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Sep 17, 2020 BY Andrew Buck Branding, Marketing

The Advantages of Branding: How to Convince Leadership to Invest in a Rebrand

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you believe that a strong brand can grow and expand your connections with your supporters.

Further, I’m going to mostly discuss branding in the context of mission-driven organizations, such as professional associations, universities and colleges, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Why? Because too often mission-driven groups don’t invest in a true brand strategy and their missions suffer as a result.

Step 1: Define “Branding” For Yourself

Start by clarifying what you mean by “brand.” It’s a fuzzy word. Non-marketing folks usually think of “brand” as just a logo and color palette. Brand is more than that, of course, but even savvy marketing pros have diverse definitions.

Consider how differently these smart people define “brand”:

“Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company. And vice-versa.”

—Jay Baer & Amber Naslund

“Your…brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.”

—Jeff Bezos

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is—it is what consumers tell each other it is.”

—Scott Cook

“A brand is a voice and a product is a souvenir.”

—Lisa Gansky

Before you begin evangelizing for a brand refresh or transformation, you need to develop a clear, concrete idea of what you mean. Are you asking for just a new logo, official font, and set of colors? Or are you asking for something more—a noticeable shift in your brand identity and brand image? Are you changing what your organization says, the tone in which you say it, and the promises you explicitly (and implicitly) make to the world?

We designed this handy one-pager that answers (for us, at least) what a brand is. Download the branding one-pager here.

When we work with clients on rebranding, we tend to emphasize practicality. Whatever your definition, branding shouldn’t become an exercise in guesswork and pie-in-the-sky ambiguity. Instead, we believe strong branding is grounded in sound research, messaging, and visuals.

Step 2: Get Real

Research kills opinions. And right now, your instinct to conduct a rebranding may be based on your opinion that your brand is not up to par. So take the time to perform research, or even better, hire an objective outside party to perform it for you.

Your goal? To determine whether changing your brand will solve the problems your organization faces.

If your organization isn’t facing many problems (or many large problems), rebranding is probably unnecessary—and potentially harmful. After all, don’t fix what ain’t broke. There is one exception: If you suspect your brand doesn’t align with who you truly are, as an organization. Otherwise, in time, the gap between your public and internal identities will fester.

More commonly, you want to change your brand because something isn’t working—e.g., you’re organization has evolved but your brand hasn’t, donations are down, memberships are lagging, enrollment has plateaued, etc.

So your next question is: Why are numbers falling? If the answer is that audiences don’t know, trust, or care about your organization as they once did, rebranding can be an excellent cure. But never assume.

Important Note: You almost certainly need some objective, outside help with this step. Why? Because of something called the Curse of Knowledge—a topic we’ve written about extensively. In essence, the Curse of Knowledge says that we know too much to imagine what it’s like not to know what we know. In other words, we are too deep inside our own work to see how to improve it.

At Mighty Citizen, most of our rebranding and website design projects begin with a Discovery phase, in which we do a bunch of qualitative and quantitative research. Nine times out of 10, we learn during Discovery that our clients need solutions at least somewhat—and often radically—different than they arrived thinking they needed.

Step 3: Set Your Price

To sell anything—especially something as significant as an organization rebranding—price will be one of the first questions your bosses ask about. The answer to, “How much will this cost us?” is, as with most marketing projects, “It depends.”

The financial outlay of rebranding depends primarily on two factors:

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1) Size of Your Organization - because the number of things that would change, such as your website and signage and digital assets and printed materials, will affect the total cost. The more digital your presence in the world, the less costly a rebranding.

2) Quality of Rebranding - because you get what you pay for, including the marketing and design agency you hire to conduct the rebranding process with you. The better the agency, the better (and more profitable) the results.

While cost is a factor, a successful rebranding—i.e., one built on research, compelling messaging and content, and beautiful new visuals—can spur new revenue that far outstrips the initial investment.

Step 4: Find Help

So you’ve decided (a) what you want from a new brand, (b) how it will help solve some problems, and (c) how much you’re willing to spend. Now it’s time to do the nuts-and-bolts research that will fill out your pitch to leadership—to gather the facts necessary to make your case airtight.

Specifically, we recommend exploring (at least) the following three things:

1. Examples of other organizations in your sector/industry that have completed a branding project and, if possible, the results.

