Part 5: Brands built on sand

Before we proceed with our discussion on brand research, let’s step back and look at where that research is taking you.

In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus tells the parable of two houses, one built on sand and one built on rock. What he doesn’t mention is this: a house built on sand can be a perfectly good, functional and livable house.

Until the storms come.

The same thing applies to brands. Most non-profits have brands that are built on sand, so to speak. They work fine. Audiences have a general understanding of what the organization does and they attract enough donors to keep the doors open and carry out some ministry.

But then the storms of economic crisis or increased competition hit and these organizations wonder why all the work they’ve done doesn’t seem to matter. They can’t retain existing donors or acquire new ones because their brands weren’t built on a firm foundation.

What do we mean by a brand or organization built on sand? It’s one that doesn’t take the time to build up and maintain the foundations of the brand.

There are three levels of a brand.

Level 1: Mission, Vision and Values

Most organizations have these and they consider these foundational. And they are. But they aren’t sufficient for your brand. Remember: Your mission is what you do. But your brand is your distinctive way of carrying out your mission. Mission alone won’t help you stand out from the crowd.

Level 2: Brand Strategy

This is the true foundational level of a brand. It means knowing (and articulating) how you’re different; what that singular connecting concept is that unites all you do. In jargon terms, it means knowing your brand essence or promise, your brand personality and value proposition, and your positioning in the market. This is the level most ministries skip right over.

Level 3: Brand Execution

Most organizations go from Level 1 directly to this level which includes things like logo, tagline and marketing campaign concepts. They move directly from Level 1 to this level and then wonder why they can’t get traction among current and new audiences.

Skipping Level 2 would be like Nike using their swoosh logo and tagline of “Just Do It” in ads that showed children playing nicely in a sandbox or a team handing out trophies to every kid just for showing up. It would miss their Level 2 brand strategy which relates to “optimal performance.” Without that internal concept of optimal performance, “Just Do It” as a tagline wouldn’t make as much sense or be used consistently.

Skipping the Level 2 work is why organizations change the direction of their messaging from year to year and why every person in the ministry describes it differently. If the organization has a tagline, people might state it, but can’t explain consistently how their organization differs from other similar charities.

These organizations find that skipping Level 2 – not having a true brand strategy – will get them by.

Until the storms come.