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Ten tips to surviving a rebrand

Brand development in the charity sector is not for the faint hearted as the last Brand Breakfast discovered.

Brand development in the charity sector is not for the faint hearted as the last Brand Breakfast discovered. Understanding of what we mean by ‘brand’ can still be poor and resistance to change high. It can take sweat, blood and tears, sometimes even tantrums and tiaras (not mine may I add). But we hope this guide will help you survive unscarred.

1. Get trustees on-side from the outset

Trustees can sometimes be a thorn in your side. But big brand decisions usually go to the Board, so we recommend getting them on-side early. Carefully select one or two to champion the brand at Board level and engage them in your brand development project at the key stages. That way, they can help you to champion the brand when it come to the big meetings. If you are working with an agency or brand strategist consider factoring in time for them to engage senior stakeholders to educate and excite them about the value of a strong brand.

2. Have a brand steering group to take people on the journey

We would strongly recommend setting up a brand steering group made up of key stakeholders from each part of the charity you can engage at key stages. The projects we have worked on that have had this governance structure have always gone the best. It is common to have a Trustee on board and a Director level project sponsor, representation from policy and campaigns, advice and support or services, fundraising, retail and volunteering are also common. These people can then become your brand champions when it comes to activating and curating your brand moving forwards.

3. See brand as a strategic tool

All too often ‘brand’ is seen as window dressing, where it should be a long-term strategic tool to fuel success. The foundations of any strong brand are a clear articulation of what you stand for (your brand positioning, vision, mission, values or equivalent). These should be aligned with your corporate strategy and run through everything you do, from your products and services to your culture, innovation, fundraising and marketing communications. That’s why so much time and care is taken in laying the strategic foundations of a brand, long before any design takes place. They provide the creative ‘springboard’ against which creative development should be critiqued against.

4. Make sure big decisions are based on evidence

The best way to achieve the big decisions you’ll need on brand positioning (brand strategy and story) or brand expression (name and strapline, visual identity and tone of voice) is by having the right audience insight, so think carefully about how and when to conduct market research with your target audiences. We prefer to place market research with key audience segments (existing and potential) at the strategic stage of a project, often with mood boards to bring strategic territories to life. This can save the need for a second round of research at the creative stage and avoid ‘design by committee’. We use qualitative research to access perceptions and for how concepts make people think and feel and quantitative research for robust statistical data.

5. Don’t let ‘design by committee’ stifle creativity

If you are going to research your visual identity concepts, think very carefully about how you do it. We experience design holistically in the real world applied to a wide range of printed and digital channels from posters to apps. Rarely do we sit in a room with other people and debate elements of a visual identity individually in terms of what fonts or colour we prefer, which is highly subjective. We prefer to research identity concepts in-situ and against set objectives rather than just a beauty pageant. Sometimes popular can be vanilla where Marmite will achieve greater cut-through. Consider using semiotic analysis by studying the meaning signs and symbols communicate or behavioural economics for how human psychology and emotions impact our actions.

“Our brand steering group was hugely valuable for bringing different audience views across the charity. But we were clear from the outset that it was ‘steering’ group, not a decision-making group” says Jonathan Dando, Director of Marketing and Communications at Teach First: “You will never get a committee to agree on every aspect of creative. It will end up with a vanilla compromise – the opposite of what a rebrand should be. We protected the creative decision making within the Brand team, so they could be bolder and trust their expertise. The brand team then made clear recommendations to our Exec team for their approval”.

6. Demonstrate the brand will work for the whole charity

Once you do get into design stage take the time to demonstrate the brand will work across the breadth of what you do to manage brand stretch. This is the one of the greatest challenges of charity sector branding. Making sure the brand is consistent enough to be instantly recognisable, whilst retaining enough flex for specific audiences and products. That’s why brand architecture (how you structure and present the different things you do in relation to your master brand) is so critical to agree as part of a brand development process. We recommend picking key applications and channels from across the charity to apply the new brand to, including fundraising.

7. Allow creativity within set parameters

The temptation is to lock-down a visual identity once it’s been created. “Consistency” is king shout the old brand police. But if you have carefully defined all the elements that make up a cohesive identity system (logo, social media icon, colours, typography, photography, graphic devices, illustration and iconography), they should safely enable creativity within set parameters. That means brand managers can focus on building the brand rather than just struggling to contain it.

8. Implement the brand from the inside-out

All too often, brands rush to activate the brand on the outside before rolling it out internally. But your staff and volunteers are your ready-made sales force, so they should all be able to articulate what you stand for. They also need to live the brand and your values to avoid any reputational issues which have plagued the sector over recent years. We recommend workshops or managers toolkits to embed your values before letting the brand out of the bag.

“Engage, engage, engage” says Chris James, head of brand at Scouts. “I can’t stress how vital it is that you make enough time in your planning to have genuine and meaningful conversations with your supporters and stakeholders. We found that sharing our plans early on, especially with our volunteer managers, was essential to getting buy-in. Yes, one-to-one meetings with trustees and senior leaders are vital, but so too is spending time talking to the people who will use your brand on a day to day basis.”

9. Excite and empower your people to embrace the brand

As I’ve alluded to, the days of the brand police are long gone. The only people who read guidelines cover to back are ‘brand-geeks’ like me. The best way to get people to stay ‘on-brand’ is to excite them about the impact a strong brand can make and to give them the tools and templates they need to use it. Power to the people!

10. Evaluate and curate the brand on an ongoing basis

Now be very careful. How many of us have the luxury of big marketing budgets to shift public awareness figures? Not many. Most of us are far more likely to be able to target specific audience segments through digital channels and a good content strategy. We recommend creating a dashboard of key metrics you can report on at key milestones. Your brand steering group should continue to meet regularly to help monitor the health of the brand and an annual audit is a good idea to remedy any emerging issues.

It’s tough work, no doubt, but when you see the brand you have created making an impact in the real world there is no greater satisfaction. Good luck!

By Dan Dufour, Brand Dufour

CharityComms Brand Breakfast forum:
How to survive a rebrand, change and grow,
28 Jan 2020