Why Social Change Efforts Need to Reevaluate Branding

Photo: the NICE. via Jessilyn Brinkerhoff
Photo: Catalyst Communities. via Jessilyn Brinkerhoff

I was having an as-usual invigorating talk with Nathan Jones at the Northwest Institute for Community Enrichment (NICE) about how to better show the connections between the NICE Consulting’s new “Annual Program” and Catalyst Communities.

The “Annual Program” is all about training  groups to lead their own Catalyst Communities. Catalyze Communities are designed to create “tangible improvements with members of their local community, develop fulfilling and effective methods of enacting social change, and truly engage with one another to enrich the Northwest.”

As we were talking Nathan mentioned that he’d been thinking about highlighting the connection between the two programs direct, by making the “Annual Program’s” name an extension of Catalyst Communities.

Obviously these two programs that mutually support each, should be easily recognizable as connected. We don’t need to “reinvent the wheel” and come up with entirely new brand names for every single program we do.

This simple concept Nathan pointed out makes perfect sense since Catalyst Communities already has a great brand name (i.e. “sparking community change”).

I’ve seen the two main mentalities in the social change branding spectrum, and we need to find a good juggling act between the two.


1st Mentality: Branding/Marketing is sneaky, so we shouldn’t have any


While some corporate marketing can certainly be duplicitous, that doesn’t mean we should abandon our ideas to brand our efforts.

One way of looking at branding is a way for folks to recognize a images and stories and connect them back to your organization’s work, but remember branding is important for many reasons!

While we shouldn’t replicate “sneaky” business practices that attempt to mislead people, we have the advantage of promoting programs that have a uniquely positive impact on communities.

So the next time you hear someone say “I don’t like branding,” see if you can bring the conversation around to how you can conscientiously use branding to help people see the connections between all the great work you do.


2nd Mentality: Branding/Marketing is great, so we should brand everything!


The other common response I’ve seen to branding is that people get really excited and want to brand almost everything they do.

Branding should be used to show connection and build trust in the work you do.

While a little enthusiasm is great, it can easily get really confusing if you’ve “branded” all 10 of your major programs. This might make folks think a different organization puts on all these different initiatives.

So the next time you hear someone say “Ooh let’s brand that,” it might be a good idea to remind that that 2-3 brands for your organization is probably enough!


Juggling the right amount of branding


Depending on the scope of our work, we should “brand” a few of our key initiatives (e.g. the NICE has it’s Catalyst Communities with its own brand), but avoid having so many that it’s hard to easily/quickly recognize the relations between programs.

If you’re a small organization, you probably will just want your main logo and possibly another for one of your major projects (unless you just have one and then you should just stick with your main logo).

The main thing to remember in all of this is that a brand is your symbol of authenticity, expertise, and trust. People should immediately see your brand and remember it as one that constantly brings great results.

One way to evaluate the effectiveness of a brand is to consider:

  • Recognition

  • Consistency

  • Emotion

  • Uniqueness

  • Adaptability

  • Management

If you don’t have a clear brand, or one that doesn’t take into considerations all of these 6 elements, then it can be a little harder to build up this visual recognition in people.

If you have too many brands, then people will get confused and may miss some of the important work you do.

Just think about some of the organizations you admire the most and what you feel when you see their logo/branded initiative. That’s what you are working to create with your own branding efforts.
Interested in learning about training to lead your own Catalyze Community? Signup on the NICE Consulting site to learn more!