With the popularity and responses to our article on brand filters, I thought I would delve a little more into the topic of branding and specifically your brand positioning and image.
Here are a few benchmarks for assessing the strength of your brand position/image:
1) Common understanding (of your positioning): this boils down to how you are perceived by your various stakeholders. And specifically, how, when asked (in a survey perhaps), they would describe you. The consistency, or lack thereof, will be the best indicator of how you are perceived and understood – from both the standpoints of what you do (what is your organization’s purpose, focus, or mission) and how you do it (and everything that that says about you: how you behave, the things you value, etc.)
Further, there is as much value to understanding the gap that may or may not exist among your external stakeholders as there is for your internal stakeholders. So be sure to assess understanding internally as well. In fact the later may be more critical as your internal stakeholders (your staff, your board, your volunteers, etc.) are the ones who ultimately disseminate your messages outward. If there is confusion or lack of understanding on the inside, that is typically correlated to the same for the outside.
Notwithstanding whether the positioning is good or bad, right or wrong, the idea here is simply to establish whether there is a common perception or understanding about your organization, its function and capabilities. A common understanding validates that you are consistent in the dissemination of your message/story (a good thing).
2) Compelling (positioning): plain and simple, this is reflected by the degree to which your stakeholders are moved by the work that you do and compelled to take action or become involved. Does your brand hold clout? Where are you perceived within your area of expertise? When you speak do people listen, believe, follow, react? The “compellingness” of your organization may come from your authority (in the case of government or a regulator), or it may come from the uniqueness and specificity of your area of focus and/or your experience and credentials.
In so far as it is compelling, the strength of your brand positioning is determined by your influence or the degree to which you have the capability to influence: the stronger your capability to influence the stronger your brand positioning.
3) Unique & demonstrable (positioning): I certainly can’t write an article about positioning without reinforcing the fundamental principal at the route of all positionings, which is that they must be unique and demonstrable (you must have a USP). The strongest positionings are those that are specific and articulated in a way that provides clarity about who you are and what you do. And of course you must be able to substantiate the claim that you are making. Many nonprofits and associations are established to serve a specific cause so this (USP) tends to be in place at the outset. We don’t talk a great deal about “competition” in the nonprofit space (unless it is for donor dollars). We have allies, partners, sister organizations, local branches, etc. that each serve a specific and unique purpose. The challenge is more so in the simplicity with which you are able to articulate it (your purpose).
Nevertheless, the specificity (and validity) of what you do feeds into the overall strength of your brand.
4) Strengthened by association: here I am referring to the associations you make with other organizations, causes, or even the position you take in response to something. Your brand is strengthened or weakened by virtue of association. Attaching your brand to an affiliate cause, event or organization shows support. And the reverse is also true. Whether we call it politics or public relations, your actions and behaviours affect the strength of your brand positioning as people make assumptions and form perceptions about you based on those principles.
Evaluate whether your affiliations are strengthening your brand positioning and why.
5) Consistently applied: the verbal and visual representations of your brand speak to all those things that make you who you are and what you are about. Tremendous brand equity is derived from the visual elements of one’s brand identity especially when applied consistently and creatively. I am emphasizing creatively because I want to be clear that I am not suggesting a “matching luggage” approach to designing communication materials. (Although if your materials are not tied together in any formal fashion, this can be a solid strategy to start with). Tangent aside, there is built-in room for creative license within even in the most rigid of brand standards (the foundations upon which you can build that brand equity). That “room for creative license” is how you can continue to develop new messages, new campaigns, unique publications, etc. that are still clearly branded you. Your brand guidelines are there to ensure continued reinforcement of your identity and position within the context of each opportunity you have to communicate. Evaluate those visual cues (in addition to your logo) that your stakeholders associate you with to identify where your brand equity lies.
The stronger (and more recognizable) your communications, the stronger your overall brand positioning.
Ideas are generated out of the necessity to solve problems or change perceptions. Armed with the intelligence and data from the answers to these questions, you are better equipped to make decisions about where you may or may not need to make adjustments and you can plan strategically about your communications and message dissemination priorities moving forward.