Growing up gracefully

Rebranding is a healthy, even necessary, part of the evolution of a charity’s identity and personality – and charities are seeing it boost awareness and fundraising.
Tags: Branding

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Rebranding is a healthy, even necessary, part of the evolution of a charity’s identity and personality – and charities are seeing it boost awareness and fundraising.

I’ve been meaning to write more about rebranding for a while. It’s an important topic for charities of all sizes, given how crucial a clear, compelling brand identity is in such a crowded marketplace.

But for some reason I couldn’t gather up and make sense of my many and mixed feelings on the topic without a decent metaphor (and who wants to read a dry blog about rebranding without a decent, or at least tenuous, overextended but amusing, metaphor?).

Then I stumbled across a favourite old photograph of myself. It was taken on holiday… let’s say well over 10 years ago. So I was looking young, healthy, bright, and relaxed. I was wearing possibly my favourite ever item of clothing (a green Triple 5 Soul t-shirt with “NYC Soul 89” and a golden-yellow apple emblazoned across it. Honestly, it was awesome). And I had a couple of parrots on my head.

I started wondering why I liked the photo so much. We humble bears don’t typically spend much time admiring ourselves on film – it’s all about the work. But I realised it’s because, a third of my life later, while I look and feel quite different, I’m still connected to and still the same person as the one in the photo. Older, maybe even wiser. Many more grey hairs. Much less parrot. 

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I could still make the t-shirt work, even if it wasn’t long worn-out. But I try to keep, or recapture, the fundamental, distinctive nature of the person in the photo. 

So that (yes, there is a point to this long, rambling intro), is how I feel about rebranding.

Organisations and their brands grow, develop and mature. What fit a growing brand might need to evolve if it’s going to keep a distinctive identity that’s effective and appeals to people. 

But it isn’t just making up a cool new name or a radically different look just to assert a new identity (I never changed my name by deed poll to Rakim or Consignia, or dyed my hair blue like others in the Ultimate Frisbee team). It’s about starting with that core of what you are, what you’ve got and what you want to keep, and refreshing and updating from there.

So when and why would you rebrand?

Investing your hard-earned funds in rebranding isn’t an easy call. First and foremost, though, you go for it if it’ll help you do more good. In one of the clearest examples, Marketing Week reported that when Macmillan overhauled its brand, it more than doubled awareness from 31% to 65%. Macmillan also increased fundraising by a whopping 45%, a massive boost to its mission. 

So why might you consider it?

  • If it’s just not doing it for you anymore. If your brand’s no longer working as hard for your cause as you do, it’s holding you back from delivering your mission. It might be that feedback from staff and volunteers is telling you this. That was the case for the children’s charity I Can, which said its old brand was holding it back, and recently rebranded to help reach more children.

  • To keep up appearances. It might just be that after a few years your brand identity has lost its lustre, and doesn’t seem fresh, distinctive, or appealing as times, tastes and trends have moved on. Like the hair, clothes, make-up and language of our younger days, the elements of a brand identity – brand names, fonts and typology, imagery, taglines, logos or symbols, tone of voice, colour palette, layout and design – can all become dated. Or conversely…

  • To suit grown-up you. As you’ve grown and evolved as an organisation, your brand might need updating to do justice to who and where you are now. If you’ve grown, and offer more to more people, your old brand identity might not stretch far enough. And as an established, mature organisation, what looked fresh and fitting in your youth might not suit your style and personality now.

  • To turn the page if something’s gone wrong. I’m not necessarily talking existential crisis, significant negative event or reputational damage. But like all organisations, charities face difficult times, while being held to high standards and scrutiny. And sometimes things go wrong, or just don’t work out as planned. So a freshening up of your identity can help draw a line and create fresh impetus.

  • To signal a new direction. Like someone updating their wardrobe before starting at university or launching a new career, a new strategy – whether it’s targeting different activities, priorities or services, is a new phase and direction in your charity’s life. Your existing brand might not be cut out for it, or at least would benefit from a refresh to make the strategy more successful. And likewise…

  • To raise your appeal with that special someone. If you’re prioritising and targeting particular audiences – whether that’s new and different groups, or just trying to get more attention – then a refresh of your brand can really help.

How do you make sure you get it right?

Reviewing and refreshing your brand might be the right thing to do, but it’s not without cost, risk and rightful scrutiny from trustees, staff and donors.

So (waaaay overextending the personal appearance metaphor), how do you make sure it’s not the branding equivalent of an ill-advised and short-lived goth phase?

  • Take stock first: use research, insights and a brand audit to get good, objective insight into how your brand is really experienced, and what really is and isn’t working for you.

  • Check the mirror: getthe perspective of your people, and make sure you get direct frontline feedback as part of your review and rebranding.

  • Be daring but honest: you’ll want a new look that’s memorable and distinctive, but not just for the sake of it. Aim for ‘new but still you’. Stay true to the personality and purpose of your organisation, and work with people who take the time to understand and care about it like you do.

  • Don’t spring a shock: communicate across all your channels throughout the process to keep staff, volunteers and donors informed about what you’re doing and why.

  • Take good advice: doing all of the above, well, isn’t easy. But the results show it’s worth investing in and you don’t necessarily need a bumper budget. Find the right partner – a dedicated expert who’ll get to know and care about your organisation and its mission, and what makes it distinctive.

Northern Bear can help

We’re a friendly creative agency dedicated to working with charities and not-for-profit organisations.

We work with small and medium-sized organisations on branding, strategy, design, websites and campaigns to help raise awareness and funding so together we can DO MORE GOOD.

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