Tag Archives: visual

Applied research helps donors, implementers to be better partners

Research provides a needed listening function for the mission community.  Listening well results in better understanding, and better understanding usually leads to better ministry.

A great example of the way that research increases understanding and leads to practical action in ministry is the Lausanne Standards project that fosters dialogue and collaboration among ministry implementers and funders about the giving and receiving of money in mission.

Check out this entertaining whiteboard video that illustrates (literally) how the Lausanne Standards were developed and the role that research played.

GMI is honored to have conducted the first round of research (mentioned in the presentation) that supported the development of the Lausanne Standards.   Rob Martin, Lausanne Senior Associate for Global Philanthropy, whose voice (and likeness) feature prominently in the video, graciously gave us permission to discuss some of that research here on this blog.

A survey of 147 mission leaders – divided roughly 55/45 between ministry implementers and ministry donors – revealed that both groups agreed that positive funding partnerships are almost always an important issue.  However, the leaders were divided on whether partnerships were problematic, and what the nature of the problems (if any) and solutions were.

Cluster analysis led to the identification and description of four “attitude segments” among ministry donors and implementers.  This enabled the research sponsors to understand the likely objections to developing a set of guidelines for philanthropic partnerships.

 

Each of these groups believes that funders and implementers want to partner well with one another.  However, each could pose a significant objection to the process of developing standards for effective funding partnerships.  Proceeding clockwise around the grid, from top left:

  1. Standards aren’t enough to fix the problems of dependence and power in philanthropy!  We need to overhaul the system and create new structures for working together.
  2. There isn’t a problem to address – the perceived conflicts in philanthropic partnerships are exaggerated.  Just because the work is hard doesn’t mean the system is broken.
  3. You can’t engineer a policy-based solution to a spiritual problem.  Partnership issues will dissolve when people focus more on the Lord and recognize their common dependence on God.
  4. Codes and policies are no substitute for deeper relationships with one another.  Making a greater effort to understand our neighbor will lead to more effective partnership, with or without a set of standards.

The Lausanne working group’s responses to these objections are:

  1. Yes, we can benefit from creating new forms.  Finding points of affirmation is a perfect starting point.
  2. Yes, the work is challenging, and good communication will help us to address challenges more effectively.
  3. Yes, human-centered solutions are insufficient.  Agreements must be developed and implemented in reliance on the Spirit.
  4. Yes, we must grow in understanding – and agreed-upon standards reflect an increasing level of understanding.

Watch the video again to see how some of these messages are communicated clearly and effectively.  That’s research in action!  Here, segmentation is not a tool to create or emphasize division but a means of addressing concerns to develop consensus and discover unity among varied perspectives.

Research for the sake of knowledge puffs up, but research for the sake of love builds up (variation on 1 Corinthians 8:1).  How are you are seeing research applied in your area of ministry?

Four rewards, four challenges in rebranding

 

 

 

 

A few days ago I participated in a panel discussion at the Evangelical Press Association conference here in Colorado.  Moderator Jon Hirst of Generous Mind was the moderator; other panelists included Keith Brock of The CSK Group design firm and Phil O’Day, who is less than two weeks away from the public launch of CAM International’s rebranding to Camino Global.

My fellow panelists offered some great ideas for the audience – and the audience did its share, too, with some great questions and comments.  Here are four rewards and four challenges of the rebranding process I’ll remember from the session:

Reward of Rebranding 1: When everyone buys in.  Keith told a story of working with a hotel chain on its rebranding process.  Several months later, while staying at one of the hotels, he asked a desk clerk about what the brand meant to him.  Keith was delighted to hear the clerk enthusiastically talk about the hotel’s emphasis on making memorable moments for guests – demonstrating a core objective identified in the rebranding process.

Reward of Rebranding 2: Better “elevator conversations.”  Phil mentioned how quickly people – including prospective missionaries – assess their interest in an organization.  Representatives of CAM International typically had to begin discussions by talking about the past (by answering “What does CAM stand for?”) rather than describing the agency’s vision for the future.  With the rebranding, reps can make much better use of their first 30 seconds.

Reward of Rebranding 3: Alignment between internal identity and external image.  Some people feel that emphasizing marketing communications is inappropriate for those doing God’s work.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Effective communication is about people receiving a message in the way that the sender intended.  Rebranding requires a commitment to knowing what your message is – and to understanding (and measuring) how audiences receive that message.  It’s not about flash and cool; rather, it’s about others sharing our understanding of ourselves.

