Branding: Your brand new identity

Alexandra Coxon

An increasing number of charities are opting for a rebrand in an attempt to differentiate themselves from their rivals. But it is a lengthy and expensive process that should not be undertaken without extensive research and the support of senior staff.

You might think that charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Deafness Research UK wouldn't have that much in common. Yet in the past 12 months all three have confronted the same problem - and come up with the same solution. Each has faced the challenge of aligning its identity with its current work, and each has made the decision to rebrand.

Good branding is arguably one of the most precious assets a charity can have. Although a brand tells others what the organisation does, what it's about and where it's going, it is the branding that reaches out and connects with people. Without a strong name, strapline, logo, typeface, image style and tone of voice - how the charity writes and talks about itself - the organisation will not be able to communicate effectively.

It's hardly surprising, then, that so many charities have joined the ever-growing number of rebranders. As more organisations compete with one another for donations, so they must differentiate their causes from their rivals. Axing a name or strapline that no longer works, bringing the charity's image up to date or simply looking for a fresh style that will change people's perceptions are all good arguments for going through the rebranding process. Ultimately, however, they are merely tactics for dealing with a wider problem: the charity's inability to engage with its audience.

As Max du Bois, executive director at rebranding agency Spencer du Bois, puts it: "There is only one reason why charities should consider rebranding, and that is when they aren't making the right impression on the right people - when there's no longer any engagement.

"A lot of charity marketing departments reckon that people have stopped giving money because they've got compassion fatigue - they've heard so many messages from so many organisations, they simply don't want to give any more," he says. "This is rubbish. What they've actually got is charity fatigue. They're hearing the same messages over and over, and individual charities aren't standing out from the crowd."

According to du Bois, only those organisations that are serious about standing out should contemplate a rebrand. It can be a difficult and lengthy process, often requiring significant expense and a dedicated staff member or team to manage things. But how should charities establish whether it's the right move for them in the first place? And how should they go about getting the best results?


As a starting point, it is important to assess the current brand and how it is perceived by the public. When Defeating Deafness examined stakeholder and public opinion, it discovered that its mission - to find medical responses to deafness - had become lost within its name. As a result, it rebranded as Deafness Research UK last autumn.

Macmillan Cancer Relief also did some research to find out how it was perceived during its recent rebranding exercise. It found that only 1 per cent of people got the charity's original name correct, and only 3 per cent could recognise its logo. These results helped the charity decide to rebrand as Macmillan Cancer Support in April this year.

The results of such a consultation can be stark. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust felt its image was out of date. The true extent of the problem was revealed when the charity employed an independent agency to get an objective view of how it was seen externally. "When people were asked what the old logo said about the charity, the feedback was pretty scathing," says Julie Bentley, chief executive at the trust. "People thought the brand was unclear and arrogant and that it projected the image of middle class do-gooders. There was clearly a gap between brand recognition and brand understanding."

Staff buy-in

However, solid and continuing research isn't the only thing needed to reformulate mission statements, logos and the like. It's also important to have the buy-in of trustees and senior members of staff from the very beginning, and to project-manage the rebrand internally - even if you use an agency along the way.

"When we rebranded, we decided that it needed to be done at a senior level if we were going to have the desired impact," says Judy Beard, director of fundraising and communications at Macmillan Cancer Support. "It was our chief executive and executive management team that recommended the way forward to our board of trustees. Our chairman was also a great advocate for the project.

"One of the reasons for this level of involvement was the professionalism we attached to the task. We chose to run it as a major project, then seconded someone to be the lead and to co-ordinate all the activity in the key areas: services, fundraising, volunteers, staff, website, communications and identity change."

According to Beard, even charities that don't have large pots of money to invest in rebranding should appoint a key individual who can work with both the board and agencies to achieve their goals. But if money is really tight, is it actually feasible to rebrand in the first place?

Free advice

Although Macmillan's new look and feel cost the organisation £120,000 - about one-thousandth of its yearly fundraising income - Beard is convinced it is possible to undertake a rebrand at low cost. "My advice is to remember that not every organisation is as big and complex as Macmillan, so cut your coat according to your cloth," she says. "You don't need to use agencies all along the way. Use them for tasks that cannot be fulfilled internally. Take advice from other charities, too. Talk to them about how they approached voluntary committees, how they included them and how they dealt with wastage when they changed over to new communication materials. Free advice like this can be invaluable."

Get it all done

And why stop at advice? When the Suzy Lamplugh Trust went through its rebrand, it managed to secure the services of both the branding agency Leith London and designer Nick Darke pro bono, because founder Paul Lamplugh had a personal contact within the agency and they were inspired by the creative challenge.

It wouldn't have been financially viable for the trust to pay the £70,000 it estimates this work was worth, but by appealing to the agency's sense of corporate social responsibility the charity has been able to forge a new identity for itself free of charge.

As Bentley of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust puts it: "This exercise has proved to me how important brand is for charities, but it has also shown me what you can achieve when you don't have the requisite funds. The key is to ask. Seek out local marketing and advertising companies and make a personal approach. You never know, they might just be interested in helping."


You've made the decision to rebrand, but what should you do next? According to Max du Bois, executive director of the rebranding agency Spencer du Bois, the best approach is to 'dream'

Drop anything that is coming between the charity and its goals, whether that be a logo, name or something else. Base your decision on thorough research with key stakeholders, sponsors and opinion-makers.

Retain the things that work. Do you have a name that is unique and irreplaceable, or is your logo the thing that people most identify with?

Evolve If the logo is looking a little fusty, it may just need a brush-up rather than a complete redesign. The same goes for the charity's tone of voice - the way it talks about itself publicly.

Add to the existing mix. Are there any key branding elements missing, such as a strapline or a typeface?

Manage the process. Think about what will give you quick wins and what needs to be managed longer-term. Work out who will be responsible for the task.

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