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Brand Synthesis: What is it and why is it important?

Brand synthesis is a less cumbersome alternative to a rebrand. It’s for nonprofit teams that are ready to fall back in love with their brand on the condition that a few things change.

"I hate my nonprofit's logo. We need a rebrand."

It’s a common refrain among nonprofit board and staff members. Maybe you’ve heard it from people on your team. Maybe you’ve heard yourself saying it. Whenever I hear it from a friend or client, I take it with a grain of salt. I like to ask, what do you mean by a “rebrand?”

“Well, our logo is outdated. All our marketing materials look different from each other. I don’t like the look and feel.”

Despite the common understanding of a “rebrand,” cosmetic changes aren’t what a rebrand is all about. A rebrand (done well) is an intensive process where a nonprofits’ board, staff, and community come together to reimagine the organization’s core values, messaging, and visual feel. A rebrand is a significant time investment and requires stakeholders to take a step back and really ask the question, “Who are we?” This type of time (and money) investment is appropriate when your brand no longer matches what your organization does or its core values.

Oftentimes, what people really mean by, “We need a rebrand” is “I want a different logo." But the truth is, brand misalignment is usually a symptom of a deeper problem, and a new logo is only a band-aid solution.

That’s why I offer a process called “brand synthesis” to nonprofits. Brand synthesis is an alternative to a rebrand for organizations that haven’t fundamentally changed who they are but are still suffering from brand misalignment.

What is Brand Synthesis?

Brand synthesis is a less cumbersome alternative to a rebrand. It’s kind of like choosing couples therapy over a breakup. It’s for nonprofit teams that are ready to fall back in love with their brand on the condition that a few things change. It’s right for organizations that believe their brand still captures the essence of their nonprofit. Their brand reflects their values, it just doesn’t quite look right. At the end of a brand synthesis process, your nonprofit will have a consistent visual identity, consistent messaging, and clear guidelines for creating print and digital materials.

What are the causes and symptoms of a branding problem?

There are a few common threads that indicate an organization has brand misalignment:

Decentralized marketing can often cause a branding problem. If multiple departments within a nonprofit autonomously create marketing materials (say, if you have multiple programs that are each responsible for their own outreach) then it’s easy to dilute a brand identity.

No matter what the cause, misaligned branding has some common symptoms:

  • People within your nonprofit are always complaining about your logo.

  • When you put all of your organization’s flyers next to each other, none of them look the same.

  • You have no clue where your original logo files or brand guidelines are stored. Are there even brand guidelines? Not sure...

A brand synthesis process can address all of these symptoms, building cohesion and alignment for your nonprofit’s brand.

What does the brand synthesis process entail?

The most successful brand synthesis processes involve a task force of staff members and/or volunteers responsible for marketing (whether as their full-time role or as a small piece of their job). These “informal marketers” guide the entire process—a strategy that creates staff buy-in and increases the chances for effectiveness.

First, we do an audit of all of the pieces of your brand. (The fancy term for this is brand assets.) We gather print materials, digital materials, etc., and review them for strengths and weaknesses. We tease out the strongest pieces of your brand and focus on those.

Next, we create easy-to-use templates, messaging guides, and branding guidelines that can be used across departments. We keep them visually aligned and emphasize what we like best about our brand, sometimes introducing new branding elements that enhance what we already have.

Finally, we host a group training day to get everyone comfortable with the new guidelines, ready to use the templates and create support structures within the team for ongoing implementation. (This could look like a buddy system, or a “resident expert” to go to for questions.)

If you’re intrigued by the idea of brand synthesis, I’d love to discuss it with you! You can always schedule a time to chat and we can dig in.

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