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What Is a Brand?

Posted by on May 5th, 2010
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding    Tags: , , , ,

“A brand is a result, not a tactic” – Lucas Conley

While the process of “brand building“ can be complex, in its simplest form brand is just another word for “reputation.”

In discovering a brand’s essence, determining what factors make up a compelling brand, and working to turn your organization into a great brand, you are articulating how your organization wishes to be perceived—what reputation you wish to have—and then doing everything possible to establish and reinforce that reputation.

Your brand is not your name, logo, or graphic identity.  These are signifiers about what your organization stands for, but your brand is the combination of facts and emotions about your organization and its work that comes to the minds of your audiences when they hear or read about you and your activities.

In his book, A New Brand World, Scott Bedbury, the marketing guru behind Nike and Starbucks, defines branding in expansive terms:

A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off-strategy.  It is defined by the award-winning [work] and the god-awful [work] that somehow slipped through the cracks….  It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee—the shining star in the [organization] who can do no wrong—as well as by the mishaps of the worst hire you ever made.  It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your [constituents] are subjected to when placed on hold.  For every grand and finely worded public statement by the [executive director], the brand is also defined by derisory comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the Internet.  Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings.  They become physiological concepts held in the mind of the public, where they may stay forever.  As such, you can’t entirely control a brand.  At best you can only guide and influence it.

In short, your brand is all that you are.  It’s the sum total of your organization’s services, behaviors, and signals.

It is far more than just a logo or tagline; it’s how your organization lives its mission and practices its values.  A brand is an organization’s core promise, its identity, and its reputation.  The best brands live in an organization’s DNA.

The best brands are defined by clarity of purpose, rather than a description of an organization’s strategies or programs.

Think of the best-known nonprofit brands—SPCA or Amnesty International, for example.  You may not quite know what these organizations do every day, but you know why they exist.  And that’s the idea: the goal of branding is not to describe comprehensively what your organization does, but to explain compellingly why it matters that you do it.

It’s about articulating your organization’s unique niche in making the world a better place, and claiming the distinctive role that will attract the public support you need to accomplish your goals.  Nonprofit branding persuasively answers the busy public’s inevitable question, “Why should I care?”


Zach Hochstadt is a Mission Minded Founding Partner and runs Mission Minded’s Denver office, leading the company’s creative teams in the areas of message development, writing, graphic design, and web design and development.

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