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Ten tips to survive a charity rebrand 

31 January 2020

Brand development in the charity sector is not for the faint hearted as the last Brand Breakfast discovered. Understanding of what we mean by ‘brand’ can still be poor and resistance to change high. It can take sweat, blood and tears, sometimes even tantrums and tiaras (not mine may I add). But we hope this guide will help you survive unscarred.

1. Get trustees on-side from the outset

Big brand decisions usually go to the Board of Trustees, so get them on-side early. Especially as there may well be a Trustee who has marketing experience you can draw upon. Select one or two to engage in your brand development project at key stages so they can help champion the brand. If you are working with an agency or brand strategist consider factoring in time for them to engage senior stakeholders to educate and excite them about the value of a strong brand.

2. Have a brand steering group to take people on the journey

We strongly recommend setting up a brand steering group made up of key stakeholders from each part of the charity – a Trustee, Director level project sponsor, policy and campaigns representative, and members of the advice and support or services, fundraising, retail and volunteering teams. Projects I have worked on with this structure have tended to go the best and these people can become your champions when it comes to activating your brand.

3. See brand as a strategic tool

All too often ‘brand’ is seen as window dressing, not the long-term strategic tool to fuel success it is. The foundations of any strong brand are a clear articulation of what you stand for (vision, mission, values or equivalent). These should be aligned with your corporate strategy and run through everything you do, from your products and services to your culture, innovation, fundraising and marketing communications. That’s why so much time and care is taken in laying the strategic foundations of a brand, long before any design takes place. They provide the creative ‘springboard’ against which creative development should be critiqued against.

4. Make sure big decisions are evidence based

To achieve the big decisions on brand positioning or expression (name, strapline, visual identity and tone of voice) you need the right audience insight. It can be preferable to place market research with key audience segments (existing and potential) during a project’s strategy stage, while mood boards can bring strategic territories to life. This can save the need for a second round of research at the creative stage and avoid ‘design by committee’. We use qualitative research to explore perceptions around concepts and quantitative research for robust statistical data.

5. Don’t let ‘design by committee’ stifle creativity

If you are going to research your visual identity concepts, think carefully about how you do it. We experience design holistically in the real world through a wide range of printed and digital channels from posters to apps. Rarely do we sit in a room with other people and debate elements of a visual identity individually in terms of subjective opinions on fonts or colours. Sometimes popular can be vanilla where ‘Marmite’ will achieve greater cut-through. Try researching identity concepts in-situ against set objectives rather than having a beauty pageant.

As Jonathan Dando, Director of Marketing and Communications at Teach First says: “You will never get a committee to agree on every aspect of creative. It will end up with a vanilla compromise – the opposite of what a rebrand should be.”

Also consider using semiotic analysis to understand communicated meanings or behavioural economics to understand human psychology and emotions impact on our actions.

6. Demonstrate the brand will work for the whole charity

Once you get into design take time to demonstrate the brand will work across the breadth of what you do to manage ‘brand stretch’. This is one of the biggest challenges of charity sector branding. Making sure the brand is consistent enough to be instantly recognisable, whilst retaining enough flex for specific audiences, channels, departments and products. That’s why brand architecture (how you present the different things you do in relation to your master brand) is so critical to agree as part of a brand development process.

7. Allow creativity within set parameters

The temptation is to ‘lock-down’ a visual identity once it’s been created. “Consistency” is king shout the old brand police. But if you have carefully defined all the elements that make up a cohesive identity system (logo, social media icon, colours, typography, photography, graphic devices, illustration and iconography), they should safely enable creativity within set parameters – allowing brand managers to focus on building rather than just struggling to contain the brand.

8. Implement from the inside-out

Brands often rush to activate the brand on the outside before rolling it out internally. But your staff and volunteers are your ready-made sales force, so they should all be able to articulate what you stand for. They also need to live your values to avoid any reputational issues which have plagued the sector over recent years. We recommend workshops or managers toolkits to embed your values before letting the brand out of the bag.

9. Excite and empower your people to embrace the brand

The only people who read guidelines cover to cover are ‘brand-geeks’ like me. It’s best to get people to stay ‘on-brand’ by exciting them about the impact a strong brand can make and giving them the tools and templates they need to use it. Power to the people!

“Engage, engage, engage” says Chris James, brand and ambassador manager at Scouts. “I can’t stress how vital it is that you make enough time in your planning to have genuine and meaningful conversations with your supporters and stakeholders.”

10. Continuously evaluate and curate the brand on an ongoing basis

Now be very careful. How many of us have the luxury of big marketing budgets to shift public awareness figures? Most of us are far more likely to rely on targeting specific audience segments through digital channels and a good content strategy so try creating a dashboard of key metrics you can report on at key milestones. Your brand steering group should also continue to meet regularly to help monitor the health of the brand and an annual audit is a good idea to fix any issues.

It’s tough work, but when you see the brand you have created making an impact in the real world there is no greater satisfaction. Good luck!

Dan Dufour

brand strategist, Red Stone

Dan is 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, from Shelter and Parkinson’s UK to RSPB and Scope. Dan established CharityComms Brand Breakfast, proudly supported by Red Stone. He is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated campaigns.