A Brand Is A Noun, Not A Verb

Guest blogger Chris Grindem from the Utmost Group discuss defining "brand," and it's importance for both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

We're happy to have guest blogger Chris Grindem from the Utmost Group discuss defining "brand," and it's importance for both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

This week’s post is based on an enlightening conversation I recently had with a nonprofit leader. She asked me what The Utmost Group did. And I explained we help organizations discover their brand truth, so all their messaging, communications and fundraising efforts are more effective.
I could immediately tell she was not pleased. As if I had announced I was an agent from the Dark Side. And she confirmed her body language with the following statement:
“I don’t think nonprofits need to be ‘branded’. There’s enough of that going on elsewhere, and we shouldn’t be a part of it.”
Here’s a perfect example of two people using the same word and describing completely opposite things. I was using brand as a noun, and she heard it as a verb. I was using my positive definition, and she was using her negative one. Which presents those of us who work in nonprofit marketing with an interesting dilemma:
Describing what a brand is consistently, and being intentional – even careful - when we use this word within a nonprofit context.
The problem is that there are so many definitions about brands out there. Personally, the definition I’ve found most effective is defining a brand as a promise. Because every nonprofit has a mission statement. And in most cases, mission statements are easily translatable to a promise.
With this construct, marketers are the brand’s promise makers. People in the organization are the promise keepers. With branding, our common responsibility is to ensure there is tight alignment between the makers and keepers. That what we say is matched with experiences.
The brand promise definition essentially comes down to telling the truth. If we promise things that can’t be kept, it can be quickly exposed as a fraud. Which is as it should be.
And in the case of nonprofits and other do-gooders, we know there’s a higher standard about telling and keeping the truth. Which is also how it should be.
So when a nonprofit leader hears the words brand or branding, we marketers need to be ready to defend the potential assumption that we’re snake oil salesmen. Yes, it’s true some marketing is sleazy, and a small percentage is unethical or illegal. But so what?
It’s equally undeniable that a small percentage of nonprofits are unethical or illegal. And no one I’m aware of slams their industry based on the actions of a few bad actors. I’d like to think our nonprofit friends would extend the same thinking/courtesy to marketers. Particularly if we’re advancing the purpose of brands and branding as promises and truth telling.
I realize this is a long-term proposition, but I believe it’s one worth undertaking. Marketers shouldn’t be subject to disparaging labels or stereotypes any more than the marginalized groups nonprofits often support. It’ll take the work of each of us doing the next right thing to change perceptions. Not only by what we communicate when we use terms like brand and branding, but how we affirm the definition I’m proposing with our own promise keeping.

248.496.4142 Chris@TheUtmostGroup.com

Chris Grindem has 30-plus years marketing experience with multinational ad agencies, a Fortune 50 corporation, top research university and leading several startups. His passions are marketing effectiveness and helping others succeed. Chris can be reached via The Utmost Group, LinkedIn or Google+.