Bringing your brand to life on your website
Marketers in the for-profit world rely heavily on advertising to reach their customers and have budgets to do so. That’s less true in the nonprofit sector. Sure, some organizations advertise or leverage Google ad grants— but it’s much more common for a nonprofit to rely on its owned media — chiefly its website, email, and social channels — to communicate. While tweets and posts may come and go like water in a stream, a website provides a more flexible and durable place to communicate over time.
But what happens online if an organization’s communications priorities aren’t clear? Or if its brand is not yet well defined?
Murky brand = unclear website
Much like strategic planning, a successful branding process requires an organization to take a step back from its day-to-day communications and focus on the bigger picture. Questions like, who must we reach and engage to advance our mission, or what is the big idea we want people to think of when they think of our organization are key. These questions not only guide any branding work, they can also shape the future of your website, advertising, social media strategies, and much more.
In an organization where these sorts of questions haven’t been successfully asked, answered, and aligned on by staff, communications can become more tactical and reactive. Content posted on the website, for instance, may reflect an organization’s latest activities and omit bigger-picture context or what’s most important for visitors to understand. Sometimes there’s also a level of detail or use of jargon that’s hard for people to connect with online, too.
There are definitely better and worse times for a nonprofit to rebrand. Overhauling your website right after rebranding (not before) usually makes the website clearer, more effective, and maximizes the time and money an organization invests.
Since a nonprofit’s brand comes to life online in unique ways, building a new website can be a great way to explore and expand how you use visual and messaging assets. Here are two variables worth remembering as you navigate bringing your organization’s brand to life online.
Your website is both a static and dynamic expression of your brand.
While your organization or program’s name, logo, and tagline won’t change depending on where you use them, many other brand assets might. The fonts, colors, and supportive images you use online, for instance, might be different, and perhaps more expansive, then they could be in other places.
On Big Duck’s website, for instance, we feature a rotating color palette that would be just about impossible to use in any other medium.
Rollout videos like this one (which we created with Rob Bellon for Blue Engine) bring to life an organization’s static and dynamic brand elements, including additional visuals, animation, voices, and more.
Your website is also dynamic because your visitors get to choose their own adventure as they navigate through it. They may search, click, skim, read, listen, or engage with it in all sorts of ways dictated by their personal preferences and accessibility needs. When they find what they want quickly and easily they may experience satisfaction and feel grateful or more connected. You gave them what they wanted! Hooray! But when they can’t find what they are looking for, the interface is clumsy or clunky, it doesn’t work on their phone, or the website is not accessible, they’re more likely to be disappointed or frustrated with you, the organization that created this negative experience. That sense of delight or disappointment they experience is part of your brand experience, too.
Think of your website as your most important location. Is it well-organized? Easy to navigate? Inviting? Or is it cluttered, confusing, and hard to navigate? User testing and meeting accessibility standards will also help.
Your brand is co-created online.
Everyone in your organization wants the website to be awesome. They want to feel proud when participants, donors, activists, policymakers, members, even their own family and friends, visit. Staff also want their department’s work presented clearly and effectively. That often means they’ll want to write, edit, and update it frequently, exercising as much personal control over the areas of the website that represent their work. This is a great opportunity to practice brand democracy–not control or box others out with restrictive rules and barriers.
A successful website process includes setting a clear and smart content strategy, developed through an inclusive process. Invite more voices in when you’re creating or updating your website. Ask both internal users (staff) and external visitors what’s working and what’s not. Center any updates to design and content based on what your community needs, what they are looking for (thank you data!), and what your goals for communications are.
The experience people have on your website can be key to reinforcing or jeopardizing how you want others to see and engage with you. Take some time to consider these new ways to make it a stronger tool for you.