A charity best practice guide
Max du Bois
Max is one of the team at Spencer du Bois, who create brands for social change. He helps clients find out what really counts and communicate what really matters. With over 20 years of experience, they’ve helped clients build award winning brands that thrive on change, including Samaritans, Moorfields Eye Hospital, Imperial College, Home-Start and Fight for Sight.
Dan is a creative brand strategist at BrandDufour. He’s a specialist in brand development and purpose, best known for his award-winning work across all corners of the charity sector, including Shelter, Parkinson’s UK, RSPB and Scope. Dan established CharityComms Brand Breakfasts and is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated communications.
Spencer du Bois
A brand consultancy for social change Spencer du Bois work with organisations that tackle society’s toughest challenges. From preventing suicide to fighting childhood inequality, from disrupting international development to driving sustainability, from transforming later life to helping unheard voices roar. Doing great things for good people, we build brands that assert purpose to challenge attitudes, change minds and inspire action.
Laying some foundations
Max du Bois
executive director, Spencer du Bois
creative brand strategist, Brand Dufour
When thinking about brand what springs to mind? A logo, an image, a vehicle for selling something? Sadly for some people any or all of those answers may be their instinctive go to. Yet it’s time to stop and ask ourselves why this is when in reality brand is such an integral part of how organisations tell people who they are and what they are about to connect them to their cause and inspire action.
Brand when used right is a central component that allows organisations, and particularly charities, to communicate their fundamental purpose, explain to people why they exist and why the public should care about them and their causes. It breathes life into who and what a charity is in a way that makes people sit up and take notice. So if you want to make your brand work harder for you read on….
Role and value of brand
Max du Bois
As marketing and comms people, it’s all too easy to take the role and value of brand for granted. Defining these properly makes a critical difference to how brand is supported and adopted across a charity. For example consider whether the Board see it as a woolly cost or crucial investment, if fundraising feel it’s an irritant to be ignored or an income amplifier to be embraced, if volunteers and service deliverers feel it’s a few forgettable words or an inspiring rallying cry.
Brand is a vital ‘enabler’ for delivering a charity’s fundamental purpose, the mission to change things and make things better.
It brings corporate strategy to life. Brand is the way you build and focus your reputation to reach out to the people you need and inspire them to act in a way that helps you achieve your goals. Whether your aim is to change people’s habits, get them to give money, inspire them to volunteer or come to you for support, or even to change law – brand can help you get there.
Brand lets people know you’re here and that what you do matters to them. It answers the simple question “Why choose me?”
“Brand is what people say about you when you’ve left the room” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and world’s wealthiest person
To be effective a brand should be:
- Distinctive: to stand out in a noisy world and differentiate you, especially in a crowded area
- Relevant: locking into your audiences’ needs, hopes and aspirations, and how you are the best vehicle for their generosity or their desire for action
- Capture the imagination: to reach into hearts and minds
Apart from providing a clear and engaging articulation of what your charity’s about, brand also pulls together all your activities and acts as the glue for all your communications. By focusing your collective strengths, you stand out more. People can see and understand the depth and breadth of what you offer and you get the credit for everything you do.
“A great brand is a summariser, a dose of steroids, a powerful shorthand, an incisive shortcut to help people understand all the amazing work that your organisation does” – Joe Saxton, founder of CharityComms and sector commentator
Brand’s value also lies beyond the marketing department, acting as an amplifier or enabler for other parts of the organisation:
- in fundraising it promotes awareness and trust, allowing the ‘ask’ to be more single minded and effective
- in campaigning and policy it justifies why you should be heard and why your point should be taken seriously
- in service delivery, it adds additional value to the service being pitched to local authorities and funders
- in information provision, it proves authority and trust often for people in difficult times
- in PR it provides a platform for promotion and resilience in a crisis
- for volunteers, it creates the sense of movement and belonging
- for front line service delivery staff it reinforces the wider value of what they do and inspires them to be their best professional selves
- for Boards and decision makers, it keeps the ‘mission’ front and centre of decisions
- and for all staff, supporters, trustees and volunteers, it turns their individual voices and actions into a collective roar
But it’s important to recognise here that brands are not just the domain of big, high spending charities. It’s doubly important for small and medium charities to carve out their space, to maximise each opportunity and to compete and operate effectively.
Simply said, brand’s role and greatest value is as an agent for action no matter what size your organisation is.
Brand as a strategic tool
Sadly, many people only associate branding with visual identity. Just a logo at the worst. A complete visual identity system at best, made up of a logo, social media icon, colours, typography, photography, graphic devices, illustrations and iconography.
But branding is much, much, more than just a logo. It is a long-term strategic tool that should fuel your success. Getting it right means you can command and maintain public affection, connecting your target audiences to the heart and soul of your cause, the principles you stand for and the impact you want to make.
That’s why most brand development projects coincide with a new chief executive or corporate strategy review. Your brand strategy (vision, mission, values or equivalent) should align with your corporate strategy and should inform your products and services, your culture and innovation, as well as your marketing communications and fundraising.
Once agreed the brand strategy should be a guiding light and run through your DNA. A compass for decision making and for staying on mission. It’s why so much time and effort, care and consideration are taken into laying the strategic foundations of a brand. Long before any visual design or logos occur.
Your brand and corporate strategy should always be aligned and reviewed in-line with your corporate strategy cycle. If you are updating your corporate strategy, it’s the perfect time to review and update your brand.
What comes first: corporate strategy or brand strategy?
Many brand projects work alongside corporate strategy development, but not always in the same sequence. Here are the three different sequences in which things can happen that you should be aware of:
Corporate strategy first
In some instances, there will be a new, or draft, corporate strategy in place and the task will be to review and develop the brand in order to deliver the corporate strategy. If this is the case it is best if the strategic foundations of the brand are not set in stone from the start as that way, the language can be tailored through audience research to be as inspiring as possible.
On other occasions, brand leads the way. Say by commissioning research on audience perceptions and brand positioning to recommend a brand strategy from which a corporate strategy (goals and targets) follow.
Finally the brand and corporate strategy can be developed side-by-side. There can be efficiencies this way in terms of audience research. But it is important the people leading the brand development and corporate strategy work closely to ensure they are complementary. For example consider sending the brand strategy and corporate strategy to the same Board meeting for approval.
