Expectation = Experience: A Winning Formula for Nonprofits

October 11, 2013

Ed Kanis, MBA, consultant for healthcare, higher education and service organizations, joins us for a guest blog post about branding, challenging us to think beyond the “look” and explore coherence.

edkanisMany of us who toil tirelessly doing the good work of nonprofits often bristle at the use of the word “branding” and its application in our resource-limited organizations.

For years, I’ve challenged the common notion of the b-word as simply creating a compelling logo and an engaging tagline and then assuring their consistent use in all media.  While executive directors “get it,” they often find themselves focusing their branding efforts on these tasks in response to supporters’ firm belief that their organization is the area’s “best kept secret” and that all good things will come their way by simply “getting the word out.”

I would not dispute the value of an engaging look and its consistent use, nor the impact of a tagline that captures the essence of an organization and its mission.  But branding’s true worth comes with all the work that precedes this communication activity.  Rather than try to change constituents’ perceptions of branding, let’s use a new term:  “coherence.”

I became aware of the trend toward coherence marketing several years ago while working with a Midwestern liberal arts university when I met Rick Bailey, founder and principal of a national marketing consulting firm specializing in higher education and nonprofits.  Rick was putting the finishing touches on a new book titled “Coherence:  How Telling the Truth Will Advance Your Cause.”

Since its publishing, the book has provided sound guidance to organizational leaders by dispelling the common branding notion and replacing it with a laser-like focus on relationship building.  Coherence insists that organizations will succeed to the extent they ensure a “transparent connection between customer expectation and authentic user experience.”   In other words, you are who you say you are and your constituents agree.

Consider the city of Sarasota.  While those responsible for our city’s destination marketing excel at touting the beauty and benefits of spending time here, the experience for some downtown visitors is often influenced by encounters with our city’s growing homeless population.  These encounters may create a perceived or real disconnect between what visitors expect and what they actually experience.

So, as you build your nonprofit “brand,” address proactively any issues not in sync with your constituents’ expectations.  Then you can communicate with confidence, building a cadre of ambassadors who help tell your story and make the days of being the “best kept secret” a fleeting memory.

Ed Kanis, MBA consults for healthcare, higher education and service organizations.  Having worked in the same industries,
 he recently relocated from the Midwest, where he launched and directed a university-based Center for Strategic Communication focused on nonprofits and served as a faculty member.


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