In this webinar, Sarah Durham of Big Duck shares insights for expressing your nonprofit’s brand in a clear, holistic way that your audiences understand.

Full Transcript:

Steven:All right, Sarah, is it okay if I kick us off officially?

Sarah:I’m very excited. Let’s do it.

Steven:All right. Great. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you are on the East Coast and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Brand Architecture: Rethinking How You Connect the Dots Between Your Nonprofit’s Brand and Programs.” My name is Steven Shattuck and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

Just a couple of quick housekeeping items for you before we begin. I just want to let you know that we are recording this presentation. I’ll be sending out that recording as well as the slides later on today if you didn’t already get those. So, if you have to leave early or perhaps you want to review some content or look over your notes or maybe share the webinar with a friend, have no fear. You’ll get that recording today via email from me. Just be on the lookout for it.

Most importantly, as you’re listening today, please feel free to send in your questions and comments throughout the hour. We’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end. So, don’t be shy at all. Don’t sit on those hands. We’d love for the Q&A session to be super lively. So, send in any thoughts that you have along the way. You can use Twitter to do the same thing. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Twitter stream there.

One last technical item—these webinars are usually only as good as your own internet connection. So, if you have any trouble with the audio or the slides advancing or whatever, try dialing in by phone. We find specifically that the audio by phone is much better than the computer audio. So, don’t give up on us without dialing in. If you can do that, if you don’t mind doing that, there’s usually a little bit better audio quality there.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar with us, I just want to say an extra special hello to you. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. It’s one of our favorite things to do other than the donor management software that we make. If you are interested in that or you want to learn more or maybe you’re going to be shopping soon for a database, check us out. You can look at a quick video demo of our software right there on our website. If you’re interested, I’d love for you to learn more about that.

But for now, I am very excited to introduce one of my favorites. She’s become a stalwart of the webinar series here with Bloomerang. Joining us from Brooklyn is Sarah Durham. Hey, Sarah. How’s it going?

Sarah:Hey, Steven. It’s going great.

Steven:Glad for you to be here. I just want to brag on you real quick. If you guys don’t know Sarah or Big Duck, you’ve got to check them out. They are really my go-to for all things branding in the nonprofit world. Big Duck is just a great agency out of Brooklyn. They do awesome work, really cool content too. Sarah’s going to share some of that with you, but they do a really good benchmark study that I would definitely encourage you all to check out.

While she is not running Big Duck, which she has done since 1994, she is also the author of “Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications.” She is a frequent conference and webinar presenter. She’s even been featured on NPR, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, GuideStar. She was named a Top Fundraiser Under 40 by “Fundraising Success Magazine.” Sarah, every time I read your bio, I feel completely like I’ve not done anything in my life compared to what you have.

Sarah:It’s just that I’m really, really old.

Steven:No, you’re not. Top Fundraiser Under 40—that’s not old at all.

Sarah:Well, that was a while ago.

Steven:Well, whatever. Also, Most Influential Women in Technology by “Fast Company” magazine. This is going to be a good one. She is super-smart. I’ve heard her speak at conferences and I just love when she’s on. So, I am going to pipe down since she is the expert and let her talk all about brand architecture. So, take it away, Sarah.

Sarah:Great. Well, thanks, Steven. I have been at a number of conferences with Steven and seen him present and he sets a really high standard for delivering a lot of robust content very quickly and I’m going to try to follow in his footsteps today. We’re going to talk about brand architecture, first defining it. I’m going to give you a way to think about it and assess your own brand architecture and some pros and cons of different things you might come across as you’re trying to anticipate it.

As Steven mentioned, I am happy to have people chat in questions as you go. If I can take some on the fly, I will do that, but otherwise, we’ll have time at the end for more Q&A and also for people to share some of their own experiences. If you want to connect with me at any point, I’m @BigDuckSarah in most social media and my email is But I think Steven will send out some of these resources afterwards and you can add my email address to there too in case anybody has any follow up questions.

For those of you who don’t know Big Duck, we work exclusively with nonprofits. Most of our clients are organizations going through significant growth or change and we help them do three things. We help them develop their voices through strong brands and launch specifically fundraising awareness and recruitment campaigns and then we do a lot of capacity building so that their in-house teams are able to communicate at the top possible caliber so they can build their in-house skills. So, doing webinars like this is a lot of fun for me because it’s an opportunity to help build strong teams.

I’m going to ask you guys to just chat in a little bit so I can get a little bit of sense of some of the things you’re grappling with. There’s actually several hundred people on this call. When you think about these scenarios, which has presented the biggest challenge for you? First, do you have programs that have their own names, logos, elements and maybe they look and feel disconnected from the rest of your work? If that’s the case, chat in number one.

Do you have local versus national confusion or cobranding with another organization where you’ve created something together and people don’t necessarily know who’s behind it? Or maybe chat in a four if you’ve got a program or an event that’s maybe better known than your organization as a whole, like your gala or your peer-to-peer program, something like that.

