If you’re a nonprofit professional, President Biden (doesn’t it feel good to say that!) just provided a master class in how to successfully launch a brand.
As our clients know, brand is an idea. It isn’t just a word or logo. Brand is the central theme that guides your identity as an organization. It is the first word or idea that your audiences associate with you. For the Biden Administration, that idea is, unquestionably, unity.
Find Your Brand’s Focus
The President used the word “unity” 11 times in his inaugural address, even repeating it for emphasis, and the word was reinforced by other speakers and events throughout the day.
Even when not using the word itself, Biden reinforced the theme by saying,
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.”
“Disagreement must not lead to disunion.”
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.”
While Biden’s words speak directly to the attempted coup and insurrection by white supremacists on January 6th, the theme of unity is one he’s carried throughout the campaign. For those of us in nonprofit leadership roles his focus and repetition are instructive. Messages aren’t manufactured for the moment, rather brand guides who we are and how we respond, whatever situation that may arise.
Define Your Brand Values
In fact, The President used his address to remind us of the core brand values that bind us together as Americans. He stated,
“What are the common objects we as Americans love, that define us as Americans? I think I know. Opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, and —yes — the truth.”
Values are what bind us to a cause. They are the shared instructions that guide our actions and make “us” us. That is true whether it’s the values of your family, your church, your nation, or your organization. The clear definition and adherence to a set of values defines your community.
Bring Your Brand to Life
As we’ve discussed in past posts, brand comes to life in how you sound, how you look, how you act, and what you do. Brand is an idea; words, visuals, actions, and deeds are its hallmarks.
How You Sound
Brand comes to life in the Biden administration’s consistent use of the word “unity,” but it’s also worth noting how brand guides a broader narrative. The President noted that when he stated,
“…we’ll write the next great chapter in the history of the United States of America, the American story…
…[a] story of hope, not fear; of unity, not division; of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity. Love and healing. Greatness and goodness.
May this be the story that guides us, the story that inspires us, and the story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history.”
Biden not only brings brand to life through specific words and phrases, but also through the recognition that the American brand is a story to which its adherents subscribe.
How You Look
Brand was also brought to life through consistent visuals at the Inaugural. Beyond the obvious American imagery like the flag of the United States, the incoming administration thought deeply about its visual identity. Commentators noted that jewel tones dominated the color palette of the speakers.
Most notable was the color purple, about which Vanessa Friedman, Style critic for the New York Times, wrote about the use of purple,
“Perhaps because it combines the red and blue of recent political schism into a unified whole (the theme of inauguration was, after all, “America United’). Perhaps because, along with white, it was one of the colors of the suffragists, and to wear it was to acknowledge the fulfillment of their dream embodied by Ms. Harris. Or perhaps because, as the National Woman’s Party (the original suffragist organization) wrote in a 1913 newsletter, ‘Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause.’”
Note: Purple was also Shirley Chisholm’s campaign color when she ran for President in 1972.
How You Act
We are all familiar with the idiom, “Actions speak louder than words.” The Biden Administration matched words with deeds by using the second half of the day to issue 17 executive orders intended to extend the country’s promise of unity around the globe by rejoining other nations in the Paris Climate Accords, rejoining the World Health Organization, and recommitting the American Promise to the nation’s approximately 3.6 million DACA recipients.
These actions also reinforced the brand by showing, and not just telling, Americans what the brand of this administration will look like.
Another action that shows the commitment of this President is the diversity of the cabinet that he has appointed. By appointing the most diverse cabinet in the history of the United States, Biden has already begun to signal that inclusivity will be a guiding value of his presidency, and by extension, a guiding value for America.
What You Do
Ultimately, sustained action will be the true test of the Administration. Brands are like reputations, not built through a single act, but through consistent repetition over time. Time will tell whether this administration acts in accordance with its ideals.
This will be especially important for the communities of color that powered Biden’s win. For many black and brown people living in this country, a promise of unity has often left them on the sidelines.
Will American Indians simply be tokenized as Fancy Dancers in the background, or will Biden’s administration, through the leadership of the nation’s first Native American Secretary of the Interior, address the deep poverty, COVID impacts, and injustices that have struck at the heart of the American Indian community?
Will “Black Lives Mater” remain and urgent rallying cry, or will the Administration allow complacency to set in?
Only time will tell, but for now I cling to the brand promise of an earlier presidency: HOPE.
Now Put This to Work for Your Organization
The lessons of the Inauguration can power your organization, as well. Like this incoming administration you should:
- Find your brand focus
- Define your brand values
- Reinforce your narrative
- Build your brand through consistent use of words and phrases
- Use your visual identity to reinforce your brand
- Match your actions with your values
- Consistently build your brand over time
How has the inaugural inspired your organization? Let us know in the comments below.