Also titled: Why I Refuse to Get Out My Snow Shovel
Today is Monday, May 12, 2014, and I’m feeling a bit glum.
I’m feeling glum because I expect certain things from May 12th: standing barefoot on my lawn while playing catch with my kids, a nice glass of wine while sitting on my front porch, gazing expectantly at my garden.
Instead, this is what today looks like:
A little less than two weeks ago the world celebrated May Day with flowers and parades. Spring was definitely supposed to be here now.
All of this offers a lesson on the value of setting clear expectations in nonprofit branding. (How’s that for making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?) The brand of Spring is budding lilacs, green grass, and (for a few of my friends) allergies. Today’s reality runs counter to that. It is clearly February outside. April showers are supposed to bring May flowers. The brand has promised it to me, and I’m disappointed when it fails to deliver.
The same thing is true for your organization. Your organization’s actions must match your promise. If you are an independent school promising creative exploration, you can’t have a teacher who runs her classroom like a military boot camp. The reality will have failed to match the expectations you set. Likewise, an organization who wants to be known for professionalism must ensure that its meetings begin at the appointed hour.
Oftentimes, though, this isn’t the case. An organization yearns to be known for one set of qualities, but its actions undermine its promise. It says one thing, but does another.
Brand isn’t just what you want it to be. Brand is the sum total of interactions people have with your organization: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Brand is what you look like, what you sound like, how you act, and what you do. And so your actions must remain consistent with your brand. You must act in accordance with the expectation you have established in people’s minds.
The Minor Mistake
Nevertheless, the flip side of this coin is that a strong brand can be forgiven for a minor mistake. As humans, we don’t like cognitive dissonance. That is, we tend to disregard information that competes with a concept we already hold in our minds. That means that if the on-brand experiences far and away over balance the off-brand experiences, we are willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
This is why NPR’s fundraising scandal in March 2011 was over almost as quickly as it started. Most NPR listeners hold the media organization in high regard, and were willing to forgive and forget. One off-brand experience, even a relatively egregious example, was set aside by most of NPR’s most important stakeholders.
I’ll be the same way with this winter weather. As long as the snow melts by Wednesday and I’m back in my sandals by the end of the week, I’ll be willing to forget this minor weather infraction. If, however, it lasts long enough to kill my tomato plants, I may hold a grudge.
Besides, as any Coloradan will be quick to tell you, if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait an hour, it’ll change. Springtime in the Rockies is a brand of its own, and yes, even a snowstorm in May should be expected. The anomaly has been baked into the brand.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.