Communicating our new strategic direction required us to take a step back and assess our brand. This blog recounts the experience and what we discovered along the way.
We had just gone through a thorough process to work out our new organisational strategy at Student Minds, with the support of our Student Advisory Group, Trustees and supporters.
After 15+ years of fighting for the mental health of students, we had defined a bold ambition for the years ahead. But in mapping the way forward, we ended up with an 18-pager, at a whopping 4,000 words long, that we knew would be hard to read and even harder to remember. If our own team struggled to engage with it, how could we expect our audiences to get behind it?
We decided to pull in a fresh perspective to help us improve how we were talking about ourselves and our 10-year strategy. To find the right support, we went through a tender process, calling on the CharityComms freelance directory for contacts and found support through Comms Consultant Lizzie Pring.
Embarking on our brand health check
We embarked on a brand health check with Lizzie’s support to check how our brand was performing and work out where we needed to take it to match our ambitions.
“Your brand is more than a logo: it’s character and behaviour, how your organisation talks and what it looks like. Taking a moment to pause and find out how your audiences perceive your brand enables you to make informed adjustments for the long term. It’s sensible to do a brand health check every two to three years (annually is even better!), or at crucial times in your organisation’s journey – like when you’re embarking on a new strategy or change of direction.”Lizzie Pring, Communications Consultant.
We started by gathering insights on what our audiences thought of us and what they feel makes us uniquely Student Minds. We consulted with over 160 members across our audience and supporter segments through surveys and 1-2-1 interviews. We also listened to students’ thoughts on different messaging approaches in focus groups and explored the stumbling blocks of brand perceptions and messaging with our staff team.
This research helped us to really test the strength of our current communications and identify where we can improve audience engagement and the understanding of what we do. Capturing the current brand perception from various stakeholders also gave us a baseline that we could use to track our progress in future years.
We found that we’re deeply respected for our knowledge and are viewed as the experts in student mental health, which was thankfully not much of a surprise to us, though it was great to hear. But what was a surprise was that our stakeholders (internal and external) weren’t clear on what we care about, what we really want for students.
There was an appetite for us to be bolder in asserting our opinions and passions. As a team, we knew we cared deeply about the success and mental health of students, but this feedback helped us realise we needed some help articulating it afresh.
How we acted on the brand check results
We formed a working group of 10 teammates to reshape our tone of voice and what we wanted our messaging to convey. With a solid understanding of our audiences, culture and ambition, Lizzie worked with us to articulate our vision and mission, creating a crib sheet of messaging that would bring our passion to the fore. We tested it out on a small group of our students and supporters, refining it as we went.
The results were a refreshed tone of voice – keeping our calm, professional voice for students and university communities but dialling up the boldness. And we updated our descriptions of what we do, putting more of what we care about first.
We put the new messaging into play by extensively copy-editing our strategy, distilling it into a much more digestible eight pages and a one-page, shareable summary. We then provided the team and our Trustee Board with a guide on using our messaging and in-person training to put it into practice.
How we’ll track success
We’re a small team so we have planned a slow rollout, aiming to have all our external facing assets updated with the new messaging by the end of the year (2023). We’ll also redo our consultation next year to track if and how perceptions have shifted. We have and will continue to monitor engagement with our strategy online.
Ultimately, our audiences and their views change, so we need to keep tracking that our brand and tone of voice works for them and us.
What we learned
If you think your charity could do with a brand health check, here are some of the things we learned along the way:
- The more feedback, the better: It sounds obvious, but the more survey responses you can get, the more useful the data will be because you collect a bigger picture. We promoted our survey everywhere and found putting it clearly in all staff email footers an effective way to encourage responses.
- Bring the Trustee Board and Senior Leadership in from the start and ensure you update them as you go. We involved some in the consultation process, but if we were to do it again, we’d have pulled them in more regularly to keep them clued up and engaged.
- It’s an open book; if it’s not working, change it: Keep the doors open to refine your new messaging. We knew that the first couple of months of our new messaging being in circulation were crucial for us to see if it was working. We planned a review six months after launch to review any feedback we received from external audiences or our colleagues.
- Getting someone external in helps: If you’ve got the budget to hire an external expert to run the 1-2-1 interviews or focus groups, consider it. People are more likely to be more honest and open with external facilitators than a staff member who can bring pre-existing ideas to the process. External support really helps with the writing, too. It can be hard not to get bogged down in the details when you’ve been looking at your own messaging for years.
- It’s okay if what you thought would work doesn’t: Be led by the data, feedback, insights and research, really listen to what your audiences are (or are not saying), delve deeper into their needs and don’t become too precious about an idea or a way of phrasing something. If it doesn’t work, try something new.
Here’s our new messaging and strategy, we’d love to know what you think about it! What would you do differently?
Banner Image: Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels