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?