So, people are chatting in a lot of stuff. A lot of you are chatting in number one, some fours. It doesn’t look like there’s tons of cobranding, some local/national confusion. It seems like a lot of you are struggling with programs or events that are branded separately and may be better known than your organization. Great. That’s helpful. I’m going to use this data to try to make sure my conversation today with you stays focused on that.

Let’s put this in context. At Big Duck, because we work with a lot of nonprofits on branding work, one of the exercises we regularly do which you can do—and this will kind of surface pretty quickly if you have a brand architecture problem—is we ask the organization to send us like a year’s worth of printed stuff—event invitations, brochures, any other collateral that they’ve produced and we also look at their online digital properties, social media, websites, micro sites, things like that.

We print out a bunch of stuff and we lay it out on a table. This is about six months of materials from a large human service organization that we collected many years ago. As you can see, it tells the very disjointed story and you can see that that’s often because these different events, these different programs, these different initiatives get their own look and feel.

So, that’s where I think it’s important to say, “Okay, what are we talking about when we talk about brand architecture?” We’re really talking about defining the relationship between your nonprofit’s brand and its sub-brands and programs. The word brand and the word sub-brand are sometimes misunderstood or misused. In this context, we’re going to focus mostly on visuals, although I do think it’s important to think of the brand as bigger than visuals.

Also, your messaging—it’s really how those assets are used to shape perception. So, whether or not you think of your organization as having a brand, you do. People perceive you a certain way. The question is are you using these visual assets, messaging, other elements to try to shape perception so that the relationships that people form with your organization are on track.

So, how do you know if you have a brand architecture problem? You’ve already chatted in that a number of you are working in organizations where people might know a program or an initiative better than they know the organization behind it. Often, we see a brand architecture problem emerging when a board member or a donor can talk really beautifully about one specific thing, but they don’t know how to talk about the organization behind it. It almost becomes like a standalone thing.

When you’ve got clear brand architecture, really what it should do is help a particular program or an event serve as a doorway to the rest of your organization. I might come in through the door of your run, walk or ride or come in through the door of your gala or maybe a flagship program. But as I come in, I don’t just get to know that specific initiative. I get to know the organization behind it. And that helps me really get a feel for what else might be available to me within your organization.

So, a little bit of marketing theory that kind of, I think, grounds all of this is—and there are a few different ways this is expressed, but I like this one. It’s called the ladder of engagement. Ladder of engagement theory suggests that people don’t just come into your organization and understand you perfectly and jump right up to the top and become an advocate.

I often think about how different the experience is for those people on the street who are interceptors. If you worked for a nonprofit that nobody had ever heard of and you were on the street doing intercepts trying to get donations and you stopped somebody on the street and you start talking to them, you have to work so hard to get somebody who has never heard of you to first understand what you do and then actually to make the leap to becoming a supporter.

Just in five minutes of conversation, it’s really, really hard to do. But if I’ve heard of your organization, maybe I’ve visited your website, maybe I’ve got some idea what you do, I’m much more likely to become a supporter or maybe I’m already a supporter and I’m much more likely to give because these multiple touch points help me build a relationship.

So, really, what we’re thinking about with brand architecture is how can that specific program or event or other initiative that is the doorway in for people where they go from being unaware to maybe observing or participating, how can that help them connect to other things in your organization, not just that one thing they came in through the door of.

So, today, as we focus on brand architecture, I want to just sort of give you a very quick glimpse of what we call Brandraising. Brandraising is a model that we developed here at Big Duck and, as Steven mentioned, I wrote a book about.

But the idea behind Brandraising is that your strategic plan should inform everything you do to communicate and should inform your visual identity, your messaging, your digital assets, your print assets. Everything should kind of flow out of that. But often times, as we get into that middle layer, that identity layer, we start creating multiple logos for things, maybe even multiple websites for things. That’s kind of where brand architecture gets convoluted or confusing.

So, our philosophy here is that for almost every nonprofit, less is more, simpler is better. We generally—and you’ll see why in a minute—we generally discourage organizations from giving things too much unique stuff, unique logos, unique taglines. There are some good reasons to do it, but if you’re going to do it, we want you to do it strategically, not reactively.

We don’t want it to just be you gave something a logo because the person in charge of that program thought it would be fun to make one or somebody was bored that day. We want there to be a solid strategy that actually benefits your organization. So, it’s strategically helping people move up that ladder of engagement.

So, what does that look like? What I’m going to do in the next part of our conversation is I’m going to use this spectrum that we created to give you a sense of the possible strategies that you might employ as you think about brand architecture. You can see on the left with independent brands, that end of the spectrum, these are the least unified brand architecture strategies. To the right, where we have master brands with programs are the most unified.

This spectrum is a little misleading in that it looks linear. It looks like you’re going to pick one of these four or maybe pick a place on this particular spectrum and everything will neatly fall into that. In truth, as I’m sure many of you have already experienced, it’s not always that neat. A lot of the organizations we help with brand architecture work find they need kind of a hybrid. They’ve got a little bit of a mix of some of these things.

