Nonprofit Performance 360 Issue 13

JULIE COTTINEAU Featured Contributor

Top 3 Branding Mistakes to Stop Now

A powerful and clearly defined brand is vitally important for any business or enterprise, whether for-profit or nonprofit. Yet there’s a tendency for leaders of nonprofits to misunderstand or underestimate brand. They confuse it as a marketing element that’s nice to have. But your brand is your organization.There’s no separation between the two. In fact, for leaders and key administrators of small organizations and nonprofits, brand is the most important asset you have to grow and engage membership and to attract valuable donors. Literally, a strong brand can change a life. Once you understand the true nature of your brand, you achieve clarity and focus. You are in a much better position to serve the cause and the people you’re really passionate about. Here’s a guide to three key branding mistakes your nonprofit may be making that could be extremely harmful to your long term goals, and might even prevent you from serving your public to the fullest extent. Mistake #1. Misunderstanding What a Brand Is andWhy It’s Important Most nonprofit organizations make the mistake of thinking their brand is their

logo, their website, or the name of their organization. But a brand is much more than this. A great brand is a story well-told. And great stories have a TWIST. A TWIST is a point of differentiation. It’s what’s unique about your organization. It’s how you get stakeholders interested in hearing more and wanting to become involved. How the TWIST was Born About 15 years ago,whileworking as a brand consultant for Avon, I was in an airport. Exhausted by air travel and running late for my flight, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. Through a large window in front of me sat a 747 with McDonald’s golden arches on the tailfin. Now, most airlines look, sound, and feel the same as all the others, but I thought to myself, That has a TWIST.That is something different. Maybe that airline will be colorful and service-friendly, I thought. Maybe I could purchase a regular seat and supersize it into a premium seat. The funny thing was, the vision that excited my imagination turned out to be only a reflection of the McDonald’s golden arches from the food court on the window, with a plane parked behind it.But in that moment, my personal and professional life changed when I learned the value of TWISTING for a more powerful, engaging brand.

I used that airport insight to begin changing the way we worked with clients. I told Avon, “Let’s stop thinking about what other cosmetic companies are doing. It’s only going to lead us toward copycat marketing.” Instead, I urged them to look to brands like BMW, Virgin, IKEA, and Starbucks, strong brands that promise a great experience, even if they have nothing to do with cosmetics.The effect was electric. In just a few hours, my team and the client came up with dozens of fresh ideas. Mistake #2. Looking at Your Nonprofit with Brand Blinders I’ve observed a number of passionate nonprofit leaders, whether they’re running a church or a charity, just starting a nonprofit enterprise or trying to sustain its growth. Most of them are working 24/7, putting out fires, keeping their head down as they try to keep up.Their mission drives them to do great work, and yet they can’t understand why more people don’t understand their organization. I call this brand blinders. Chances are, if you spend all your time obsessing about your mission and thinking about what other organizations in your space are doing, you will end up doing the same thing they are. Frankly, that is a waste of money, time, and good will.

20 I Nonprofit Performance Magazine

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