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When did charity brands become so angry?

Strong brands should have a clear point of difference to stand out from the crowd; called ‘differentiation’ in marketing speak. Yet more and more charities are becoming similar as they adopt a ‘fighting’ spirit.

This is predominantly led by charities that conduct medical research but also extends to children’s charities:

British Heart Foundation: Fight for every heart beat

Alzheimer’s Society: Leading the dementia fight; united against dementia

Prostate Cancer UK: Join our fight to beat cancer

Diabetes UK: Know diabetes; fight diabetes

Cancer Research UK: Let’s beat cancer sooner

Dementia Research UK: The power to defeat dementia

Stroke Association: Together we can conquer stroke

NSPCC: Fighting for every childhood

The history of branding offers clues on why fighting spirit has become fashionable. With the rise of the internet and social media, brands increasingly became social movements. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign “Yes We Can”, and the Occupy movement against economic inequality in 2011 demonstrated the ability of brands to unite like-minded people. After all, the best brands are a collective of people aligned behind a shared purpose with an understanding of the values that bind them together.

So how can you make your brand unique?

There are three ways to differentiate your brand by defining ‘what’ you do, ‘how’ you do it and ‘why’, most commonly articulated as a vision, mission and values in the charity sector, also known a brand strategy.

Your brand strategy should align with your corporate strategy and run through everything you do from your culture and communications, to your customer experience and innovation. Once the brand strategy is defined it should also inform the way the charity is presented in words (your ‘tone of voice’) and images (your visual identity – logo, colour, fonts, photography and iconography).

What:

You can differentiate a brand via what you do. Cancer Research UK does research whilst Macmillan Cancer Support provides support. Both do what they say on the tin. Most charity brands focus on explaining what they do at this most basic, more rational, level.

It is also said that strong brands do ‘one thing well’. But this is much harder to achieve for a charity that does many things, which is why some brands consciously decide to focus on one area of their work for the purposes of public engagement or to implement a creative-wrapper which spans them all, such as Royal British Legion’s “Live on”.

How:

Another way to differentiate your brand is how you do what you do, your style and personality. There is a difference between Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth even though both focus on environmental conservation, or RSPCA and Blue Cross when it comes to animal welfare for example.

As market leaders (one and two in the Charity Brand Index) it is no surprize that other charities have followed the lead of Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK. Whilst care and support based charities often feel friendlier, research ones have become more assertive in tone as ‘cancer’ was personified as an enemy, and supporters as an army, following Cancer Research UK’s 2012 rebrand.

Again, this is where ‘marketing speak’ can often get in the way of success as a charity may find itself with a multitude of brand attributes including ‘values’, ‘beliefs’, ‘behaviours’ and ‘principles’. One of the most common mishaps is to have one set of ‘brand values’ to guide the personality and another, often contradictory, set to guide the culture and behaviour. This is important as every single interaction we have with a brand informs our perception of it.

My preference is on one small set of values that guides both how you behave and communicate, that are unique, memorable, and not just sector norms or hygiene factors like ‘caring,’ ‘trustworthy’ or ‘knowledgeable’.

Why:

Finally you can differentiate your brand via why you exist on a more emotive level, your vision or your purpose: the holy grail according to marketing guru Simon Sinek, who has 30,574,327 views of his infamous Ted Talk on how great leaders inspire action.

This is the most important part of a brand strategy because of the weight of evidence that shows the best way to accelerate growth is to connect with people through shared beliefs and values.

It has become even more important as more businesses are defining their ‘social purpose’ beyond profit and placing it at the heart of their brand and business strategy, from multinationals like Unilever to UK B-Corps like Ella’s Kitchen (a for-profit business that has social and/or environmental outcomes as part of its mission).

What’s more, is that multiple research studies have found that having a clear brand purpose helps to build trust and employee engagement. So all in all having a clear purpose or vision statement, and highlighting it across your brand communications is a must.

And so my own rallying cry to the charity sectors Brand Police: Please don’t just follow the crowd (or even the riot), find your own unique brand direction and look for inspiration outside the sector to truly stand-out.

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