Use your brand strategy as inspiration for an innovation workshop. Based on the new brand strategy, what should you stop, start and continue to do? What opportunities does the brand strategy provide for new initiatives, campaigns, products or services?
Strong brands are famous for one thing
It is often said that strong brands are famous for one thing. Macmillan Cancer Support provides support whilst Cancer Research UK funds research for example. Both brands largely say what they do on the tin. But it isn’t always that straight forward for a charity that may do many different things from advice and support to research and campaigning. That’s why when developing a brand strategy, it is important to consider whether your brand positioning should elevate parts of what you do to heighten public engagement.
When developing brand positioning concepts for audience research, it is useful to explore whether to focus on some areas of the charities work (strategic pillars) more than others or whether to create a big idea that can span them all. It is also worth considering which areas the charity invests the most in, as well as which ones are the most inspiring and engaging to potential supporters.
Imagine for example if you were a healthcare charity with three clear strategic pillars. Pillars of; providing expert advice, campaigning for social change and medical research, in your corporate strategy. In order to work out what positioning will have the most impact for your organisation you should test messaging that positions each of these pillars (advice, campaigning, or research) at its heart to see which one has the greatest appeal.
Charities who are expanding out their positioning:
- Age UK has a broad range of information and advice and community services but sum everything up in its brand positioning ‘Love later life’, but often focus on loneliness for high profile integrated campaigns – ‘No one should have no one’.
- RSPB extended their brand positioning from birds to the abundance of UK wildlife on their reserves with ‘Give nature a home’. Of course, the brand positioning had to be authentic and aligned to their new corporate strategy ‘saving nature’.
- Parkinson’s UK provide advice to empower people to the full, champion high-quality care and grow public understanding, but place achieving major research breakthroughs at the heart of their brand as they know it’s what motivates the most support.
Tips from sector peers
head of comms and marketing, The Sick Children's Trust
What is a brand?
Brand is who an organisation is and how it behaves. It’s their personality, their visual identity and what sets them apart.
Why is branding important in the charity sector?
The charity market place is a crowded one so a strong, consistent brand is important so your supporters and target audience recognise you and what you do.
What’s your top tip for anyone embarking on a brand development journey?
Get buy-in at the highest level and have a board member working with you who can advocate your plans to the rest of the trustees.
head of brand, Stroke Association
What is a brand?
A brand is a person’s gut feeling about an organisation/product/service generated through an overall experience, which is made up of what it looks like (visual ID), what it says and does (messages and action) and the way it says and does it (values/culture/TOV).
Why is branding important in the charity sector?
Branding is extra important to the charity sector as we don’t deliver tangible benefits through the physical products like other organisations. For those of us that deliver services, we often can’t promise consistent outcomes in the same way that say a cleaning contractor can, as this usually depends on complex factors in the system surrounding the beneficiary….and our services only apply to one of our many audiences. Our currency is trust and relevance, which is much more subjective and can only be built through our brand.
What’s your top tip for anyone embarking on a brand development journey?
Don’t underestimate the thinking and talking-it-through time you need to be successful. Different points of view will ultimately make your brand more rounded and universally appealing. It’s a creative process, so more heads are more than often better than one. The challenge is in pulling out the narrative from those conversations into the final strategy and managing the stakeholders during that process!
head of marketing and communications, Bowel Cancer UK
What is a brand?
To many people brand is still just a logo but it’s so much more than that, that’s just the shiny exciting stuff on top. It’s what brings it to life. A brand is a clear expression of who you are, what you do and why you do it and needs to run through everything. Every single interaction we have with a brand informs our perception of it.
Why is branding important in the charity sector?
It is vital charities create and communicate a brand that does justice to the work, values and mission of the organisation. More than ever charities must demonstrate how their cause is unique, effective, relevant and worthy of support. A charity’s brand is key to achieving this. We need to make sure that through consistent communications, excellent service and a clear narrative our brand reinforces the kind of perceptions and reputation we want our supporters to associate with us.
For example, think about how supporters, service users or potential partners view you – if your brand is patchy and inconsistent across the board, then do you look trustworthy, reliable and a legitimate cause that’s worthy of their time or money?
People have a connection to our brand and we can use the power of our brand to connect with people.
What’s your top tips for anyone embarking on a brand journey?
You staff are a huge part of your brand. They all need to play a role in bringing your brand to life and they all have a duty to honour the value of the brand.
The brand or marketing team may know the brand in more detail and it will form a key part of their roles but responsibility for protecting, enhancing and promoting the brand should be shared across the organisation. The benefits of a strong brand affect the success of the whole charity and a sense of team spirit is so important when embarking on a brand journey.
How are you doing? And how can you create an even better brand?
creative brand strategist, Brand Dufour
Max du Bois
executive director, Spencer du Bois
Understanding the value, role and strategic purpose of brand is only the start of your journey to having a powerful brand. Once you’re confident you understand brand holistically it’s time to start assessing your own organisational brand. This can be done by applying techniques to make sure what is in place is uniquely attuned to the needs and aspirations of your organisation.
Starting with an assessment and audit of the brand you are already working with in order to help you start making the case for change, before moving on to the planning and managing of a brand project, this section offers practical insight on how to get going on that brand refresh or even an all out rebrand without delay…
Assessing, auditing and making the case for change
Max du Bois
Your brand is a tool to help your charity achieve its goals. It does this by effectively engaging with your key audiences. How well is it doing this job? Is your charity going to be successful ‘because of’ your brand or ‘in spite of’ your brand? If it’s ‘in spite’, no matter how marginally, it needs to change.
Some telltale signs for change are:
- It doesn’t provide a distinctive, relevant and engaging link to some or all of your audiences
- It doesn’t stretch across the charity and or doesn’t have the support of key operational departments. People are breaking away from it because they’re having to work harder to engage people with the brand than you’d expect or they can’t see how it’s relevant to their work…sometimes people go off brand for good reasons, it’s a plea for help!
- There’s been a shift in the strategic purpose or direction of the organisation that’s left the brand behind
- There’s been a change in the audiences you want to engage with or a shift in which are strategically important
- It feels ‘left behind’ and dated
- It’s difficult to use across a number of channels
- And the most difficult one, assessing if it will work in the future. While difficult to assess and hard to internally sell in, ignoring this often leads to a slow decline until things drop off a cliff
A good, confidential and free to use tool, that gives a quick overview of these issues and let’s you measure them, is the Brand Effectiveness Scorecard.
