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How charities can act like big brands and become household names

How charities can act like big brands and become household names

By Melissa Reeve, Planning Director, Rufus Leonard

With 6% of charities generating almost 90% of the total annual income how are these charities such as Cancer Research UK, NSPCC, Oxfam and Movember succeeding? We’ve been asked this question a lot lately at Rufus and our work for Depression Alliance and Fight for Sight has made us think even more.  We recommend charities follow four key steps to help them think big and act like a brand:

1.    Use technology (it’s the answer to (almost) everything)

No start-up costs, no upfront capital required and technology relies on the public doing the work. The top UK charities are making household names for themselves by leveraging technological innovations and social media to reach a wider audience than ever before, with hard-hitting emotional messages, even while operating on a tight budget. The real-time nature of digital allows charities to remain more relevant on a day-to-day basis.

Technology also allows donors to better quantify and visualise the impact their money is making, an aspect embraced by Save the Children, whose website provided an immersive brand experience by ‘dropping’ users into a slum in Sierra Leone. Using technology in this way provides donors with greater ownership and control and helps charities to overcome one of their biggest challenges in the category, trust.

2.    Think like a big brand

Before launching that groundbreaking campaign, charities need to be clear on who they are and what they stand for internally. Charities are brands. They should abide by a set of values and behaviours that govern all activities, in turn providing a springboard for a cohesive experience across all audience touch points. An expensive marketing budget isn’t necessary to articulate a differentiated and single-minded purpose.

The three critical ingredients of a brand are its equity, personality and visual identity. Equity will succinctly summarise what the brand stands for. A well-defined equity is simple and creative and provides a common goal for the entire team to work towards.

When it comes to brand behaviour it’s best to define it by both what the brand is and what it is not. Behavior defines the tone of voice of communications, types of partnerships that might be formed and even the channel strategy.
A visual identity is more than just a logo- it’s how the brand is dressed for the world. A good brand is always consistent enough to be instantly recognisable but flexible enough to meet the needs of different audiences.

3.    Increase awareness and widen your appeal

Powerful campaign ideas start with consumer truths. Awareness can be achieved by breaking through the competitive landscape to tell an emotional story that establishes the brand in the hearts and minds of people. The best brands aren’t just based on science and logic, they evoke emotion and incite action - critical steps in the charitable giving environment as exemplified by Cancer Research UK’s ‘Help us make it sooner’ campaign.

To widen your appeal, start by harnessing the power of family and friends of those who have been directly impacted by the cause. Social media is great for amplifying the voice of a small percentage of the population to generate rich, emotive content that can further build awareness amongst new donors. Regardless of channel, creative on a low budget cannot afford to be shy – jaws must be dropped and people must start talking.   

Charities that succeed in widening their appeal leverage a proactive communications strategy that changes the perceived relevance and importance of their cause, whilst both capturing and inspiring culture, for example, Product Red, Livestrong and Movember.
For quicker wins, brands must establish partnerships, and must not be afraid to borrow interest and leverage networks across fellow charities, companies and schools.

4.    Increase long-term engagement with your audience

Increasing long-term engagement can be summed up in three simple ways:

•    maintain the freshness and relevance of a brand
•    develop an ongoing dialogue with consumers (right content strategy in the right channel(s))
•    build a community around the brand

These tactics can help charities overcome one of the biggest challenges in the category, donor fatigue.

The more emotionally connected donors are to a charity, the less likely they are to fatigue. So keep donors abreast of charity happenings and create a calendar of events around the donor cycle, using it as a framework for structuring sequential communications and events throughout the year.

With a strong brand identity and proposition, a strong communication strategy, and leveraging technology innovations, small charities will not fail to succeed.

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