Branding in a Box

A Review of Brandraising

By: , About.com Guide

Are you the victim of “accidental” branding? That is what happens when a nonprofit or business leaves its branding to chance. It results in confusion about what the organization is and does.

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications, by Sarah Durham, is the clearest blueprint I’ve seen lately to rationally building your brand and implementing it. It is “branding in a box.” If you do one thing about your organization’s brand this year, make it reading this book. Once you do that, you’ll be so excited to have a step-by-step plan that you’re bound to start creating a better brand.

Many people equate branding with a logo, but it is so much more. Furthermore it starts at the beginning with your organization’s vision, mission, and values.

Durham’s plan for brandraising uses a pyramid to capture its steps. The top part is the organizational level and is where one starts. It includes the vision, mission, values, objectives, audiences, positioning, and personality of your organization.

Durham explains all of these and how to develop them or improve them. This stage can be lengthy and demands input from the top leadership levels of the organization, such as the board, the executives, and key volunteers.

The middle part of the pyramid is the identity level, which includes the visual identity of the organization and its messaging platform. It is only after doing the prior organizational work that these aspects can be tackled.

Last on the pyramid is the experiential level. These are the ways your organization interacts with the world and includes the print, online, on air, in person, and mobile vehicles that you will use to get your messages out.

The pyramid embodies the entire process of branding. That is what I really like about Durham’s book. It takes the reader through a logical building process of what your organization is all about and then explains how to literally “broadcast” that identity to all of your audiences.

Along the way, Durham provides ample explanation for all the terms, and examples of them from real-world nonprofits. If you’ve been confused about the differences between vision, mission, values, and objectives, for instance, this book will set you straight and explain what each of these is all about. And the book is thorough. It starts at the pinnacle of the pyramid with “vision” and works its way to the right hand corner of “mobile.”

How Durham managed to reduce all of this to a totally readable and not very long book is something magical. She is able to do so because of the clarity of her vision when it comes to branding, not to mention her years of experience, most recently with Big Duck, a consulting firm that she founded in 1994 with a specifically nonprofit clientèle.

Although I was familiar with most of the terms Durham uses, I hadn’t thought about the role of organizational personality in branding. Durham reminds us of the way Apple Computer has defined itself through personality. Who can refrain from a chuckle when viewing the personality duel between the rumple-suited, blow-hard businessman that represents the PC and the more casual, cooler, and appealing man of few words that represents the MAC? There is no doubt about the personality of the Apple company in those ads.

Figuring out your nonprofit’s personality sounds like a lot of fun too. Durham suggests getting together your staff and board and asking them to visualize the organization they’d like to see in the future. Then ask them these questions:

  • If this future organization had a theme song or anthem, what would it be? Why?
  • If this organization had a mascot or “power animal,” what would it be? Why?
  • If this organization were a car, what type and color would it be? Why?

By the end of this exercise you should have a list of adjectives and phrases that will begin to express the personality of your nonprofit. I would love to be a part of this exercise just to hear the answers. Is your org a penguin? or a lioness? a VW or a Jaguar? a Bach composition or an Elvis Presley rock n roll tune? What fun!

Clearly brand building needn’t be a plodding, overly-serious process, according to Durham. But going about it by building a strong organizational foundation will have some pretty incredible results. You will certainly end up with a consistency of message and clarity of mission that was lacking before.

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