Often, you don’t have to change everything. If the telltale signs are minor, then the brand can be recalibrated by minor adjustments to brand messages or refreshing the visuals (its layouts, image style, colour pallet) or even just by improving the way the brand is applied.
If the telltale signs are significant, then a major rebrand is on the cards.
Auditing as a tool to drive change
To gauge the magnitude of change, and where to make it, audit your brand. Assess how well it’s delivering the charity’s strategy and engaging with your core audiences, and list a set of brand challenges.
Then look at each element of the brand and assess the degree of change, asking:
- What is blocking engagement and needs to be ‘Dropped’
- What is working well and should be ‘Retained’
- What are the hidden gems or underused assets and should be ‘Evolved’
- What’s missing and needs to be ‘Added’
- How can the brand be better ‘Managed’
This DREAM audit should give you a clear idea of what needs to change and the degree needed…and it’s also a memorable and useful internal tool to sell it in.
Research with key audiences is an invaluable part of assessing your brand. If you don’t have the budget, personally talk to supporters, donors and people who use your services to gather insights. Also talk to key people in departments. They will have a good feel for how the brand is, and is not, working for them. Why do they love the brand? Or hate it? Or why are they indifferent to it?
The hardest case is if the brand is doing all right but beginning to show signs of wear and ‘gently failing’. This is the beginning of a slow but sure decline. Your brand will lose its momentum and goodwill. Audiences that you could have kept or grown, if you’d acted sooner, will be lost and it will take more time, effort and money to recover, without even counting the cost of lost opportunities. And recovery will need a far more radical move.
The case for change is always about improving how the charity delivers the mission and vision effectively. Be forensic and detailed, laying out where and how the brand is and is not working and be clear where things are ambiguous. And always gain opinions from across the charity, this will pave the way for any successful change.
Planning and managing a brand project
Having the right process is critical to the success of a brand project. Brand development methodology will vary slightly from agency to agency or consultant but there are common stages, outlined here.
The first thing to do is to be clear on why you are embarking on brand development with clear objectives and a budget in place, thinking through what it will cost to develop, implement and market a new brand. Have clarity about target audiences and audience segmentation as few organisations have marketing budgets big enough to shift public awareness, so being clear whom we want to engage with and why is essential. A strong brand will support income generation, so be clear of your funding model and how brand can support it.
Set up clear project governance from the outset as it will save you stress later. There is commonly a project team or manager who reports into senior management, director level panels and the chief executive. It is well worth having one or two trustee representatives onboard so they can champion the brand when it gets to big decisions at board level. Brand steering groups are also useful and are commonly made up of representatives from across the charity. These often include representatives from marketing communications, fundraising, policy and campaigns, advice and support, services, volunteering and retail.
Engage, engage, engage
Brand development in the charity sector is not for the faint hearted, as passions often run high. Understanding of brand can be poor and resistance to change high. Taking audiences with you is essential to create a brand with a strong sense of purpose, pride and commitment. So, take the time to put a good internal engagement plan in place to reach staff, volunteers and supporters. The more you can engage people in the process the better.
The first part of a brand project starts with discovery, which involves a brand agency or consultant getting to know your cause and sector, existing brand and target audiences. Common tasks include desk research to review key documents, such as your history, corporate strategy and existing audience research or brand metrics. Plus primary research to experience your charity’s cause in person, cross sector market analysis of peers (or competitors), a brand audit, interviews with stakeholders and/or workshops. Trends analysis and human psychology (behavioural economics) are increasingly popular and it can also be useful to consider social linguistics, how a subject is currently being talked about.
The output is often a debrief of the key findings and confirmation of the next steps.
The next stage is to use key insights to inform strategic brand positioning territories. This is your opportunity to consider how you want to position your charity brand in people’s hearts and minds. Brand strategy models (or platforms) come in all shapes and sizes; keys, onions and pyramids. The terminology can also vary; purpose, promise, proposition, customer value proposition, employee value proposition, personality, principles, vision, mission, values, behaviours, big idea and essence.
Don’t let the jargon baffle you. There is beauty in simplicity.
The foundations of a strong brand are a clear articulation of what you stand for, why you exist, what you do and how you do it. Brilliantly articulated by Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle and his famous book and Ted Talk ‘Start with Why’:
Similarly marketing gurus like Jim Stengel believe the best way to connect with people is through shared beliefs and values. As more and more corporate brands now champion their purpose, it is more important than ever to be clear what charities stand for too.
Once positioning territories have been established and approved internally, it is common to conduct market research with key audience segments. Qualitative research (traditionally focus groups) is good for finding out how people think and feel, whereas quantitative research (questionnaires and surveys) is good for robust statistical data, so think about what weight of evidence you’ll need to inform decision making and persuade trustees.
It can be useful to bring brand positioning work to life with mood boards – using montages of images to visualise ideas – in a process that can also mitigate some of the research work needed at later creative stages too.
The brand strategy is the creative springboard against which the creative development should be evaluated against. Pulling together all of your research as outlined above can help inform recommendations for the final brand positioning you present and provide the heart of the creative brief.
Now we get to the stage most associated with branding, the creation of a visual identity and tone of voice. Visual identity design involves defining the elements that make up a coherent identity system: logo, social media icon, colour palettes, typography, photography, graphic devices, illustration and iconography. Put together they should reflect your unique personality and help you to stand out.
Creative partners work in different ways. A more traditional approach is a creative briefing followed by design concepts and refinement. But ‘design sprints’ are becoming more common, where designers work over consecutive days or weeks.
As more creative professionals embrace the gig economy and are going freelance it is also becoming easier to find people who will build bespoke teams and potentially even work from your offices. Whatever approach you adopt, please be clear which accessibility standards you aspire to within your creative brief, especially online. It is best practice to retain the brand consultant as part of the creative team to ensure the brand strategy and creativity work together, so things don’t get lost in translation or go off on a tangent.
When developing visual identity, it’s important to apply design concepts to key examples from across your main channels and departments, including digital and fundraising. This is also a great opportunity to explore tone of voice (style of language) in application with new headlines and sub-heads. Also consider how the brand strategy might enable you to do things differently. A brand exercise shouldn’t just be a case of applying a new set of clothes to business as usual!
