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ShareVision Blog

Conversations on technology for community service providers

Brandishing your Sword 101


During a group exercise on “Branding” at a recent development conference, my table was asked the question “how well did our organizations do with developing and promoting our brand”? After much discussion our collective response when reporting back to the bigger group was. “We suck at this!”

Turns out we were not alone in that sentiment as many other agency reps from CEO’s to front line managers all admitted they didn’t really know what their brand actually meant, that they didn’t promote their brand, and most couldn’t articulate what it was beyond their logo.

The term branding, comes from the ancient practice of “permanently marking someone with a hot sword”, but by about 1825 had grown beyond the act of burning slaves and livestock to mean a particular make of goods. Fast-forward to 2014 and brands are now considered a corporate “asset” and have an actual valuation. According to a statement on Habitat for Humanity’s website, brand valuation is big news, not just for corporations but also for NGOs.

“Interbrand conducted a study of Habitat's brand value. Interbrand identified nine drivers of brand value, which included such attributes as its heritage, local impact, spiritual motivation, and tangible result. Interbrand used a formula to determine a brand index and then calculated a "brand strength score." Habitat was found to have a net present value of future brand earnings (essentially the brand's operating income) of US$ 1.8 billion. (At the time, this was equal to the brand value of Starbucks.)”

Habitat for Humanity as big as STARBUCKS!! So it is much more than just your logo we are talking about here, even if many of us non-profits only really use our brand as a fundraising tool. To be fair, most agencies do not have the benefit of understanding the nuances of market research nor how to apply it to their “product”.

Take a look online though and a growing number of non-profits are developing a more strategic approach and managing their brands to broaden their social impact and to create a greater global identity. For example, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently appointed Tom Scott as director of global brand and innovation. Oxfam International embarked on a confederation-wide “global identity project.” The concept of a dedicated “brand manager” may be a bit rich for smaller agencies, but hopefully we CAN understand that managing our “brand” also means managing our message.

To clarify a further understanding of what your agencies brand is, let’s talk about what it is NOT.

A brand is not:

  • Your trademark – That is your legal property.
  • Your mission statement – That is your advertised value statement
  • Your logo – That is your visual signature
  • Your services – Those are your tangible/saleable goods

So what is your brand?

Ann Bradford of Lyric Inc, a Seattle-based brand strategy consultancy, offers the following really great definition:

Brand is an emotional vessel that fills with meaning over time. It expresses the soul of the organization at every touch point. It lives in people’s hearts and minds as a sum of associations attached to your products, services and people.

A well articulated brand helps you get clear about your priorities, your promise, what makes you unique and how you can deliver with passion through every employee at every touch point. Consistency every day across the whole of your organization is essential to building a trusted brand. Trust is built when people can count on you because they know what to expect and you fulfill those expectations through words and actions that line up.”

And perhaps THAT definition is something you can sink a hot sword into.


Further Reading on Brand identity:

Great Article on Brands and NGO’s

Value of Brands

The Power of Brands

Topics: Branding