Resources  ·  Posted April 29, 2024

Branding your Social Business

As part of our Social Business Support Series, Marketing Consultant, Lucinda Jeffery, explains the process of building a meaningful, authentic brand.

The term, ‘brand’, is part of everyday business vernacular, but there’s still plenty of confusion about what branding actually is and why it’s important for your organisation. This blog is part of the Social Business Support series, so it’ll be written with social, environmental and ethical entrepreneurs in mind, but the advice is transferrable to any kind of organisation, large or small, commercial or non-profit.

What is a brand?

There are countless definitions for what a brand is, not all of them strictly true. My favourite is from Interbrand:

“A brand is the sum of all expressions by which an entity (person, organisation, company, business unit, city, nation, etc.) intends to be recognised.”

Another great way described to me by a mentor was:

“A brand is a consistent delivery on a promise”.

People often use the terms ‘brand’ and ‘logo’ interchangeably, but a logo is only one piece of a bigger puzzle. It is simply the short-hand for your values, promise and target audience.

Once the logo is sorted, designers build a ‘visual language’ around it so that the ‘look and feel’ of a product or service is instantly recognisable. Think Macmillan’s squishy green font and broad-stroke illustrations, or Comic Relief’s celebrity endorsements and red noses.

But a logo and a visual language still isn’t a brand. A brand is much less tangible than that. Think of every interaction someone has with your organisation online, in-person, over the phone, on paper… The first impression. The experience. The lasting feeling about that interaction. That’s your brand. If you keep this in mind and ensure your audience’s experience is positive, relevant and memorable, you can’t go wrong!

How do I create a brand for my social business?

1. Find a good designer

First things first, invest in your brand. With time and money. Don’t be tempted to pay £5 for a stock logo that 50 other businesses could buy online at the click of a button. Find a professional designer who is willing to work with you to create something that authentically reflects your business and meaningfully engages with your target audience.

Ask around for recommendations. Someone at The Melting Pot is sure to have a friend or colleague who is creative, caring and conscientious! Like many business relationships, chemistry is important. You’re trusting someone to take you on a journey and produce something that is going to represent your business for years to come. Go for a coffee with them. Look at their portfolio. Ask for client testimonials.

2. Write a branding brief

Next, write a kick-ass branding brief. I’ve written a short guide on my own blog about how to do this. Key to the branding brief is getting your (what I call) ‘branding fundamentals’ right:

Vision: What do you want the future to look like? i.e. your long-term goal. (1 sentence)

Mission: What does your organisation do to work towards that vision? (Can be a short paragraph or list, but keep it succinct)

Values: What values will guide you? (4 or 5 distinct words that encapsulate your business’s personality and approach)

These fundamentals are absolutely core to your brand. They should inform everything you do – from who you recruit, to how you answer the phone, to what kind of paper stock you choose for your flyers (hint: The Melting Pot chooses recycled paper or card wherever possible!).

Developing these fundamentals should not be taken lightly. If you’re a solo entrepreneur at the moment, get some friends or fellow coworkers together to help you think through each one. Encourage them to ask ‘stupid’ questions (no such thing in my opinion…) or challenge your ideas to make sure your branding fundamentals are clear, interesting and demand attention. If you have a team, they must be involved in this process. Staff inevitably become emotionally invested in the brand, and they are your brand ambassadors, so getting their input and buy-in from the start is critical to the brand’s success.

3. Give helpful feedback

A designer will use your branding brief and ask you a load of other questions to thoroughly understand your brand and your audience. They will then go away and work on some ideas for the logo and visual language. In my experience, designers usually present three different ‘creative routes’ back to you. It is important to know that these are by no means the finished article. The designer will have worked hard to provide you with a range of directions for you to ponder.

At this point, I have some advice:

  • Ask your designer to present the ideas in person so that they can explain the reasons behind each creative route. This provides a richer, informative experience and helps you understand how the designer has interpreted your brief and what impression they’ve had of your business thus far
  • Do not throw anything out straight away. It’s a good idea to take a few days to mull each creative route over. Keep coming back to it and reviewing your thoughts and feelings about it
  • Whilst personal preferences will inevitably surface, try to be objective about the designs and think back to the work you did on the branding fundamentals and what will appeal to your audience
  • Gather feedback from your whole team (or friends) so that you get a range of thoughts and opinions

Giving helpful, constructive feedback to the designer before the next stage is crucial. They will most likely only work up one creative route to produce the final ‘artwork’, so you need to give them good guidance about what you feel is working and what needs development.

