If you are taking the time to read about branding, you’re an uncommonly savvy executive in the health and human service field. The issue of “brand” hasn’t risen to a top priority for most organizations in the field – particularly the non-profits (which according to our OPEN MINDS database constitute about 75% of the provider organizations). But in an increasingly competitive market – competitive both for payer contracts and for consumers – brand matters more than ever. Where once your “brand” was an afterthought (if a thought at all), forward thinking organizations are now making their branding decisions a part of a comprehensive strategic plan with the goal of appealing to payers and consumer alike.
What is brand and why does it matter? Branding is your organization’s “identity” with customers and the community. It is built on the accumulation of positioning statements, images, and more. It also differentiates you from your competitors in the minds of customers. In health and human services, particularly for non-profit organizations, the role of branding in organizational strategy is changing. A great article, The Role Of Brand In The Nonprofit Sector, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review article, summed it up this way:
Branding in the nonprofit sector appears to be at an inflection point in its development. Although many nonprofits continue to take a narrow approach to brand management, using it as a tool for fundraising, a growing number are moving beyond that approach to explore the wider, strategic roles that brands can play: driving broad, long-term social goals, while strengthening internal identity, cohesion, and capacity…. A decade ago, the dominant brand paradigm in the nonprofit sector focused on communications… In contrast, the emerging paradigm sees brand as having a broader and more strategic role in an organization’s core performance, as well as having an internal role in expressing an organization’s purposes, methods, and values.
“Brand building” for any organization should be cyclical. Building a “good brand” should build trust among both team members and customers – which will build organizational capacity while improving your reputation. This is referred to as the “brand cycle” (which, I may add can work in reverse if it is broken – lack of trust by team members and customers erodes both reputation and organizational capacity). For more about brand building and the four principles of Nonprofit Brand IDEA – brand integrity, democracy, ethics, and affinity, check out the piece by my colleague, Cory Thornton, New Thinking On Non-Profit Branding.
And for those of you who are a “brand skeptic” and wonder where the ROI is at in all this attention to brand, I would add that branding does increase revenue. Re-branding your organization with an eye to consumers and payers can increase preference and revenue in a competitive market. In a recent survey, 50% of non-profits report that revenue increased following their re-branding efforts – including increases in revenue from individual donors (49%), number of individual donors (42%), donor retention (31%), revenue from corporate donors (29%), revenue from foundation grants (28%), and revenue from government grants (15%) (see The Rebrand Effect, by the Brooklyn-based consulting firm Big Duck).
The world of branding does seem to be changing. The New York Times looked into the brands of non-profit organizations in New York City and reported that “dozens of non-profit groups in the city and surrounding area that are shedding longstanding…names and embarking on efforts to rebrand themselves” (see Nonprofits, Aiming for Relevance, Try On New Names). In January, the Y-USA, YWCA, and Muscular Dystrophy Association all reintroduced themselves to the public with new marketing and rebranding efforts (see 3 Major Nonprofits Launch Rebranding Efforts). And, the list goes on – these are just a few of the recent “rebranding” initiatives among organizations serving complex consumers:
- ncgCARE Introduces ‘Embrace Treatment Foster Care’ As The New Name For Their TFC Program
- Devereux Unveils New Name & Expanded Brand Promise Aimed To Drive The Future Of Behavioral Healthcare, End Stigma
- Largest Canadian Senior Living Operator Changes Name, Updates Branding
- Creative Health Care Management Changes Name
- Virginia’s Halifax Regional Health System Announces Sentara Brand Introduction For Early 2015
For more on our work with branding, including best practices for building your brand, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- Positioning > Branding > Marketing > Revenue
- The Goal: Be A Golden Brand
- Better Branding & Successful Marketing Requires Service ‘Usability’
- Assessing Your Organization’s Brand Identity: Is Your Market Positioning a “Winning” Position?
And for even more, join my colleague Tim Snyder on September 20 at The 2016 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat for the discussion session, “What Is Your Digital Marketing Strategy? An Executive Guide To Taking Advantage Of Online Marketing.”