Photo by Oleg Laptev on Unsplash
3 min Read
June 9, 2015

National vs. Local: Whose brand is it?

As an agency that regularly works with local, national, and international organizations, we often find ourselves in conversations about how the brand shakes out at these different levels. National or international organizations with local chapters are understandably concerned about speaking with one voice, while local chapters are concerned with making that voice feel relevant and personalized for their community.

I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all approach for these sorts of challenges, but there are plenty of great examples of nonprofits who have made it work.

Branding locally without abandoning the mother brand

One of my recent favorite examples of smart local-org branding is United Way for Greater Austin.  If you’ve ever been there, you know that Austin, Texas is no typical town. It’s hip, musical, and digital—full of Millenials who’ve moved there for its vibrant community, Google Fiber connectivity, and great food. United Way Capital Area, as it was once called, wanted their brand to reflect the unique spirit and culture of their community, and to help people see that they are a great way to support Austin.

Working with a local firm, they changed their name and approach to imagery, and launched a “(fill in the blank) makes Austin greater” campaign, which is evergreen. Keeping the United Way name and logo kept them connected to their well-known national mother brand. Today, their in-house team of savvy marketers consistently communicate that United Way for Greater Austin is the best way to support their vibrant city. They’re telling a great local story while leveraging their national parent’s name-recognition and equity.

Top-down branding from National

When a national organization with local chapters rolls out a new visual identity or messaging, the challenge is getting people at every level excited to use it. Key to getting people “on the bus” is making it easy for them—ideally, easier than continuing to maintain their own separate identity.

Frequently, larger organizations do this by providing support and customized tools to help local chapters get what they need without spending their own staff’s time or budget. Organizations like Jewish Federations of North America, Girl Scouts, Boys Town, and others not only provide clear branding guidelines their local colleagues can use, they often provide staff support, too.

Some national organizations send their communications team from HQ on the road, working in local offices with staff to train them, answer questions, and help them solve the problems that changes inevitably surface. Others provide support by having their national marketing team produce whatever local needs to get up to speed, including their own versions of logo, messaging, brochures, or digital templates.

Adapting the brand for international use

In global or international organizations, there’s an additional layer of complexity to tackle: cultural competency. A message that works well in one country might be inappropriate for another. (Remember when Chevy rolled out the Nova in Mexico, people?)

When Big Duck rebranded Masa Israel North America, their international CEO at the time, Ayelet Shiloh-Tamir, participated in the process as an observer and interviewee–but she let the North American Executive Director make all the decisions to ensure the work was culturally compatible with the US. Afterwards, Ayelet shared the changes North America was making with directors in other countries to gauge their reactions.

Over time, most of Masa Israel’s international offices adopted the brand changes that North America pioneered, although many made adjustments to discreet elements, like the tagline, to make it work locally with an authentic voice.

Got any examples of local, national, and international brand architecture? I want to see them! Please share your favorites in the comments.