Google should uncover these pretty quickly—e.g., just search “community college rebranding” or “trade association rebranding example.” Explore. Ask in industry forums who has undergone a rebrand and the results they saw. If possible, call up your counterpart at one of these organizations and ask if they’d be willing to let you interview them. This kind of boots-on-the-ground research, though anecdotal, can reveal insights you won’t find anywhere else. They can bolster your case to your leadership.

2. Potential agencies that can lead the rebranding effort.

Google is a start here too, but referrals are even better. Again, look to your industry forums. Ask organizations you respect, or at least who have strong branding, who helped them get there. Think of an established brand with solid brand recognition. Which agencies, specifically, did they work with? What was good about the experience, what was lacking, etc.? Dig deep. Because good branding that is achieved only after a long, too-expensive, and unprofessional process may not be worth it.

Once you have a few options, reach out to them and inquire about what a rebranding project looks like, what it might cost, etc. Again, dig deep into specifics. Ask questions such as, “How do you measure success of a project?” and “What kind of resources do you invest in project management?” and “Tell me the name of some organizations you have rebranded?” If this first conversation with a marketing agency is unpleasant, you can be sure the project itself will be a nightmare.

3. The general research around the connection between branding and organizational success.

Your trusty friend Google is a great place to start. But to save you the time, here are a few we found in a quick search:

If your bosses tend to act based on research, you may want to check use Google Scholar to generate academic support.

Case studies from the agencies you engaged with can also be helpful. For example, here’s how a rebrand for the Long Center helped them see a huge leap in ticket sales:

Step 5: Outline Your Argument

Imagine you’re going to have to make the case for a new brand in a court of law, where the standards of proof are high and exacting.

1. Begin by describing your current brand. What do people think you do? What do they think you stand for? What’s your level of brand awareness among target audiences?

2. Write down what you mean by “branding.”

3. Write down the problems you’re currently (or will soon be) facing and how these can be fixed, at least in part, by enhancing your brand identity. (For example, you might write, “We have spent the last two years unable to spur donations from people under 40 years old. Our new brand, if we ensure it aims to entice younger potential donors, could expand our audiences and boost revenue.)

4. Gather your research and lay it out in a way that makes sense for your organization. Showing your boss that “small colleges that rebranded saw a 5% increase in enrollment” isn’t especially compelling if you work for your state’s department of health.

5. Practice the pitch.

Step 6: Pitch It

Rebranding can—and usually should—fundamentally shift your organization’s identity. Even if you limit your rebranding to your logo only, you’re still asking both your internal and external audiences to accept something new. Change is usually scary, so the result of the rebranding should be better if you’re going to assuage people’s worries.

The same goes for your internal pitch: You’re telling a story, and making it visually appealing can go a long way toward ensuring the story lands. Create a slide deck. Organize it in a logical way—i.e., define the problem, detail the causes, and present the solution (aka, a rebranding project). Don’t overload the deck with text. Don’t underestimate the persuasive power of a great presentation. (Here’s an article about how to create a great presentation.)

A Note About Rebranding During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Rebranding your organization in the midst of the global pandemic is a complicated consideration.

On the anti-rebranding side, there is the most obvious consideration: cost. For many organizations, spending money on efforts that aren’t “mission-critical” is risky. You may also worry that a rebranding campaign will be lost in the shuffle while the world is more preoccupied with other concerns.

On the pro-rebranding side, the same concerns can be flipped on their head. Cost, for example, can be seen as a critical investment to ensure that when life and economy stabilizes, your organization will be poised to reap the financial benefits of a more compelling, noticeable, and robust brand identity. Meanwhile, designed well and launched with panache, a new brand can be precisely the thing to cut through the noise of the world, especially among the people you’re trying to serve.

Mighty Citizen Can Help

I’d be remiss if I didn’t end by pointing out that branding strategy is one of Mighty Citizen’s areas of expertise. We’ve rebranded mission-focused organizations of many sizes and in many industries. As a full-service branding and digital agency, we’re able to collaborate with you to move you from the problems you’re facing today to bold, measurable solutions.

Please shoot us a message if you’d like to have a casual conversation about how we might be able to help. But whatever you decide to do with your brand, best of luck! The world needs mission-oriented organizations now more than ever.

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