This article appears in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

New Year, New Brand?

Three questions that can help nonprofits determine whether it’s time to refresh their brand.

By Doug Hattaway and Kyle Schnoebelen

This year’s Super Bowl ads featured a litany of companies linking their products to what seemed like completely unrelated value statements. Stella Artois jammed its brand into a Matt-Damon-led appeal for clean water, while Coca-Cola wrapped itself in the tapestry of American diversity. Stirring controversy and conversation, Ram Trucks hitched its trucks to a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon about the value of service.

Some viewers found the RAM Trucks ad linking its brand to the values in an MLK speech clumsy, and even in poor taste. Source: RAM Trucks / YouTube.

The prominence of values-driven marketing during the big game was no accident. Millennials — now the largest generation of consumers ever — increasingly demand that the brands they interact with not only provide value in their products and services, but also speak to the generation’s values. Research produced by our firm, Hattaway Communications, has found that 9 out of 10 consumers want to make purchases that reflected their values. Marketers have responded accordingly.

Though the shift to values-driven brands and marketing strategies may be novel among big businesses that sell soda and trucks, nonprofits and other organizations whose work benefits people and the planet should take note. Many organizations dedicated to good causes don’t communicate effectively about their values. As a result, they miss opportunities to reach donors who could help scale their operations and people who could take actions such as calling their government representatives.

In the long term, rapid changes in demographics, culture, and communications can leave organizations looking outdated and out-of-touch, jeopardizing their ability to create change. Younger generations unfamiliar with an organization won’t know that its work aligns with their values unless the organization tells them.

Our team has helped a wide variety of organizations update their brands to connect with a new generation and meet the challenges of today’s rapidly changing communications landscape. As we enter 2018, nonprofit marketers and communicators can ask these three questions — illustrated by examples from three of the organizations we’ve worked with — to determine if now is the time for a brand refresh focused on values.

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