Rebranding With Grace
Lutheran Social Services of Mid-America had a problem: Its name confused people. The Ohio-based organization works with people of all faiths, not just Lutherans, offering services from credit counseling to senior-living facilities. The “mid-America” was unclear, too. What to do?
“Many people didn’t know about our organization,” says Pam Blumensheid, director of marketing for Lutheran Social Services of Mid-America. “We were providing good work, but people didn’t know about it. We needed to build identity.”
To help it create a new brand, the organization hired BrandEquity of Newton, Mass.
“The old company name was too long and became an acronym that didn’t capture the essence of the organization,” BrandEquity Creative Director Steve Smith says. “We recommended a shorter, more memorable name, combined with a unique symbol. It had to be a picture that appealed to a broad range of services.”
The rebranding effort faced a major challenge: finding a visual that captured the breadth of services the organization offers, which include senior housing and healthcare, housing and services for persons with mental handicaps, adoption services, credit and debt counseling, life-skills training, and emergency assistance.
BrandEquity presented about 20 name options and asked the decision makers to discuss the ones that resonated.
“It’s human nature to find things you don’t like,” Smith says. “We encourage people to build a case for what is working. Sometimes, good names don’t pop off the table. You need to live with them and see how they resonate in the long run. Winner names may not have as much pizzazz, but they are more timeless.”
After living with the names for almost a month, the organization arrived at the brand: Graceworks Lutheran Services. It hoped the new name would have broader appeal and project that Graceworks serves people of all religious affiliations.
“The name ‘Graceworks’ reflects the organization’s core theological beliefs,” Smith says. “God gives grace to humanity, and the organization’s works put it into action.”
The new symbol for Graceworks Lutheran Services shows four hands coming together in the image of a cross. Smith explained that the vertical hand coming down represents God’s hand reaching down to humanity, and the vertical hand going up is a human hand reaching up to God. The horizontal hands illustrate that Graceworks reaches out to all people. The four hands cross in a pattern that creates a weaving or a fabric effect to illustrate the diverse programs that reach the entire community.
“The new name communicates the breadth of our mission to serve the needs of all people through a wide range of services,” says Willis Serr, Graceworks’ president and CEO. “It’s the result of a strategic effort to more clearly identify who we are and what we do and to create a common identity among all our programs and services.”
Promoting the new brand
Graceworks spent five months introducing the new name to its nearly 900 employees and 1,000 volunteers, as well as to its donors and the various congregations with which it works.
“We believed it was their role to deliver on our brand commitment,” Blumensheid says. “If your internal people aren’t committed, you won’t have a strong brand experience.”
Graceworks also did extensive brand training for its employees and volunteers. This entailed a 45-minute training session that explained what the new brand was, why it changed, what would change (the name), what would remain the same (the mission), and what their role was. The name change also inspired new publicity campaigns.
“The new brand helped us to introduce a theme for our ad campaign, which will run throughout the year,” Blumensheid says. “We have also integrated the new name and common messages throughout our publications. We’re still revising brochures and are overhauling the Web site — making each page more uniform with common messaging.”
The rebranding also proved to be an easy segue into new fundraising efforts.
“The new brand was a nice opportunity to go out and meet the donors,” says Shannon Schaeffer, director of resource development for Graceworks. “Some of the donors were apprehensive about the new name. They like to hear that our mission isn’t changing.”
After meeting with key donors, Graceworks launched a successful internal campaign, where the organization solicited from employees and yielded a 46 percent response.
“I believe the branding efforts brought so many people into the loop and opened a lot of doors,” Schaeffer continues. “It was very helpful in re-establishing relationships and gave us the opportunity to tell our story of faithful caring.”
Christine Weiser is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and publisher of “Philadelphia Stories,” a nonprofit literary-arts publication.