But what we’re going to do today is we’re going to unpack each of these one at a time. They’re almost like four stops on a subway train or something. We’re going to look at what they mean, define them, I’m going to share some examples of them with you in the for-profit and nonprofit sector so you can get a sense of what they mean and then we’ll talk about what it takes to maintain them.

So, we’re going to start at the least unified end of the spectrum with an independent brand. The best example I’ve ever seen, probably, that most people can hang on to of an independent brand architecture strategy comes from the for-profit world, companies like Procter & Gamble where each one of their products is its own unique brand. They have their own brand managers, their own budgets for media. They look different. They message differently. They have different target audiences. Actually, it’s fairly unusual in the nonprofit sector to find a place where this kind of very separately managed independent brand strategy makes sense.

If every program in your organization had its own unique identity, its own website, etc., you’d never as an organization be speaking with one voice. It would be almost impossible for a donor to understand why they should support the organizations behind all these programs. So, we don’t see a lot of independent brand architecture strategies in the nonprofit sector. I think that’s generally a good thing, but there are a couple of places where it might make sense.

I want to give you one example that I think is a really good use of the independent brand structure and it comes from an organization called Equal Justice USA, which is a progressive organization fighting the death penalty. This is what their primary website looks like. One of the things that Equal Justice USA identified is that there is actually a very strong movement in the conservative world to fight the death penalty too. It just is coming at this issue from a different perspective.

What they identified was the people who on the conservative side might support their issue, they might potentially be alienated by Equal Justice USA’s more liberal or progressive messaging. So, they actually created a program called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. This program has its own staff, its own website, its own name, its own logo. It functions from outside appearances almost as if it were a unique organization.

I think the reason this is a good use of an independent brand is that what Equal Justice USA has recognized is that the market they are trying to reach in this segment of the market they’re trying to reach might actually be put off by or alienated from the rest of the market they serve, the more progressive market. So, they’ve really created a way to structure this program kind of off on its own as an independent brand.

So, generally, when an independent brand system looks good and works, what we find is that you’ve got two or more brands with very separate identities and the connection between them is not necessarily clear. They don’t point to each other. Often that’s because the audiences that they’re trying to reach are distinct and probably would not feel good about being in the same room together.

So, the good news is that you’re able to communicate with these unique audiences in powerful ways, but the challenge with an independent brand is that it takes significant staff and cost to maintain because you’ve got unique messaging, you’ve got unique websites to maintain, you’ve got social media handles to manage. It requires a fair amount of effort to do that. You’re maintaining two totally separate platforms. Even the largest organizations I know are often already feeling under-resourced for communicating about the primary message.

So, let’s keep moving on our little spectrum and we’re going to make our next stop on this. I’ve got a question, actually, from somebody who’s asking, “What about Jewish federations that are similar in their organization as P&G?” I’m actually going to share an example in a little bit that I think will address that. We’ll try to tackle that in a minute and we can come back to that more.

The next stop on our spectrum is an associated brand. Again, I think it’s useful to take a look at an example of this in the for-profit sector to begin to understand what it is. We see this a lot in the hotel world. So, for instance, the master brand of Marriott has different unique sub-brands, but they’re all related. They’re closely associated with each other.

So, each of these sub-brands is targeting a different type of traveler—the family traveler, the business traveler, etc. Each one of these logos and each one of these properties has some connection to each other. You know if you drive up to the Residence Inn that you’re still in a Marriott. They’re not hiding the master brand behind it.

We often see in the nonprofit sector associated brands in the peer-to-peer space. So, this is a client of ours that we’ve worked with for years and we’ve done a lot of branding work and brand architecture work. The identity you see on the left is the master brand, the organization is called Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. They have a peer-to-peer program called Race to End Duchenne. You can see that the visuals between these are closely related.

There’s a number of elements that would help them feel linked to each other, although they know that sometimes the people who participate in their peer-to-peer programs are not necessarily going to be connected as deeply to other things they do. They want to make sure they know what you’re running for or walking for, but they allow you to have your own kind of stuff, your own brand collateral under that associated brand.

So, in an associated brand, you have a parent brand, that master brand that is your organization’s brand. But you maybe have some sub-brand variables that are a little bit distinct. It might be a name that’s different or a visual that’s different. But there’s also some connective tissue. There’s some visual elements or messaging elements that make sure that people who know the sub-brand see the connection to the master brand.

Often times, one of the places this is very useful is when you get into things like different geographies or audiences that come in through a specific place. Often times, that master brand, that mothership can add some credibility or value. It almost legitimizes the sub-brand, as you see in the example with Marriott.

The challenge also with associated brands is that they still take a fair amount of staff work to maintain. You still have to create stuff that’s unique for your associated sub-brand. Again, for that reason, if you don’t have to do it, if it doesn’t feel like you’ve got to do it, we generally don’t encourage organizations to do it.

