Think + Do » an exploration of mission-driven marketing and design

Living the Brand

Whenever we work on a branding project, the most-anticipated moment for the client is often the “big reveal,” the creative presentation. While there’s an undeniable allure to seeing pixels or printouts mysteriously conjured out of thin air – or, better yet, some serious research – rarely is there as much excitement for the heavy lifting that follows a brand launch.

To succeed long-term, an organization must evolve from awareness, to promotion, to passionate advocacy of its brand. Sometimes referred to as “living the brand,” this involves deliberately aligning processes, systems, and employees in support of a shared promise. In other words, what you say and how you act on a daily basis has as much bearing on your organization’s success as any website or brochure.

Graph with the title "Building Brands Takes Time." The graph shows how a brand evolves through time.

Recently, I looked into donating my old car to charity. My first call was to an organization that was top-of-mind – an ad proclaimed their interest in donated cars. Doing a little research on their website, it wasn’t readily apparent what the donation would fund, but I found a phone number. Undeterred, I called to ask a few questions.

On the phone I was greeted by an operator with all the enthusiasm of a teller at the DMV. After slogging through the interrogation, she told me to call back to schedule a vehicle pick-up when I had my VIN# handy. Now, I wasn’t expecting her to gush over my generosity, but after that phone experience I decided to see who else takes cars. For that nonprofit, it was a missed branding opportunity.

The next day, on the way to the auto dealer, my car was rear-ended in traffic. Even though this needlessly complicated my intended donation, dealing with the driver’s insurance company was a pleasure. In order to process my claim, I spoke with two representatives by phone and a claims specialist in person. All were remarkably friendly, upbeat, and helpful. This doesn’t happen by chance. More likely, this company hires well, trains well, or both. It’s part of their brand.

Having told this story to a half dozen people, I can’t help but wonder: How many paid advertisements is that worth?

Because brands only exist in the minds of consumers, paying heed to the brand experience is critical. Paraphrasing the Chinese proverb: Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. By reinforcing the brand through everything you do, non-profit organizations can shape perceptions more indelibly than with marketing materials alone.

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