Impact Shakers
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Impact Shakers

Bracing for Impact: branding your organization

Tips on how to leverage your look & feel

In the world of buzz-bling-and-zing where we have to fight for eyeballs and brain cells, how do we get our brand to connect with people? For one, we have to stop treating our branding like a bag of potato chips: a quick fix so we can go on to other more important things. Branding can’t take a backseat to operational priorities, it has to help drive the bus.

The first rule of branding is don’t talk about the branding. Let the branding speak for you.

What can branding do for a social impact organization?

  • Raise your profile — and more importantly, that of your mission
  • Create a sense of cohesion across your touchpoints: from your website, business cards, press releases, print materials, social media and email
  • Build trust
  • Increase your supporters
  • Activate your network and funders

You can skip to the next paragraph if you have done your brand workshop and have a clear idea of your brand colors, tone-of-voice, tagline, etc. If you haven’t: you need to hire someone to lead you or spend a day Googling “how to have a brand workshop” where you define your beliefs and values and translate them into visual/spoken representations. Your job is to make the intangible tangible. Do not leave your logo to Canva or an online logo maker. Same for your brand palette, podcast and personality: put some thought into it. Now put some more.

Much of what you read about branding (which, to be clear, is not a person) uses principles that apply to human beings. According to neuroscience, people respond to brands much the way they do humans. Whereas a cow or a pencil might occupy certain areas of our brain, brands we like are stored in the same places as people. Instinctively you know this to be true when you think about the Mac or Tesla cult following.

How do you get your brand more adoration?

Here are eight tips by positioning consultant Justine Harcourt de Tourville to make your branding more thoughtful and effective:

  1. The first rule of branding is don’t talk about the branding. Let the branding speak for you. In storytelling, we often say the writer should “Show, not tell.” In branding, it should be “Feel, not tell.” There’s a reason 99% of banks prefer the color blue. Blue is a color that is synonymous with trust. And generally banking blue is boring and traditional — just like most people expect banks to be. Imagine if a bank was to opt for orange and purple as their color scheme!? It would shake things up, it would stand out — yes! But, does a tangerine-grape jelly combo intuitively convey “this bank will be around for a long time”? Stability is a feature people want to feel when they invest their money. Fun, psychedelic colors don’t do that for a bank. Branding is the art of helping people trust you.
  2. Perform a brand audit. A brand is not a logo. There are hundreds of elements that express your brand. Make a list of all of them (to get you started: brand palette, typography, tone of voice, mission/vision/purpose, brand values, brand personality, taglines, editorial guidelines, print materials, stickers, podcasts, speaking gigs, content calendar… you can come up with a hundred pieces of the brand puzzle). Review them and see what needs attention and then prioritize. Pro tip: use a pro (when possible).
  3. When humans make nanosecond judgements about whether they like you or not, they base their decision on two factors: competence and warmth. It is essential to concentrate on competence. Impact organizations live and die by their credibility. But do not underestimate the power of warmth! Studies show it matters more in decisions about likability. That means an organization needs to feel authoritative and welcoming. Even if you’re trying to solve problems stemming from the ugly (less photogenic) bowels of humanity where a clinical tone is often required, your clear human touch (evident in your language, voice and transparency) will determine if eyes look away or stay put. Be inviting. Great podcast episode on the topic from Kellogg School of Business here.
  4. Don’t rest on your laurels. While your audience wants to feel good, nowadays they also want the “and.” Think 1 + 1 = 3 approach. At San Patrignano, in Rimini, Italy, it’s not just that addicts are offered rehabilitation and recovery, it’s that they do this and learn a craft/trade, too (organic farming, weaving, cheesemaking among others). The brand is not about rehabilitation–which is essentially what they do–it’s about transformation, labor and economy. The best brands marry an emotional, touch-on-your-heartstrings approach, with a rational, quantifiable business outcome.
  5. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. If you ever wondered how the Kardashians got to be famous, it’s the same reason anyone got to be famous — they’re everywhere. Consistently repeating who you are and what you do increases familiarity. And if there’s anything that Trump and other despots have taught us: being a familiar face gives you money-making appeal. You can abuse this like influencers and politicians have, but you can also use repetition for good.
  6. Brand communication that feels like an ad will turn off your audience faster than halitosis. Use your social media to tell stories, not plug your logo. Any kind of communication that even has a hint of “commercial” will get minimal engagement. Instead, be human. Avoid stock photos and posed “Smile!” pictures, rather, capture what you’re doing and why it matters in the act. Saying “Be Sustainable” or “Go green!” is less effective than a short video with real people talking about what their bicycle commute looked like.
  7. In our world of goldfish attention spans, great visuals do more than words. (This bitter truth comes from someone who writes for a living). If you have to invest in one element, great photos will give you better mileage for your brand dollar than a t-shirt, recyclable tote bag or pen with your company name.
  8. Don’t forget to include thank you notes in your branding mix. People who feel appreciated give more and do more. You’re spreading good vibes, and if there’s one virus we could use today, it’s the contagion of feeling valued.

Too often we focus on our goals, our people and our numbers before we get around to branding. But how we make others feel is critical to our mission! If we pay attention to our branding, it can take us to where we want to go.

Justine is one of the judges in the Impact Shakers Awards.

With the Impact Shakers Awards, our goal is to celebrate the impact ecosystem, to showcase businesses working on societal challenges and to amplify the voice of underrepresented founders. We firmly believe entrepreneurs with a migration background are some of the most resilient entrepreneurs and we encourage you, who is reading this article now, to apply with your solution!

Apply for the inaugural Impact Shakers Awards as an impact business or forward this call to someone whom you think fits the profile and should be recognised.

Be part of the movement shaping the new economy by connecting impact movers and shakers around the world!



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Yonca Braeckman

Yonca Braeckman

Impact ecosystem builder and misfit champion