If I were launching a peer-to-peer program for an organization and I had the ability to make that peer-to-peer program look as much like the master brand, I probably want to do that because it would just be easier and simpler for me to maintain and it would be easier and simpler for the audiences we were trying to reach to understand this was a program of the organization.

But a lot of times where we see associated brands really take hold and become a necessity is when your organization has maybe merged or acquired another organization, so it’s adopted some properties that have already some unique elements or maybe when you’ve got a peer-to-peer program that has for a while had its own stuff and you can kind of move it in to your master brand family by giving it some common elements but maybe there’s just some things you can’t change because they’ve got too much historical significance for equity.

So, that’s an associated brand. As we move along towards the most unified end of the spectrum, the next stop is the connected brand, which is kind of like just one step in, a little bit tighter and more connected than we saw with the associated brand. Our for-profit example of this comes from FedEx. When you look at the FedEx system of logos, they all really look alike. You would not confuse any of these. You wouldn’t think any of these were a totally different company.

This connected brand architecture strategy is one that we often recommend and we find is really useful for those of you who have state affiliates or you’re a national organization that’s a part of an international family. It’s really easy to see how you can take the primary identity—the one on the left is our client, Educators Rising—and then you can adapt it to sub-brands that might be different by geography or other subtle variables without making it confusing, without losing that connection to the master brand.

So, in a connected brand, you might have multiple sub-brands, but they really look and feel like an extension of the parent brand. This is the child who looks just like the parent. And generally, we recommend that if you have to give things some kind of unique identity, that this is a really good place to start because there’s no doubt that the people who come in through the door of a particular sub-brand here are going to know that it’s connected to the parent.

I think it’s a really nice thing when you can have somebody who comes in at the local level or through an event really right out of the gate form a connection to the organization behind it, not really feel like there’s a big difference between the event or the local work or the program and the mothership.

So, with connected brands, really the challenge, if there is one, probably comes down to segmentation because particularly in a national versus local brand architecture situation, you’re going to want to have some messaging that is unique culturally confident geographically. You’re not going to want all these people in Austin, Texas, to get messages only from the national office.

You’re going to want them to feel like they are getting messages that are unique to their community in Austin. So, often times, you do have to be disciplined really about thinking, “Does this sound like us at the local level or at the sub-brand level as much as it sounds like us at the national level or at the parent brand level?”

So, we do have a question about this, “What about very rural areas?” I still think this applies and I think that’s a great example of smart segmentation. If you work for an organization that’s headquartered in a city and they’re producing content that somehow feels very urban or national or something and it doesn’t resonate in your rural area, using a connected brand and making sure you’re producing messages too that reflect the local community, that sound like the voice of people right here could be very helpful.

The final step on our spectrum—and we’re going to talk in a minute about co-branding too and I’m going to give you some tips for how to tackle all of this. The final step here is a master brand with programs. This is the most cohesive way you can develop brand architecture. Honestly, if we’re rebranding an organization and we have the ability to . . . they have the ability to start from scratch and we have the ability to recommend what we think is going to be easiest, we would generally recommend that most organizations try to do this, simply because it is the most efficient way to manage a brand.

One of the pieces of pushback we sometimes get about a master brand with programs is from larger organizations who say, “We do so many different things. We have all these different programs, different galas and events and client-facing programs. We really have to have a way that we message about them differently.” Yes, to some extent that’s true.

If we look at our for-profit world example, Walmart, Walmart is a huge company and it’s managing all kinds of different presences. It’s got retail locations. It’s got baby registries. It’s got all kinds of campaigns that they run. You can buy your groceries. In the slides you’re seeing, it all looks and feels and sounds like Walmart. They’re not . . . We don’t identify with, “Oh, Walmart Grocery, that’s different than,” or, “That’s my local . . .” or something. Your relationship is to the maser brand. It’s to Walmart, no matter which of its many initiatives you might use.

One example of that that we feel proud of is some work we did for an organization in Atlanta called the Atlanta Community Food Bank. When we were rebranding them, we all agreed that a master brand worked really well for them. They have a number of different programs and initiatives. But they’re all united under being in this organization focused on ending hunger and growing stronger. So, no matter what kind of program you’re engaged with, it is clearly the Atlanta Community Food Bank. It’s not the blah, blah, blah program.

So, in a master brand, we have one brand, no clear sub-brands. We try, if possible, to use descriptive program names, but we don’t give them their own logos, websites, unique visual properties. We don’t try to treat them as if they are too out on their own. They are most effective when the audience you’re trying to reach should ideally feel a connection to everything you do. If I come in through the door of program A and I should be interested in programs B, C or D, a master brand structure is going to be the easiest way to help me feel like I’m connected to one organization, one idea, one mission, not multiple programs or multiple events.

The reality is that any brand does require maintenance and it requires commitment. One of the biggest reasons organizations rebrand, I would say probably—well, it’s probably realistically the third or fourth top reason we hear—is they have gotten really inconsistent, that they’re putting out all kinds of different stuff all the time and it doesn’t feel as an organization like they’re speaking with one voice.

