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Brand is an experience built by your people

8 July 2016

One of my frustrations with charity branding is the fixation on how a brand looks externally. That’s why I was delighted a recent CharityComms Brand Breakfast focused on brand on the inside and how important people are to delivering the right customer experience to build trust and loyalty amongst supporters.

We need our people 

There is no doubt that the third sector is currently suffering a crisis of trust with the Charity Commission reporting that trust in charities is at a ten year low. More than ever, charities need people who will champion the mission they hope to deliver. They need staff and volunteers on side to help build brands and become advocates to attract more talent to the organisation, as well as volunteers and supporters. 

A brand is an experience

As I listened to the presentations, the introduction from the original NSPCC brand guidelines rang through my head and still holds true:

“Every single contact you have with an organisation helps to inform your perception of who it is, what it says and what it does. If you have a good experience in a shop as a customer, you will associate good customer service with the company – it will, for you, become part of the brand. A company seeks to make sure that through training of staff, consistent communications internally and externally, good products and so on, it reinforces the kind of image it wants its customers to have. It’s the same for a charity.” 

I can relate this to personal experience. I like the First Direct brand because it reinvented banking around customers’ needs. During its development, research showed that the telephone service would have to be different and better if people were to switch banks. It wouldn’t have charges, would be open 24 hours, and its people would be personable, helpful and fair. Unlike the traditional business model, where products and procedures were created to suit the bank with little thought to the personal touch. 

Of course, not all brands can always be delivered in person. So we must also consider how our brand values are reflected through the digital customer experience, which is why user experience (UX) design is now an essential part of brand development. I love the idea behind the Airbnb brand, based on collaboration and a purpose of belonging anywhere, but the digital experience sometimes lets me down as I’ve found it slow and can’t easily search for places to stay with my dog which impacts on my engagement with the brand. 

Brand strategy and purpose 

How do you get everyone on side to champion your cause? 

Brand is a good starting point. Ensure you have a brand strategy and purpose, aligned to your corporate strategy that delivers clarity and a compelling idea.

Your brand strategy should be the heart and soul of your organisation and provide a guiding light for everyone, from human resources and service delivery to fundraising innovation. After all, the best brands are a collective of people aligned behind a shared purpose with an understanding of the values that bind them all together.

This is where jargon can sometimes sadly get in the way. Brand strategy models come in all shapes and sizes to bamboozle you. At the end of the day there is beauty in simplicity. What’s really required is a clear idea of why you exist to inspire and unite your people (most commonly a vision) and clear pointers to guide the brand’s personality and people’s behaviour (most commonly values). With values, my experience has shown me less is often more and the more distinctive and memorable the better. 

If you build upon your core brand strategy with specific propositions for employees, customers or fundraising they should all be linked to a core brand idea. Aligning the dynamics of your brand to a compelling idea makes strong business strategy and enables integration across departments. 

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Dan Dufour

creative brand strategist, BrandDufour

Dan is specialist in brand purpose and one of the sector’s leading brand strategists. He has worked on brand development across all sectors including Rightmove, London 2012 and Cancer Research UK. He's 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 Breakfast and is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated communications.