Reward of Rebranding 4: While mission organizations do compete with one another for recruits, in the end they are working toward the same purposes and therefore often cooperate.  Phil mentioned that he spoke to several organizations that shared their experiences about rebranding: Crossworld, WorldVenture, Christar and others.  I also spoke to other organizations when GMI was first considering rebranding, and what they shared was very helpful.

Challenge of Rebranding 1: Considering what to do with valuable elements of the existing brand.  Keith mentioned this, which resonated with me.  A key GMI asset has always been the www.gmi.org website, which has always had strong search engine optimization due to links from many other mission sites.  GMI’s consideration of a name change revolved around options that would enable retention of the acronym.  In the end, we opted not to change the name, but instead to emphasize a new tagline that elevates research alongside mapping – and to feature gmi.org as a secondary logo.

Challenge of Rebranding 2: How – and how long – to engage in dialogue with those who oppose the change.  Phil mentioned that it is important to allow constituents to express their views and to let them know that they are being heard.  You can’t ignore or dismiss them.  (I know of a mission organization that fully reversed its brand change because the field staff refused to use it.)  However, at some point you have to agree to disagree and move on, working to sell the majority on the concept.

Challenge of Rebranding 3: How to address sub-brands.  One question came from someone who manages a sub-brand of a large organization that is phasing in a new brand.  Keith responded by talking about the importance of having an intentional strategy for how – and how much – to tie sub-brands together.  Depending on your needs and objectives, you may want much, little or no unifying elements across sub-brands.  He mentioned his work with Focus on the Family and its spinoff organization CitizenLink (formerly Focus on the Family Action).  Both organizations are tied to the same mission, but the original brand is functionally nurturing and the newer brand is functionally confrontational (my word, not Keith’s).  In Focus’ case, decreasing the perceived association between the two brands was useful for both.

Challenge of Rebranding 4: How to Communicate Effectively, not Extravagantly.  Getting the word out to constituents about the change is important.  However, non-profits, and especially mission organizations, run the risk of overdoing communications.  Most people understand that brands have value, but that value only ties indirectly to mission fulfillment.  I mentioned a conversation this week with a woman who supports a missionary through an organization that recently rebranded.  After receiving multiple letters and glossy brochures from the agency, she began to wonder about how well the administrative portion of her gifts were being spent.

If your mission agency is looking to rebrand, I recommend that you connect with Jon or Phil about their experiences (Jon helped direct HCJB’s rebranding to HCJB Global a few years ago); contact Keith about full-service strategy and creative; or contact GMI for ideas on researching your identity and image.

Meanwhile, let us know: What challenges and rewards have you experienced in rebranding?

 

Visual projects need visual research. Case Study: GMI logo.

Are you using stories visually?  If so – or if not – check out the Visual Story Network to discover the power of visual stories.

Which brings us to visual research.  When the output is visual, it helps if the input is, too.  Rather than using words to tell a designer what her work should look like, visual research shows the concepts and elements that can be easily adapted into visual communication.

There is a lot of psychological theory underlying representative aspects of visual design.  While it helps to know why something works, sometimes it is sufficient just to produce something that works.

Some forms of visual research are highly sophisticated; others are accessible and usable for almost anyone.  For an example of the latter, check out Visual Explorer.

Some simple, informal visual research – nearly a decade old – turned out to be influential in the design of the current GMI logo.  As you read the story, think about ways that you could apply visual research.

For many years, GMI used this logo:

To some, it said, “We aspire to be the IBM of the mission world.”  To me, it said, “The world as obscured by a Venetian blind.”

We sometimes paired it with the tagline “Helping the Church See.”  I guess the logo could represent our helping the Church to see God’s world by opening the Venetian blinds of ignorance.  But no one wants to be told he or she is ignorant.  And GMI’s technical skills go well beyond adjusting window treatments.  Why not take the blinds down completely, open the window and climb through?

In 2010, after at least a decade of talking about it, GMI finally took the initiative to rebrand.

There’s a tangential story that I’ll mostly skip over about the debate over a potential name change to something other than Global Mapping International.  In the end, GMI opted to emphasize its well-known acronym, paired with the tagline: Strategic mission research and mapping. 