So, the nice thing about a master brand is if you are committed to maintaining it and enforcing consistency, you actually have a much easier time getting people on the outside to start to be aware of who you are and start to shape those brand perceptions that you want to reach.

Okay. I’ve got a question coming in that I’m going to just hang on to for a minute. So, I’ll come back to that in a second. I want to just quickly share one last variable with you. Not a lot of you flagged cobranding as a challenge. So, I’m going to move pretty quickly through this. But cobranding is when you are trying to do something collaboratively with someone else.

Maybe it’s an initiative like Fight Colorectal Cancer participated in the One Million Strong collection. So, they were trying to cobrand their identity with the One Million Strong Identity and you try to merge those things together. I would say this is a pretty successful example. It looks like one unique thing and it is sort of true or loyal to the cobranding partners of One Million Strong and Bayer Healthcare.

But cobranding can also be really challenging and it can go wrong. If you followed this cobranding challenge when Kentucky Fried Chicken went pink for Susan G. Komen For the Cure, this is a good example of when you put two brands together and this often happens with celebrities, the pros and cons of one become the pros and cons of the other. So, you have to be careful how you do it, not just from a visual point of view but from a perceptions point of view. You have to make sure you’re aligning yourself with corporations and other organizations and other initiatives that elevate your brand and add to the depth of the perceptions people have about you, not distract from them or pull them down.

So, what cobranding looks like is when you’ve got distinctive brands that get put together in some way and they’re usually happening through partnership. My advice to you is, as much as possible, if you can create something with significant sponsorship or donor support that’s unique, the better it’s going to be. It’s very hard to take two very different brands and find a way to express them in separate but equal terms.

When you are cobranding, I often find that it goes a long way if up front before you create anything, you have an honest conversation with your partners about what you’re going to produce, who’s going to produce it, who takes front stage, how those things are going to be invested in. So, not a lot of you were focused on this in the early chat, so I’m going to move through this quickly. I want to show you an example if you’re thinking you’re trying to make some changes and give you some suggestions for how to do that.

So, let’s first talk about the process. If you’ve been listening to me ramble on now for about a half an hour and you’re thinking, “Yeah, we need to get it together,” but you’re not really sure where to start,” this is a process I’d recommend you mull over and perhaps talk to people on your leadership team about. See where that takes you.

The first question is really what do your audiences need? This is where we have to take off our hats as communicators and put aside our agenda of wanting everybody to know everything we do and feel like everything we do is super important. We have to ask the question what do our audiences need? When they come in through a particular program or initiative, how important is it to us and how important is it to them that they have a particular experience or that they understand our organization in a particular way?

If you have ever created user personas or donor personas or client personas, I would encourage you to pull them out and use them here. Put yourself in the shoes of those personas, those profiles and ask what would they want. How did they come into your organization and how did they understand the complexity of what you do when they did?

Then think about the creative expression. If it’s clear to you that they should have a unified experience or maybe they shouldn’t have a unified experience in the example of the independent brand, how are you going to communicate it? How far should you go with differentiating things in your visuals and your language?

One of the things that we regularly see is that in a brand architecture assignment, there are usually some things that could be pulled in to the master brand and some things they can’t. So, when we are rebranding an organization, brand architecture is always a part of our process, and many of our clients, because they tend to be bigger organizations and often organizations that have been around for a while, maybe over the years they’ve created a lot of sub-brands.

They might have 5, 10—I’ll show you in a minute one with hundreds of sub-brands or members of their extended family. Some of them are going to be very, very hard to change and maybe not smart to change. Other ones might actually be able to kind of go away as unique sub-brands.

So, often times that creative expression becomes a mix. It’s not a super-tidy associated brand family or a super tidy connected brand family. It’s sort of a mix. Most of it follows one structure, but you might have an outlier here or there and that’s okay as long as you discuss number three, which is clear guidelines. What are the rules? Why is this one program allowed to have its own unique stuff and other ones not? How are you going to establish guidelines so that the next time you launch a new program or a new event, there are rules for this and people don’t go rogue and continue to make unique brands.

Finally, don’t forget to be realistic about what you can support and maintain because capacity is a very real issue here. I think you’ve probably gotten this from what I’ve said, but generally, as much as possible, use me as the fall guy and say I advise you to not give events their own logos unless you have a really good reason to do it because you’re just making it more complicated for the audience and making it more work for yourself.

I get it. If I were in your shoes, I might be saying, “Yeah, Sarah, I hear you, but it’s complicated.” If it’s complicated, one of the things we encourage you to do is to do an audit of your family of brands and make a decision tree. So, I want to show you a quick example of that and this comes from some work we did a few years ago for the Union for Reformed Judaism, URJ.

This is a very, very large organization with many, many sub-brands. You’re seeing a screenshot here of just a handful of some of their sub-brands and some of these sub-brands are very, very well-known. Like NFTY is a program that many, many people know and it has its own identity that is very well-known outside of URJ. But some of the other things they do may not be as well known.

