We all know the phrase “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” If someone compliments you but says it with a mean look on their face, do you feel they were sincere? Of course not. Just as inconsistencies in body language and spoken words say a lot, so do inconsistencies in the appearance and content of a nonprofit’s marketing collateral.
What Is a Brand?
First, let’s clarify what a brand is. A brand is not just a logo. It’s the entire experience that prospective and existing donors, members or clients have with your organization—from the look of your promotional materials to how your nonprofit interacts with them.
A good brand:
- evokes a positive emotional feeling about an organization, service or product.
- defines your message and delivers it consistently.
- creates trust and loyalty with your audience.
- motivates your audience to donate, join or use your services.
- sets you apart from your competitors.
A poor one:
- leaves a bad impression or none at all.
- delivers an inconsistent message or doesn’t engage your audience.
- confuses your audience.
- won’t inspire your audience to take action.
- is not memorable or unique.
Why Should Your Organization Care?
If you think because your organization is small or doesn’t have a national or international presence that branding doesn’t apply to you, think again. To appear—and be—successful, you must understand how your organization appears to your world, whether that is your local community or a global one.
Think about the billions of dollars that the big-name companies spend on branding or rebranding. Take Target, for example. Every time one of their commercials comes on, you immediately know who it is even if you’ve never seen that particular commercial before. How? The power of branding—the power of their branding. Each of their commercials includes a different song and set of products, but the style is consistent. Why is that important? Instant recognition. (Plus, you might actually enjoy watching their commercials.) Target transformed how they are perceived when they rebranded years ago. In doing so, they became a household name.
What Is Design’s Role in Branding?
Graphic design plays a huge role in branding in the form of logo design, promotional brochures, print ads, e-mail newsletters, package design, television commercials and more. It’s that visual package for communicating with a specific audience using:
- a particular style (conservative, modern, playful, etc.)
- imagery: A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Photos showing people are most memorable and connect with people. Icons help direct people to information quickly and can add to the style of a piece.
- fonts (classic, simple, ornate, playful, etc.): Typography should be complementary to the design, not distracting. (This is the perfect time to mention that Comic Sans should almost never be used.)
- color (happy, warm, refreshing, elegant, pure, energetic, etc.): Color is used to reinforce the message, with careful attention paid to any cultural sensitivities (if applicable) and color meanings. Color can immediately draw people in or repulse them.
If none of these factors mattered in the psychology of marketing, then we would all print black and white 8.5×11-inch sheets from our office printers and do nothing more. However, if branding is so important, then why do so many organizations or businesses skimp in this area or not create a budget for it? They might perceive graphic design as only cosmetic, rather than the visual, strategic communication that it is. (Did you know that many colleges require a graphic design course in order to earn a communications or marketing degree?) If you undermine the importance of design in marketing, your brand will suffer.
Is Your Organization Making These Branding Mistakes?
Once you have defined your brand (how you want to be perceived), you need to make sure your materials follow suit. They could appear fun yet professional, or more corporate. It all depends on your target audience. You need to speak their language and appeal to them.
Perform a quick brand audit. Look at your marketing materials and ask yourself:
- Is your organization’s name memorable? Does it make sense for your industry and hint at what you do? Is it in use by someone else? Always check! Having to change your name later due to legal reasons is costly—in terms of money and reputation.
- Do they look professional and well put together—or sloppy, with differing colors, fonts and image styles?
- Are the colors and images appropriate for your audience? If your favorite color is pink and your clients are in the finance industry, that’s not going to work. Leave your personal preferences out of it.
- Do they include your logo? (Do you have a logo?) A logo should be unique, timeless and simple. If it’s not unique, you risk copyright infringement and the logo not being memorable. If it’s timeless, it will have stability. You don’t want to constantly change your logo or follow the latest trends. (Remember all those logos created in the year 2000 with pointless “swooshes”?) If it’s simple, it’s more memorable and easier to read.
- Do they have spelling or grammatical errors? If so, hire a copywriter, editor or proofreader to review your materials before you finalize them. It is much harder to overcome a bad impression than to give a good one from the start.
- Do they include contact information? Surprisingly, this boilerplate material is often left off promotional pieces. Also, if you have a website, use an e-mail address from that domain. If you prefer to use Gmail or something else, forward to it from your domain e-mail. Few things say “amateur” more than using a personal e-mail address or one based on a free e-mail service or internet provider for business purposes.
- Do they look like those of a competitor? You want yours to be different and stand out so they are memorable.
If you see issues, you should address them by having a professional graphic designer or firm who understands branding do so. They could also create a brand manual (a style guide), which would explain logo usage, define a color palette and determine type and style of imagery to use (custom or stock photos, illustrations, icons, etc.), among other things. They could also create a set of templates for your staff to use. These would help your organization maintain a consistent style for anything your organization publishes. Having these on hand also leaves little room for questions from staff about colors, fonts, etc.
Maybe you’ve already addressed some of the above branding issues but aren’t seeing the results you want—an increase in donations or memberships, for example. Consider working with a professional on rebranding so that your message will resonate better with your target audience.
If you don’t invest in your brand, your audience won’t either.
What Impression Does Your Nonprofit’s Branding Leave?
What impression does your brand leave—a good one, bad one or none at all? Don’t ask yourself. Ask someone else and let them choose the words to describe it. Keep in mind:
- Just one negative experience requires 12 positive ones to make up for it.
- A lackluster impression won’t be memorable.
Whatever you want your brand to say about your organization, make sure your materials speak the same language. Lack of attention to branding results in shoddy marketing materials, making your organization look unprofessional. On the other hand, well-put-together, cohesive materials make your organization appear professional and trustworthy. (Which organization would you choose to work with or donate to?)
Remember that branding also extends to the entire experience the donor, member or client has with your organization. Other areas of your organization need to be consistent with your visual collateral to create a positive experience, so make sure your client or customer service is professional and responsive.