This may sound a bit incongruent at first because nonprofits aren’t really “selling” something. It’s not a can of Pringles or a bottle of Captain Morgan, or a tube of Aquafresh. We’re talking about a good deed, a worthy cause, a sick child, an abused dog, thousands of hungry homeless people and everyone should be onboard with helping, no branding required, no selling required.
However, lots of people are trying to do good. Just look around. In the last three to four months, I have personally received solicitations from over 20 nonprofits and causes including: Catholic Charities, Planned Parenthood, Red Cross, Memorial Sloan Kettering, St. Jude’s, the 9/11 Memorial and Greenpeace. This doesn’t include the dozens of “ads” I’ve seen for Operation Backpack, City Harvest, Save the Children and more, plus the hundreds of corporations getting in on the social responsibility movement.
All of these noble causes are certainly worthy, but they can’t all get our eyeballs and our dollars. As tough as it is to say, we live in a world of competing sorrows. So now more than ever, nonprofits need to brand themselves.
Branding in the nonprofit sector is way harder than branding in the for-profit world.
Think about it. In most commercial categories there are what, four, five, eight competitors? Walk up to the bar to order a vodka, and there are maybe six or so to choose from? Toothpaste, three or four real players? With non-profits, there are hundreds, many saying very similar things, all asking for our money and/or time.
So how do we choose? What closes the deal? For people with a connection to a particular issue, the choice is easier. Their mother had cancer, so they donate to the American Cancer Society. They love dogs, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But for everyone else, the nonprofits that win, are the ones that brand themselves best. Period. And like the great for-profits of the world, the great nonprofits do it clearly and consistently. Their mission is easy to grasp, their cause simple to understand and feel.
Marketing today is complex enough. We don’t need to self-inflict any more confusion. We need to simplify. Because simplicity liberates creativity, while complexity strangles it. Now simple doesn’t mean dumbing it down, but smarting it up, being more artfully and powerfully succinct.
At my company, The BAM Connection, we have a tool called The One-Shot Answer – one, pithy, compelling phrase that nails your brand meaning, then directs and connects all your communication. You take that phrase, and let the content explode out from there. Do your most interesting and motivating interpretation for each particular platform.
When you have a singular driving phrase, good things start to happen for your brand.
You minimize the common and current risk of chasing platforms with no unifying brand vision, of doing isolated messages in isolated media. Instead, your driving vision helps you be certain every communication is spot on brand, and every platform works toward the greater cumulative good. That, in a nutshell, is branding. Plus, a driving brand vision galvanizes the POV, unifying everyone who works on it. And it’s easy to act on, because no one is paralyzed by interpretation, which means ideas get to market faster…a requirement in today’s real-time world.
So try this simple exercise we call “The One-Shot Answer Challenge.” Grab four or five people in your organization, and have each write down on a piece of paper, in three to eight words – the one, pithy, compelling, phrase that defines your brand. If they all come back exactly the same, pat yourselves on the back, you have a single-minded vision. But my guess is several will have different messages, and all will have different wordings.
Here’s the harsh reality, if you can’t define your brand in a clear, single phrase, you don’t have one. And, if you can’t articulate your brand, no consumer will get it, believe in it, and reach into their pocket to donate. And that’s not going to help your cause at all.