There may be a clear winner which needs very little tweaking, but you may like different aspects across the three original creative routes which you’d like to see together. For instance, you may like the colour of one and the font of another. Take each route in turn and offer comprehensive notes about the pros and cons. If there’s a clear ‘loser’ which doesn’t work at all, try not to offer an emotional response like “it’s rubbish” (remember, the designer worked hard on it!). Instead, give clear, thoughtful feedback about why it isn’t working for you, e.g. “the colour looks too cold for our friendly organisation” or “I don’t feel this route demonstrates value X, Y or Z”. The designer will gain as much helpful information from the aspects you don’t like as those you do.

Copywriting for your brand

Copywriting can be underestimated by those new to the world of branding. But creating a distinctive voice for your brand, which complements your brand values, is integral to developing your brand persona and building a relationship with your customers. Innocent Smoothies are masters of this – playful, funny, entertaining, informal – from their Instagram posts to the nutritional info on their packaging.

As part of your branding project, make sure you consider and formalise your brand’s tone of voice so that anyone who needs to write on behalf of your organisation can do so consistently. I’d advise you to choose between three and five adjectives to guide the tone of voice. One-word or short-phrase guides are fine, but elaborating on each word leaves no room for confusion.

E.g. “Expert but accessible – our tone should demonstrate our knowledge, passion and experience but explain concepts in a jargon-free, uncomplicated manner.”

Applying your brand

So, you’ve got your branding fundamentals sorted, a tone of voice agreed, and a logo and visual language mapped out in PDF brand guidelines. Tick, tick, tick.

Now, you need to make sure every customer touchpoint embodies your brand values and personality. Make a list of all your existing or required touchpoints, e.g. business cards, website, social media channels, uniform, customer service, Word documents, invoices, events materials, flyers, stationery, etc. All of these must present the brand consistently – in terms of visuals, tone, messaging, style. If everything was laid out in front of you, you should know instantly that it belonged to the same ‘family’. You could ask your designer to help you with any major marketing items or you could use Canva – an invaluable online design tool that is easy to use and free for its basic version. Even better, the pro version is free for non-profit organisations.

For staff or volunteers, it’s important that they receive training to understand and represent the brand properly. Think through the interactions your team may have with customers, service users, suppliers, partners or funders and make sure they are equipped with the tools, messaging or knowledge to make these positive experiences that demonstrate your brand values. Maybe you need to think about a standard greeting when answering a customer service call. Maybe you want to stipulate that volunteers only wear your branded t-shirt when they’re working on your project (and not at the pub). Maybe you want everyone to have the same background on Zoom. Or maybe you just need everyone to update their email signatures so that everyone’s ‘on-brand’.

Nurturing your brand

Many organisations are hugely engaged, motivated and creative during their (re)branding project, but once the website is live and the letterhead is printed, they feel like their brand is ‘done’ and resource limitations force them to move on. This is such a shame, because the brand can’t possibly thrive without ongoing care and attention. Think of your brand like a living thing; nurture it, maintain it, help it grow. It is an asset to help you reach more customers, forge useful partnerships, attract new funders and get your voice heard. With a little investment (and time is more important than money here), your brand can offer so much opportunity. Who knows who will notice that carefully crafted Instagram post, pick up that thoughtfully written leaflet, or have a chat with that passionate volunteer who went on brand training last week?

And finally… Protecting your brand

In branding, consistency is king.

Ever had the urge to add a Santa’s hat to your logo at Christmas time? Have you squeezed your logo into an unruly space and thrown the proportions out? Or maybe you’ve decided Comic Sans looks so much friendlier than the font in your brand guidelines?

If so, step away from your laptop! You wouldn’t buy a phone sporting a dodgy ‘Samsing’ logo, so why should someone trust your communication if it’s out of kilter with the rest of your brand? This is becoming increasingly important, and serious, as copycat scam artists flood our inboxes pretending to be banks and retailers requesting login details.

Additions, edits and disregarding the brand guidelines threaten the professionalism, reputation and trustworthiness of your brand. So, appoint someone in your team as Brand Guardian to keep everything consistent, and make sure everyone who represents your brand understands and follows the rules.


Author bio

Lucinda Jeffery is a Marketing Consultant specialising in supporting the third sector. She has worked in marketing for over 15 years and fundraising for over 9 years – for agencies and in-house, across commercial and charity sectors, organisations large and small. Her particular passions are branding, marketing strategy and training.

Find Lucinda on LinkedIn

Instagram @roseberry_marketing