Branding has existed in human practice throughout our history and across cultures. It has been a tool to express everything from ownership to identity. As a result of the industrial revolution, more businesses had the ability to create products on scale. This resulted in the need to differentiate themselves from similar producers. More recently major changes in technology have enabled an infinite number of businesses to replicate and sell products economically, increasing competition within the marketplace.
Brand has always been a concept born from the commercial market, where the ultimate outcome is increased profit and market share. Which raises concern over the same concept being applied to nonprofit and social impact organisations. For these organisations, the ultimate outcome is fairer, inclusive and sustainable world.
This article seeks to explore what differences exist between profit and purpose-driven organisations. It puts forward a case for a different approach to creating and maintaining purpose-driven brands. Ultimately the aim is to help your organisation succeed and deliver on your shared purpose – to create a better world.
Put simply the main objective of profit-driven organisations is to ensure sustainable profit margins are maintained through efficiency in production and increasing market share.
The major focus of branding over the past 20 years is the shift from tangible assets such as name, logos and consistent visual attributes to more intangible elements such as emotional benefits and brand personality. Modern brands attempt to both capture the emotional needs of consumers and connect with their values.
In recent decades corporate branding focuses less on the product level and more on building the brand around corporate values. This is expressed through marketing, social media content, and organisational culture. It is also heavily influenced by customer service and a consumer’s experience, both physical and online of the brand.
It is safe to say that the ultimate function of brand is to ensure a competitive advantage through differentiation. This advantage leads to a larger market share, which ultimately leads to increased profit. In this function, brand values can change, and often quite dramatically.
An example of this at its worst, is Pepsi’s attempt to connect with Millennials and the causes that matter to them. This global advertising campaign was, safe to say, an epic fail.
We see purpose as a combination of core foundational values and beliefs that drive an approach to change the world we live in for the better. This can apply to charities, philanthropy, foundations, impact investors, and enterprises that are founded on principles of social impact and long-term sustainability.
What then is the function of brand for these organisations? Is it also competitive advantage through differentiation? Or should it play a larger and more positive role in assisting organisations to deliver social good?
There is strong supporting evidence that brand plays a significant role in the success of any contemporary organisation.
“Strong brands help organisations acquire financial, human and social resources, the trust of which affords them authority and credibility to deploy resources more efficiently and flexibly than organisations with weaker brands”
Kylandar & Stone, 2012
The Role of Values
In her paper “An Investigation Into The Value Dimensions of Branding: Implications For The Charity Sector”, Helen Stride introduces metaphors for brand and its relationship to values. She explores this relationship and how we might better protect charities from behaving like many commercial brands.
The first is where brand acts as a ‘mirror’. The brand reflects the values that underpin the needs and desires of consumers. If a brand is perceived to have these values, consumers are more likely to be loyal. An organisation’s brand, therefore, shifts with the changing desires of consumers, and in turn, so do their values.
When a brand seeks to influence or persuade consumers to adopt new values is seen as a ‘lamp’. The brand management then ensures that the organisation adopts and reinforces these brand values. The brand is more of a persuader seeking to introduce values to both consumer and organisation. The brand personality is often laden with ‘distorted individual and social values’.
A brand that acts like a ‘lens’, focuses on the values and purpose of the organisation with authenticity and clarity. The brand seeks to differentiate itself from core intrinsic values and their purpose. These values are humanist and fixed. They should never be compromised as a reaction to the changing demands of the marketplace.
Looking at these three metaphors, it is clear that for-purpose organisations need to adopt brand as a ‘lens’ on values and purpose. Only by doing so can people trust the brand is a true reflection of the organisation itself.
A Different Approach to Building an NFP Brand
An alternative approach to branding within the not-for-profit sector was developed by Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone. The Nonprofit Brand IDEA is a framework the researchers developed after 18 months of research with Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organisations and the Rockefeller Institute. It was the result of 73 structured interviews with not-for-profit execs, comms directors, consultants, and donors from 41 organisations.
The framework consists of the below:
- Integrity refers to the internal identity, ensuring that it is aligned with the external image and that both are aligned with the mission. By ‘integrity’ the authors argue that it is the structural integrity connecting mission and values with organisational identity. It is important that everyone internally is connected to this identity.
- Democracy implies that the organisation trusts that all internal people can communicate their own understanding of the core identity. Whilst it is important that it is not misrepresented, the brand isn’t policed or overly controlled.
- Ethics guide all activity to ensure that the brand is honestly living the core values of the organisation. All communication and experiences must be aligned with these ethics and values (e.g not objectifying your beneficiaries to gain exposure).
- Affinity attempts to create a brand that promotes collaboration with other organisations and partners. It promotes the collective over individual interests and tempers a competitive mindset.
This approach sees the role of brand nested in organisational strategy, which in turn is nested in an organisation’s mission, purpose and values. An aligned identity builds cohesion and trust with external stakeholders. This can be leveraged to strengthen internal capacity and deliver social impact. The resulting increase in reputation strengthens the organisation’s identity, and the cycle continues.
The Main Point
The key difference between a profit-driven and purpose-driven brand are the values that underpin the brand itself. A purpose-driven brand is one that projects to the world an organisation’s steadfast values and purpose, unlike profit-driven brands that change their values to maintain market share and profit. Differentiation comes from communicating things as they are. For this to be authentic, the external and internal communication needs to match the organisation’s behaviour and strategy. These, in turn, need to align with the core values and purpose. The result is an increase in trust, leading to an increase in supporter and funding commitment, which leads to a greater ability to deliver social impact.
In our free eBook “Building Trust: The Role of Brand for Purpose-driven Organisations” we delve deeper into building a brand around values and purpose, that in turn inspire people into action.