The saying goes, “If you don’t have the biggest hammer, use the sharpest nail.” The discipline of the branding construct delivers the kind of fierce focus needed for organizations to thrive even in the midst of difficult economic times.

I was recently approached to make comments on a strategic plan for an organization. Having only the written document to go on, I made comments as to lack of a persuasive focus, particularly in their offering to their key stakeholders. The response was that I just didn’t know enough about their organization. As I listened to them talk, they did indeed have a compelling offer and some great stories to tell, but they were hidden in the hearts and minds of the leadership.

The art of branding is to listen, listen, listen and ask strategic questions. In that manner you extract the wealth of information, insights and stories out of those collective heads and weave them into a framework that allows a rich narrative to be delivered in appropriate doses time and again as people come into contact with your organization.

The starting point for branding is the positioning exercise, which delivers the kind of fierce focus needed for organizations to thrive even in the midst of difficult economic times. I find it helps my clients open the doors to new ways of thinking and seeing things. And it’s when I most often hear … aha! It forces you to collectively think about three key things that help you understand your unique offering:

  1. Primary target audience:  These are the people you want to speak to most powerfully because you know they share your values and you are certain you can make the most meaningful impact with them. It doesn’t mean you won’t speak to other audiences, but it does force you to focus on what will give you the most impact. It also reinforces the principle that marketing and communications starts with understanding and responding to your audience.
  2. Category of Competition:  We all live in a market context, and people who will choose to affiliate with your organization either by offering their voice, their influence, their talent or their dollars have choices. Going through the exercise of understanding the comparative landscape in which you exist strengthens your ability to be fiercely focused on the best you have to offer.
  3. Reason to Believe:  This is where you articulate the specific and unique benefits that only your organization can offer. The best benefits are not just practical, but emotive and inspiring. Dig down deep to explore what turns your crank about what you do—and that often translates into what will excite others.

Done well, the process of developing your brand brings your organization into alignment. But don’t jump into branding unadvisedly. It is like a marriage and you have to be in it for the long term. It is the outward expression of all you are and do. It is about saying what you are going to do and then doing it. If you don’t deliver on that promise, it’s grounds for divorce. Donors and clients will move on quickly.

You cannot succeed in difficult times trying to be all things to all people. The key is to be the sharpest nail, find your niche and deliver. It’s the simplicity on the other side of complexity.