Charities are increasingly finding themselves jockeying for position with competitors from across the public, private and voluntary sectors, all chasing funding, contracts and consumer support.
The lines between the different sectors are starting to blur, so it is vital that you position your organisation to make clear its qualities, value and values. Here are some tips on getting that positioning right for your external communications.
Ask, listen and engage
Who are you? What do you want your organisation, product or service to be known for? These are the key questions people on your senior team need to answer. If they cannot answer or aren't prepared to, everything that stems from positioning - including branding and marketing - is built on quicksand.
Positioning is the place you seek in the hearts and minds of your target audience. It is the place you think you can own, the situation that differentiates you - particularly from charities that do much the same thing. Every charity needs a unique selling point, something that sets your brand apart from peers and competitors. When you set out on positioning work, you should be intending to create positive associations in the minds of people whenever they touch your organisation. Ask how your audiences perceive your organisation, service or product.
When you understand what is important to your target audiences, position or reposition yourself accordingly. This includes internal and involved audiences, such as staff delivering front-line services, volunteers and trustees.
Do the prep work
Here's a suggested process for updating your positioning:
- Test existing assumptions about your organisation and its services.
- Examine the needs, motivations and perceptions of your market and audiences.
- Develop an understanding of your distinctiveness compared with your main competitors.
- Build a picture of your market's needs, your strengths and your team's values.
- Create the basis for making all manifestations of your brand consistent and coherent.
- Posit a vision for the future, understood and owned by staff at all levels.
All of these actions will involve identifying and planning detailed research and intelligence-gathering activities to gain insight into your organisation's operating environment, market trends, main competitors and so on. Analysing and condensing this data are also required if you are to understand needs and motivations, service impact, the personality of the organisation and supporting evidence.
Take the plunge
Develop two simple positions for your organisation, built on what you want audiences to think, feel or do in relation to you. Present those two options to your senior leadership and work with them to boil them down to one agreed platform. Consult key internal stakeholders to get feedback and polish that chosen positioning.
Get buy-in and embed it into your communications. Focus on communicating from the inside out - get staff up to speed and engaged in the new positioning and give them the tools to reflect that in external communications. Choose an initiative to use as the launch vehicle for the new positioning, evaluate the result, develop what worked and improve what didn't.
Remember that the world does not stand still. Refresh your understanding of the landscape you operate in, see if your positioning work is making the right difference - and change tack if it is not proving successful.
Peter Gilheany is director of the social change PR agency Forster