We had done some simple research on the GMI brand back in 2003.  The first step was interviewing staff to get their input on the personality characteristics of GMI.  In words.  Some wanted to talk about what GMI did, but we fought to stay focused on who GMI was in terms of personality and values.  It would have been good to include some of our resource users and other stakeholders as well, but we were less interested at that point in external image and more interested in internal identity.

Eventually, nine themes emerged that were mentioned frequently through the use of related words:

  • trustworthy
  • informed
  • supportive
  • innovative
  • stimulating
  • adaptable
  • engaged
  • pragmatic
  • accessible
  • courageous
  • compassionate

We revisited this list during the design process, using a simple online survey with the board and staff to prioritize the characteristics – that prioritized the characteristics in the order listed above.

But the input was still purely verbal.  The designer took the old logo and the personality elements, then went to work on a new concept, seeking to retain a connection to elements of the old logo.  Here was the first draft I saw:

I liked the way that a data/technology element was incorporated, but I felt that the image offered little warmth and a bulky font.  It communicated “trustworthy” perhaps, but definitely not “accessible,” “adaptable,” or “compassionate.”

I was one of many who were given an opportunity to offer feedback on the design.  In addition to the comment above, I mentioned a piece of visual research that we had done in early 2003 to follow up on the personality characteristics that we had identified.

Our visual exercise involved a few hundred logos, some from ministries and some from commercial organizations, printed and strewn across a conference room table.  Staff members were asked to select logos that captured each of the personality characteristics identified in the interviews.  I analyzed the selected logos both by characteristic and as a group, looking for patterns or trends that might help to capture the full set of personality traits.

Visual elements that popped up frequently included silhouettes, question marks and a particular combination of colors.

I wrote to the design team:

When we did our visual tests way back when, the colors most often paired with blue were gold and black.  Would like to see a treatment that incorporates those – perhaps using them in the map border and in a scattering of the data ovals.

Unfortunately, I was living overseas and did not have a copy of the research “report” with the visual input to show the designer what I was talking about.  The document was only three or four pages — a few paragraphs of analysis interspersed with selected images taped onto the paper.  It existed only in hard copy; I never got around to scanning it.

With input from many people, the designer had to choose which ideas to incorporate.  The second attempt seemed to be a step back:

One issue was the skewed rendering of the continents relative to the oval representing the globe.

In my response, besides noting that issue, I asked the design team to locate the 2003 visual research report and try at least one design using the blue, black and gold combination.  I also wrote:

I would also like to see us at least consider rendering the GMI in lowercase in the main logo.

This was also supported by the visual research.  I mentioned three reasons for trying lowercase:

  1. To help communicate Adaptable and Accessible – hopefully not at the exense of Trustworthy and Supportive.  After all, if Intel and AT&T can use lowercase text in their logos…;
  2. To reflect a sense of servanthood and credit-sharing that has been a hallmark of GMI’s work in partnership with others; and
  3. To create room to give a nod to Innovation and Stimulation by stylizing or coloring the dot in the “i.”

The next version revealed that the designer was listening:

Now I thought we were getting somewhere.  In his email delivering the artwork, the designer mentioned reviewing the visual research (and admitted that he chose to substitute gray for black — which makes sense for high-tech applications).

This concept received positive feedback from almost everyone, so the process moved to refinement.  Several options and variations were considered, along with various color combinations.  As it turned out, the winning logo was indeed a combination of blue, black and gold.

Why those colors?  The standard color psychology interpretation holds that blue provides trust and dependability, black reflects strength and authority (plus clarity on a white background), and gold implies wisdom, along with generosity of time and spirit.  Deep blue and gold are also complementary colors on the color wheel.

I also felt that the logo represents a simple story about GMI does and why: GMI brings forth insights from information to support others in bringing the light of the Gospel to a dark world.

To go further, GMI produces and is engaged with data, organizing and interpreting it to draw out points of insight.  The data is drawn from and often describes the world.  The insight helps advance the work of revealing God’s light to the world.  Our work is supportive, so lowercase “gmi” is at the bottom.

I didn’t expect to get a logo that told a story, but I think the power of telling that story will be meaningful in communicating GMI’s work.

The logo may seem a bit busy, but then, so are we – so even its weakness fits.

Sometimes research projects have little impact on decision making for various reasons – changing conditions, political or financial considerations, a leader’s preference, or something else.  But in this instance, a simple visual research project spoke into the project in meaningful ways.  (It was much later when I noticed that the continents in world map appear in silhouette, another theme from the research.)

Think about ways that you may be able to gather image-based information for your visual projects.