Some people like to conduct a second stage of market research here. If you do, please be careful. In the real world, we don’t sit around discussing logos, colours and typefaces individually, we experience brand design holistically. It can be far more effective to design concepts in-situ and evaluate them against objectives to avoid a beauty pageant, as the most popular designs can also be vanilla.
Once a new brand has been developed it’s roll out time. But make sure to take time to embed it internally first. Staff and volunteers are a ready-made salesforce, so make sure they all understand what you stand for. Embed your values in your culture to avoid any reputational risks. Then and only then should you externally activate a brand.
When activating the brand, it is important to be clear which audience segments you want to reach and the response you’d like. Consider which owned, earned and paid for media channels you’ll need to build and sustain awareness with your target audiences over multiple years, as different channels have different pros and cons. Few of us have big enough budgets for integrated or above the line campaigns, but a digital marketing strategy is a good place to start. Creating a piece of hero content which brings your brand story to life is also now a common first port of call.
Brand management in practice
Chris James, Scouts’ Brand and Ambassador Manager, talks through what it was like to be part of the team that developed and delivered the new Scouts brand
Clearly the importance of ensuring there is a clear understanding of your brand’s health from the start is a vital part of strengthening any arguments for change. More than that though, long-term taking the time to really assess and plan brand projects means there will be a solid foundation in place from which to grow and meet your organisations strategic goals.
Having put the building blocks in place for your brand to flourish the next step will be to build on this to make sure the brand in place is truly strong. Read on for more.
Creating a strong brand
Bringing everything from positioning, messaging, and tone of voice to naming together to strategically build a strong brand
creative brand strategist, Brand Dufour
Max du Bois
executive director, Spencer du Bois
There are so many elements to creating a brand that it may at first feel overwhelming. But breaking it down into steps can help you gain the clarity to build a brand that is strong.
Let’s start by thinking about how you are going to position your brand and how the decisions made at this stage feed into and support your overall brand strategy, before moving on to how you then communicate what you stand for to audiences through the creation of your own distinct brand story and messaging.
Ready? Here we go…
Brand strategy and positioning
Your starting point when creating your brand should be ensuring that you have clarity about your target audiences and priorities. Your brand is there to help you achieve your corporate strategy, your vision and mission so you need to think: Who do you need to engage with to do this? Hopefully the previous section on assessing your brand should have helped you with this already.
Once you are clear about your target audiences and priorities you can use this insight to start thinking about positioning and strategy in a way that intrinsically works for your brand.
What is brand positioning?
Brand positioning is essentially the heart of your brand. It’s the core themes that drive all your audience engagement, from the messages and visual and verbal brand, to how these are used through all your channels. Bringing your corporate strategy to life, how you position yourself is a clear and compelling statement of why you exist, a charity’s fundamental purpose.
It should answer the question ‘Why choose me?’ in a way that is relevant, that hooks your target audiences and is distinctive, it should help you stand out from the crowd.
Most importantly it must inspire people to think, feel and act.
How to position yourself
Brand positionings can be split into two key components:
Preference: The hook into people’s needs or drives, that inspires them to act: this is often where the emotional points of connection are found.
Trust: The ‘Why believe me’, that ‘I’ll do what I promise’ and ‘I’m the best option for you’: this is often more functional points of proof.
There is no one ‘right’ brand positioning model (such as vision, mission, values and purpose, proposition and personality) and the choice can be bewildering. What each should do is capture, in the most compelling way:
What you do
Why you do it
How you do it
The earliest years make the biggest impact: Home-Start make sure those years count so that no child’s future is limited.
Parents supporting parents.
A local community network of trained volunteers and expert support, helping families with young children through their challenging times.
There for parents when they need us the most because childhood can’t wait.
No judgement, just compassionate, confidential help and expert support.
Starting in the home, our approach is as individual as the people we’re helping.
Sharing local expertise to drive national and regional change.
Because childhood can’t wait.
Our ambition is that fewer people take their own life.
For anyone struggling with how it feels to live right now and everyone who cares about that:
We work to make sure that someone is always there (presence).
We give people ways to cope and the skills to be there for others (prevention).
We campaign to make suicide prevention a national and local priority (campaign).
Bringing hope to life.
The power of human connection.
Together we will find the cure, and improve life for everybody affected by Parkinson’s.
We’re a people-powered movement on the verge of major breakthroughs in Parkinson’s. Together, we will find a cure. We help people to live as well as possible. And we make sure everyone understands the real impact of Parkinson’s.
Join the movement that’s uniting to end Parkinson’s. Forever.
*Photo: Studio Texture
We won’t stop until we achieve a society where all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness.
We’re a strong community with a shared vision. We provide practical advice and emotional support whenever people need it most. We use our collective power to change attitudes and end injustice. And campaign relentlessly to create a fairer society.
Let’s end disability inequality
While the positioning should describe the entire charity for all audiences, it should be weighted to your most important audiences, those that are key for achieving your corporate strategy.
With all the audiences a charity has, from fundraising to policy to service commissioners, ‘one size’ will never fit all audiences equally well. This is where the brand positioning, as the core themes, is translated to the specific needs of each audience (see Key Messaging).
The difference between creating a good brand and great brand is grounding it, and it’s execution, in research led audience insights.
Think about ‘brand essence'
Brand essence is an idea that the rest of the brand revolves around or is driven by. It’s a ‘short-hand’ or compelling idea that helps distil who you are into something everyone internally and externally can relate to. It doesn’t replace brand positioning but complements it – acting as the spark that often captures the emotional benefit of what you’re about. For example:
Samaritans: The power of human connection
Home-start: Because childhood can’t wait
Scope: Equality for all disabled people
Parkinson’s UK: Uniting to end Parkinson’s. Forever
Good brands have a ‘brand essence’ (or ‘big idea’) as their centre of gravity so think about this when working on your positioning.
Strengthening brand positioning with a clear proposition
Many brands have customer and employee value propositions that sum up the benefit of the brand for the audience. Being clear about what these propositions are and understanding how they distinguish you from others can be invaluable to helping you work out your brand positioning and how you can set yourself apart.
Organisational visions and purpose are often big and grand statements of intent so, it is helpful to condense these down into more personal and achievable propositions that are easy for others to digest. Think in terms of action and emotion, e.g. which core human emotion do you want to provoke to inspire action.
