What signals are you sending?

What signals are you sending?


Six elements of an effective visual identity

An effective visual identity is one that sends visual signals that reinforce the perceptions that your brand wants to own. For example, if your brand wants to own a perception of trust, blue reinforces that signal; red sends different signals — energy, danger, strength, power, determination, and passion. By being intentional about the use of these elements, all of your communications will reinforce your brand instead of undermining it.

Symbol: You need to make your mark.

Your logo is the indispensable articulation of your brand identity. For a deeper dive on effective logos, see this post, but the short version is that your logo is your brand’s face: the unique and instantly recognizable expression of who you are. It’s the cornerstone for the rest of the building.

Typography: It’s not just what you said, but how you said it.

The type you use says as much about your organization as the words you use — and sometimes more. Designers today have to choose from hundreds of thousands of typefaces that range from crisp and proper faces like Didot to grungy and distressed, like Urban Jungle.

The fonts you use need to accurately communicate the personality of your brand and signal its degree of formality, approachability, history, or sobriety. Typefaces are like human voices: they can be gruff, gravelly, or uncouth. They can be graceful, musical, and light. So make sure the typefaces you choose convey the proper tone.

Finally, be mindful of the application. Have a font family that works well for display: short, visually impactful uses, like video title cards or brochure headlines. Have a different, more legible and restrained family for longer communication, such as brochure body copy or content on your website.

Information System: Where everything falls into place.

In simple terms, an information system is a clearly defined structure for the visual elements of your communication. The information system provides the logic for where elements appear, how big they are, and how much space they have around them. The information system is the framework that provides consistency across innumerable documents created by innumerable people. This consistent, repeatable look-and-feel creates recognition among your messaging, increasing the frequency of impressions. And as I’ve often said, frequency wins.

Color: When it comes to your brand, hue is huge.

Quick: what color is McDonald’s? What color is Lowe’s? What color is Target? Chances are pretty good you said something like, “yellow, blue, and red.” Because theses brands have defined a key color to represent their brand, and they always use it.

Start with the color (or colors) found in your logo and use them consistently and accurately. For example, at DO MORE GOOD, our logo uses PMS 640 for the “MORE” portion, and PSM 8401 for the gray portion. Our communication, from postcards to business cards, to PowerPoint decks, always includes these colors.

Be careful though… if you set all 40 pages of your annual report in the sunshine yellow from your logo, it will not only be illegible, it will likely give readers a massive headache. So it’s helpful to define a few acceptable complementary colors that can be used (sparingly) in conjunction with your primary brand colors.

Finally, when it comes to color, you need to be exacting: no guessing, no eyeballing. Use specific color formulations based on your execution: PMS or CMYK for print, RGBA or hexadecimal for onscreen use. Because there’s no “close enough” when it comes to your brand.

Imagery: Picture people not reading any of your copy.

This is where many, many organizations stumble. The images you use on your website and in your collateral reinforce perceptions of your brand — but they can more easily undermine it. So just as you carefully define acceptable fonts and colors, you need to define acceptable imagery. That includes appropriate subject matter, as well as the photographic or illustrative style. Even more importantly, the images you choose should define your organization — not any organization. How many times have you used a stock photo, and then seen that same photo in another brochure or on another site. While original photography is an expense, it also results in imagery that perfectly expresses your brand and belongs only to you.

Access: Brand knowledge is brand power.

This blog post started with “five elements of visual identity” but I realized that there’s another crucial component of a visual identity: understanding. Most of the improper executions of visual identity are done through ignorance, not malevolence. Or more bluntly: it’s easy to go wrong if you don’t know what’s right. So after you’ve defined the fonts, colors, imagery, and geometric structure that make up your visual identity, share that information. Thorough brand standards are a good thing — but not if they’re sitting on a shelf in a three-ring binder that no one ever opens.

Take the time to explain to your team — and not just your marketing department—what your standards are. Trust me: 60 minutes spent explaining your visual identity system can eliminate days of misspent labor and thousands of misspent dollars.

When you’ve explained the system, make those standards easily available. Put a PDF on a shared drive or on your intranet. Build a web page and have everyone bookmark the link. Do what’s easy, because if you make your visual identity system easy to use, people will more easily execute your standards.

