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Why charities should be the best at brand building – and what your business can learn from this!

Published November 3, 2023

The significant growth of the charity sector, the rise of activist groups and continued emergence of excitingly energetic social enterprises play an important role in how we make ‘buying’ decisions. What I mean by the term ‘buying’ is quite simply either where we put our cash, or on a deeper level, what we buy into empathetically.

From classically televised charity brands like Band Aid, Comic Relief and Soccer Aid, to more disruptive groups like Just Stop Oil, there is no denying that brand identity, positioning, language and tone, has played a critical role in the success of these organisations gaining traction, following, membership and influence.

The thought I want to provoke is this. We aggressively see the commercial world executing brand influence with sizeable, unapologetic momentum. It doesn’t take long to start listing brands as a population we’re constantly buying into… BMW, H&M, EE etc. Even if we don’t engage, like or respect these brands, they still have real estate in our minds and equity in our markets. Further to this, their commercial energy offers great inspiration to growing SME’s, micro business’ and start-ups. But when it comes to the charity space, there still seems to be a slowness and awkwardness to activating this level of brand excitement.

During my charity networking over the last year, one of the most powerful statements I heard in a coms workshop (that explored helping young people in traditionally poorer communities), is this:

“Are they hard to reach, or are we hard to find?”

The answer for me, is that they’re not hard to reach at all for aspirational brands, if anything, they’re quite accessible. But for organisations making a difference, there is a gap, and a tricky one at that – and we can’t allow the people we’re reaching to be at fault if we haven’t got our brand communication ducks in a row.

Here’s why I think charities should make the best brand builders:

1. What is a brand?
A brand is an idea that exists beyond a product or service. It’s an idea with a sense of mission. An idea that when executed offers value, convenience and more importantly belonging. This idea can be tangibly crafted through a system of authentic values executed with relentless consistency. A very brief example, brand = Virgin Idea = Adventure

2. What is brand building?
It’s the exercise of not just increasing reach and furthering engagement, it’s the concept of sustaining memorability in the hearts and minds of the people you’re reaching. It’s the ability to be the first thought, or phrase on the lips of a ‘consumer’ when a particular theme is in play. For example: Phones, Apple. Cars, Ford. Although these examples are global and historic, the principles apply in more nuanced contexts within the detailed fabric of our lives. You may have a local hair salon you like, brand will play a part in that.

3. How do you brand build effectively?
Well you have to understand how and why people make buying decisions, as well as what influences the ideas they adopt. A well known psychological analogy is one from Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in which he tells the story of an elephant and its rider. The rider being a person’s reason, and the elephant being a person’s emotion. The story put simply is the rider trying to guide the elephant, and does a decent job, but in the end, the elephant overpowers. It’s the science of how our emotions, empathetic belief system and personal values make the buying decision for us. And when we use reason, it’s more to structure how we make the decision rather than the decision itself. With this in mind, charities are well positioned to persuade at this more abstract level.

4. So why could charities be the best at it?
Well one thing that’s for sure, is that authenticity is trending – and it’s not going away. In a recent study, it was found that 88 percent of consumers say that authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support (Stackla). And with authenticity comes transparency. According to a survey, 74 percent say transparent communication has become more important after the COVID-19 pandemic (Salesforce). With society leaning into more human centred causes, thought provoking narratives and a major ask for brands to be more empathetic, surely there has never been a better time for charities to actively engage in the world of brand communication. Both on an employee brand level, and in the public influence domain.

Now is the time to dust off that brand tool kit, find your authentic value system and start building like never before.

If you’re interested in some initial consultation about how your organsation could be more relevant, active and influential as a brand, don’t hesitate to get in touch by visiting or emailing [email protected].

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