News analysis: The rebrandwagon rolls on and on

And as it does, one charity has even advertised for a head of brand management, writes Indira Das-Gupta.

Referring to a charity's brand might once have raised eyebrows, but now it seems hardly a week goes by without another rebranding in the sector.

The latest charity to jump on the brand bandwagon is Macmillan Cancer Relief, which is currently advertising for a head of brand management on a generous starting salary of £45,000. It is a new job for the charity and marks the start of a long-term strategy to reposition it in the minds of the public.

"The idea is that we want to make sure all our employees and supporters share the same message," explains Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan.

"We want the public to realise that we are about much more than nurses."

Whoever is recruited to the post might find that he or she has few people in the sector to compare notes with, according to Chris Greenwood, head of advertising and brand marketing at the NSPCC.

"It's unusual for a charity to have anyone whose job title specifically incorporates the word 'brand'," he says. "There are lots of people who work roughly in the area, but very few who are specifically tasked with brand management. I think this is something to do with the word 'brand' itself - for some people in the sector, it's just too business-like."

For many, the word is synonymous with a logo or name change and is seen as a largely superficial - and sometimes expensive - exercise. When Help the Aged spent £140,000 on replacing its setting sun logo with 'Help the Aged. We Will' (Third Sector, 14 September), critics questioned whether it was an appropriate use of funds.

Changing perceptions

But what may seem like cosmetic changes can make a considerable difference to how a charity is perceived by its supporters and the general public - Scope's change of name from the Spastics Society is a case in point.

In September, Defeating Deafness rebranded at a cost of £10,000 and is now known as Deafness Research UK. Vivienne Michael, its chief executive, says: "We wanted to better reflect the sensitivities of the deaf community, some of whom felt uncomfortable with our old name. Our supporters feel that it more accurately reflects what we do."

Another charity to have undergone a revamp recently is Bowel Cancer UK, formally known as Colon Cancer Concern.

"The new name has helped to clarify what we do," explains Ian Beaumont, the charity's head of communications.

"A national screening programme will be rolled out next April and demand for our services is going to grow, so we wanted people to be able to find us easily."

But although Bowel Cancer UK might be happy with its new name, Stuart Mackay, a partner at brand development agency Ergo-id, believes a truly effective rebranding exercise must consist of much more.

"Rebranding is not about an expensive new logo - it's about refreshing the minds of everyone who works at the charity for a specific purpose," says Mackay. "It's a way of communicating the relevant values to your target audience. All brands are competing for mind space - we get so many thrown at us that it's important to keep yours fresh."

This is a concept that might be too abstract for charities that are more concerned with delivering services on the front line. But Greenwood argues that, far from being some kind of frippery that only the bigger charities can afford, it is an issue that should concern the entire sector.

"Brand management is important for all charities," he argues. "I would define the word 'brand' as people's perceptions of an organisation and how it exists in the minds of the public.

"A lot of communication comes out of charities, and it's very important that they get their purpose across and that people trust them. The more you communicate, the more you need someone to consider the impact of what you are saying on the public."

Of course, brand preference is subjective - what makes someone choose Pepsi over Coca-Cola, for instance? But the strength of a brand is more tangible, argues Cardy.

"I think what makes one brand stronger than another is consistency," he says. "Organisations such as Oxfam and Greenpeace have successfully unified their story and burnt a clear image onto the public's consciousness."

However, relying on anecdotal evidence to establish whether your brand is working is simply not enough, argues Mackay.

"Before rebranding, it's vital to set targets, which then need to be measured," he says. "This involves spending more money, because only an external agency can be objective. Trying to save by doing it internally might mean that you end up wasting the whole lot."

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