you simply told them of a need or something wonderful you’ve done. Yet every day literally thousands of messages fight for the attention of that same person you want to reach. How do you get through the clutter? How do you emotionally connect with that potential partner? An established positive brand serves as a shortcut. Like the aroma of baking, your brand can signal to your supporter a good feeling and help them focus on your message.
Multiple Audiences. You’re brand is important to more than that supporter. In it’s rebranding journey, MD Anderson Cancer Center noted several audiences. “Brand drives about a third of choice decision for three stakeholder groups: For patients’ decision to seek treatment at MD Anderson; For physicians’ decision to refer to MD Anderson, and for potential employees decision to apply to MD Anderson. It is a crucial influencer of employees’ decision to remain at MD Anderson.”
Define Your Brand—What Makes You Unique?
Start with a clear brand identity or position. What your organization’s essence, core, values? Of course, you’ve got to be doing something people want. Something relevant. If you’re not, go home and rethink your life. But assuming you’re doing something valuable, what makes it unique? What’s your niche? If you’re not different, why should anyone care about you? It may take time, but to define your brand, you’ve got to be able to answer these questions.
The Grateful Dead is well known for its brand identity. In Strategy + Business Glenn Rifkin says the group “managed to hold on to its special perch in the fickle world of entertainment for more than 30 years, becoming a gold standard in an industry that has seen thousands of other rock ‘brands’ come and go.” Some things the Grateful Dead got right: they knew their customers; they filled a need of that customer; they created (and stayed with) a community, building great trust with their followers; they focused on quality, making sure the experience was always great. Jerry Garcia said, “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”
Again, what is that core thing that only your group does? Try to create a new category, something only you do, and focus on that. Keep your brand simple, singular. Don’t try to develop more than one brand.