So you’ve settled on what you want the brand of your organization to be. Now how do you get everyone in your organization excited about bringing that brand to life?
Maybe you have a new logo. Maybe you have a new tagline. Maybe you have both, but neither of these is your brand.
Your brand is that big idea for which you want your organization to be known. It’s the promise you make to your public that excites them, engages them, and keeps them coming back for more. Maybe your brand can be summed up in:
|A unique phrase||
West Coast Verve
|A sentence fragment||An unstoppable force transforming our neighborhoods in this place we’re proud to call home|
|A complete sentence||You are not alone.|
Each of these examples is what we call a brand promise, and it’s the life force behind any brand. But it’s not a tagline to put on the website.
Your brand promise is not meant to be a public message. Instead, it’s internal shorthand meant to sum up your place in the landscape of other organizations. These brand promises are the DNA that (should) drive every decision about how your organization looks, sounds, and acts.
Because your brand promise isn’t an external message, everyone inside your organization has to play an important role in bringing your brand to the outside world. They need to make the brand so clear that your audiences feel it, see it, and know it.
We recently had the privilege of collaborating with a wonderful independent school to define their brand architecture. This included helping them articulate the values underlying their approach to education and their relationship with the students and parents who make up the school community. Together, we defined their personality so they could let it shine bright, and we named their brand promise: Powerful learning balanced with rigor and joy.
We did all of this work with a select few of their faculty, staff, and board. It was a great group of people who all dug in and worked hard to get the wording of the brand promise just right. And when they were done they felt great about what we’d created together. Their new brand promise felt like a rallying cry—a mantra for everyone who works and volunteers at the school.
But a brand promise has little value if the only people who understand its meaning are the small group of leaders who craft it. Our client knew this and immediately went to work dreaming up ways to help everyone who works or volunteers with the school get excited about the brand.
Of course, since an organization’s brand is a reflection of its authentic and best self, the wording used to describe it—no matter how succinct—shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the nonprofit, school, or foundation. That’s the beauty of a good brand promise: it sums up what everyone involved already knows about the organization’s greatest strengths. Condensing that information helps convey it to a larger external audience.
But having the brand promise written is just the beginning of the journey, not the final destination. The next step is getting everyone excited internally about making the brand real for people externally. And it’s a must. You don’t want staff thinking, “Great brand promise. Thanks for the big presentation and the cookies and the fanfare. Now I can go back to business as usual.”
Instead you want each person to think, “YES! That brand promise is how I want our work to be known. I want everyone who matters for our future to see that as the value we bring to the world. And I want to help make that happen.”
There are lots of creative ways to get staff and volunteers excited and engaged. Below, we share a few examples to spur on your own efforts to make your brand work spring from the strategy stage onto the world stage.
Our school client had their brand promise carved into smooth stones—and piled them up on the desks of faculty and staff. Not because anyone needs rocks on their desk to do a good job, but because the rocks carry a message.
The message is: We’re serious about helping people see us as a school that balances rigor and joy in pursuit of powerful learning. And you’re a part of that because you work here. These rocks are a reminder that you—not the head of school, not the marketing committee, but you—are expected to look for ways to make this idea real for people every day.
We don’t just build housing; we create caring communities. To express this idea, we helped them create the tagline: More than a home.
Then they went wild getting their employees at every level of the organization—from the maintenance crews at their homes for senior citizens to the chair of the board to the head of the accounting department—up to speed on this big idea. At their staff meeting, they put the brand promise on paperweights for all staff to carry back onto their desks. At their annual dinner, they put the new tagline on everything—including the dessert!
See how fun—even delicious—it can be to get everyone feeling like they’re a part of something big? If your nonprofit has done something to help rally the troops around your brand, we would love to hear about it.
Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.
See all posts by Jennie Winton