May 29, 2013

5 steps to unlocking brand value

This article was recently published as a feature article on Sustainable Brands. Sustainable brands is the premier global community of business innovators who are shaping the future of commerce world wide.

Organizations that take a stand for what they believe in create brands that are powerful, emotionally resonant, and authentic. Working over the past 20 years with a range of mission-driven organizations, many with environmental or social purposes, we developed a set of five questions designed to unlock a brand’s value.

1. Who are the people important to our future?

Identifying everyone the brand needs to reach serves as the first step toward positioning and expression. Generating insight into stakeholder perspectives can be time consuming and expensive. Efficiency is critical. For a recent engagement with Pact, a global NGO with field offices in over 25 countries, we convened three global brand workshops, issued an electronic survey, and moderated ongoing online discussions in order to capture the greatest possible share of stakeholder voice. In this way, we were able to tap into both the diversity of the organization and its deeply held shared values.

2. What do we want them to know?

Openness and honesty are the cornerstones of authentic communication. There are countless stories of consumer brands discovering this the hard way in the new social media landscape. And the most successful nonprofit brands are ones whose messaging and behavior truly reflect their core purpose. In fact, the methodologies of brand development provide a powerful lens on the broader strategic view of an organization by highlighting inconsistent, confusing, or inadvertent messages that have developed over time in the pursuit of programs or funding not aligned with the mission.

3. Is it something they care about?

You could argue that the only challenge that should concern marketers today is getting consumers to connect with and rally around a shared purpose. This is especially true for nonprofits since the only thing they sell is their purpose. Simply communicating a clearly defined mission is not enough in the era of hyper connectivity and “co-creation”. Brand relevance today can only be achieved by providing opportunities for audience participation.
Returning to our NGO example, Pact enables lasting solutions in the areas of health, livelihoods, and natural resource management. They did not have a strong central identity and the complexity of their business model led to inconsistent and confusing messaging. The new brand needs to unite a global workforce and resonate across multiple regions, cultures, and languages. We were able to leverage the power inherent in its name: Pact is a promise. The notion of a promise has resonance around the world providing a universally understood core message. We distributed an interactive “promise wall” kit to field offices to add their personal and communal expression of what a promise means to them and the people they serve. The response from staff has been extraordinary. Having a tool that can be customized for specific regions or project areas and that provides ongoing participation has helped them reframe how they talk about their work and empowered them to own and champion the brand.

4. How will we know they care?

Helping organizations create internal alignment and understand their true value provides clear rules and guidelines for decision-making. It also creates a more powerful connection to the people they want to reach and offers the means to measure if it’s working, and the tools to make adjustments. Brand guidelines help the organization manage the dissemination of ideas into the marketplace with consistency and clarity. Identifying ways to measure, evaluate, and report the effectiveness of the brand is critical and should not be relegated to the marketing department alone.

5. How will we ensure that what we say about ourselves is true?

A critical and under-utilized aspect of branding is staff training. These workshops allow for the spirit of the brand to played out so staff can see how it relates to their role in the organization. We have employed a variety of techniques including role-playing and peer review to help individuals re-imagine their roles, identify potential roadblocks, and create a climate for continuous improvement.