Actually, when they hired us to help them work on their brand architecture, the first thing we did was we just categorized all of the different programs they had and we tried to put them into some sort of structural framework to understand what they were. Doing that helped us to identify which were the programs that really should be treated more on the independent brand spectrum. There were a handful of those. And which were the ones that could be pulled in to be more of a connected brand or an associated brand or even use the master brand. You end up with a mix.

For an organization this big or even an organization that just is complicated and has a lot of programs, what we often advocate is that you create a decision tree. So, what you’re seeing on screen here is a decision tree. I’ve actually blocked out, just to respect confidentiality of this organization, some of the key decision making factors.

But what you can see is there’s a question or an issue that is number one. If the answer to that is A, they go this way. If the answer is B, they go that way. Depending on the flow, how they answer each of these five questions will determine in the far right column what is the right brand solution. Is it use the master brand? Is it use the connected brand? Is it function as an independent brand?

So, if you’re in an organization that’s about to go through a lot of programmatic growth and you’re thinking about, “How are we going to do this in the future when we create new programs? Everybody’s going to want to do their own thing,” creating a decision tree like this actually would give you the ability to set some things into place that would mean you wouldn’t have to manage it reactively. You could proactively set people up.

So, we’ve got about 20 minutes left and we’re going to switch over to questions in a minute. There are already a handful of questions that I’ve got and I’m going to go to those in a minute, but I want to also share some resources with you and I’m want to give you the chance to chat in more questions if you’re stewing on some.

The first resource I want to share and I’m just going to chat this out also, a link to where you can download this is everything I have just talked you through is in an eBook and you can download it for free. Actually, the chat takes you to an eBook page. There’s a number of eBooks there. They’re all free. This one on brand architecture might be a really useful tool if you’re sitting here listening and saying, “Yeah, this makes sense to me, but I’m not the only person who needs to be convinced. I need to get my executive director or somebody else on board.”

I would encourage you to download this eBook and maybe share it internally or use it as a way to spark a conversation internally about where you should be. Steven mentioned my book, “Brandraising.” The book is on Amazon. If you’re listening to me thinking, “Well, this is all interesting, but I’ve got some fundamental questions about my organization’s brand,” you can, of course, contact me at Big Duck. We’d love to see if we’re a fit, or you can pick up my book and see if that gives you some of the tools you might need to try to do some things on your own.

So, I’m going to take a couple of questions right now and then I’ll share a couple of other things. So, the first question comes from Cathy. Cathy says, “What’s your recommendation? We have our own logo. Some programs have their own logos and others are associated with national funders with completely different logos, for instance, Head Start programs. How can we brand so that our audience know Head Start is part of the Rocky Mountain Development Council?”

So, that’s a good example where you may want to think about an associated brand structure or connected brand structure. If you’ve got programs or initiatives that have their own equity, you’ve got to find a way to get your name in there too. If you just brand it as Head Start or just brand it as whatever the other thing is, you’re not going to make that connection. So, I would encourage you to think about somewhere between the associated brand and the connected brand structure.

Steven, I’m just going for it with the questions you’ve been filtering over to me, but if you want to chime in and throw anything else at me, let me know, of course.

So, next question I’m seeing and then I’ll give you a couple more resources after this one is, “We’ve always made a new logo for our school auction each year as well as a name. How do I get away from that?”

I love that question. Michelle is flagging something that we see a lot. I think where that kind of thinking comes from is this idea that it is the logo or the name of the gala or the event that actually helps people understand that’s it’s going to be fun. I would actually discourage that fundamental or challenge that fundamental assumption.

If I come to your event and I have a great time and I love it and I think, “I’m going to definitely go to that event next year,” if the next year you send me an invitation that looks nothing like the event I attended with a brand new name, I think, “Wow, this sounds different,” whereas if you sent me an invitation that looked a lot like what I got the year before, what it’s saying to me is, “This is the same event for the same organization I attended last time.”

So, I think, again, it’s coming from this idea that changing the name, giving it a logo, all that kind of stuff is the way we signal to donors that we’re going to keep entertaining them, but don’t entertain them by changing the brand of the event. Keep the brand of the event consistent. Give it some sort of theme. Weave that into your copy, maybe a background image.

Use the copy to say how this event might be different or more fun than last year if you must do that, but if you’re running a successful event, you should not be spending, in my opinion, time and money to rebrand it every year, it’s a misallocation of resources. If you can use the template from last year and update it, you’ll probably find that a lot of people are delighted. They recognize the event faster and you might do better with your attendees.

I want to share a couple more resources and then we’ll get to some of the other questions we’ve got. Steven mentioned this too. Big Duck has a tool called the Brandraising Benchmark and you can find information about this on our site. Benchmark is a way that national organizations can measure if Americans are familiar with them, have heard of them, would donate to their work, find their mission personally relevant and more. So, if you’re interested in measuring perceptions about your brand, this is a useful report. This is a piece of research we do. So, this is not free, but it’s low cost, I think it’s $2,200 to participate in our upcoming benchmark, which is in January.

