Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the Subject of Branding

No, I am not talking about your garden-variety cattle prodding. I’m talking marketing. Specifically, organizational identity as affirmed through a strong brand awareness (garnered by use of logo, color scheme, mission statement, etc).

Mayhap I should explain.

In addition to my full time job, I volunteer my services to some local nonprofits. I sit on the Board of Directors for one in particular, and this local nonprofit is part of a larger national organization.

This weekend in Chicago was a conference for board members of all local chapters for this national organization. We met. We conferenced. We work-shopped. In all it was a productive sharing of best practices across chapter leadership.

I co-led one of these workshops, our topic being the development of a successful marketing strategy. What steps do you need to take before jumping in the deep end that is graphic design, logo standards, and shades of Pantone color processing? Well, our chapter had been through just that and we thought to help others strategically think through their plan.

In outlining these steps, a disturbing line of questioning rose to the surface. Is there a national brand all chapters must follow? How do we keep our local individuality while also adhering to the national standard? How do we balance creating a strong local brand and awareness while also contributing to the national organization?

At these questions we waited patiently for the national cohorts to pipe up and explain their stance. Cut to blank stares all around.

Apparently, the national branding of our entire organization has never before been addressed in the four years that National has been in existence.

The latest success for National is the roll out of a new technology for our online presence integrating Web 2.0. In the planning stages for this new website, I can imagine all were excited to roll out a new website for our organization, yet they never questioned if that website should have the same look across all chapters. This would have been a convenient time to have the branding discussion.

Four years ago, while establishing an entire organization (National), they never even took the time to develop a clear mission. This also would have been a prime time to discuss branding and logo standards for the entire organization.

Need I say that the lack of vision and strategic planning concerns me? I come from a marketing background and, as such, I realize I am biased toward the marketing issues, but how can you build a strong, cohesive organization without having a clear mission?

Much of the conference time was spent discussing how this national nonprofit and all of its chapters can take on the mantle of advocacy for the nonprofit sector. Nevermind that, even with all chapter membership combined, we only represent 10,000 clients. Regardless of our small numbers, how can we be an advocate and approach policy makers without having a clear, unified voice (aka: brand)?

It boggles this marketer’s mind.


Maggie said...

I concur my friend. This is exactly how it should be expressed to national, too. Not whiney in the least bit, but still in the DUH! category.

Good blog. Going on my Must Visit List.

Ms. Quarter said...

Su-weet! I'm on Maggie's List!

I do have to say I understand the juxtaposition of National being a, technically, separate organization in regards to 501c3, but by all chapters adopting the same name and the same mission we have an obligation to put forth a unified message.

I guess I just think of a worse-case scenario where National, or one of the chapters for that matter, fails to strategically think about the future, develops a poor reputation, and then the entire network of chapters is punished by name recognition.