Nonprofit Performance 360 Issue 13

Upholding brand truths is everybody’s responsibility. If you’re not aware of what your brand represents, people will fill in the gaps with what they believe—whether it’s true or not. Let’s redefine the catch-all word, brand. Your logo, colors, and type choices are not your brand; they are a symbolic representation of it. A brand is the story (or according to Seth Godin, the lie) people tell themselves about your organization, product, or service in the context of their worldview (i.e., what they individually believe about the world and their purpose in it). When people tell themselves a story about what they do or don’t believe, your brand becomes what they think it is. With every interaction with your brand, they decide if they should trust it, and assess whether what they perceive is believable. In an article titled “The Best of Us”, author Bernadette Jiwa noted, “Our stories are not defined only by what is seen and known. The imagination can’t always capture the best and the beauty of us.” To capture the best and beautiful, we tell ourselves stories about companies and causes we choose to care about, based on what we experience, how our experience makes us feel, what it means to us, or how it improves our lives. Any mission-driven organization holds a set of core values, expresses those values (ideally) through focused and clear messaging, and practices behavior and interacts with people in a manner consistent with its purpose, character, culture, and voice. These qualities are intangible, personified through message and action. They are made real in a participant or observer’s mind, which ideally aligns with how the brand wants to be perceived. Everybody Tells Stories That’s the point at which branding begins: when an individual hears, sees, and responds, when she forms an opinion about

whether she should listen, trust, believe (or believe in), and take action. If what she perceives is not authentic and consistent, she is less likely to accept the organization or brand as believable. Every time she interacts with your organization, she tells herself a story about what she believes the brand stands for — the brand’s purpose, values, beliefs, character, and culture — and how it fits into her world view. When the story she tells herself about who you are, what you do, and why you matter (to her) and the difference you make (to her worldview) aligns , something wonderful happens. She feels welcomed and invited into your story because your worldviews intersect. She gives herself permission to buy, to donate, or make a difference because of how your organization or brand makes her feel, or what personal value and aspirations it helps her fulfill. She connects . Everybody that comes into contact with your organization is telling themselves a story, therefore everybody brands .Over time, each experience becomes a thread woven into a story worth telling and sharing with other people. Your brand embodies the purpose, mission, values, vision, message, and impact of your organization. Leave one out and people fill the gap with what they want to believe. Are you willing to risk that? Every Brand has a Narrative, but Who Writes the Story? When we tell ourselves stories about our experience, we are trying to figure out what the brand or organization means to us or how it improves our lives. Ask yourself these questions: • Is our brand believable? • Is our direction focused? • Is our purpose clear? • Are we consistent in how we communicate and act? • Do we understand our audience? • Do people hear and understand our message?

Does your organization tell its story in a way that invites people in? Are they participants or observers? Are you talking to them, or engaging with them? When you talk with people, you’re engaged in dialog. In a dialog, you must listen as often as you speak.

Our first inclination is to tell stories from our perspective, about how what we do makes life better, without listening to the other side of the conversation. For your brand to fit into the worldview of a champion or supporter, you must first listen and understand how taking action fulfills their goals and aspirations, and then determine how your organization fits into their worldview, not how their worldview fits into yours. The most powerful way to build a brand people love is to invite people into your story with clarity and consistency, so they listen and engage. • A buyer tells themselves, “If I buy this, I will look beautiful.” • A supporter tells themselves, “When I give, I make a difference.” • A champion tells themselves, “When I act, I make change happen.” It’s your responsibility to guide people to believe in and act upon the story you tell them, and the story they tell themselves. That’s how you build a brand people love. Brian Sooy is a design professional and founder of Aespire ( ), the branding agency that builds brand community. He is the author of the top-rated book for nonprofit branding and culture, Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto .  As a StoryBrand Certifie Guide , he helps business leaders fin clarity and invite people into a story so their organization grows. Say hello on Twitter at @briansooy  or This article is excerpted from the forthcoming book, Everybody Brands: How Companies and Customers Create Brands that People Love .

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