The Brand Promise: What does it mean for the Nonprofit and Public Sectors?

When you think of a brand, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Maybe it’s the catchy tagline (“Be all that you can be,” “Don’t leave home without it,” “I’m lovin it”) or a recognizable logo (Red Cross’ red cross, Nike’s swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches).  While these words and images are an important part of reflecting the brand, they are not the total brand.  The heart of a brand is its promise.  Consider this quote from the whitepaper, Nonprofit Brands in the Age of Supporter Shift, by Marc Chardon, former President and CEO of Blackbaud:

“Although your mission is vital, it’s the brand that defines your organization. And as generations shift, your brand needs to stay relevant. Our parents might have given to long-standing, trusted nonprofits without many questions, but our Millennial children are different, bringing their own unique approach to engaging with nonprofits that’s all about the brand and what it promises.”

So what is a brand promise?

According to Scott Russell, co-founder of Russell & Russell Consulting and former Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Ritz-Carlton, a brand promise is composed of two parts: 1) what an organization says it will do and 2) how the organization will deliver what it says it does.

The staff of Campaign Consultation shared these useful tips about branding and the brand promise:

Michelle Bond, Vice President

  • A brand is not a logo or a tagline, it’s a promise. It’s what you say you will do and how you do it.
  • Every touch point with your audience needs to be checked against your brand.  Does it pass the promise test? This is true for emails, marketing plans, posts and tweets.

Andrea Perri, Project Specialist

  • You don’t have to be everything to everyone.  Your brand should resonate with who your target audience is.

Kaye Gooch, Project Specialist

  • “Brand Promise” is the focus of the work and continual check of the work of the organization.

Rebecca Starr, Project Specialist

  • It’s okay to not be everything to everyone. Honesty about your brand and your market will lead to a tighter, well-honed product. Therefore, when opportunities arise to expand your base, you will be able to do so in a way that remains true to your branding promise.

Hieu Truong, Project Specialist

  • Branding is less about the superficial look and feel of an organization’s logo or tagline.  It’s about distilling the essence of the impression that a person or organization wants to leave on someone, and every action they take should reinforce it.  All too often organizations worry about mission creep, and a branding promise is one helpful way to figure that out!

Stay tuned for another post on how to create a brand promise!


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Megan Wall

In my role as Project Specialist with Campaign Consultation, Inc. I work primarily on projects with the Corporation for National and Community Service, specifically AmeriCorps VISTA outreach initiatives. Prior to joining Campaign Consultation, I worked in Liberia on two different USAID-funded initiatives. Prior to that, I was the Micro-Grants Manager for a USAID food-security initiative where I created and executed agri-business training and monitored micro-grant usage. Read more.

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