Branding may seem to be a boutique need reserved for organizations with immense budgets and highly attuned creativity, like Uber, Verizon, or even political campaigns. Brands (and rebrands) that get the most attention seem to be the creative controversies. Remember the uproar over Hillary Clinton’s campaign logo? And who hasn’t looked at Jeb!’s mark and pondered the creative inspiration (or lack thereof) behind that exclamation point? But, when it comes to advocating with policymakers in Congress and the Executive branch, branding can and should play a crucial role.
A brand is soul and essence. It should be dynamic, confident in language and design, and thoughtful. These truths apply to advocating, issue-driving organizations like trade associations and coalitions. A well-done brand with the proper supporting collateral will keep yours at the top of the heap of similar groups with similar requests. Distinguish yourself.
Here are four rules to live by when creating an issue-driven brand:
Any advocacy group without a dynamic brand is missing a vital opportunity. The best brands are interactive and intuitive. They convey anticipation and reaction, meeting questions with answers before the question is asked. Take a fresh look at your organization’s foundations with an eye to what your brand is (or isn’t) doing. You may find out you’ve been resting on your laurels for too long. Or you may discover never-imagined possibilities.
Your messages, nuanced policy positions, and whitepapers may make sense to you. But they’re probably overly complicated and in dire need of streamlining. What’s your elevator speech? Is it reflected in every item you leave behind? Are you just passing along the same years’ old policy paper that has the same middling impact? Take a step back, consider your root message(s), and start subtracting. Once your message is honed, you can begin to amplify it in unique and captivating ways.
This winter’s energy tax extenders debate is a good example of winners and losers. Solar and wind have consistently done well harnessing their brand equity and were the big winners in the final package while many other viable clean energy technologies got left behind with less generous extensions. To be sure, differentiation isn’t a DC-only strategy. You’ll never know when a well-designed leave-behind is the difference in being remembered and forgotten. You’ll never know when something as simple as colors, cardstock, paperweight, business cards, or a messaging technique catapults (or keeps) your issues top of mind. But without differentiating, you’ll never be anything more than one of many.
The best issue-driven brands create and nurture proud champions. But a change in Administration, retirements in Congress, and job-switching staffers can cause major ripples in advocacy efforts. Your brand, not your champions, should be the central hub for information and advocacy. Make sure your brand is built to thrive in the transition moments. Let the brand be the lifelong companion, the peerless expert, the shining city on a hill. This will also have the side benefit of taking some of the load off your champions’ shoulders.
Look around. The most successful advocacy organizations follow these steps. And the best ones do it without anyone knowing.