A Practical Use Of Brands

Brand efforts that start and stop with a logo and a look leave a big job undone. are ultimately often a major waste of money. Worse, they bypass a huge resource that is precious and key to an organization’s well-being and sustainability.

Brand at its best is the fast lane to connection, a shortcut to distinction. It serves not so much to introduce and compete as to remind and stand out – to represent your institution in a way that in a flash reminds people of an interest important to them that the organization promises to deliver on in a compelling and uniquely valuable way.

The benefit of a clearly understood brand is at least as much internal as external. Its expression  of course must connect with members, donors and visitors/users, but first it must resonate with staff and board. A true test your brand effort — strategy, statement and expression — is how much all your staff, not just marketing, and your volunteers use it in their daily work. Is it their touchstone to what you’re about, or is it words someone else cooked up that they guess are okay, for someone else.

“We are here” as a reason to pay attention or engage stopped being enough long ago. Given the fact that your organization already has a brand, you don’t have to get one. Given that brand is THE tool to connect you to your primary support, you do want to manage it – to manage the two things you create, message and experiences, to fulfill that promise.

Among staff and board members there are many individual understandings of what your institution is about. In decision-making, those different voices can create cacophony that makes taking a direction excruciating or even stops it (in itself a decision). Or those voices can create chorus that points a way. This brand management is highly practical and worth the effort.

Picture yourself in the next meeting with a potential strategic partner or sponsor. You’d better believe that those folks know what their organization is and what it wants from an association with your institution.

With a generic understanding of what your institution is about, you’ll move it toward the education, appreciation and understanding for which your field strives, and your institution will remain one of many. If you carry with you a short, concise understanding of how and why your organization does what it does, you will be agile and better able to recognize the best opportunity to highlight your institution’s vision and value.

At that point, you are managing your institution’s brand toward its best future.


California Science Center
The Lawrence Hall of Science
San Francisco Exploratorium
Smithsonian: National Museum of Natural History