2 min Read
October 14, 2014

Rebuild before repainting: What’s really holding your communications back?

Imagine you start seeing cracks in the paint on your living room wall. You hire someone to come in and repaint it, but when they begin to examine the damage, they discover the real problem: the wall isn’t structurally sound. You need to rebuild before you can repaint. 

We see this story unfold again and again when we work with organizations to examine and refine their brands (especially through our brandraising assessment process, which involves deeper and more thoughtful research). We think we’re here to paint, but it turns out there are bigger issues to be addressed before we begin. 

Questions that can hold back your brand

Here are some of the key questions we commonly encounter that need to be resolved before we can start thinking about logos and taglines and messaging:

  • What are your organization’s biggest opportunities (in terms of fundraising, programs, advocacy, etc.)? Where do you have the best chance to grow, and whom should you target to get there?
  • What need do you fulfill? Are you sure that need exists?
  • What makes you different from other organizations in your space? What’s the special sauce that sets you apart?
  • Are you pursuing your mission effectively? Are all the programs you’re offering the right ones, and are they successful? If not, what programs should be eliminated or changed? 

So how do you tackle these issues?

These are big, tough questions, and there aren’t any easy answers. They cut deeper than branding, and they usually require board-level conversations, expert facilitation, and additional research to resolve. 

Typically, we recommend that an organization try to resolve these issues before beginning a branding exercise. It’s hard to brand successfully when there’s lack of alignment about the big picture. How can you expect to choose an appropriate tagline or write a new mission statement if you’re not on the same page about why you exist? It’s a theme that emerged in our recent study about the effects of rebranding—nonprofit staff reported that a new focus or strategic plan was a key factor in the success of a new brand. 

Even if a full strategic planning process isn’t in the cards, you’ll at least want to initiate conversations with your leadership about some of these issues. A good, thoughtful branding process is going to surface them anyway—and the better prepared you are to tackle them, the more smoothly the work will go.

Can’t we just figure it out later?

If you paint over the cracks in that wall, it will look a lot better in the short term—but the structural problem hasn’t been resolved, and eventually, it’s going to fall down. 

A strong brand is a clear expression of who you already are. It’s not going to correct structural flaws, and it’s not in and of itself a process of reinvention. The reinvention needs to happen first—and then you can go to work creating a brand that powerfully and effectively communicates the changes. 

So if you’re thinking about rebranding and you haven’t recently gone through strategic planning or other thoughtful examination of your organization’s strategy, get ready to tackle some big questions first. It’s the right way to make sure your brand—and your organization—are as strong and successful as possible.