For many nonprofit organizations and consumer goods companies, their brand is, along with their people, the most important asset they have.
– John A. Quelch, Harvard Business School
Brand health: What does it mean for your business or nonprofit? Why does it matter?
A strong brand is not a luxury to be enjoyed only by companies like Nike or Coca-Cola. It is a key factor in the success and prosperity of all businesses and nonprofits, regardless of their revenues. Your brand health is guaranteed to have a significant impact on the consumer awareness of your brand AND your bottom line. It directly affects your ability to sell, to fundraise, to hire the best employees, and to grow. A healthy brand is the hallmark of a company or nonprofit that is prepared to prosper.
A healthy brand is the hallmark of a company or nonprofit that is prepared to prosper.
Look at your organization and honestly ask the following questions: (They are a variation on those suggested by nonprofit brand strategist Michele Levy, but we believe them to be in alignment with industry standard practice and generally applicable for all businesses and nonprofits.)
1. Is your business or organization changing? Are you growing, merging, revising your strategic plan, changing your name, or moving from being a local to a regional or national brand?
2. Is your market changing? Are there behavioral changes in the marketplace that impact your products or services?
3. Is your core client base or core constituency evolving? Do you have different clients/constituents than you did when your current brand system was developed?
4. Do you feel like you’re the best kept secret in your marketplace? Do you feel that people know you exist but not why they should care?
5. If you ask 10 people in your organization “What is our mission?” will you get 10 different answers? Or no answer at all? Are the executives the only ones who can explain the vision, mission, and values and how all the pieces fit together?
6. Does it seem like your designers or your agency are “making it up” each time they get a new project?
7. Do you have multiple or dueling logos that are used seemingly randomly?
8. Do your printed materials (brochures, manuals, advertisements, promotional pieces) exhibit a range rather than a single unified visual and messaging presentation?
9. Is the look and feel, and keynote message on your website different from that of your printed and marketing materials? Does it match your sales pitch?
10. Do you lack comprehensive brand and messaging guidelines that are consistently used by everyone internally and externally who are creating communications materials?
Please remember that you have a brand regardless of whether you are taking an active role in its formation and management.
You will see that some of these are external factors and others are internal. Even if your brand system is robust, true, and well-understood, any of the first three questions could force you to look at your brand health in a new external context and consider your alternatives. Questions four through ten are really about how your brand is being implemented. Please remember that you have a brand regardless of whether you are taking an active role in its formation and management. The issue is how to actively manage that brand so that it can be both consistent and true to your vision, mission, and values. If you can do this, it will lodge in your brand consumer’s minds with the correct associations. This is the definition of brand health.
A definition of brand health
Your organizational vision, mission, and values are clearly and consistently articulated in all your communications, including your website, your marketing materials, and the language used by your employees. It is clearly visible in everything that anyone is exposed to internally and externally. It should have a set of visual carriers (colors, style, imagery), and it should have a clear message that tells your story and can be grasped immediately. It should be applied with absolute consistency across all platforms. Why? Brand health is something absorbed on the inside of an organization through constant reapplication, which helps employees and agents internalize and communicate it accordingly. It is only with this kind of rigorous application that the brand’s effect is strong enough to become memorable to the outside observer. Amid all the noise and the clutter that is the essential stuff of contemporary American life, only a few of the most cohesive, consistent, and carefully delivered messages can get through.
Remember, the brand lives in the mind of the brand consumer, and only those at the peak of brand health have the strength to push through and lodge there.
The desire for variety—”to keep it interesting”—should be resisted, because only with absolute consistency can the pattern be discerned from the outside. Subtlety of delivery is also not the hallmark of brand health because, in an insanely overcrowded marketplace, you are only afforded a moment, and if you cannot connect in that moment, all the rest is likely for naught. Of all the messages out there, you want yours to be the one that is crystal clear, immediately graspable, and repeated upon every encounter with you. Only in this way will it leave a mark. All of your organizational richness and variety can be saved for the fuller conversation you have with your proven constituents. With them you can cross sell, upsell, and resell, but you still have to reassure them about who you are and why they care about you. Remember, the brand lives in the mind of the brand consumer, and only those at the peak of brand health have the strength to push through and lodge there.
Each new show had a different look and feel appropriate to that show, but was not branded to the institution.
To give an example of why unwavering consistency is required, I was recently speaking with a friend who saw an ad for a museum show that he very much wanted to see, but the show closed before he could find the time to actually go. Interestingly, because the institution was not well-branded in its campaign, when he was later reminded of the show, he could not remember where the show had been. Unfortunately for this institution, each new show had a different look and feel which was appropriate to that show, but was not branded to the institution. Thus, the connection between the show he had desperately wanted to see and the next show was completely lost on him. Had the institutional brand been more clearly articulated, the connection from one show to the next would have been much more easily made. In this way, his unrequited desire to see a previous show could have been transferred to the new show, making it much more likely that he would eventually be converted and go to the museum. The sales opportunity comes and goes, but it’s always hardest to make it connect the very first time. Without continuity, you are left having to make the sale from scratch each time, with no benefit from your past efforts. A healthy brand builds over time. What does not pull hard enough the first time can be carried forward to the next encounter, adding to the pull of each subsequent offer. Without the brand, this cumulative power is completely lost.
Brand Health = Focus, Consistency & Truth