Building a charity brand which embraces digital

Chris Michaeloudis comments on how charities can create their own narrative with a brand fit for the digital age as part of a comprehensive approach to communications.

Brand consistency is about having a visual identity that works offline and online.

With 180,000 charities on the Charity Commission register, all vying for public attention and support, charities today are facing more communications challenges than ever before. When you factor in the uphill battle to restore public trust in the sector due to negative media stories in the last few years, it’s clearly time for a new approach.

Charities need a new narrative if they are to win back the hearts and minds of the public. They need to behave more like commercial brands and build engagement with audiences to restore faith. But how do you build a strong brand in our digital age? How do you ensure consistency, clear messaging and engagement across multiple platforms? In short, how do you ensure your charity’s brand is optimised for digital?

Getting your story straight

Before a charity can begin to communicate its brand effectively it needs to start with a core story and a clear vision. This story and vision should focus on the WHY of the organisation more than the WHAT. Clarifying why the charity does what it does tells your audiences a great deal more about you as a brand, than simply describing what you do.

There are so many charities out there all delivering worthwhile services, why should someone choose to engage with your charity specifically? Why do people choose Coke over Pepsi, or Nike over Reebok? It’s about brand engagement.

Be part of the conversation

As charities you are in a privileged position of having very personal relationships with your supporters, donors and beneficiaries that go way beyond the transactional. Build on this; don’t make them feel taken for granted; make them feel part of your story. Branding is no longer a one-way communication – the impact of consumer behaviour on the internet, social media and mobile has been radical. Charities can no longer rely on communicating their messages out to a passive audience; they have to engage.

And now it’s a two-way street, people have control over how they interact with your brand and what they say about your charity to huge online audiences. While this generates an element of risk, it is also an enormous opportunity. But you need to be prepared for this level of engagement and the first “must-have” is a strong, consistent and empathetic brand identity that runs through your entire organisation.

Make it personal

Knowing the views and behaviours of your audience has never been more important. Data and research will help you understand your audiences, what’s important to them, what motivates them. Use donor personas to create a picture of each of your audiences. Once you understand your different audiences, it will be far easier for you to create more personalised, appropriate and engaging content.

Most importantly, really think about what your audience wants to hear not just what you want to tell them. If you can keep people engaged by sharing genuinely useful and interesting information which supports your brand, you are more likely to generate a loyalty and trust which will pay dividends over time.

For example, your supporters may become brand advocates – people who will contribute to your blogs, share your stories and become your ambassadors. Individuals like this who have really bought into your story can help raise awareness by getting your message out to the wider community and even prompting action.

Mind your language

Identifying a relevant tone of voice will also help you identify with your audiences. So find a style of language and a range of vocabulary which resonates with the people you’re talking to and which reinforces your brand values and story. Then make sure that this is rolled out consistently across all your print and digital platforms.

Make your identity clear

Digital or no digital your brand should communicate what is unique about your charity. Your visual identity is the embodiment of your brand identity and as such should reflect your vision, mission and values. Consumers should have a seamless experience of your brand whether they are on your website, skimming your Twitter profile, reading a printed newsletter or on your premises.

Brand consistency today is not just about making sure your logo is in the right position, using the correct font and colours. It’s about having a visual identity that works offline and online. It’s worth remembering that what might look beautiful on a printed page might not work so well on a scrolling mobile phone screen. So choose a font which is not only distinctive and appropriate but which is also readable across all digital formats.

Talking of which, it’s no longer an option to ignore mobile and tablet formats. The percentage rise in people accessing the web through mobile is fast and exponential. People don’t just engage with your brand from their desktop; they are on their mobiles on the commute home and playing with their iPads while they watch TV. So make sure your digital branding is good for all formats and devices.

Last but not least, make sure that your logo is optimised so that it’s easily recognisable across all of your platforms. From social media thumbnails to mobile typography you will need to consider size, shape and legibility.

Be consistent and relevant

Here is an example of how a logo can act really powerfully, The Egypt Exploration Society (EES) which had been using the same visual identity since 1892. It wanted to update what was essentially a Victorian seal partly to appear more relevant but mainly so that it had a design which worked well across all its digital and social media platforms as well as in print.

After some initial research, a choice of options was developed with the EES staff and board members making the decision as to which option to go forward with. The resulting new logo is bold and contemporary but instantly recognisable. It enhances the strengths of the previous logo – such as the Egyptian imagery – and addresses the problems found during our research – such as legibility.

The distinct design replaces black ink with blue and features an iconic Horus child sitting on top of an open lotus flower. This unmistakably Egyptian imagery appropriately symbolises rebirth and regeneration and the new look is currently being used across all EES print and digital publications including the EES e-newsletter, the Annual Report and Egyptian Archeology magazine. Audiences have responded positively.

Egypt Exploration Society Old Logo
Egypt Exploration Society Old Logo
Egypt Exploration Society New Logo Development
Egypt Exploration Society New Logo Development
Egypt Exploration Final New Logo
Egypt Exploration Final New Logo

Be comprehensive

The point of the example is to underline the fact that branding has to operate across all a charity’s communication channels and that any rebranding exercise should be comprehensive.

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