Opinion: Your brand is a banner in the wilderness

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

Despite protests by this magazine's much-admired deputy editor about the cost of rebranding a charity (Third Sector, 14 September), it will go on. Help the Aged, Rethink, Scope and Relate are just a few of the past decade's high-profile rebrands. No doubt the controversy about rebranding and renaming will go on, too. "Why didn't they stick with the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief? At least we knew what it was", and "my 12-year-old could have designed that logo" - a fiver, please, for every time I've heard those words.

The name and the logo are only the visible signs of a profound process that goes on behind the scenes, re-examining what a charity is for, who its beneficiaries are and how it will work for them. If Help the Aged has done it right, the new logo signals a huge effort to understand how the charity needs to change. Like Skoda, public perception can lag far behind the reality. The two biggest charity rebrands of this century are Tate (not The Tate, you will notice) and Cancer Research UK, each making a statement about really fundamental change. The 'look' is but the tip of the iceberg.

Tate was telling us that it was no longer a palace of high art for the cultured, but an experience of art for everyone. CRUK was telling us that it was no longer the old, inward-looking Imperial Cancer Research Fund, nor the old know-it-all Cancer Research Campaign. Nor is it the two combined, but a completely new organisation seeking knowledge about cancer through science.

The idea of branding has come to represent much more than the mark of the hot iron on the steer's rump - it is the nature of the beast itself.

Your brand is who you are as an organisation - it's what you mean to people who think about you, what your name and reputation tells your donors and beneficiaries about you. In the words of Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon: "It's what people say about you after you've left the room."

Think Red Cross, Greenpeace or the RSPCA - the names alone evoke a bundle of ideas about what they are and what they do. A well-known badge can be an important shorthand prompt. For a charity, it's hugely important - a way of making sure your donors can find you and fixing in their minds what you do. But most important of all, for your beneficiaries it's the banner in the wilderness that enables them to find their way to the help they need.

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