Branding for beginners – what’s branding got to offer non-profits?

I got the idea to tackle this topic in the June Third Sector Cafe while having coffee with Andy Cutts in the Art House cafe.

Their café is a very lovely space, with a light and arty feel – and great coffee of course. When I arrived, I was made welcome - and so was the other customer arriving at open-up time; someone who was homeless. He was given a friendly welcome, by name, as a valued regular. It was lovely to feel I was in a city centre space where someone who is homeless is just as welcome as a paying customer. 

Andy was telling me about the Art House and how they offer a mixed programme which is designed to enable people who can afford it, and those who can’t, to enjoy the way that being creative (in all sorts of artistic media) can improve their quality of life.

The café is an extension of their work – and I think that deeper, underpinning mission, was part of the different experience I was picking up on when I arrived as a customer. It was – for sure - a different experience than I would have had if I’d met Andy in the next door Caffe Nero.

However – and here’s the link to the branding topic – I have bought coffee on Division Street many times without really being aware that I could choose to buy my coffee in the Art House, and that I’d really enjoy the opportunity to contribute (in a very small way 😊) to an enterprise with a much richer mission – and one that’s very aligned with my values. And there will be many more people like me in Sheffield.

So, for those not lucky enough to be having the Art House's work explained in person by Andy, how could the cafe be using the bigger picture of their work to attract sympathetic local customers, with money to spend in a cafe?

From the things I’ve been learning recently about branding, I think this could be a great example of an opportunity for the Art House to use  branding to bring its story to life for me - a potential customer, so that next time I am arranging to meet folk for coffee in the city centre, I can choose a better option, and support their café.

If you are interested in making more use of the power of branding to engage people with your work, here are 5 top tips I have gleaned from my recent studies on effective ways to use low-cost digital marketing to 

1.       Know your values. Shout about your values! To get noticed we need to stand out. It’s easier to do this if we are open about what we believe, what we stand for. If we can be authentic and communicate a ‘rich picture’ of what we’re about, it’s more likely to strike a chord with people with similar values – and those are the ones we usually want to reach. (eg The Art House believes access to creativity enriches our lives and works to make inclusive access possible for those who need it most).

2.       Don’t try and please everyone. The flip side to this is that if we aim to please everyone we are likely to end up being bland – which is not distinctive, and will not help you stand out. I think non-profits often suffer from the need to please all-comers and keep all stakeholders equally on-board. But in fact, taking the Art House café example, it’s actually a very distinctive value to say that everyone is welcome - and that includes homeless people.

3.       Decide who your audience is. Be pro-active: instead of catering for ‘anyone who is interested’ decide who you want to appeal to and tailor your messages so they fit their interests. This feels very hard to put into practice in a meaningful way! But it’s the focus of much of the teaching on digital marketing. We will be talking more about this in the June Café where Karl and Justine tell us the process they used to narrow down who Eyeye wanted to appeal to, and how they tailored their messages to fit.

4.       Don’t try and do everything. Focus on using a few digital marketing channels well – or even just one. Just because they are cheap (free) to use, doesn’t mean to say that you’ll get more impact by using lots of channels (eg a blog AND facebook AND twitter AND instagram AND emails etc …). The quality of the messaging is the thing that will create impact not the volume.

5.       Behaviour counts. The best digital marketing strategy will struggle if its not founded on something authentic. It works best when the messages (pictures, words, stories) you are sharing are consistent with people’s experience of your organisation and the way behaves. Eg if you say you are people focused, but people experience you as having inaccessible venues, odd opening hours, unanswered phones or unwelcoming receptionists .. your digital marketing messages will struggle to take root. Again, this is something that will come up in the June cafe.  Karl in particular is very passionate about making sure that the way he and his team behave means that patients feel well looked after.

So this has turned out to be a long blog post to make the point that I think that the principles of good branding (like don’t be afraid to shout about your values; be proactive in targeting your idea people etc) are relevant to non-profits and can help them make good use of the cheap but powerful tools of digital marketing to engage key stakeholders without having to spend much cash. 

For the rest of this month we’ll be exploring more on this topic and, if its relevant to you, I hope you’ll book to come and join us at the café discussion in June.  

Sophy Hallam