Your Nonprofit’s Marketing, Branding and Messaging – Q&A with Malayna Williams

Malayna WilliamsToday’s insights into nonprofit marketing, branding and messaging come from Malayna Williams, managing partner at PWR New Media. You can hear more of Malayna’s insights on this topic at the upcoming half-day workshop “Creating Brand & Message Consistency From the Inside Out”, Feb. 4, 2015 at North Park University. Read more and register now.

What exactly does the word MarCom mean?

I was recently asked to give a definition of MarCom (Marketing Communications). My quick answer was that MarCom refers to the methods a brand uses to establish relationships with its stakeholders. This is a pretty simple definition, and one could quibble, but the word I would highlight is “relationships”. If you approach your MarCom strategies and tactics by framing the efforts as a way to advance the relationship between a brand and its stakeholders, this framework keeps you focused on what really matters.

What are the key elements of a strong brand identity?

For MarCom tactics to truly work, they must be built around a brand identity that is RECOGNIZABLE, COHERENT and LIKABLE. Your brand’s personality must make sense, and it must make sense in a way that our brains can easily recognize and categorize. (Cognitive dissonance is very bad for marketing!) A brand is much more effective if people like the personality your brand creates and shares!

What are some common mistakes that nonprofits make when it comes to branding?

Eroding brand consistency is a common mistake for many nonprofits.

This is probably due in part to limited human resources: nonprofits often don’t have a single person who owns the branding, but rather have different people own parts of it with no guidelines to ensure consistency. As a consequence, it’s not uncommon to find nonprofits whose online branding is totally different than their print branding, who have one voice in their annual report and a totally different voice on their website, or who use one color palette in their appeals but a different palette in their newsletters. Over time, the different designers, printers, web developers and even staff members slowly (and unintentionally) erode the brand.

On the other end of the spectrum, a less common but still deadly problem is sometimes found with brands who have access to a great designer, and let her/him make all the decisions. Here’s a secret about good designers: they LOVE to make every project look as good as it can look. But all that fabulousness can dilute the brand if the aesthetics of individual projects trump brand guidelines. No single piece of creative work should overshadow the brand–ever!

Can you highlight one best practice with respect to branding?

One best practice that takes any brand’s identity to the next level is visual storytelling. People understand the world around them through narrative, and our eyes are our most active sense. Telling stories about a brand in a visually appealing way can really increase engagement, help explain and summarize complex information, speed up comprehension and tug the heartstrings…which motivates actions that include donating to your nonprofit!

I’ll let you in on a secret: nonprofits have a huge advantage when it comes to storytelling. While for-profit brands are turning themselves into pretzels trying to figure out how to tug the heartstrings of their audiences, nonprofits have those stories in the bag because so many nonprofits truly do help people. Even better is that people love stories about overcoming. Many nonprofits simply need to learn how to package and promote the stories that are happening all around them.

Can you give a few examples of how nonprofits could employ visual storytelling to their benefit?

E-newsletters are a terrific place to feature the people you help. Start by sharing images, slideshows, flipbooks and videos featuring your clients. These stories and associated assets are very social media-friendly, so share away and make sure every asset you create is transferable, so others can share them as well.

Visual storytelling can enhance appeals as well, and that drives revenue. Get specific about where donated dollars go. Tie the stories of how your mission makes a difference directly to donations, so stakeholders really understand the role their dollars play in the stories. Consider a series of videos or infographics that tell donors how many pencils, how much dog food or how many hours of childcare their donations enable. It’s a great way to drive home the fact that donors truly do change lives. And that makes donors feel as special as they truly are.

Annual reports can also benefit from this tactic. Try thinking of your annual report as another storytelling vehicle. Figure out what stories and elements sing and beef them up. Create a digital version of your annual report with animated elements, such as charts with bars that grow, a video background or animated images that move to show a single client’s life improving with your help.

Ready to learn more about this topic? Register for Creating Brand & Message Consistency From the Inside Out”, Feb. 4, 2015 at North Park University.

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