by Chris Danielsen
From the Editor: One of the people who has been very involved in helping us to evolve our brand and to make it better known is our own Chris Danielsen, a talented and energetic Federationist who works as our director of public relations at the Jernigan Institute. Here is what Chris says:
In the January issue of the Braille Monitor, my colleague Kirsten Mau talked about what it means for the National Federation of the Blind to have a brand and for all of us to live that brand in the work we do for the organization. She closed her article by talking about the elements that help us define the brand. These elements, taken together, are known as the brand architecture. We can think of them as the pillars that support the house that is our brand. As Kirsten said, 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 that those outside the organization will know who we are, what we value, why we exist, and what we intend to achieve.”
Wait a second. Personality? Yes, you read that right.
On the face of it, the idea of a brand having a personality seems unusual. We often think of personalities as being associated with people. After all, the word “personality” contains the word “person.” But we all know from our own experience that personality isn’t limited to people. Any pet owner will tell you that her dog, cat, or parakeet has its own personality; those with multiple pets can tell them apart by their behavior.
Brands have personalities too. If you think about it, most of the brands we’re familiar with expend a great deal of effort to convince us that we should like them, not just because of what they make or sell, but because of what it supposedly represents. Insurance companies want to convince us that they are on our side and that they will help us out when we need them. State Farm had an ad campaign in which individuals singing the “like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” jingle magically summoned a knowledgeable, helpful representative. Of course, this doesn’t really happen; the filing of insurance claims takes phone calls and paperwork, no matter who you’re dealing with. But State Farm was sending the message that it would solve its customers’ problems as soon as it was called upon. Speaking of insurance companies, we don’t normally think of dealing with them as being fun. Yet GEICO, with its cute spokes-gecko and humorous ads, wants to project a whimsical, fun image.
The fact that the National Federation of the Blind has a personality makes even more sense; we are, after all, a membership organization. By definition, we are the sum of the people who are part of our movement and who work together to accomplish our goals. The way that we interact with each other, with potential members, and with the public puts the “person” in our personality. With that in mind, let’s examine the personality traits that make us who we are.
The National Federation of the Blind isn’t a bunch of blind people complaining about our problems; we’re an organization of problem solvers. We created NFB-NEWSLINE® so that blind people can read the daily newspaper. We developed KNFB Reader so that the blind can have instant access to printed documents. We developed our BELL Academies so that blind children who are not receiving enough Braille instruction in school can get the extra Braille and nonvisual skill training they need. We created STEM programs to pioneer ways that blind students can fully and accessibly experience science, technology, engineering, and math courses. We designed our own white canes and pioneered the Structured Discovery Method of teaching cane travel and other blindness skills. When there are changes that need to be made to laws or policies, we draft proposed legislation and work with our elected representatives to get it passed into law. In these and many other ways, we innovate to make the lives of blind people better.
There’s more to innovation than our national programs, of course. In my local chapter, our president asks a chapter member to share a tip for accomplishing some task as a blind person at each of our meetings. We talk about things like cooking techniques, how to organize and/or label our clothes, and how to get around safely when there’s a lot of snow on the ground. From these discussions, I know that we as blind people are innovating in small ways every day.
One of our missions as an organization is to raise expectations for blind people; in other words, to inspire. Of course, the speeches we hear from our leaders are inspiring, but there’s more. Our positive philosophy, and the examples our members set for each other, make blind people and the public aware that more is possible for the blind than is generally believed. In 2001, the National Federation of the Blind sponsored an expedition in which a blind man, Erik Weihenmayer, climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. Mr. Weihenmayer, an experienced climber, had set himself this challenge. The point of our sponsoring his expedition wasn’t that every blind person could or should climb Mount Everest, but that blind people can achieve whatever dream or goal is personally important to us.
While projects like the Everest expedition are important, there are thousands of examples of blind people inspiring each other taking place throughout our organization every day. We inspire each other to pursue new careers, to try new hobbies, to start a fitness regimen, or just to go to a new restaurant in an unfamiliar part of town. This is how we lift each other individually and blind people as a group.
So many stories of how and why people became Federationists start with an invitation. In fact, my own story starts that way. I had never thought about joining an organization of blind people, but while I was participating in a summer program at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, one of my friends convinced me to stay in town one weekend and attend the state NFB convention. This was nearly thirty years ago, and while I don’t remember all of the speeches that were made or the issues that were discussed in great detail, I remember how people at the convention made me feel. They were welcoming. They were eager to tell their stories and to hear mine. We listened in the convention sessions and talked about what we learned. We also caroused and “carried on” late into the night. By the end of that weekend, I had learned a great deal, but I’d also made some new friends and had a good time. The same thing happened, on a larger scale, when I attended my first national convention two years later.
I hear similar stories from other Federationists all the time, and I’ll bet you do too. For some, the first invitation was to a chapter meeting, or to a social event, or just to visit another blind person who happened to be a member. People have joined our organization because of a dinner, or a drink, or a holiday party, or a conversation on a train or airplane. They join because someone invited them to do so, or at least invited them to learn more about us.
The last of our personality traits is unique in a couple of ways: it’s the only one that doesn’t begin with the letter I, and it flows from the others. If you forget it, though, you might think about another I-word: influential.
The National Federation of the Blind is powerful in a lot of ways, but for this article I’ll just point out that a lot of our power comes from our other personality traits. Because we are innovators in the blindness field, we are increasingly respected and listened to. Because we invite people into our movement, our movement continues to grow. Because we are an innovative, inspired movement of tens of thousands of blind people, we have the power to make things happen.
So, there you have it: our brand personality. Each of us amplifies this personality by exercising its traits in our own lives and actions: by inviting friends and potential supporters to learn more about us; by innovating in our own small ways to lessen the inconvenience of blindness; and by inspiring our blind brothers and sisters to believe in themselves and to achieve more than they thought possible. Keeping these traits in mind, and displaying them for others, is one of the many ways in which we can “live” our brand.