How about your organization — do you have a clearly defined system of fonts, colors, and imagery? How does it simplify the communications process so you can do more faster, and DO MORE GOOD?

What’s in a (brand) name?

name badge for blog postA great name is like having extra horsepower.

Having a complicated, boring, generic, or sound-alike name generally won’t stop an organization from achieving success, but it definitely can impede growth and be a drag on potential.

Obviously, if you’re starting a new organization or providing a new service, naming should be one of the first branding components you consider, and it’s a great (and inexpensive way) to create differentiation.

If your organization has a name that you believe is undifferentiated or not memorable, you may want to consider modifying it or changing it. While your current name may have some equity with certain audiences, it may be costing you more than what you could gain with a new name.

Great names have certain qualities. Those include:

  • Memorable – sticks in your brain and stands out in the marketplace
  • Meaningful – aligns with what you do or provide or with the personality of your organization
  • Readable – easy to spell and certainly easy to pronounce
  • Distinctive – unique and creates separation from other like organizations

Name. Brand.

If you have a big marketing and branding budget, your organization can overcome a bad or dull name with compelling messages. But most nonprofits don’t have that luxury. As such, having an unforgettable and unique name is a strategic advantage and demonstrates good stewardship.

Here are some things to consider when developing a distinctive brand name:

  • Literal or descriptive names are easily copied and imitated, which can lead to market and audience confusion.
  • Obscure and emotional names create separation and natural interest in your brand (think Google, Yahoo, Apple, etc.)
  • Generic and copycat names cost more to build, aren’t compelling and will likely drown in the sea of sameness.

Generating a name that lasts for generations.

I’ve personally been involved in naming projects for over 30 years. The approach I’ve developed for naming has been successfully employed for everything from Fortune 500 companies to small, local nonprofits (and everything in between). The following seven-step process outlines what I consider to be the best practices for generating a strong and lasting name:

The first three steps of this process outline the criteria for the ideal name.

  1. Define the essence (meaning, spirit, heart and soul) of the organization, product or service to be named.
  2. List the qualities (traits, personality, distinctiveness) the name must represent.
  3. Identify the perceptions and expectations the name should create for those who will come in contact with it.
  4. Create a range of possible directions guided by the above considerations.
    Step four can be done as a group or as individuals who then reconvene as a group to share ideas. The efforts of step four should generate anywhere from 50 – 100 names.
  5. Screen each potential name through the following:
    The first phase of the screening process will require a group to discuss the denotative (literal meaning) and connotative (suggested meaning) of each potential name. From this list, there should be no more than 25 names for which you will conduct legal and linguistic checks. So, these are the steps in the initial screening process:

    • Denotative meaning
    • Connotative meaning
    • Legal check
    • Linguistic check (for international organizations)
  6. Use a score sheet like this to evaluate names

    Use a score sheet like this to evaluate names

    The names that make it through the first screening process (usually 10 – 15) should then be further challenged, with the remaining names going through a scoring process based on the “great name qualities” listed above:

    • Memorability
    • Readability
    • Meaningfulness
    • Uniqueness

    This is usually done by having each member of the group score each individual name on a scale from 1 to 5 (one being the lowest), then calculating the highest scoring names to arrive at a “Top 5 or 10″ names.

  7. The final step includes talking with sample members of your target audience —conducting primary research on each existing/potential name to test if the name:
    • is in sync with overall objectives and goals of the organization?
    • commands attention?
    • is in sync with the organization’s image/key messages?
    • has any negative/positive connotations?

While your name is important, your brand cannot survive on your name alone.

How your brand is executed and the strength of your name are both vital components for a successful and sustained branding effort. A great brand name can serve as an anchor for your cause, a symbol of your story, a point of difference, a memory trigger, or just an element that provides an “extra kick” for your branding program.

But no matter how boring or good your name is, it can always be made stronger with a more distinctive logo (see my last blog entry, Make Your Mark, for pointers on creating powerful logos).

How about your organization — do you have a name that puts your organization in the best position to DO MORE GOOD? If so, share it and inspire us all. If not, maybe it’s time to get busy?

