Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Importance of Branding

Or how the cowboys got it right.

By Ben Delaney © 2007

In the old west, cowboys needed to tell which cattle belonged to whom on the open range. Way back in the 1880’s most of the American west was a vast, unfenced area – rangeland punctuated by dramatic mountains and perilous arroyos. Cattle roamed freely and often herds belonging to different ranchers intermixed.

Back then, establishing a brand meant marking all your cattle with a hot iron that permanently burned your mark into each animal’s hide. Today, every brand manager longs to create a mark as permanent as that.

We’re all familiar with many modern brands. The words coke, nike, scotch, windows, and many others have had their historical meanings blurred by the simple addition of a capital letter. Now, those are international brands, carrying deep and often complex emotional and intellectual meaning to millions, if not billions of people.

(This branding sword cuts both ways, though. Think of xerox, kleenex, post-it, margarine, and band-aid. These were, or are, trademarked brands. But through carelessness, these valuable properties have become common nouns – with a substantial loss of value for the companies that own them.)

Virtually every successful organization has created a brand. This applies just as strongly to nonprofits as it does to for-profit enterprises. Think about what these brands mean to you, and how you respond emotionally to them:

  • Red Cross
  • YouTube
  • Girl Scouts
  • IBM
  • Salvation Army
  • Apple
  • Greenpeace
  • Google

See what I mean? Whether you like or dislike them, brands rule the mind-space of consumers world-wide.

Building your brand

Whether you are a marketer in the private sector or in the nonprofit world, building and maintaining your brand is the most important function you have. A strong brand creates recognition of your organization and eliminates the need to explain its purpose. It creates trust (when properly maintained), and makes sales and support solicitations much easier. A good brand makes it easier to introduce new programs or products, and it helps to build a strong base of support. In fact, a strong brand makes every aspect of communications and marketing easier and more effective.

Building a strong brand takes imagination and hard work. But more than that, more important than a great logo or an unforgettable tag line is one thing: consistency. To build a great brand, you must watch it like a overprotective grandma – shepherd it through difficult times, stand up for it if bullies attack, guard its reputation, and be sure it shows up at the right place, at the right time, and looking good. Here are few tips for building and maintaining a great brand.

Ensure appropriateness: If you’re selling muscle cars, you don’t want a pink floral logo. If you’re a nonprofit pushing aid to the poor, a gold trimmed annual report is not appropriate. Bold ideas need bold representations, delicate subjects must be treated delicately. Your logo needs to convey the key aspects of your organization at a glance. This is not a place to skimp. Pay a professional, get a great logo. It is worth every cent.

Be sure it works in every size, and in black and white: Your designer shows you some concept ideas and they all look great. Each concept is shown to you ten inches wide. But be sure to look at it one inch wide, as well. And look at it in black and white. You have to use your logo on stationary, advertising, signs, bags, pens, and websites. Be certain it works in every size and every potential location.

Get a great tagline: The tagline is the short description that often accompanies your logo. Be sure it succinctly tells your story in as few words as possible. Try to make it catchy, even poetic. Great taglines take on a life of their own. Remember, “It’s the real thing”? How about, “Breakfast of champions”? Your tagline augments the logo in building your identity in the minds of your constituents.

Use it everywhere: Don’t be shy. Now that you have a great logo and tagline, be sure to use it everywhere you can. It’s OK if it’s small, or tucked in a corner. But be sure your constituents see it every chance they have. That’s what creates name and identity recognition. And it takes more exposure than you may expect.

Use it consistently: Don’t ever change the shape or color of your logo. It will simply muddle perceptions and reduce recognition. During the design process, have your designer do mockups of many likely usages to test how your logo works. Consistency may seem boring to you, but it helps your image stick in the minds of your audience.

Use it long after you’re tired of it: Think about the logos you recognize instantly, like Coke, or IBM, or the Red Cross. They haven’t changed in years. Neither should yours. People don’t like change, and when you change your identity people will wonder why. Stick with it. Consistent messaging pays marketing dividends.

Branding includes other constituents, including messaging, overall look and feel, theme songs, mascots, and so on. Branding is the sum total of impressions your customers and other have of your organization. As I said earlier, your brand is your organization’s single greatest asset. Guard it like gold – for it is worth far more.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How Your Nonprofit is Just Like a Hot Internet Startup.

There are more similarities than you might expect.

By Ben Delaney © 2007

People frequently ask me how I went from high-tech marketing to the nonprofit world. In fact, I don’t see that much difference between the two environments. They actually have a lot in common. High-tech companies and nonprofit organizations share many characteristics and face similar challenges. That means that a good marketer, after learning the important aspects of an organization, like programs/products, services, and culture, can handle a nonprofit’s needs as easily as those of a high-tech startup.

Here are a few of the things that nonprofits and high-tech companies have in common:

Mission driven: Have you noticed how often high-tech marketers are called “guru” or “evangelist”? That’s because, just like nonprofits, high-tech startups are driven by the compulsion to get their message out – a message of new hope and opportunities presented by new technologies. Nonprofits are driven by similar goals – to ensure that the right people hear their messages of need and hope. This is a basic factor in communications for both constituencies. And many of the same techniques, carefully tailored to the needs of the organization and the expectations of the audience, will work in either type of organization.

Led by a brilliant, inspired leader: The engineer who invented the technology still leads the company, but everybody knows he really isn’t much of a manager. The Executive Director, brilliant in her understanding of the issues, people, and connections that form the crux of the cause, gets buried in minutiae and looses the reins of the organization. It’s called “founders syndrome.” High-tech and non-profits are led by really smart people, but nobody can do everything, especially during times of rapid growth. Both types of organizations need strong Marketing/Communications (MarCom) leadership.

Limited funds: Even the hottest venture-capital (VC) funded tech startups have to make money, or they end up dumping all those cool Aeron chairs on EBay. Nonprofits are chronically under-funded. There are many smart, low-cost marketing techniques that can quickly help the bottom line. A lot.

Need for strong branding: Every organization needs a strong brand. Brands help establish a family-like relationship. Think about the Girl Scouts, Nike, The American Cancer Society, Google, or the Salvation Army. Each of those brands hold meaning for a lot of people, and because of that familiarity half of the communications job is already done. New company – new cause; both need the same thing: a strong brand that elicits warm feelings in the heart of the organization’s constituency.

Unsure of the value of marketing: Limited funds means that not every good idea can be followed up. Some projects get done today, some are put off, some are canceled. Often the first casualty of financial constraints is the MarCom budget line. That is a huge mistake. When an organization is small, or is dealing with a setback, or has a great new opportunity, marketing helps make it happen. Marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot, and it should be treated as an investment, with goals and milestones.

Need for accountability in marketing: Finally, every organization needs to keep its eyes on the ball of accountability. Marketing results can and should be measured. How many people responded to a mailing? Were they the people we were hoping to hear from? Did our ad bring in X number of inquiries? Does our website provide good quality leads? Those kinds of questions matter in every organization.

So, you see, moving to the nonprofit world was easy for me. I get to use my time-tested marketing tools (constantly upgraded as technology changes) to help an organization that is trying to make the world better. While the objectives of a high-tech company will be completely different from those of a nonprofit, the same tools work to get the message out. An advertisement can sell disc drives or encourage donors. A press release can announce the latest version of the Gizmotron, or let people know that the millionth child has been saved. I can do either. But after decades of selling Gizmotrons, it feels really good to be working to educate children, save the environment, stamp out poverty and disease, or bring peace. I highly recommend it.