When branding means bupkis
I recently asked a number of our clients from the past 10 years or so to participate in a survey so we can assess the outcomes of Big Duck’s branding work. (We Ducks have a practice of regularly reconnecting with past clients to assess how effective our work was, as any serious practitioner should, and using that research to refine or confirm our approach.)
Our survey sparked an email exchange with James D. Merriman, the CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. Big Duck took the Charter Center through our brandraising process several years ago. We conducted market research, developed a strategy, created a new visual identity, tagline, and messaging platform, built a new website, and more. In our email exchange, James noted that the work we did together was a “key component in their success”, but then cautioned, “but if you don’t execute well on a clearly-defined mission, then all the branding in the world will get you bupkis.” (How cool is it that he used the word ‘bupkis’ in an email? I love this guy.)
James is right. A strong brand isn’t about having the right logo, tagline, messages, or other things you’ll use to communicate. First and foremost, a strong brand is your reputation, and it emerges from your work, which has to be clear, and should be excellent.
Over the past 20 years, it’s become obvious to me that a good organizational development (O.D.) process is critical to making sure the organization is still clear about its vision, mission, values, and objectives. For most organizations, a formal strategic planning process jumpstarts this process, and can have a profound ability to refocus and re-energize staff. In others, the process is less formal, but the result is the same: everyone is clear where the organization is heading, why it needs to go there, and what the benefit will be to the people or issue that it serves. Many successful nonprofits make a practice of conducting a thoughtful O.D. process at every 5 years, or even more frequently.
If your organization is struggling with basic questions about its mission, the people it serves, or why donors should support it, don’t think about rebranding just yet. First, hire experts to help the staff and board revisit these fundamental questions and chart a smarter path forward. Once your team has clarity on where you’re heading (and why you need to go there) it will be much easier to develop the communications components that will express what you’re about clearly and effectively. With both internal alignment and the right way to express your work externally you’ll be much more likely to reach and engage your audiences effectively.