— Bill McKendry

Make your mark

A good logo makes doing good easier.

A logo is like a face:  It is a visual identifier that helps others remember who you are. And the easier it is to remember your organization’s identity and name, the simpler it is for people to help you and tell others about you.

Logos come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. They typically are formed using a mark, flag, symbol, or signature. Rarely does a logo visually describe what the organization does — its job is to identify your organization, not explain it.

What makes a logo good?

Most experts agree that a good logo is distinctive, appropriate, graphically simple, easy to work with, and easy to read.

Continue reading “Make your mark”

The heart + soul of your brand

The Heart & Soul of Your Brand

A good brand personality helps to do more good.

I’ve said it before: brand personality is one of seven key elements of a brand. And while I’ve described an organization’s brand promise as the linchpin that holds all these separate key elements together, brand personality is really the heart and soul of a brand.

Brand personality can be defined various ways; but simply put, it’s an organizations character. It’s how the organization talks, thinks, behaves, and responds. It’s what attracts or repels people. It’s the aspects of your organization that go beyond physical appearances and are more easily identified as your personality traits.

Continue reading “The heart + soul of your brand”

Cross your heart.


What’s your brand promise? And how well do you deliver upon it?

A brand promise is one of seven key elements of a brand. The other elements are: brand personality, brand name, logo, visual identity, tagline, and brand experience. But of all these, the brand promise is really the linchpin that holds the separate components together.

A brand promise is an expectation that your organization wants to create for your supporters, volunteers, staff, and people you serve. While it should directly relate to your positioning, it is a slightly different animal: A brand promise should simply be a concise statement of the outcomes or benefits you aim to deliver.

Some experts have referred to positioning as fertile ground that enables brands to grow, while a brand promise is the fruit. A brand promise can be clearly expressed in an organization’s marketing efforts or, better yet, experienced by those who come in contact with a brand.

Some examples of brand promises include:

McDonald’s – An inexpensive, familiar and consistent meal delivered quickly in a clean environment.

Federal Express – Your package will get there overnight. Guaranteed.

Apple – Providing power to people through innovative, beautifully-designed, and laughably simple technology-leading products.

The Nature Conservancy – Empowering you to save the wilderness.

The Red Cross – Keeping lives together in times of crisis.

World Wildlife Fund – Leading the most important and ambitious conservation effort the world has ever seen.

Do these promises line up with your perceptions of and/or experiences with these brands? If so, they’re doing a great job of delivering on their promises.

Nothing without delivery.

A brand promise can help differentiate an organization in a crowded marketplace. However, if an organization doesn’t consistently deliver on expectations created, it will likely see a decline in reputation and support.

The temptation then is to make no promises at all. But that mode of thinking, obviously, has it’s costs as well – less appeal, lower value, little differentiation, and, likely, no leadership position.

The key to a strong brand promise, besides creating one in the first place, is an organization’s ability to execute and operationalize against it. Meaning, if you do not have internal buy-in, understanding, and training on how to best deliver on your brand promise, your chances for success diminish substantially.

Shoot for the moon.

Many argue President Kennedy’s declaration that we’ll land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of this decade was the greatest brand promise ever. Sure, new technological breakthroughs and scientific prowess were necessary to complete the task; but the real beauty of his promise was it lifted the hopes, dreams, and pride of an entire country (and many generations to follow).

That’s the power of a compelling brand promise: It not only motivates supporters to think more and more highly of your organization, it also sets internal expectations on a course to deliver even higher standards.

How to get there.

Knowing the impact a brand promise can make, here are some tips on how to create a new or better brand promise for your organization.

  1. Keep your audience in mind – Express your brand promise in a way that is ownable by your key audiences. In short, think less about “we can” and more about “you can.”
  2. Make it motivating – Don’t limit yourself to only what you can do and accomplish in the near term; push your promise to territory that allows you to continuously expand upon on your capabilities and strengths.
  3. Share it – Before you go to broader audiences with your brand promise, share it with supporters, volunteers, and staff to get their feedback. Collaboration gives you important insights and gives stakeholders a feeling of ownership.

