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Managing your brand – on a global scale

16 April 2010

Ellie Brown, from CharityComms, reports back from our branding event

At a recent CharityComms seminar, Nick Futcher, Oxfam GB, gave a reminder of why brand is vital: it is a means to an end. Ensuring the coherence of your organisation’s image and message can make it appear stronger, more efficient and increase its impact.

The question behind branding should be, "How do we leverage consistency to get more support/impact/funding" – not, "Isn’t green the prettiest colour for a logo?"

Good branding can also protect your charity’s reputation. Helen Bird from Friends of the Earth pointed out the potential negative impact if different national groups attending the Copenhagen climate summit had turned up with contradictory messages. Such moments, and collaborating to ensure consistent messaging for them, can encourage working together for greater impact.

Unfortunately, acknowledging the importance of brand identity does not make the task of branding simple, especially when an organisation is spread across the world and works with many different partners. How can multi-national organisations hope to tackle the problems of global branding?

Look within

Brand is difficult for charities. To many, it is still a bit of a dirty word: it’s something that big corporations do, and it takes money and time away from whatever cause the charity is championing. NFPs – and the public – can find it difficult to align the idea of brand with charitable values.

However, getting internal buy-in is crucial, and should be a focus of those professionals working to develop a central communications strategy. Futcher found that an effective way to encourage internal support was to involve other departments and key stakeholders: ask people for their input. It’s a great way for concerns to be articulated, and for everyone to develop interest in and better understanding of communications.

Dan Dufour, of The Team, stressed the importance of research: prove to your management that there is correlation between brand awareness and income, and you’ll be in a much better position to secure their support.

Set guidelines

A major concern was how to negotiate the tension between flexibility and consistency. Charities don’t want to stifle the enthusiasm, creativity and energy of partners and people working in the field; neither do they want them to have free reign with organisation’s logo and image.

How do you ensure some local agency – the ability to respond to local issues and concerns – whilst preventing major deviations from your organisation’s values and appearance? Julia Flynn, Oxfam International, explained how Oxfam has worked out the key messages that were fundamental to the organisation and is developing these into a strong set of guidelines, with the help from an agency. These provide local and national Oxfam groups with a "toolbox" of communications guidelines that they must keep within, but that also provide some freedom to manoeuvre. Flynn pointed out that an effective approach is to explain why brand consistency delivers more impact and then people understand the need for a tool box.

WSPA and Marie Stopes International are striving to create centrally-controlled information stores that can be accessed by their partners and workers all over the world. Such stores would provide a centrally approved bank of information and pictures. Like the guidelines, online stores ensure a level of consistency without squashing local agency. As well as images, a centralised asset bank can hold case studies, quotes and brand guidelines.

Consistency not homogeneity

Whilst consistency is important, don’t run yourself down trying to make everything identical: it’s a fight you probably won’t win – you’re not running a single campaign. Flynn spoke about Oxfam’s decision not to implement a global tagline at this point in time: each national affiliate has its own priorities, and gives different weight to them to engage with their local audiences.

Alongside this, you have to consider circumstances. Lisa-Maree David, deputy head of marketing at Department for International Development, found that using the department’s UKAid logo was not appropriate – or safe – in every situation; they work in some very politically tense areas, and have to be sensitive to this fact. As such, temporary branding, such as removable logos for cars, has been developed. Working with local partners on the ground during a pilot phase helped DFID work through the many possible situations of when UKaid was or wasn’t suitable.

Make use of technology

Even if you have internal support, come up with an amazing logo, and work out your fundamental messages, you don’t want to have to fly out a specialist every time a communications issue comes up. Similarly, it’s not always practical to rely on spoken communication when you are working across time zones.

Flynn emphasised the importance of creating an online bank of information about how to deal with communications issues: this would allow access to vital information and templates quickly. Thinking of ways to provide information is only one step, however: you must consider what level of skill and understanding the people you are empowering have. Megan Aubray of The Team pointed out whilst some employees might require nothing more than technical guidelines, others might want a number of templates that can be altered according to circumstance.

Make tutorials, teaching videos and educational information available for your workers and partners in other countries; but don’t forget to tailor these for your audience. In particular, be sensitive to areas of operation where access to online technology may be limited. Where budget allows, don’t ignore the impact of face-to-face contact and training.

Don’t get lost in translation

Working globally means working in more than one language. WSPA, for example, have found that ‘partnership’ – a word used commonly in their English publications – has a totally different meaning and nuance in Denmark. Sometimes, simple transliteration doesn’t get the spirit of your organisation across. Thinking in a more conceptual way can avoid this: if you aren’t tied to very specific words, it may be easier to translate the meaning of your taglines.

And it is not only a matter of language: Joe Saxton recalled the divide between the European and American divisions of UNICEF over the tagline ‘Advance Humanity’; the former associated the words with twentieth century eugenics. If your words are going to be broadcast across the globe, make sure that you take into account different cultural markers and meanings.

In summary, you build a global brand around four strong pillars: a good understanding of why a brand is important; a clear governance structure; rules (with more carrot than stick); and tools to make staying on-brand easy. Put the four pillars in place and your global brand is much more likely to remain intact and last the test of time.

Ellie Brown

communications officer, CharityComms

Ellie joined the CharityComms team as an intern in February 2010, and became Communications Officer in September. Her role involves promoting CharityComms services, as well as managing the content of the CharityComms website and their social media accounts. She runs, an online charity contacts book for journalists.

Before this, she studied History at the University of Cambridge. She volunteers with UK Feminista, a feminist campaigning organisation.