In a charity context a proposition should also sum up the benefit of supporting the charity or the impact of support. Whilst some advice and support charities opt for one core brand proposition that works for ‘getting support’ and ‘giving support’, others choose to have different propositions for different audiences and products that work within one overarching brand framework.
A proposition can sit behind the scenes, inspiring key messages and copy or it can even be used as an external facing strapline or call to action. Either way a good proposition should be inspired by audience insight and underpinned by what you want people to feel, think and do.
Here are a few examples:
Crimestoppers customer proposition
Speak up. Stop crime. Stay safe.
Feel: Worried about crime
Think: Reassured and empowered that Crimestoppers is independent and anonymous
Do: Contact Crimestoppers to talk about what you know
Crimestoppers supporter proposition
Protect the people you care about from crime
Feel: Everybody has the right to feel safe from crime, wherever they live
Think: Crimestoppers care about people and their communities
Do: Support Crimestoppers to protect the people I care about from crime
How does this all feed into brand strategy?
As is probably becoming abundantly clear by now both the work you put into brand positioning and your proposition thinking are crucial to laying the foundations for your brand and as such are a lynchpin of your overall strategy. Here’s how…
Think of a brand. Now, what are the first things that come to mind? What do you think and feel about it? As explained previously what you associate with a brand comes down to ‘brand positioning’. More than this though If you’re perceptions match those of the people leading the brand, then that indicates there is a strong ‘brand strategy’ in place and it is doing its job.
What is brand strategy?
The phrase ‘brand strategy’ can be used in two ways. Firstly, the words carefully chosen to articulate what you stand for – whichever jargon or models you use. Secondly, the plan you put into place to build the right perception in people’s minds – and bear in mind that plan can be multidimensional.
The overarching role that brand strategy plays
Most people start by bringing the brand positioning to life via visual identity and tone of voice – more on both of these later in this chapter – and implementing it across all touchpoints, as well as embedding the values and behaviours within an organisation’s internal culture. But the concept, and practicalities, of branding as a whole runs much further.
An organisation’s brand is increasingly used to inform the employee experience, user experience (ux) and customer experience (cx) design, as well as inspiring brand-led innovation; where the purpose is used to inspire new ideas and filter out old ones. All of which dovetails with marketing communications, digital, content and social too. Therefore brand strategy is an essential part of helping you to cement the ideas of who you are and what you stand for into the public conscious.
Approaching a brand strategy can take many different forms. Many people start with digital marketing, search engine optimisation (seo) and Google adwords to get the right messages to the right audiences. A content strategy is also popular, thinking about which social channels you want to manage, for which audiences, and what content you need to engage with people – emotionally. Then there are more traditional marketing communications. Where you consider things like which mix of marketing channels is right to reach your target audience segments, on the basis that different channels have different advantages from awareness to response and retention.
Whilst when it comes to actual implementation, some charities like to come together across departments at specific milestones in the calendar for integrated campaigns to maximise impact. Others prefer an ‘always on’ strategy or some will opt for a combination of both. It’s best to work out what type of media budgets you need to build – and sustain – your desired metrics with your target audience segments. After all, spontaneous awareness is impossible to raise without significant investment!
Your brand positioning, and subsequently your strategy for using it, should be a guiding star for everyone across the charity and should be incorporated within all creative briefs for concepts and campaigns to be evaluated against.
Now that you have clarity on the positioning of your brand and the strategy around using it, it’s time to look at how to communicate what this all means for who you as an organisation are to your audiences through the effective use of a brand story and messaging.
Don’t forget about brand purpose
Over the last decade boundaries between different types of brands have been blurring. More companies are now defining and delivering purpose (why they exist and the value they create for society), at the heart of their business strategy, not just via their corporate social responsibility agenda.
This extends beyond traditional perceptions of what people think a brand is and dovetails with corporate strategy. So here’s a brief history of what you need to know about the rise of brand purpose:
The era of brand purpose began in April 2010, when the former Chief Executive Officer of Unilever, Paul Polman, criticised businesses sole focus on ‘shareholder value’. He went on to launch a new – good – way of doing business with Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan.
In 2015, B-Corporations reached the UK; a new kind of business that balances profit with people and planet. Ella’s Kitchen is one of the best known in the UK, with a purpose to create healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. Around the same time the United Nation’s launched the Sustainable Development Goals; a 17-point plan to improve the planet, which requires collaboration between businesses, charities and governments. A tool that’s being used by brands to identify purpose and to forge more mission-led partnerships between businesses and charities.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the purpose movement further with more brands demonstrating good intentions through actions, with the emergence of the phrase “smart generosity”, where brands put their skills and talents to good use.
The business case for purpose is strong as it has been proven to boost profits and staff engagement, including attracting and retaining talent. However, the trend has also led to accusations of “purpose-washing”, when people don’t believe a brand’s good efforts are authentic but suspect they have just been created for positive PR like the recent incidents involving Pepsi and Heineken.
Creating a brand story
Branding is, and always has been, a transfer of emotion. It’s about changing how people feel. But first you need a story that people will believe in.
What is a brand story?
In essence a brand story is a short piece of copy that describes what you stand for.
Also known as a manifesto, positioning statement, descriptor or boiler plate, it is often put together at the same time as your brand strategy and positioning documents. A common structure is a description of the problem your charity exists to combat, followed by a description of your solution, and then a call to action to involve supporters in achieving your vision.
Often emotion plays a key role in shaping an organisation’s brand story and if you look around, you’ll notice many brands across sectors producing emotive branded content. Why? Well according to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising research has found that emotional advertising is twice as effective as rational. Which also explains why brands worldwide, from Apple to Google, often take into consideration the idea of emotional theory by eminent psychologist Paul Ekman – who found that the facial expressions of core emotions are universal across cultures.
Certainly fundraising have traditionally favoured sadness and fear to provoke a direct response via individual giving and direct mail, although there is a shift towards more hopeful narratives. And if you’ve ever seen the Pixar and Disney animation Inside Out, you’ll know there are a range of emotions to choose from, including everything from; anger, fear and disgust to sadness and joy.
It’s important to remember though that all good stories need a narrative arc to get our heart beating faster, and this may require a mix of emotions. For example, Brain Research UK delivers a range of emotions across their brand story, based on their values, from humanity and unity to positive energy.
