Branding — the word once screamed advertising to me. I always have understood its ability to establish a marketable item and obviously associated it with a set of skills different from the general public relations world. After several interviews and research for my article on nonprofit PR makeovers, this branding concept seems more significant and influenced by public relations practices than I assumed.
Every year there is a ranking of the top 100 global for-profit brands. The 2008 rankings included Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, GE, Nokia and Toyota followed by many others we encounter daily. But what about not-for-profit brands? Are they even concerned with competing to have the best brand? Or “is the exercise [of branding] frivolous, off-mission and even damaging to the organization?”
Fruitful Strategy founder and chief strategist Jennifer Rice said, “Creating the socially good brand is likely the single biggest opportunity for internal and external collaboration for companies today.” She believes that employees and customers want to be part of something bigger. And more importantly, a strong social brand alleviates the risk of PR fiascos, builds consumer trust through consistent words and actions and has a positive bottom-line impact even in the downturn.
Who knew branding was so much more than a logo?
Brandchannel.com’s Robin D. Rusch explains that “Corporate, or for-profit, brand valuation identifies the profits generated by a brand. This figure can then be used to achieve a wide range of business goals including investor relations, strategic decision-making, portfolio tracking and management, and royalty rate frameworks.”
On the contrary, not-for-profit brands do not have “an identifiable profit stream,” even if they do generate money. Therefore, the brand should be created for the cause the nonprofit supports, rather than the organization itself.
Managing director of brand valuation at Interbrand’s Jeffrey Parkhurt explains that not many people think of nonprofit brands as valuable, because they are “not-for-profit” (hence the name). In reality, some organizations’ brands quantify billions of dollars for their organizations. There just isn’t a systematic way of calculating like there is for corporate companies.
It is vital to value a nonprofit brand for reasons such as co-branding, licensing and partnering opportunities. When putting brand valuation to a nonprofit, Interbrand considers the following factors:
- Trust: the public’s trust level that the donation will be used effectively
- Financial Consistency: how the public views the organization’s financial sustainability
- Cause: the public’s personal experience with the cause
- Donor Relationship: level of contact with the donor and ease of donor transaction.
Branding for a nonprofit has the promising potential to earn respect and value. UNICEF Director of Communications Marjorie Newman-Williams says one of branding’s main purposes for the organization is to educate the public. Once they understand its purpose, they are more likely to support the organization. Better yet, those who invest in the organization can see the tangible results. For example, those who support Habitat for Humanity actually see the final project — a home that will house a needy family.
On the same topic of branding, I found a recent great read, Good to Great, which offers similar advice on the value of designing your organization’s culture around a significant purpose. Good to Great author Jim Collins said it is not enough to have a business strategy and a mission. You must establish a purpose first.
This is well understood at Ninedot, a unique studio with graphic design and communications based out of Providence, Rhode Island. Founder of Ninedot Mark Bevington said he has learned through his experience that a profit-earning company’s brand is no different than a nonprofit’s brand. “Everything gets branded, it’s just how you present it,” he said. Effective branding is purpose-based.
Bevington’s collaboration with Rhode Island reporter and PR consultant Julie Kuditzsky has created an ultimate purpose-based branding makeover for service center Progreso Latino, featured in an article on Platform Magazine.
Profits and purpose
Believe it or not, there are many profit-based companies where the employees work for the cause instead of becoming dollar driven. Southwest Airlines deals with an agency in Austin, Texas, called GFDM. This agency is similar to Ninedot, with a purpose-based branding approach. As we all know, Southwest is known for its no hidden fees and overall great customer service. In times like these, Southwest is more successful than any other airline, as it is honest with its customers and remembers the overall purpose of its business. Southwest is the only airline to generate a profit consistently for 30 years, Bevington explained. We see the Southwest brand and know that its true reason for existence is ensuring positive travel experiences.
Clearly, profit-earning companies and nonprofit companies can learn something from one another. Nonprofits should seek the visibility of profit-earning companies through consistent exposure to their target markets. Profit earners can learn that branding is not just about getting people to buy your product; it’s respecting your company and understanding the reason for the product’s existence in the first place.
Branding is more than just a logo. Establishing a strong brand takes the skills and vision of great PR practitioners advocating an ethical purpose.
If we strive for a purpose-driven brand, then the brand will speak for itself.
by Louise Crow