Take a measured approach.

As mentioned above, it’s smart to get some feedback from various stakeholders before you “go to market” with your brand promise. With online survey tools, it’s becoming easier to get real-time responses from stakeholders rather than spending a lot of time and energy in laborious focus groups.

Given that, I’d suggest you test your top five or 10 brand promise options with board members, staff, volunteers, donors and, if it makes sense, even the people you serve. The key with any type of messaging or creative testing is that you avoid asking people what they “like” or “don’t like.” That’s because those measures are far too subjective to base your organizational success upon.

Instead, create a survey score sheet and ask people to rate each brand promise on these four benchmarks:

  1. CLEAR – Do people “get it” without further explanation? Does it communicate the desired position in the marketplace? Are the differentiators transparently clear?
  2. UNIQUE – Could another provider of the same or similar services say the same thing? Does it sound fresh? Does it create differentiated expectations between your organization and competitive alternatives? Is it something you can own?
  3. COMPELLING – Is the brand promise motivating, appealing, fascinating, and/or important? Can it inspire your priority constituents to act or believe? Is it meaningfully different?
  4. BELIEVABLE – Is it credible coming from your organization? If you say it, will people take you seriously? Is it based in reality, yet still inspiring?

Your score sheet should line up all your brand promise options and allow for each one to be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “low” and 5 being “high”) against the aforementioned benchmarks. I’d recommend that respondents not be allowed to total their scores (it keeps them from giving higher or lower that they predetermined that they “like” or “don’t like”).

Here is an example:


NOTE: Many times, “high scoring” brand promises are not the winners. The person who leads marketing, along with advisors such as the executive director, the board, and the organization’s attorney, should use surveys as part of the process of making an informed decision. Ultimately, you need to choose what’s best for your organization based on all the information, experience, and expertise you possess.

How about your organization — does it have a clear, unique, compelling, and believable brand promise? If so, share it with us so others can be inspired to create their own and be in the best position to do more good.

For many of the next blog entries, I will continue to work with the foundation of the IDEAS process. My goal is to provide relevant ideas and practical examples that nonprofit organizations like yours can use to strengthen your brand, develop more effective marketing programs, and achieve greater impact and returns so you can do more good.

–       Bill McKendry



Fundraising adds. Marketing multiplies.

Many nonprofits substitute the word fundraising when they speak of their marketing efforts. Many more nonprofits use fundraisers exclusively in their marketing efforts, and that mentality is, oddly enough, limiting their ability to raise funds.

I say that because, at their core, fundraising tactics rely on personal selling. Marketing on the other hand is about one organization selling to many. Which means, fundraising is like addition and marketing is more like multiplication.

They both have a goal to raise funds—and they’re both important. Yet, they’re very different.

Continue reading “YOU CAN ADD. OR MULTIPLY.”


Photograph of Ryan Prudhomme and his son Colton

One of my favorite quotes is from John Wesley:

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

Today, with the passing of a young man named Ryan Prudhomme, I realized I have witnessed a life that completely embodied the spirit that Wesley sought to inspire.

Ryan was the marketing director at Grace Adventures, and I met him after giving a DO MORE GOOD presentation at a Christian camp conference in March 2011. I had no idea that just weeks later, this eager, smart and completely earnest young man would be diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I consider myself blessed to have known and worked with Ryan. He wanted me to help him build a stronger brand for his organization and, ultimately, help make a lasting difference in people’s lives. I soon found, however, that I had a lot more to learn from Ryan than he did from me.

Ryan taught me about true courage, true love, true faith and what it truly means to live.

As the news of Ryan’s last days streamed through his and his wife’s “Living in High Definition” blog, I couldn’t help but wonder if some people might think that his passing at the age of 27, with a young wife and son, was “unfair.”

But knowing Ryan as I did, I think he’d agree that the only unfair aspect of his life was knowing that many people live two and three times as long, yet don’t experience the amount of love, joy, and impact that he did.

So, thank you Ryan … you did more good.