The brain is the most complex organ in our body.
It weighs just 3lb, yet it controls our emotions, senses and actions.
Every single one of them.
It is how we process the world around us.
So, when it breaks down, we break down.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We fund brain research to improve the quality of life for people with one of 250 neurological conditions.
We inspire scientists and families to come together, side by side, stride by stride.
Call to action
Unite to accelerate the progress of brain research.
Help loved ones live better, longer.
*Photo: The Team
A good story doesn’t just feature emotions, it makes us feel them, which is why it is popular to turn an organisational story into a piece of hero content for the ‘about us’ page of your website, for fundraising events and staff and volunteer inductions. Your brand needs to play a clear role in the story to have a lasting impact, also known as ‘associative conditioning’, where the brain makes an association between two things. And crucially our feelings at the finale dominate our memory – called ‘peak-end’, so it’s definitely worth considering creating a happy ending.
Cementing your brand further through Key Audience Messaging
Brand story on its own is not enough though, to truly cement your brand into people’s minds you need to have clear messaging that continually supports this story of who you are and how you’ve positioned yourself in terms of what you stand for while reaching different audience segments. As you’ve probably already guessed this isn’t always as simple as it sounds.
Most charities have multiple audiences, each very different, and often you want different things out of each of them. For example a policy ask of a Government advisor is very different to cold donor recruitment. So how can one brand positioning engage with each audience effectively whilst embedding your overall story? By itself, it can’t. One size doesn’t fit all.
This is where Key Audience Messaging comes in. These are focused on the specific actions you want from an audience, their specific perspective and the specific messages that need to be sent to them.
Your brand positioning will have most, if not all, of the elements you need. It’s often a matter of interpreting the tone, emphasis and focus for that specific audience. Some things will be more compelling than others and need to be turned up. Others, less relevant and can be turned down.
Sometimes there will be specific things that the audience needs which aren’t in your brand positioning and aren’t relevant to the majority of your audiences. Audience Key Messaging allows you to enhance the positioning with these.
Remember: Because of the complex nature of our audiences, brand coherence works far better than dogged, ‘one size’ brand consistency.
Developing Key Audience Messaging
The first step is to identify and prioritise you audiences. Then, for each audience, map:
What action do you want them to take – the point of brand is to compel people to act so asking yourself this question is a good starting point
What do they think about your cause and your charity
What messages will, based on ‘what they think’, compel them to act
You can then interpret the brand positioning you’ve already established into a set of headlines and supporting points that narrate these messages for each audience, covering:
Context: what is going on that makes this important, the problem and issues
Belief: why we, as a charity or movement, believe this is important
How: how can we help or solve the problem
Response: What the audience needs to think, feel, say and do.
All of this brand story and messaging work will effectively help you engage each audience and keep a focused overall brand message but should be carried out alongside the building of a strong visual identity, clear tone of voice and carefully carried out naming work – details on all of these up next – to ensure you the best chance of success.
Claire Biscard, creative director at Spencer du Bois
Communication, not decoration: the power of visual branding
Nowadays a brand has to work harder than ever before – especially if it’s a charity one.
It’s not just about competing against other charities in a crowded marketplace. As a sector, we have to stand out against well-funded commercial companies – while engaging the diverse multi-generational audiences central to our success.
That’s why getting your visual brand right is essential. Outstanding visual brands have the power to capture an organisation’s spirit and personality and cut through the noise to instantly convey core messaging. It’s much more than just ‘a great logo’. It’s harnessing an effective tool for tackling some of society’s most pressing social challenges.
So make sure to consider the steps below to ensure your visual brand is working hard enough…
Speak your truth
The most successful visual brands centre around a simple truth that captures an organisation’s purpose and essence.
Yet they’re not rigid. They allow communicators to flex distinctive brand assets to help people tell their stories and speak authentically to different audiences. Coherence, not just consistency, is key.
Embrace your audiences
Brilliant visual brands aren’t created in isolation – ideas come from everyone and everything.
So immerse yourself. Live, breathe and absorb the worlds where your audiences live (and the worlds they dream of living in).
Audit, analyse and question everything before even thinking about design. Consider ethos and defining ambition. Stay open-minded and presume nothing. Only then can creative focus start to emerge: the beautiful idea that shapes every verbal and visual element of your brand.
Think beyond logo
Everyone loves logos that make them proud and that shout louder than the rest. But they can’t do the heavy lifting alone.
From fonts to images, everything needs to work together to speak in one inspiring voice to create change.
Having taken all of the above into consideration you can then start moving on to the practicalities of creating a visual identity that shines…
Craft your hero graphic
The right graphic device creates a powerful visual foundation to support your brand. And to work effectively, it needs to channel your brand essence.
For example, Samaritan’s brand essence is ‘connection’ – inspired by the desire to create an emotional revolution. After all, we all need human connection to exist – it gives us hope, stability and support. Humanity needs connection more than ever before.
This isn’t a fluffy connection. It’s solid, meaningful action that builds strength and resilience.
To capture this a connector graphic was created that allows them to speak across all dimensions. It can be flexed for any purpose, from social media posts to festival pop-ups, while being instantly recognisable and keeping Samaritans’ core message front and centre.
Harness expressive colours, typefaces and icons
Colours inspire emotion. So do you want to be warm and calm, or vibrant and bold? Choose a distinctive palette that reflects this spirit and will outlive passing trends.
Meanwhile, typefaces should communicate your personality without any other visual cues.
For example, development charity Send A Cow had a typeface created that was inspired by the vibrant rhythm, visual culture and landscapes of East Africa. Something that felt hand crafted, authentic and original.
Patterns and icons are the universal language that connects us all. Use them to unify messages across all channels from animated infographics to thought provoking campaigns. But remember, in a world of generic icons it is important to ensure they remain distinctive and ownable.
Choose inspiring images
Images should capture a moment that draws people in.
Just look at the Samartian’s idea of “A positive interruption in your everyday”. Creating that face-in-the-crowd moment of recognition as a distinct art direction that draws on everyday life-affirming things that reconnect us with the word.
So choose mesmerising images that make audiences smile, laugh, even shed a tear. Create a visual world and invite people to experience it.
Communicate, customise, innovate
Visual branding should be considered in terms of its power to boost fundraising, engage beneficiaries and transform lives.
