From the Editor: Kirsten Mau is the director of marketing and communications for the National Federation of the Blind. She started her work with us when we developed the messages that would better explain and put more focus on our brand. This is the first in a series of articles to explain how best to use the tools we have to explain who we are, what we stand for, and the kind of culture we live in the NFB. Here is what she says:
What is a brand? What do I have to do with building the National Federation of the Blind brand?
There are many ways to define a brand. One of my favorite ways to think about a brand is that it is the sum of many parts. These parts include all the beliefs, experiences, perceptions, and interactions one has with a product or an organization. Take Nike for instance. For me, the Nike brand represents the first blue Nike tennis shoes with a yellow swish I owned as a kid, elite sports figures sponsored by Nike, years of ads featuring the “Just Do It” motivator, and athletic gear that helps me get out the door. But certainly the Nike brand means more than that. Ultimately, Nike is about an individual’s “authentic athletic performance.” Its goal is to inspire me to be my best physical self.
With nonprofits it helps to think of an organization’s brand as its reputation. Does it make good on its mission, and do I trust it to do the work it promises in an ethical and reliable way? While products and organizations strive to present a unified brand to the outside world, every individual has their own perception of those brands based on many factors, including personal experience.
Having worked in advertising and communications for the duration of my career, I have had both personal and professional experience with lots of different brands. Most I respected; some not quite as much. Quaker Oats is one of my favorites. When I was a kid, Quaker Oatmeal meant a cozy, warm breakfast made by my mom as I headed out to school on a cold morning or a nourishing meal with lots of butter and brown sugar when I was home sick. The cylindrical red and blue packages became doll beds or fodder for other crafts. The “Quaker man” has been a familiar face in my cupboard all of my life.
When I started to work with Quaker Oats as a client, I learned lots of new things about the brand. For instance, that the “Quaker man” is actually named Larry, about the real health benefits of oatmeal, how the organization is committed to finding ways to grow organic oats (and lots of their trade secrets I can’t share here!) Over time my perception of the Quaker brand shifted and grew. As I became a parent, I shared my experiences with my daughters. Now the round Quaker box is a fixture for them as well. I won’t buy the cheaper store brand of oats because I believe in this brand. Even though the instant versions aren’t any healthier than most cold cereals, I have bought into the idea that a warm breakfast is better. I am certain my perception of the Quaker brand shares similarities and differences with yours.
What does Quaker Oats have to do with the National Federation of the Blind?
In understanding the importance of a brand, it is critical to accept that we can only control a portion of it. People make their own decisions about the brands they trust and support based on all the information available to them. That is why it is so important for everyone who represents our NFB brand to bring it to life in a consistent way. Every member, every leader, and every staff person is a critical building block in the National Federation of the Blind brand.
The National Federation of the Blind brand is defined by our brand architecture. The brand architecture is the internal framework that explains the components of our brand: our values, our personality, our positioning, our value proposition, and our brand promise. It is important that each of us understands and embraces these components so those outside the organization will know who we are, what we value, why we exist, and what we intend to achieve.
Over the next several months we will feature several articles in the Braille Monitor with the goal of defining our brand and bringing it to life. If we all understand the important elements of our brand and live by them, those who identify with our brand will support us in transforming our dreams into reality.
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.