Touch every touch point

Howard Schulz, founder of Starbucks, was once asked how he built one of the world’s largest brands with virtually no advertising. After all, brands usually become brand names by promoting themselves through massive and expensive media campaigns. Schultz’s response?  “Everything matters.” The key to Starbuck’s success is understanding that every brand touch point matters.

Continue reading “Touch every touch point”

The Seven Triggers of Persuasion

Persuasion graphic

Listening and encouraging. Not talking and pressuring.

There’s been a lot written on the dynamics of persuasive marketing and messaging techniques. But almost every article and expert agree that the most motivating and convincing methods are those that focus on the personal benefits of giving to and supporting an organization or cause rather than focusing on the organization’s needs or wants.

This idea is similar to a concept I wrote about in a previous blog entry that contends an “outside-in” messaging platform is always more persuasive than an “inside-out” platform. That’s because people are usually motivated more by feeling — as if they’re an active part of the solution versus being pressured into a giving reaction.

Bank accounts don’t donate money, people do.

So now that you’re thinking about the benefits your donors and volunteers receive when they support your organization or cause, here are seven persuasion triggers to consider when developing messaging for your “benefit-oriented” appeals and campaigns.

  1. EMPOWERMENT – Make people feel they have more control and/or influence when they support you. Unions, political parties and think tanks use this technique very effectively, convincing supporters that change will happen if we all work together. And their constituents feel empowered as a result.
  2. DESIRE – Focus on feelings rather than data, to create a sense of momentum and urgency. Cancer and juvenile diabetes causes have long been able to engage supporters by progress made and the urgent need to close in on a cure. Real people, their battles and their victories are typically the focus of messaging — not scientists, doctors and hospital buildings.
  3. ACHIEVEMENT – Being in a select group is always appealing. Being part of a select group of individuals who are known to encourage or create good is even more attractive. When you provide volunteers or donors with emblems that can be displayed and/or shared, especially in today’s social media world, you give them a much-needed sense of belonging, fulfillment and recognition.
  4. URGENCY – While you can only yell “FIRE” so many times, uniting people through legitimate concern is very persuasive. This typically means that you need to define the consequences of not taking action now. Obviously, this is easier for appeals that are urgent (like natural or man-made disasters), but matching grants and limited-time opportunities (i.e., properties that suddenly become available) are viable urgent concerns. Just be sure to avoid the temptation to focus your messaging on the immediate or short-term impact to your cause or organization; instead, focus on the “lasting impact” your supporters can make by acting now.
  5. DISRUPTION – People generally like being progressive and finding alternative solutions. Young people (really anyone under 60) find this type of messaging especially appealing. The younger your support audience is, the more likely they are to gravitate to a message that communicates your alternative as an act of “rebellion.” Legal alliances as well as animal rights and environmental groups use disruption very effectively. And it’s amazing how long many of them have been able to sustain the position that they are the “new” alternative — even decades beyond the point of becoming a fairly mainstream organization.
  6. EMPATHY – By demonstrating through your communications that your organization has a greater understanding of and compassion for the people/animals/things you intend to help, your supporters will be convinced that they can channel their concerns through you. Animal and environmental groups as well as organizations focused on abuse and neglect can be especially effective using this type of messaging. But using this approach means sharing insights and outcomes of those people/animals/things you and your supporters are seeking to impact.
  7. FAMILIARITY – Being the trustworthy, safe and most-recognized organization in your category or within a certain geographic location or demographic has its benefits. But it also takes years and years of consistent presence and effort. Reinforcing the fact that supporters can easily place their confidence in your cause is a messaging technique that helps to accelerate this position and provides a strategic advantage. As I’ve expressed before, frequency wins. While being the most familiar may seem boring and obvious, it clearly works.

How about your organization? Which persuasion trigger seems right for you and your supporters?

Are you tempted to use more than one (even though you know “frequency wins”)?

Let us know! We want to hear about what you and others are thinking and starting to implement in order to DO MORE GOOD.

For many of the next blog entries, I will continue to work with the foundation of the IDEAS process. My goal is to provide relevant ideas and practical examples for each stage in the process that nonprofit organizations like yours can use to develop better and more effective marketing programs, which generate even greater ROI x 2 (return on investment … and impact)!

— Bill McKendry