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If Brands Were People, Would You Want to Spend Time With Yours?

Posted by on September 29th, 2011
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Messaging    Tags: , ,

We recently promoted a commentary by Noah Brier in which he reminds us that brands, like people, are only interesting if they talk about something besides themselves.

We couldn’t agree more.

Many nonprofit organizations we meet suffer from Boring Date Syndrome. You know the type. You meet them for a first date and they talk relentlessly about themselves the entire time, never showing any real interest in you. Unless it’s to ask what you think of them.

You don’t ever have a second date with someone who suffers from Boring Date Syndrome. You don’t offer to help them get cured, either.

When nonprofits talk only about themselves, they leave donors yawning, itching to get away, and without developing the relationship that will make the donors want to help.

When we work with our nonpfofit and foundation clients to help them think about what brand—or reputation—they need to establish, the first question is never about them. It’s about their target audiences. Who must your brand appeal to for you to succeed? And what do they care about most?

Nonprofits need to think deeply about their audiences—the people most likely to give them the time, money, and support they need to fulfill the mission of the organization. Once a nonprofit is very, very clear on the hopes and dreams of its target audiences, it can begin to craft the brand personality most likely to appeal.

If Stodgy Stu and Old Fashioned Olga are your best donor prospects, then you’d better be sure your brand reflects the dignity, grace, and lack of modernity likely to appeal to them—even if your executive director has her hip side. Building a good relationship with your audiences is based on understanding them and putting the parts of your organization that can authentically appeal to them front and center.

Take the time to create a character profile of what makes your audience members tick. They don’t see themselves as “donors,” “major donors,” or “new volunteers.” They see themselves as moms, activists, and nice people. And you should address them that way.

Give your target audience a name as though she is one person, and then list all the things that matter to her. Debbie the Do-good Donor cares about her city, feels proud to live there, and wants others to enjoy it. She’s passionate about the arts, volunteers at a local elementary school (even though her children are grown), and goes for hikes on the weekend.

Knowing what matters to Debbie will help you speak to her in a way that resonates with her. This may mean you don’t start with what’s most important to your organization. Eventually you can get there, but only if Debbie wants to be in conversation with you. And she will. If you start the conversation by asking her about her.

If putting this into practice feels harder than it sounds reading it here, just imagine you’re on a first date with a person in your target audience. Imagine how you’d charm your date. Would it by by barraging this new acquaintance with facts and figures about yourself?

We hope not.


Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded and a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding and positioning nonprofit organizations.

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3 responses to “If Brands Were People, Would You Want to Spend Time With Yours?”

  1. This is a core principle in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and underscores the importance of a) getting others to talk about themselves so b) you are better informed about how to talk to them.