The secrets to building a successful brand

Brand strategist Darren Walls from Brisbane brand agency Type + Pixel explains the value of brand for charities.

Branding has never been more important for charities and nonprofits. Against a backdrop of sweeping legislative change, increased competition and high-profile scandals that have damaged trust in the sector, a strong brand has the power to insulate and protect your organisation from the many external factors that are outside of your control.

But how much do you really know about building brands? Despite being a concept that’s often talked about, brand is nevertheless widely misunderstood. Let’s start by debunking a few of the myths out there around what constitutes a brand.

What is a brand?

Your brand is not your logo. A logo is just one of the visual signifiers of your brand, like the Nike swoosh or McDonald’s golden arches. It acts as a kind of visual shorthand and triggers a cognitive and/or emotional response in the mind of your customers and supporters. That’s the stuff we’re interested in: the response your brand sparks in the mind of the individual you’re trying to connect with. Which brings us to my next point.

Your brand is not what you say it is. It’s what your audience says it is. A brand is not an objective concept: it’s a collection of feelings and perceptions in the mind of the consumer. These feelings are based on associations, experiences and interactions they’ve had with your organisation. In other words, every time a person interacts with your brand, they are assessing (whether consciously or subconsciously) who you are and what you stand for – and then using that assessment to decide whether to engage further with your brand.

The upshot is: everything matters. From the type of services you offer and the tone of voice of your supporter communications right through to the way your staff answer the phone, every single touchpoint is an opportunity to shape and influence how your audience feels about your brand.

Four steps to building a strong brand

To become a truly successful brand, you need to know exactly who you are as an organisation, your purpose and what sets you apart. You may well think you already know the answers to these questions – but the best brands never assume. They base their strategy on research, consultation and real insights, using them to unearth genuine brand truths and define a customer promise they can deliver on.

While a lot more goes into brand strategy than could be covered in a single article, here are some of the basic steps that every great brand starts with.

  1. Know thyself. Go back to the underlying reasons for your existence. Spend time interrogating your purpose and what you stand for. Ask yourselves: what is the change you’re looking to make in the world? What do you offer to supporters, stakeholders and customers? What do they want from brands like yours? What makes you different from your competitors?
  2. Share ownership. Brand is not owned by marketing – everyone who belongs to your organisation should understand it and be invested in it. That means people from right across the organisation should contribute to its definition. Bring together people from marketing, fundraising, operations and management and work together as a team to define your brand and brand positioning.
  3. Do your homework. Brand strategy involves the exploration of three key areas: the organisation, the audience and the landscape. This is where research and consultation comes in. From staff interviews and stakeholder workshops through to focus groups, consumer interviews and competitor research, the more knowledge you can gather, the richer the insights you will uncover. This phase is about digging deep and can often reveal unexpected observations that may influence your approach and how you position your organisation.
  4. Build a distinct proposition. Take the insights you’ve gleaned from your research and consultation phase and use them to build a unique brand proposition – one that is genuine, that differentiates you and will resonate with your audience.

Once you’ve nailed your brand proposition, the next step is working out how to apply it consistently throughout your organisation. How does it influence the services you offer? Your internal culture and values? The look and feel of your communications? The language you use?

It’s a big (and ongoing) project that can’t be rushed. But get your branding right and it will deliver significant value for your organisation. It will earn you trust and loyalty. It will help you recruit and retain the right people. And it will set you apart.

This content was delivered as part of an exclusive webinar for Everydayhero members. You can download the webinar slide deck here.