October 22, 2019
Ready to Update Your Brand? Are You Sure?

By Michele Levy

Michele Levy
Every nonprofit organization needs a clear, compelling, up-to-date brand in order to support its mission and strategic plan, and when the market landscape changes, and/or as an organization’s mission and strategy shifts, the brand should be refreshed to reflect those changes.

But successfully refreshing the brand requires being clear about the need, engaging board support, and devoting the necessary resources.

No one, regardless of how passionate or skilled a brand champion they may be, can drag an unwilling organization through the process of refreshing its brand.

Until the board and senior leadership have a clear understanding of the negative impact of an outdated brand; until they see how inaccurate brand perceptions hamper not only an organization’s ability to deliver on its mission, but also its ability to attract supporters and raise funds, updating the brand will be painful, time-consuming, ineffective...and perhaps costly.

So how do you know your organization is ready? Ask yourself a few critical questions:
  1. Is your board on board? Do they understand and embrace the strategic reasons for a brand refresh? Are they willing to dedicate the resources necessary to both planning and implementing that work?

  2. Do you have an updated strategic plan? It’s challenging (and sometimes impossible) to build a brand for an organization that does not have a clear sense of where it’s going over the next three to five years.

  3. Will the senior leadership team visibly endorse the process and the outcomes? If the senior leadership team does not champion the brand, no one else will.

  4. Do you have a plan in place for the work of rolling out an updated brand and actively managing that brand? Branding is a process, not a project. Once you have updated messaging, perhaps a new name/tagline, and a fresh visual identity, then you need an integrated plan to roll those out, and keep the conversation going with your target audiences over the long term.
It’s often helpful to hold a brand workshop with the board and senior leadership team to assess readiness, and/or begin to align around the need for updated branding and the process/resources involved. This 60 – 90 minute session can be held adjacent to a board meeting, or as part of a yearly board retreat. The best of these workshops are equal parts education (“what is a brand and why does a strong brand matter to us?”) and engagement (“what’s working and not working about our own brand?”).

When it comes to the “what’s working/what’s not” question, this simple checklist can help you evaluate the effectiveness of your current brand, (and perhaps make the case for a refresh):
  • Are you changing your strategy as an institution?
  • Is your core constituency changing?
  • Are there seismic market shifts?
  • If you were to ask 10 people in your organization “What is (your name here)?” how many different answers would you get?
  • Can everyone in your organization explain how all the pieces (programs and services) fit together?
  • Do you feel like you’re the best-kept secret in town?
  • Do you feel like people know that you exist, but not why you matter?
  • Do all of your materials look like they came from the same place?
  • Do you have “dueling logos?”
  • Is your logo easy to use?
  • Do you have brand guidelines that are consistently used by everyone creating communications for your organization?
Before you start down the road of updating your brand, make sure that your board and leadership team are ready for the journey. Otherwise, it could be a long, painful, and ultimately unproductive, trip.

Michele Levy is founder and principal brand therapist at ML Brand Strategy Consulting, which helps nonprofits develop the messaging and integrated communications they need to better achieve their strategic goals. She is also the author of Building Your Brand: A Practical Guide for Nonprofit Organizations. Email her at mlevy@brand-strat.com.

December 2018

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