But this is free. This is an eBook called “The Rebrand Effect.” If you’re in an organization that feels like you need to make changes to your brand rather than sorting out brand architecture, “The Rebrand Effect” is a study on what happens to most nonprofits when they rebrand. We actually suppressed our clients and we did this national study. So, it’s statistically valid, good data that will help you really find out if rebranding can help you raise money, raise awareness, etc.

So, question in from Joy, “Can you speak more about overcoming the challenges of merging two brands when a smaller but more public-facing organization becomes part of a larger organization?”

Yeah. If you’re going through a merger or you’re acquiring another organization, my experience with how you manage the brand implications of that is that for most organizations, it’s going to be done in phases that in the first phase of a merger when organizations actually come together, unless it’s very clear that one is subsuming the other, in which case it’s clear that one is going away, potentially, it’s usually the case, more often the case that the organizations have what are called legacy brands and the people who work in those organizations are really going to have a hard time letting them go. There’s a sense of the loss of identity if all of a sudden your organization’s name or logo or something disappears.

So, generally in those situations, one strategy that can be helpful is to think of it in phases. Think about your year one strategy, where perhaps they exist side by side. In year two or beyond, sometimes there is a new name, a new identity that emerges, but then it’s used with a tagline that says something like, “Formerly the blah, blah, blah organization, or, “F ormerly the X and Y together organizations.”

So, you’re making sure that people on the outside who felt a connection to one of those legacy brands have a way to understand that it’s still connected. And then over time, I think you will find usually by year three or year four that merger or that acquisition is so far in the past that you’re much more able to do something bolder and more unified and not feel that you’ve lost something. So, that’s a quick option for that.

Anne has a question which is, “I’m the Creative Director at an organization that has built separate brands for each program before I came in. I’ve implemented a design system to recognize the parent brand in these pieces, but how can I slowly help the organization back up and have less separation?”

Anne, I would encourage you to try to do kind of an assessment. This is really, I think, something anybody can do who’s on this call and thinking about brand architecture. Print out or grab examples of all the unique brands you’ve created and put them out on the table. Lay them out and maybe invite your leadership team to look at them. Again, using that kind of audience persona way of thinking, ask yourself if I were a donor and I interacted with these different programs or these different sub-brands, what would I think? Would it be clear to me what their connections are?

Often times, by just putting stuff out on the table, inviting some frank conversation about it, you start to help people see that even if you’re consistent in the maintenance of these different brands, that it might actually be some amount of work for the people that are on the outside to interact with them and that it might be possible over time to streamline them. So, use this eBook if that’s helpful or try that exercise and bring your leadership team into the process of assessing how it all looks.

Chris asks, “We have an overall logo, but a division of ours has their own logo. Is it best to incorporate their name into our logo as the hotel chain does?” Not necessarily, Chris. I think that when you’ve got existing brand elements—names, logos, things like that—and you’re trying to rethink the structure, I would encourage you to start with the master brand.

What is your master brand strategy? What are the visual elements? What are the messaging elements and then how do sub-brands or key programs or initiatives relate? What’s the brand architecture strategy you want to use? The real question we think about in a lot of the work we do here is what has equity? If your sub-brand or your program or your peer to peer program has a lot of equity, a lot of name recognition, then you want to be careful how you change it.

There’s one example that we didn’t do but I think was very well done that I’ll cite as an example of this is Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Team in Training. If you can remember maybe 5 or 10 years ago, Team in Training had an identity that was purple. This is their Run, Walk, Ride program. Team in Training raises a lot of money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I think it’s actually like eight figures every year in people who do triathlons, runs, walks, rides, etc.

But the Team in Training stuff, the shirt you wore, everything you’ve got when you participated in Team in Training really looked nothing like the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society stuff. As a result, a lot of people didn’t realize they were fundraising for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

So, that organization rebranded and when they rebranded, they changed the visual identity of Team in Training too. They didn’t change the name. It’s interesting they didn’t change the name because I think what they understood and I presume they did research to back this up, I think the reality is a lot of people knew what Team in Training was and changing the name of that program, I potentially lose some of the people who are empowered by it.

So, what they did was they shifted the visuals as a way to connect the master brand to the program. There are other examples and I think March of Dimes is an example of this where the name of the program did actually change to become more connected to the master brand.

So, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. You really have to think about the equity that these different things have and you also, frankly, have to think about politics. A lot of times when we’re working on brand architecture, we’re having very frank discussions with what’s behind them. Sometimes there is a donor whose name is connected in some way or some other variable that you really have to make a unique adjustment for.

Okay. “Do you suggest a full media alert or marketing strategy to correspond with rebranding?”

That’s a great question. What I often encourage organizations to do is to think about the people that need to know about your rebranding in tiers. So, tier one are people who are insiders. That’s your staff, your board, maybe key volunteers, major donors. Tier one people, because they’re kind of like family, probably should not hear that you’ve rebranded by seeing it in a newsletter or reading about it in the local press. You probably want to call those people, write those people, do something that feels personal that helps them understand why you’ve done it.

