The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

4 lessons on the art of reinventing your brand

How can people or nonprofits reinvent their brands? What does it take to remake who we are and how we’re perceived?

I’ve been thinking about these questions since having lunch couple of weeks ago with Dorie Clark, a stellar marketing strategist. Clark graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College at age 18 and hasn’t slowed down since. In addition to consulting and teaching, she writes for Forbes and Harvard Business Review and has a new book on personal branding called Reinventing You. (I finished my review copy this weekend and recommend it to those at a crossroads.)

As a branding expert, Clark has many interesting things to say about people and organizations who seek to fundamentally redefine what they stand for in the minds of others. I wanted to share four lessons I’ve learned from her, along with my own thoughts, here.

1. You have to start with the cold, hard truth of where you stand now. If you have a desire to rebrand yourself – or your nonprofit – you have to start with how you’re perceived in the present. Because a brand is not what you wish you were – it’s how other people perceive you right now. There may be a big delta between what you think you’re projecting or dream of being and how other people see you. In fact, there most certainly is. For individuals, Clark has suggests interviews and focus groups on you that shed light on strengths, weaknesses, and your current brand. Nonprofits can glean much by exercising the same kinds of listening skills. While you won’t hear everything you want, you will collect insights and positive qualities that give you a foundation on which to build – and ideas about how you should evolve.

2. Puffed up PR doesn’t reinvent anything. Shortcuts to closing the delta between an existing and desired brand don’t work. A new logo, inauthentic self promotion or trumped-up taglines can’t revolutionize your place in a market. There has to be substance to your efforts, and true reinvention is hard work. As Clark writes in her book, it might mean a person has to get training, make a host of new connections and develop a set of new skills to make change possible. A nonprofit may need a better strategy, a different approach to its donors or a drastic improvement in service. Which brings me to the fact that…

3. Real reinvention starts with showing your value to others. If you really want to rebrand, you have to solve a problem or address a true need of someone else. What you do for others, not what you say, is your real brand. I believe this is the single biggest factor of success for a person in a job or a company in a marketplace. People from Michael Milken to Al Franken have reinvented themselves by making a difference for years through research or public service respectively — as have brands like Harley-Davidson and Apple by focusing on giving people great product experiences. There was more than a change in words – there was a change in actions as well. And not just once but over time.

4. The reinvention story has to make sense – and tell the truth. You can stumble if you can’t create a narrative that helps people understand how a person – or a company – changed direction. People make sharp turns in their lives and so do companies. These shifts can be understood if they make intuitive sense and seem authentic. Clark talks about how people can go from one career to another successfully if they tell a story that builds a mental bridge between the two. The same is true for nonprofits. Provide a rationale for the transition, notes Clark, while showing you remain true to yourself. Then believe in the “new” you so others will as well. I’d add that if you’re rebranding your nonprofit, the same holds true. You need to make sure everyone who works with you believes you’ve become something new – and special – so they are united partners in the process of reintroducing yourself to donors and those you serve.

True reinvention is not easy – but for most people and organizations, it is necessary to do. As C.S. Lewis said, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

We have to hatch – and hatch again. That means doing the hard and thoughtful work of creation and re-creation – and doing it right. Don’t be afraid to try. Reinvention awaits.

Photo courtesy of BigStockPhoto.

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About This Blog

Lisa Bonanno
Vice President of Digital Marketing

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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