Dean Russell: Will a charity's rebrand widen its scope or alienate its core audience?

The RNID's rebrand to Action on Hearing Loss broadened its represenation but may have unwittingly turned its back on the charity's core deaf audience, says our columnist

Dean Russell
Dean Russell

Rarely does a branding exercise pass without some level of criticism from its core community This summer, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People became the latest big charity to rebrand when it became Action on Hearing Loss.

In doing this, has the organisation turned its back on the deaf community, or is it simply embracing the realities of who it now represents?

Who can blame the RNID for wanting to create a splash on its 100th birthday and set out its stall for the next century? A rebrand is more than changing a logo or strapline - it is a statement of a vision and a platform on which the organisation can create a new purpose.

Action on Hearing Loss's new image indicates that its role has broadened and that it hopes to appeal to a wider group of people. Surely this is a good thing. However, one can't help but feel that by doing this it might unwittingly have turned its back on the core deaf community.

Widening audience

By broadening its focus from deaf people to a much wider audience, the charity must realise that some in the deaf community will feel they are losing even more representation in the mainstream world - although some might argue this happened way before the rebrand.

I understand this strength of feeling now more than ever. Over the past year, I have been fortunate to be involved in a campaign with the British Sign Language community. The campaign, called VRS Today (VRS stands for video relay services), was developed to raise awareness of the fact that British Sign Language users do not have equal access to telecommunications in the UK.

The campaign has helped me understand the inequalities in this area and how strong and vocal the deaf community is, both online and offline. In particular, it highlighted the unique challenge parts of the deaf community face day by day, living in an often ignorant society.

But having been involved in a number of rebranding projects, I also understand the challenges organisations face and the sometimes unfair criticisms of the costs involved.

High expenditure

I have no doubt that the £240,000 spent by Action on Hearing Loss went far beyond a shiny new logo. Even so, in this time of austerity, it must have thought about how this level of expenditure would be received.

Personally, I do have a frustration with this approach to branding - I just can't understand why, in this age of social media, these kinds of rebranding activities aren't more openly inclusive of their communities.

Isn't the traditional approach of 'launching' a new brand a little old hat now? Wouldn't it have been better to use the occasion of the charity's 100th anniversary to create a public debate about the impact of hearing loss in the 21st century?

This could have been used as a platform to change opinions from the bottom up and bring the communities involved into the fold of the rebrand, instead of carefully crafting a position from the top down and launching it - which somehow feels very 20th century.

Action on Hearing Loss has entered the space between a rock and a hard place where rebranding sits. I admire its ambition, applaud its vision and understand its position. Even so, I still question its timing and worry that this move inadvertently isolates the core community it has been so closely aligned with for the past 100 years. Let's hope not.

Dean Russell is director of digital practice at Fleishman-Hillard and a Conservative district councillor

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in
RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now