26 Jul The 4Ps of Branding and Why It Matters for Your Nonprofit
Nonprofits live and die by their brand story.
Unlike consumer companies with services and products to pitch, what you have to “sell” is your story. It’s what attracts your most passionate followers and gets them to buy into your mission and vision. It also helps you raise awareness, build credibility, and, ultimately, attract financial and in-kind support.
But many nonprofits don’t spend enough time thinking through their story and how to tell it in the most powerful way. That’s a huge missed opportunity. Beware of becoming an “accidental brand.” If you don’t brand yourself, someone else will.
That’s because the definition of a “brand” is the culmination of all the touchpoints that people experience as they encounter your organization in the world. This includes (but certainly not limited to) your website, your promotional materials, your events, your employees, and your impact on the communities that you serve. Your brand story creates a through line that connects the dots for your “customers” and shapes the overall perception of your organization.
A good place to start when thinking through your brand story is a useful framework called the 4Ps of branding: Purpose, Position, Personality and Promise.
Why does your organization exist? The answer to this seemingly simple question will lead you to your purpose. It requires thinking through your core values, beliefs, and what truly defines your nonprofit.
Your purpose is your north star. It provides direction for your entire organization, from the front-desk receptionist to your CEO. Operating principles can change, but your values endure. If your purpose comes from your organization’s heart, it doesn’t matter if you need to pivot at some point. Your identity remains intact.
Understanding and communicating your core purpose as a nonprofit is crucial to creating your brand story. It’s the foundational piece that allows you to build the rest of your story. Team Rubicon does an excellent job of explaining how the organization came into existence and why they do what they do.
Why are you different? How are you doing things better than other organizations tackling your specific cause? Why should a donor support you versus another nonprofit in the same space? Do you take a comprehensive approach to addressing your cause, or do you focus more narrowly on a particular part of it? Are you known for innovative solutions or more tried-and-true approaches?
Your positioning helps you separate your brand from your competitors. In fact, one definition of branding is defining yourself in such a way that you create a sense of differentiation in the consumer’s mind. Positioning helps consumers decide which brands to support.
Your positioning should be aligned with your purpose. It should also be part of a well-thought out brand strategy, especially if you’re considering changing your positioning. The better you can communicate your position to your audience, the easier it will be for them to understand your story, and the easier it will be for them to support your organization.
Lastly, positioning is important both externally and internally. Of course your supporters need to know why you’re different than other nonprofits, but so should your employees and volunteers.
What’s your voice? How do you speak to your stakeholders? Do you speak with a more serious or more playful tone? Optimistic or pessimistic? Aspirational or more practical?
Your brand’s personality is the tone and style of your communications, and it shows up on your website, social media posts, printed materials, email marketing campaigns, and other places where you’re connecting with your audience. Your personality can go a long ways toward differentiating your organization from similar nonprofits. Remember that branding is essentially an exercise in differentiation.
As an example, The Keep A Breast Foundation has made a name for itself by projecting a youthful, spirited vibe that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Launched in 2008, its famous “i love boobies” bracelet campaign has been a humorous — and hugely effective — way to get millions of young people to think about breast cancer prevention. By taking on a slightly edgy, playful personality, the foundation differentiates itself among breast cancer nonprofits while also appealing to a younger audience, especially millennials.
How will you improve the lives of your stakeholders? What does your organization do and how is going to do it?
Your brand promise is an extension of your purpose. These are the direct and indirect benefits that your organization claims it can and will deliver when people experience your brand. Often times, it’s a very tangible promise. For example, FedEx promises to deliver your package overnight no matter what. Casper, the online bedding company, promises to provide “obsessively engineered mattresses at a shockingly fair price.”
Your brand promise can also be more aspirational and inspirational. United Way’s promise frames how the nonprofit communicates and innovates: “We win by living United. By forging unlikely partnerships. By finding new solutions to old problems. By mobilizing the best resources. And by inspiring individuals to join the fight against their community’s most daunting social crises.”
Brands that deliver consistently on their promise build trust with consumers, which leads to loyalty and greater sales over time. The same thing happens in the nonprofit space. That’s why it’s critical to maintain trust and transparency with your stakeholders. If they can see that you’re delivering on your brand promise, they’re more likely to give you their support.
Bring It All Together
As you build out your annual programs and campaigns, think about about how you’re going to communicate your 4Ps: Purpose, Position, Personality and Promise. Use this framework as a guide to shape every touch point you have with your stakeholders. Ask yourself: Does this clearly align with each of my organization’s 4Ps? How are we reinforcing our brand with this piece of collateral, email message, brochure, or event? Once you have them fully developed, no doubt you’ll find yourself going back consistently to these 4Ps.
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