Brilliant visual brands flow seamlessly across every channel, giving the flexibility to speak to different audiences in ways that matter to them. They have strong, distinctive assets that help your teams easily communicate, customise and innovate.
So to make your brand work harder than ever before… don’t decorate, communicate.
Tone of voice
“Oi cancer, we’re coming to get you, let’s take this outside” – say Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life.
“Whatever cancer throws your way, we’re right there with you” – say Macmillan Cancer Support.
Both charities’ choice of words clearly express their brand personalities from a collective army to a supportive companion.
Yet unfortunately it can be hard to find good examples of tone of voice like these in the charity sector, compared to commercial brands like Innocent or First Direct. Why? Because people too often underestimate the importance of language – and specifically tone of voice – within branding and how words and images need to work together for maximum impact.
What is tone of voice?
“Tone of voice” is the term used to describe the style of language a brand adopts to express its personality. A brand’s personality can be expressed visually in colours, fonts and graphics. It can be expressed in sonic mnemonics like the Intel tune or McDonald’s whistle. Or it can also be expressed in the words it chooses. Tone of voice means making sure the words used fit with brand personality and connect effectively with your target audiences.
The importance of tone of voice
Tone of voice should be an integral part of any brand, as it helps audiences recognise, locate and understand who the organisation is and what it stands for. In an increasingly crowded marketplace, where we’re constantly bombarded with visual, auditory and text information, it is vital that every element of the brand is working as hard as possible to attract and sustain attention. To overlook language is to miss an important trick.
Creating a meaningful and memorable tone of voice means fully understanding the brand’s personality. If the brand is youthful, energetic and quirky, the language used will be very different to one which has a personality that is established, traditional and reassuring. So that means it’s important to ensure clarity around the relationship the brand is to have with its audiences. For example is it an authoritative expert, a supportive friend, or a campaigning trailblazer.
One brand refresh that effectively demonstrates the importance of tone of voice is that of Blind Veterans UK below:
Max du Bois
Alongside tone of voice, your name is the most important part of your charity’s branding. It’s a beacon that helps people find you. It’s a trigger for all the messages and experiences people associate with you. And it’s a multiplier, pulling together the sum total of all your communications. It has great power to lift your charity up or drag it down.
A good name should follow the same rules as all other brand and branding elements: it should be distinctive, relevant and capture the spirit of the charity.
Assessing a name should follow the same brand rules too: will your charity be successful ‘in-spite of’ your name or ‘because of’ your name.
And any proposed change of name should follow the same process of forensic, preferably research based, assessment.
With its place at the centre of your branding, changing your name is the most visible thing you can do. Meaning it can be particularly useful if you want to:
- Signal a dramatic change in direction
- Flag a game-changing merger
- Create a step change in delivering your vision
- Or if you have moved or are moving into a new market space
- If you need or want to radically change external perceptions of your charity
- When your current name is no longer culturally or linguistically appropriate
- Or if it’s utterly obscure, meaningless or confusing in the eyes of your audience
Because of this high degree of visibility, you need to take all existing audiences with you. Start where they are, be understanding, logical, involve them where possible and invest the time to take them on a journey. Many will be loyal to all but the most ‘damaging’ of names because of history and heritage, or because they ‘feel beyond’ the name and associate it with a cause they are passionate about.
When looking at change always map out the case for and against it from every angle and for every audience. This will prove invaluable in guiding discussions and reaching the right decision.
If the case for change isn’t clear, and the name isn’t helping you but it’s not dragging you down, then your strategy should be one of rehabilitation. With names that are slightly dated, undifferentiated or losing relevance, you can use the other brand elements to overcome flaws. For instance a change in logo, a radical new visual system, updated message strategy, or change in tone of voice can all help in the short and medium term.
It’s a tough call though, and let’s not pretend otherwise. While not changing a flawed name will hold you back and could lead to long-term decline, throwing away a valuable but tarnished asset could be contentious and even disastrous.
What happens once you decide to change your name
If and when you are set on a name change how do you assess good options? Well, essentially this comes down to two main criteria:
Firstly and most importantly, can you legally own the name you want? If you can’t legally register it, you can’t own or defend it. You might end up having to change your new name or pay hefty damages if you infringe someone’s trademark. That’s why you should always have a short list of candidates, always use an experienced Trades Mark and Patents Attorney to conduct legal searches, and always be prepared to see many of them fall at this legal hurdle.
Top tip: An internet search is a good first step but remember it won’t give you the whole picture.
Secondly, does the proposed name capture the spirit of the organisation? A name is not a biography, it doesn’t need to say everything. The rest of the branding is there to support it and fill it with meaning. Names are rarely seen alone, without the context of a person or website or in an article.
Types of name
There are lots of different classifications of brand name, and the boundaries between them merge (naming is a crafty art not an equation).
However here are some typical naming types that seem to click with most with people:
Descriptive: ‘says what it does on the tin’, like Cancer Research UK. While needing little explanation, they are next to impossible to register so you could try unusual combinations, such as Blind Veterans which replaced St Dunstan’s.
Implied: this is where you hijack well known general terms and give them context by applying them to what you do. They can be whole words reapplied, ‘Livability’, or cut up noticeable words like Microprocessor and Software to Microsoft. These do need some context but also have an energy and familiarity…and can usually be tinkered with to get registered!
Neutral: here you may choose to go with something that is made up, like Accenture, Optimus (housing charity) or Quadram Institute (health research) . These take time and effort to establish and maintain. They are more usually a commercial world thing, often in emerging sectors and are good at crossing linguistic boundaries and for registration.
Iconic: think Apple. These names move from ‘irreverent’ and ‘in you face’ to iconic, rather than embarrassing, because the organisation and the things it does are iconic. I have never seen a good example of this in the charity sector specifically or one that doesn’t have its draw backs. They can, like the Francis Crick Institute, be based on famous people but bear in mind that as their memory fades, this option can leave fundraisers complaining they have to explain what they do and comms people using budget for this.
Top tip: Beware of names that should be straplines…think short, memorable and no initials, and avoid acronyms unless it’s really clever and clear and you’re prepared to spend the time and money brining it to life!
There are of course other considerations when thinking about the naming of your brand, domain names etc, but problems with these can usually be overcome with a bit of logic and creativity if the name is ‘right’.
