Marketing

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!

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Guidelines for Creating URLs

In the early days of creating web pages, I didn’t think about the importance of a URL. It was early 2000s and we were busy exploring options of adding music to play in the background when a website opened. And, we were districted with making logos spin!  

Google was brand new and still a noun. It was many years later when Google became a verb that I moved on from spinning logos to pondering meta descriptions, SEO, and URLs.  

What’s in a URL?

With a website, a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the network address of a resource including websites, web pages, images, and documents. There are several parts to a URL. Let’s break it down using the M&C site:

  • Protocol – https://www.merriganco.com

  • Domain Name – https://www.merriganco.com

  • Folder - https://www.merriganco.com/blog/

  • Specific page - https://www.merriganco.com/blog/2018/10/8/rainout-but-not-a-washout

 The part of a URL we can influence for best SEO is the path that points to our webpage or document – the folder and the specific page name. 

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Just like the sock drawer at home 

Folders help organize the content and give a better visitor experience when navigating a website. It’s like getting all the socks in the sock drawer. It makes life easier. With a website, categorizing content and using folders allows Google to quickly organize and direct traffic to your site and page.

A nonprofit’s list of folders might include giving options, about us, volunteer opportunities, programs, get help, and news and events.

Steps to creating an effective URL

With folders in place, it’s time to analyze the choice of words for the page title. A quick and easy approach to naming the pathway to a web page is to use the actual page title. It might be fast but it’s not an effective approach when it comes to SEO. Try this instead:

  1. When creating a URL, take advantage of the opportunity to give the page or document a short, focused name. Though the maximum length is 2,083 characters, it’s recommended to keep a URL under 100. Shorter URLs have better Google results, are easier to read, and easier to share.

  2. Stick with essential words and avoid using stop words with little value such as “an” and “the.”

  3. Rather than worry about unsafe, safe, and reserved characters, avoid using special characters in a URL.

  4. Try to incorporate a targeted keyword relating to the web page content.

  5. Use hyphens instead of spaces or underscores to fill the gaps. %20 will be automatically added to the URL to fill a space. And, web crawlers read two words connected by an underscore as one word.

  6. Incorporate a sitemap to avoid duplication of URLs and content.

  7. Include URLs in your style and brand guide to help aim for consistency such as always using all lower-case letters.

Susan Mertz is a Content Specialist at M&C. She specializes in website development, search engine optimization and enhancing user experience. 

Are Your Communications Honoring Your Constituents’ Experience?

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Late last month, I attended the Mid-America Planned Giving Council’s Building Blocks Conference. A full house at the Kauffman Foundation, and the day did not disappoint. The first session of the day featured Karen Osborne, a crowd favorite for nonprofit audiences across the country. She captivated the audience with her presentation, “Getting to a Joyful, Inspired, Generous ‘Yes’ to Your Blended Solicitation.”

At one point, she asked the audience one of the biggest failures people make in listening to others. Being a little smug, I was expecting the answer “listening to respond” or something of the like.

But that wasn’t it. And her answer humbled me. She said one of the biggest failures in listening is immediately sharing a similar experience. A common one goes like this:

Pregnant Woman: “I’m going to be induced on Saturday night. I’m getting a little anxious.”
Other Woman: “I was induced, too. And the labor took 2,546 hours. Let me tell you about it.”

The reason this is a big fail? It doesn’t honor the other person’s experience. Instead, it pulls the attention from them to you.

It got to me thinking, though. How often does this happen in nonprofit messaging … that is, ignore the constituent’s experience? A LOT.

Here are some common ways communications, on screen or on paper, fall into this same trap.

Talking to longtime donors like they don’t know what your organization does. This is one of the most common ones I see. It usually involves pulling some well-written boilerplate from a brochure in a direct mail letter or email. Problem is, it comes off like you have no relationship.

Talking to major donors in a way that doesn’t honor their higher giving history. If someone has given $1,000, it’s odd to ask them for $15. Make simple changes in copy that tell your readers you know what they’ve done and inspire them to do more.

Talking to medical cause donors like they haven’t seen a disease firsthand. In most cases, there is a personal tie to this type of charitable giving. The copy needs to reflect what that is (if such data exists) or be written in a way that isn’t patronizing. “Imagine a world where XYZ happens … “ They don’t have to imagine … that is their world!

On the flip side, talking to donors as if they already know about a particular societal problem or challenge … and jumping right to your organization as the solution. Consider when a little background and education is needed. Define the problem. Then, platform for how you can solve it, with the reader’s help. This is critical in acquisition messaging.

In many cases, there are relatively simple fixes, sometimes just minor versioning, that can take a communications piece from offensive to effective. Think through your audiences. Imagine someone from each of those groups and review your communications through their eyes. Then, adjust as needed.