Tier two might be people beyond that. Maybe those are donors above a certain level—clients, members, etc., and also with that group, I think it’s useful to proactively let them know why you’ve changed, especially if you’re changing in a significant way. If you’re organization, for instance, has changed its name or something like that, that’s a big deal. You don’t want your core constituents to be caught off guard by that or to think you’re no longer the same organization.

Tier three is everybody else. When you do a media blitz, when you get coverage in the press, you’re reaching everybody else. Frankly, those people are not that invested in your rebrand, so that’s fine. I wouldn’t start with that. I also think it’s important to remember that your rebrand is significant in your organization, but it’s not necessarily significant for people on the outside. You don’t necessarily want to make too big a fuss of it. You’ve got to think of it as you rebranded strategically to achieve something, so given whatever that thing is, what’s the most effective way to communicate it.

Okay. So, we’re kind of in the home stretch here and I know Steven’s got some things he’s going to wrap up on. We can, of course, take a couple more questions. I want to give also people a chance to just chat in if they have any takeaways or anything they want to share with me. I would appreciate hearing about that. Steven, do you think we should take one more question or do you want to shift over into some of your other stuff?

Steven:I don’t mind doing one more question if you don’t mind if it’s my question.


Steven:I was wondering what you thought of your poll, how there were so many people saying number four, that they had an event that was more well known than their actual brand. Maybe you can wax poetic on what you think is happening there and maybe if you think that’s a bad thing or a good thing. I wasn’t too surprised to see that given how event focused we are, but I was definitely struck by the amount of fours that came in during that poll.

Sarah:Yeah. I’m not surprised by it. I think for most organizations, it’s a byproduct of something I call accidental branding. It’s because sometimes it’s easier to create awareness for or build a brand around something like an event because you generate buzz. You do a lot to get out in the community and generate buzz around something particular like a gala or run, walk, ride or even a flagship program. So, sometimes just the marketing effort that you put in to whatever that thing is, it sort of gets out in front of you. It becomes better known.

We had a client years ago, the organization was called the Center for Children and Families and they had this terrific program called Safe Space. Safe Space was a facility for teenagers. It was like a drop-in center for homeless teenagers and runaways. This might have been in the late ’90s. At that time, the idea of a teen drop-in center for homeless kids was really innovative and Safe Space was a great name.

Safe Space consistently got a lot of media coverage. They were always getting written up. The Center for Children and Families, which was the organization behind it, had a hard time making sure that people knew that Safe Space was their program. At one point, when they were going through strategic planning and then subsequently going through rebranding, they actually made the decision to change the name of the whole organization to Safe Space.

Steven:I thought you were going to say that.

Sarah:We weren’t working with them at the time, so that wasn’t our advice, I would have given them. I thought that was a very smart move. The name Safe Space was a big enough bucket that it actually worked for a lot of things they were doing. I thought it was a very smart and strategic move. That doesn’t work in every case. We’ve certainly had clients where that wouldn’t have worked. But sometimes the program just eclipses the master brand and you have to just embrace the reality of it.

Steven:Yeah. That’s okay. There was a group in Indy who did the exact same thing. I thought you were going to allude to it. I love it. Well, we’re about out of time. There’s lots of good takeaways.

Sarah:Thank you. I just want to say thank you to Steven and thank you to the few hundred of you who took the time to geek out with me today on brand architecture. I hope that this has been helpful. That eBook will be useful and as Steven mentioned, he’s going to send a recording of this, a couple of you chatted in some struggles with hearing the audio or seeing the visuals. So, you will have it.

Steven:We’ll get all that good stuff to you. You’ll be able to download all of our from the slides and do that. They’re really good. I always say that about all of our guests, but I do select our guests pretty selectively and Sarah’s one of the good ones and I think you saw that over the last hour. Thanks for sharing all that with us, Sarah. It was really awesome, especially all the case studies, it was cool to see.

Sarah:Thank you. It’s been good fun.

Steven:We’ve got some resources on our website as well that you might want to check out. We’ve even got our big conference coming up, BloomCon in February. If you are in the Southwest specifically, check that out. If you want to learn more, you can look at the slides there when you get them.

We’ve got some great webinars coming up. We’ve got one next week, one week from today. Robin Cabral is going to join us to talk about developing your case for support, definitely something that is important. If you feel like maybe yours is lacking or could use a refresh or just want to hear what Robin’s take is, do join us. One week from today, totally free, 1:00 p.m. Eastern. You can register on our webinar page. There’s some other webinars there as well that might tickle your fancy. So check it out.

We’ll call it a day there. Again, look for an email from me with the recording and the slides and all Sarah’s goodies and hopefully we will talk to you again next week. Have a good rest of your Thursday and a safe weekend and we’ll talk to you again soon.

Sarah:Thanks, everybody. Thanks, Steven.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.