To rewrite Shakespeare, “would a rose by any other name smell as sweet or wither and die?”
And remember: For a charity, the right name, whether it’s the result of change or rehabilitation, helps you fly, but the wrong name will make you struggle.
Entering a brand project is always going to be a big undertaking so breaking it down into the different stages that need to be covered off can help provide structure to help you stay focused.
Having a strategy, thinking about positioning, creating a brand story and making sure all the creative elements such as visual identity, tone of voice and naming all work together effectively will be vital to success. That’s why it’s important to make sure to take the time to ensure everything is working harmoniously to make your brand as strong as it can be.
Activating a brand
The art of embedding brand culture and values
Once you have everything in place for your brand refresh or rebrand it’s time to really prioritise longevity. The hard work doesn’t just stop once you are ready to launch, in fact arguably that is just the start.
Do not underestimate the importance of embedding your brand and making sure the culture and values within an organisation are inline with the brand itself. Arguably in many ways a brand is only as strong as the people behind it, as it is the people in an organisation that help a brand live and are the architects behind making sure the brand keeps working hard.
Keep reading for tips on how to make sure your brand keeps working harder for you and how your people can help you make this happen.
Embedding and living your brand
It is common to review a charity’s values as part of a brand and corporate strategy review, as they help to inform both a refreshed brand personality and the internal culture.
Every single interaction we have with a brand informs our perception of it, including the way its people and volunteers, behave. Trust in charities is fragile, so it is crucial that your people and volunteers can bring your values alive in person and act in a way that avoids possible reputational risk.
Too often, charities focus on the brand on the outside rather than the inside, having inadequately embedded it with their people first. Your people are critical brand advocates – and potential detractors if they are not supported to understand and live the spirit of the refreshed brand.
During a brand refresh, there can be a tendency for multiple types of “jargon” to fly around between HR and Communications. Concepts such as “values”, “principles”, “personality traits” and “behaviours” can result in confusion for employees. That is why it is preferable to focus on one neat set of values, which can guide the brand’s personality (visual identity and tone of voice) and culture.
Bringing brand culture to life
Galvanising people isn’t just about telling them what the brand stands for and looks like. This is an outdated ‘top-down’ approach to communications that rarely achieves its objective. Instead, plan meaningful engagement with your people so they feel part of the brand development process and that their input has been heard and acted on.
The values film from Cancer Research UK’s 2012 rebrand is a great example as it is genuinely “from their people”. Lego is another great example as it demonstrates how they have brought values of imagination, creativity, fun, learning, caring and quality to life within their workspaces.
Often, internal values workshops focus on employee deficits as a way of coercing desired behaviours – they focus on how people can live these new values better in the future. But this fails to account for all the good work already being done, so can quickly kill any love people may have for the new brand.
UK disability charity Scope are a good example of how taking a more positive approach can actually help motivate your people and be just as useful a tool in embedding your brand. It used storytelling techniques to help employees focus on their existing strengths, how they were already living the values, and how they could continue to develop this in the future.
Improving the brand experience for employees
Whilst a strong understanding of your purpose and values can help to inspire and unite your people, some organisations also develop an explicit ‘employer brand’. This is about defining the whole employee experience and culture, and what it feels like on a day-to-day basis. Getting this right creates a great experience for your people and will also help, to attract and retain the best talent.
If developing an explicit ‘employer brand’ it’s important to remember that integral to this is an Employee Value Proposition. This (EVP) communicates the mutual offer made between the organisation and its people – the values and benefits, both operational and psychological that – employees can expect and what they will offer in return.
Making your brand work hard
Rebecca Walton, independent brand consultant
So you’ve defined what you stand for, have a clear and compelling brand story in place, a stand-out visual and verbal identity and some stonking brand guidelines. Congratulations!
But what if no one out there in the world notices? You need to make your brand work hard for you, which means embedding it at the heart of organisational decision-making and bringing it to life in a joined-up way across all your activities.
Think about the brand’s impact
When your organisation is making decisions, is brand a key factor? If you believe getting your brand strategy right will drive success, then it should be right up there.
Lots of organisations take a ‘do no harm’ approach to this i.e. they try to ensure that decisions taken do not carry undue risk to their brand or reputation. For example, a charity will check that a new corporate partner doesn’t engage in working practices that are counter to their values or mission. This is, of course, very important. However, organisations that truly maximise their brand’s potential tend to take a more active approach.
For example, when you’re developing new services or products, do you explicitly consider their fit with your brand, or their potential to positively extend or develop it? When you’re targeting new partners, do you assess the potential brand value of the partnership, not just in terms of fit but also in terms of opportunities for delivering more profile or engagement for your brand? If you’re not doing these things then ask yourself why not.
If this doesn’t already come naturally to your senior leaders or decision-makers, try raising these questions and embedding them into your organisational processes where possible. Keep doing this until considering the brand impact and opportunity becomes accepted as normal, indeed essential!
Remember: We’re better when we work together
We all know the value of brand consistency. But, beyond checking that your look and feel is right across all your communications, how can you get more from your brand?
Taking a more integrated approach to all external-facing activities can help you create a better brand experience for all your audiences. Working together across the organisation to plan and deliver a joined-up programme of external communications can make all your activity more effective and efficient. It can also help avoid the situation of competing campaigns and messages, which baffle your audiences and confuse your brand. Every communication works harder because it’s not working alone.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something that tends to happen automatically! It takes some hard work, and sometimes difficult decisions and trade-offs. It can be useful to set up a dedicated cross-organisational group to plan the integration of external-facing activity to make the process run smoother.
This group takes responsibility for planning a long-term (annual at least) programme of activity, with key themes activated at peak periods/moments, delivered across multiple channels and audiences. So any one period of activity should deliver to multiple objectives, perhaps recruiting new supporters, raising money, influencing political targets, engaging partners and delivering brand profile.
This isn’t always easy. We can all revert to our silos given the chance! But remember your first shift into this way of working doesn’t necessarily have to be big. Sometimes starting small works well, with one project or campaign, because if you can demonstrate it has delivered positive results, you should be able to use that success to start embedding a culture of integration on a wider scale.
Looking for inspiration?
Case study library of charity rebrands to learn from
Enjoy learning from others? Take a look at the selection of successful charity rebrands and refreshes below and read how they came about as well as tips for how to do it yourself from those directly involved in the process…