Guest Blog: Paul Davies of MARK Corporate Branding Talks Nonprofit Branding

Paul Davies is the President of MARK Corporate Branding. For over 20 years, MARK Corporate Branding has created magnetic brands for companies, causes and campaigns across the country. Here, he shares why branding is so critical and why it matters for nonprofits.

Broadly speaking, what is branding and why does it matter?

Branding is the ongoing process of shaping and controlling the perceptions an organization wants their market or audience to have of themselves.

This matters because perception is everything when it comes to promoting an organization and its cause. People are not inclined to donate money, contribute or be part of something they don’t perceive in a positive light.

Why is branding something nonprofits need to pay attention to?

Any change within an organization, or its messaging will immediately be noticed by its audience. As much as that change can be controlled so that it is perceived as positive, the better for the organization. Because change is inevitable, it should be constantly monitored. Often considering the limits on resources that many nonprofits experience, it can be very easy to neglect this area of communication. However, letting some “bad news” go unanswered in the media, for example, can have damaging long-term effects. Constant turnover of staff, from CEO to communications to marketing staff in particular, tends to erode at the consistency of an organization’s Brand. Change itself is not good or bad, it’s the perception of what that change means that has an effect on the success of the organization’s “Brand Promise” and therefore its bottom line. Managing that change so it has the best possible perception is key.

What are some branding basics nonprofits can start with if they’re new to the idea/concept? Or, where should they begin—what are the bare bones any organization needs in your opinion...

The one imperative, over and above anything else, is to have a set of Brand Guidelines. This is a document that addresses every perception generated by every touch-point the organization has with its audience. It’s the teams’ Playbook…The Book of Rules…the organization’s Bible so to speak. In it, the organization addresses strategy, messaging, the spoken and written word, every visual image that represents them, and in some cases even guidelines for hiring the ideal personnel. This document should then be made available to every employee, every vendor or subcontractor and even the general public.

Additionally, there should be a system of approval set in place for everything that pertains to communication between the organization and the public, and especially their audience. Without an ongoing system of checks and balances, the brand will slowly lose its strength and recognition.

What are some trends/ideas nonprofits can borrow from the world of B2B or B2C organizations?

Keep up with the times and don’t stagnate. Stay relevant. You don’t need to change your logo to do this, but you can update your colors, your typefaces and your messaging. Play close attention to your advertising specialties and your giveaways. Spending a little more for a perception of quality, or “hipness” can be well worth the expense.

Cosponsor events, associate your logo with events your audience will see or participate in. If you are volunteering, make sure your logo goes with you and the general public is aware of your service. Don’t keep it a secret. Take advantage of any opportunity to display your logo in the public eye. The B2B and B2C world is constantly promoting, selling, pushing…Overbearing and obnoxious sometimes, but effective.

How have you noticed the concept of branding evolving over your career?

Branding used to be a lot more of a “specialty” that very few knew how to execute, let alone well. You could count the amount of firms that were purely dedicated to branding on one hand. It was a specialty that was usually part of the marketing department in most companies, if it existed at all. It was not even on the radar for most nonprofits and was not taught in college either.

But as the subject was studied more, when budgets got tighter and the financial department began questioning the ROI of departments that didn’t contribute directly to the bottom line, then things began to change. Sales and marketing departments, communication departments and in-house design departments had to begin accounting for themselves and justifying their jobs! Now it’s a subject that everybody knows about, and has become a lot more sophisticated. It is also now a subject that is taught in more and more colleges.

What do you foresee in the future of branding for organizations and companies (and nonprofits).

I’m not sure if it’s wishful thinking on my part or a trend that is starting to play out more and more. The “Branding Department” now has a seat at the CEO’s table, in the B2B and especially in the B2C world. Most businesses will be far more conscious about how branding affects every part of the organization and its culture. Nonprofits for the most part are including this specialty as part of their marketing capabilities at least, and eventually will pay more attention to its benefits. I think that generally speaking it will be a part of every organization’s structure and be as important (or more) than it’s HR, sales and marketing or other departments. VP of Brand Communications will be a household title, and God willing answerable directly and only to the CEO!