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Going global: creating an international brand identity

11 March 2010

CharityComms director Vicky Browning considers branding challenges 

What links an obscure Welsh village with a choice between red or blue packaging for a type of condom? The problems of international branding, naturally.

The in-house joke with staff at DFID is that anyone not recognising the acronym for the Department For International Development would think it was a small village in the Valleys. Speaking at Wednesday’s CharityComms seminar on the challenges of building an NGO brand in multiple countries, Lisa-Maree David, the department’s deputy head of marketing, explained how switching to new brand UK Aid meant at last they had a brand that “does what it says on the tin”.

David’s description of the challenges of creating flexible yet clear brand guidance for overseas partners and stakeholders rang a clear bell with seminar delegates, who came from a wide range of international organisations, including Oxfam, Save the Children, WSPA and Marie Stopes International.

The condoms dilemma was faced by Marie Stopes, whose international partners in Uganda and Kenya were adamant that country-specific colour-coding of condom packaging was essential to prophylactic success. MSI senior communications manager Fiona Carr spoke of the huge effort and resource spent managing local differences in brand interpretation and usage. She said the organisation was tackling this by developing clearly defined sub-brands to minimise discrepancies.

Branding challenges 

The seminar attendees were like a Top Trumps game of international reach – from Oxfam with 14 affiliates in 86 countries to WSPA with more than 900 member organisations in over 150 countries and Save the Children which reaches 6 million kids in over 50 countries. All were at different points in their “brand journeys” (with one attendee admitting shyly she’d barely started packing for the trip). But one of the key challenges that united them was how to harness the enthusiasm of passionate, high energy people dotted around the world (or country, in the case of organisations like the Scouts).

When you blend grass-roots enthusiasm with an infuriating “we're doing it our way!” approach, how do you keep branding unified and consistent over multiple locations? Solutions offered included “naming and shaming” the worst offenders of brand inconsistencies (step forward the Met Police communicator who authorised the fluffy stick-on pompom creatures sporting a ribbon saying “Trident”). Also suggested was sharing the problem across the organisation both nationally and internationally to get everyone involved in the solution.

Just the beginning 

All agreed the need for a bottom-up effort combined with strong leadership, including explicit buy-in from the chief exec. And developing both fundamental umbrella messages that are relevant to organisation members wherever in the world they happen to be working, alongside a comprehensive branding tool kit with tools to suit all skill levels within the organisation, came highly recommended.

But while some delegates believed it can be relatively easy to bring tonal and visual consistency, all admitted it was much harder for disparate members of an international organisation to come together strategically. A brand may be healthy, but is it being actively leveraged to generate more support, more donations, more awareness? Or as Nick Futcher from Oxfam GB put it (with suitable apologies for using sound-bite-speak): “The brand is not the end. It’s the beginning.”

Vicky Browning


Vicky became CEO of ACEVO, the charity and social leaders’ network, in January 2017, helping to empower our inspiring sector leaders to make the biggest difference they can to their beneficiaries, their organisation and to society. Vicky was previously CharityComms’ director for nearly seven years.