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Reinvigorating our brand to raise profile and change the way people think about stroke

1 November 2020

At the Stroke Association 2016 was a turning point. We had to reach more people who needed our vital support and significantly grow income to do so.  But with a prompted awareness in long-term decline, we had quite a mountain to climb.

Where to start?
Our existing brand was key to this challenge and our first step was to understand where it was and wasn’t working for us.

This meant analysing brand tracking data, other charity brands and attitudes to stroke and the Stroke Association among cold and warm audiences.  It also meant running internal workshops to understand what our people thought about stroke and the problem the Stroke Association solves for our audiences. 

What emerged were many stories of how we had helped stroke survivors to rebuild their lives and move forward. But it revealed we were largely invisible as a brand – with communications focused on the detail of our many activities rather than on the more emotional ‘why’.  Plus, stroke as a cause was largely misunderstood and not front of mind compared to other health conditions.  One insight participant summed the problem up perfectly: “It’s sad but what can you do?”

In surfacing some brutal home truths, the clarity it gave us helped argue the case for increasing brand investment from zero to 3% of our turnover.  It also led us to refresh rather than rebrand fully as we didn’t need to significantly change direction, just find focus in why we existed and how we came across.

We worked with The Team to develop a new single-minded purpose, personality and values by exploring four territories on the caring/fighting spectrum.

Testing these four propositions internally and externally showed that while people felt we needed to have a caring side, we needed to be more active than that.  We were about motivating stroke survivors to live their best life possible, working alongside them and even showing tough love sometimes, whether it’s one last exercise rep or five more minutes of speech and language therapy.  It’s about putting the pieces back together.

This came to life through the development of a new brand purpose: ‘Rebuilding lives after stroke’, and personality: ‘Life Champion’.  From there we developed our values, with much input from our people, to give more context.

We are human
We give our all
We say it how it is
We believe in better

With a strong brand strategy in place, we were also able to refresh our visual identity and tone of voice to reflect this. Modernising, expanding our colour palette and addressing accessibility issues while keeping our recognisable features – our logo, our brush strokes, our purple – brought it all to life. 

Prioritising content to switch over to the new brand based on key parameters eg audience, reach, cost, etc was also a big part of the process.  This took about a year in total. But we spent just as much energy, if not more, on embedding the essence of our brand among our people.  Our audience needed to feel our brand as much as see or hear it.

Embedding our values was a huge culture change and involved close collaboration between the Brand, Internal Engagement and Learning teams.  We reinforced the idea of ‘living our values’ through interactive brand training, a ‘recognition card’ scheme and our annual staff awards.

But perhaps most notably, we set up our Brand Activation Group, which is still going strong today.  With representation from every team across the organisation, this group provide a more familiar port of call for teammates with brand questions.  They disseminate messages within their teams and also provide feedback if they see any element of the brand being used incorrectly.  Putting in the time and effort to inspire, motivate and train this team has really been worth it – our Brand Activators take their role seriously and I am sure we wouldn’t be where we are now without them.

Moving forward
Culturally, we’re almost unrecognisable from when we started our brand reinvigoration  process, and our values are regularly cited in decision making at all levels. We’ve launched an above-the-line integrated marketing  campaign, which increased brand awareness by 5 percentage points and saw ‘likelihood to support’ reach an all-time high in 2019 – as much as doubling among stroke connected 25-44 year olds.  And we’re supporting more people affected by stroke, with Helpline calls increasing 40% year on year. 

But our work is never done!  Since refreshing, we’ve developed our brand architecture, AV and illustration style, and have a regular update cycle for these guidelines.   We always have one eye on the outside (and inside) world to make sure our brand stays fit for purpose.  It’s a living thing.

Lessons learned

  • Keep briefs simple.  Start at the beginning and secure your brand strategy first, followed by visual identity and TOV. Other things like architecture can follow as separate projects, led by the foundations you’ve defined.
  • Have some space between internal roll out and campaign launch.  Of course we wanted to get out there as soon as we could, but taking a couple of extra months to launch the campaign wouldn’t have hurt and would have reduced overall stress levels in the team.
  • Remember that brand is a long game.  Brand success is measured by population-level metrics that don’t change overnight and decay between campaigns.  We’re working on a five year timeframe to show a sustained upward trend in metrics like awareness and likelihood to support.

This case study is part of the CharityComms Brand 360 Best Practice Guide.

Jane Maber

head of brand, Stroke Association

Jane is head of brand at the Stroke Association, which supports anyone affected by stroke to rebuild their lives. Her team is responsible for the Rebuilding Lives campaign and embedding brand strategy across the organisation. Jane is passionate about branding from the inside out – developing brand-led cultures to make sure organisations walk the talk.