For many non-profits, spending money or time on branding is a hard pill to swallow. Too many non-profit leaders think it is either shallow or useless to spend either time or money on improving their brand image, tagline or logo.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Branding is the key to success no matter if you are selling sneakers or helping the homeless.
in the Atlanta area I have had the pleasure of working with several non-profits
including Kate’s Club which was founded by Kate Atwood to help kids deal with
the death of a parent. I have known Kate since the beginning of her journey in
starting the non-profit.
There are important lessons to learn from watching a brand emerge. If you are building a new brand, remember to keep these lessons in mind:
1. Start Slow.
Kate’s Club was founded in 2003 with six children, their families and an outing to a bowling alley. In the beginning, Kate kept her day job and worked on Kate’s Club on the side. If she had expected to the club to take off rapidly, she probably would have quit her job right away. That likely would have been a disaster.
Start slow. Don’t expect donations, volunteers or even people in need to break down your door right way. Just because you are doing good work doesn’t mean you can defy the rules of branding. And the more revolutionary, the more remarkable your work, the more time it is likely to take to build the brand.
2. Have Patience.
Brand building takes time. You need to show great patience. Getting into the human mind isn’t easy. You need to wait it out as word of mouth delivers the message about your brand. That won’t be easy, especially when you feel strongly about your work and your non-profit mission.
But is the key to success. Without it patience you are likely to make foolish errors in strategy. Early on I remember sitting with Kate wondering how we would get anybody to talk about death, which is not an easy subject. But because of her own experience she showed great patience and conviction that it was an idea worth sticking to. Too many kids are left to suffer alone after a parent dies because nobody knows how to talk to them.
3. Don’t force it.
You cannot force your way into the mind. Turning too quickly to advertising to build a brand is the biggest mistake companies and non-profits can make. Until your brand has gained credibility and established a position in the mind, any ad dollars spent are wasted.
In addition, trying to force people to change beliefs or behavior with advertising is doubly foolish. It just doesn’t work. Even if your brand is the best thing since sliced bread, consumers won’t believe you if you say it with advertising.
Say it with PR. It works because it is third-party endorsement of your brand. That’s why Red Bull, Starbucks, Google and many other brands used no advertising to build their brands and instead relied on PR.
Getting PR for your brand isn’t easy, especially if editors have never heard of your organization. But again, stay patient and keep at it.
And don’t just write press releases. You need to focus on creating news. What are you the first in? What is your story? Who is the spokesperson? What is your category?
Remember that neither consumers nor the media care about brands. What they really care about are categories. Nobody cares much about Kate’s Club, but they care about “kids facing the death of a parent.” That’s why it is so important to create a category you can be first in and then position your organization as the pioneer, leader and voice of the movement.
Kate has very much been a pioneer in the “grief” category. She has been on The View, The Today Show, CNN and many other television shows. She has been profiled in People magazine. And last year published her first book: A Healing Place: Help Your Child Find Hope and Happiness After the Loss of a Loved One.
5. Stay Consistent
You might start slow and show great patience but you won’t succeed unless also remain consistent with your brand.
You need a razor-like focus, not just weeks or months but for years. Too many leaders and marketers like to tinker. So they constantly change messages, taglines, events, spokespersons etc. That never works.
At Kate’s Club the brand and message has stayed very focused. They have also stayed focused and consistent with their big yearly gala called the Kate’s Club Cabaret. The first Cabaret was held back in 2004 just over a year after Kate’s Club was founded and every year since.
A yearly event is a great way for any non-profit to raise money. But you need to keep the event consistent with its name, date and position.
Unlike most non-profits, Kate’s Club went after a younger audience. While this meant having lower ticket prices, it allowed the Kate’s Club Cabaret to build a reputation as a fun, young people gala. Nor did this strategy turn away the older folks who are now attending in droves. What middle-age person doesn’t want to attend the in-crowd gala with all the fun young pretty people?
Locking the name of the event to your non-profit is also key. Kate’s Club Cabaret uses alteration one of the best ways to increase memorability of a word in the mind.
No date you pick for an event is ever perfect. Don’t feel the need to have your gala during the “season,” the best strategy is to pick a date and stick to it.
The first Kate’s Club Cabaret was in August. Why? Who knows? August is hot in Atlanta and kids are going back to school. Getting the venue might have been cheap? Kate might have just picked it at whim. Whatever the reason doesn’t matter, August became the time for the Cabaret and it was locked into the mind.
One year Kate’s Club tried to move the Cabaret to September. September is a better month for a charity event, less people are on vacation, the weather is beautiful and there is a more serious feeling in the air. Did it work for the Cabaret?
No! It was one of worst events in terms of attendance. I was there and it was definitely less crowded and didn’t feel right.
As a result, the Cabaret quickly went back to August where it has remained ever since, growing bigger and better every year.
The Kate’s Club Cabaret has grown from a 200 person event to a 500 person event. Last year the tickets were sold out.
In this sour economy, that is an amazing accomplishment. But it speaks to the power of the brand, the message, the PR and the consistency. Bravo Kate and Kate’s Club.
The 7th annual Kate’s Club Cabaret is this Friday, August 20th. Hope to see you there.