Brand Strategy for Mission Driven vs Profit Driven Brands

How to Develop Brand Strategy for Non Profit Brands

How to Develop Brand Strategy for Non Profit Brands

We recently received a question from the Board Chair of a prestigious non profit foundation that supports basic science research around the globe.

“Is brand strategy different for mission driven organizations than it is for commercial organizations?”

It’s an important question for a few reasons. Many education and research non profits consider brand strategy to be appropriate only to commercial entities. Because “branding” is so tightly tied to “marketing” in most people’s minds, and many researchers consider marketing to be beneath them, “branding” is seen as a bad word (see our recent post Branding vs Marketing).

Other non profit brands, such as cultural organizations and international aid organizations understand the power of brand, and many use it to their advantage. Here’s how the approach to brand strategy is different, and important, for mission driven organizations.

Non Profit Brands: Understand, Believe and Support

  • Understand: Everyone involved, from internal to external audiences must understand the mission. People are most enthusiastic about the things they understand best. If they don’t really understand it, and what makes the mission uniquely important, they will never support it. For the strongest and most sustainable brands, you must start with a common understanding. Read how we helped the UC System create clear understanding of their mission and promise. 
  • Believe: Next, audiences must believe in the mission. It must be compelling.  It must be personally relevant. The organization needs to be able to show progress toward that mission, no matter how small. There must be some “there” there for a non-profit to motivate the types of behaviors and investments that will make them successful. A clear brand position, based on a clear understanding of the mission and supported by some proof is necessary to build belief. We helped a program in San Diego that teaches coding to kids inspire community-wide belief in their mission. The result is the League of Amazing Programmers, an aspirational idea that kids and their families want to be a part of.
  • Support:  This is clearly important when raising funds.  If your potential funding sources don’t understand you, personally relate to your mission or believe that you can accomplish what you’ve set out to do, they are less likely to help.  Consistent internal stakeholder support is also critical. In the non-profit world, especially in larger organizations, people may apply their good intentions in misaligned or counterproductive ways. The better they understand and believe what it is they are there for, the more likely they are to align their efforts in the right direction. Our foundational work for the World Wildlife Fund still inspires incredible support for their efforts. 

For mission driven organizations, everything hinges on clarity of the idea that makes your mission unique, meaningful and special.  Your brand strategy must be clear and valuable in the minds of your critical audiences. We’ve enjoyed helping many of our clients in higher education, research, and culture achieve positive and sustainable brand results.

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Brand Matters – The Power of Strategic Identity

The following content was presented at the AIRI 2017 Annual Meeting. Click here Marshall_AIRI_Presentation-2 to download a PDF of the slide presentation itself.

Brand has many definitions, and most of them line up within marketing and advertising.  In this presentation, I hope to shed some light on the power of strategic identity – being true and clear about who you are as an organization and why you matter. This should have influence over all an institute says and does, from who it hires, to how it fulfills its mission, and of course, how it engages, and inspires support from, its critical audiences.

Here’s one important reason brand matters to research institutes: The top ten federally funded institutes depend upon government funding for 71% of their budget on average. But our government appears to value research less and less.  In fact, according to AAAS, “The FY 2018 funding cycle has been rather mixed for Science and Technology on the whole, with many more agencies looking at reductions than increases.”

What this means is, a good portion of an institute’s budget is necessarily going to need to be replaced by other sources of funding.  Where is that going to come from?  Who is going to understand and value these institutes enough to participate in their future?  Why should they?

The challenge is even bigger than funding.  It is about awareness, relevance, and perceived value to multiple audiences, including new research talent, partners and collaborators, and the public who this research is intended to benefit. While in the past, your accomplishments may have spoken for themselves, now you’ve got to ensure that you are understood, appreciated and supported – in an environment that is more competitive than ever. You need to become a “preferred” place to invest in, to work for, and to rely upon for new knowledge.READ MORE


The American Red Cross Unveils a New Brand Identity

The American Red Cross recently unveiled its new logo and launched a new brand identity campaign. The changes are subtle, but the message is obvious: The Red Cross is no longer just a disaster relief organization; it’s a group of local volunteers ready to make the world a better place.

Why did the American Red Cross feel compelled to update its image and brand identity? The organization’s leadership wants to reach a new generation of donors and volunteers. The goal is regain a stronger sense of relevance and approachability, and to share its message and mission with a broader audience by inviting them to take a look inside ‘The New Red Cross.’

“We want to show more people how they can be part of a Red Cross that intersects with their lives in many ways,” said Red Cross CMO Peggy Dyer. “The new brand identity is an important part of that process.”

The revamped logo maintains the important aspects of the Red Cross’s heritage while updating it to symbolize a sense of participation, belonging, and engagement. By refreshing its identity, the American Red Cross positions itself as a grassroots organization of greater breadth. It can tell its stories of the past to a new generation eager that is eager to listen and become actively involved.

This new brand identity initiative shows how the use of audience-specific messaging, and even the contextual use of a logo, can uphold the grander, more unifying ideal that the Red Cross isn’t just about disasters; it’s about reaching out to help neighbors, locally and globally, in times of need. Modernizing its image invites a whole new generation to get involved and take ownership of the organization to keep it viable and significant in the future.

Making only subtle changes to the logo was wise. If the Red Cross had drastically altered its identity, it would have risked alienating current stakeholders and scaring off potential donors. Even if it had managed to avoid that catastrophe, it would still have been an immeasurable waste of brand equity.

An organization’s brand is an expression of why it matters. The Red Cross’s new brand identity illustrates just how comprehensive a role the organization plays. It’s more than a provider of essential emergency relief—it’s a community of people mobilizing to enhance the world with its presence