What's Your Personal Brand?
This week's blog is a bit different than my typical blog. Two weeks ago I read something in Fast Company that caught my attention. The title is "Your Personal Brand Is More Than Your Follower Count" and is a part of FC's Leadership area. The FC piece led me to a larger article in Forbes called "Personal Branding Is a Leadership Requirement, Not a Self-Promotion Campaign."
Normally I write about the challenges and successes within the nonprofit industry — be they specific to the agency side or the charity side of the business. You all know how I feel about the concept of the donor experience and how the overall brand experience is a critical part of organizational success. So, as you can imagine, reading the Fast Company and Forbes pieces about applying the same concept to us, as individuals, was very intriguing.
As leaders in agencies and nonprofit organizations, I think there is something here that we can all benefit from. It seems to have direct relevance to the overall concept of how we should all be thinking of the brand experience — personal or otherwise.
Here are some quotes from the Forbes piece:
- "Personal branding is about making a full-time commitment to the journey of defining yourself as a leader and how this will shape the manner in which you will serve others."
- "Your personal brand should represent the value you are able to consistently deliver to those whom you are serving. This doesn't mean self-promotion — that you should be creating awareness for your brand by showcasing your achievements and success stories. Managing your personal brand requires you to be a great role model, mentor, and/or a voice that others can depend upon."
- "View your personal brand as a trademark, an asset that you must protect while continuously molding and shaping it. Your personal brand is an asset that must be managed with the intention of helping others benefit from having a relationship with you and/or by being associated with your work and the industry you serve."
- "Based on a survey conducted (by the author), less than 15 percent of people have truly defined their personal brand and less than 5 percent are living it consistently at work — each and every day. Why? It can be extremely challenging and it requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness, action and accountability. But, 70 percent of professionals believe they have defined their personal brand and 50 percent believe they are living it. But when you 'peel-back-the-onion,' you realize that their focus was centered on self-promotion rather than a commitment to advance themselves by serving others."
- "Every time you are in a meeting, at a conference, networking reception or other event, you should be mindful of what others are experiencing about you and what you want others to experience about you."
There's more in the article, and I highly recommend reading it — but I'll stop with the five quotes above. Not only do I believe it is fantastic advice for all of us as professionals to think through, but there are so many similarities to the industry overall.
Relative to the first bullet, our Marketing 101 books tell us that American consumers want to be aligned with the best — the best product, the best service, etc. In the nonprofit world, the same thing applies. Donors want to know they are backing the leader in the cause — the best at delivering the mission or attacking the problem. That is why it is so important for a nonprofit to define itself as the leader and back it up with proof. It's not just in one communication or one action — it must be a message that is clear and consistent across the whole communication stream and all the actions of the organization.
Relative to the second and third bullets, how many times have we talked about nonprofits needing to connect and build relationships with their constituents? You hear it from me a lot and other experts and leaders in the industry. But at the very heart of a relationship is a "value." An organization's brand needs to be consistent and continuous in defining the value it brings to the relationship and providing that value to those it is serving. We're not talking about a logo. We're certainly not talking about a tagline. We like to use words like "brand essence" and "brand impact," and it is often hard to quantify.
What is suggested above is that quantifying the value is critical. For people to connect with a brand once is not the same thing as keeping someone engaged with the organization. Quantifying why someone should continue to volunteer his or her time, give another donation, or come back to your website is twofold. You must identify the value to the people you are serving through your mission, and you must also identify the value to the constituent who has chosen to support your mission. They are not the same, and it's a lot more than an annual report on your progress.
Let's break down another piece of the article: How do you promote the value without simply self-promotion? Over my two decades of work with organizations, I've read multiple studies about what donors want. How many times do we have to be told that people want to know how the money is being used, what progress is being made and how their donation is making a difference? And how many times have we reviewed our messages to find that we have provided the stats and facts we are most proud of?
Again, many confuse the building of a brand or building awareness with self-promotion. In the end, it is about ensuring the organization can be counted on to deliver the value it has become known for.
This is a key piece of the puzzle. Most organizations create an annual report of some kind, where the progress is reported in great detail. The problem is the annual report is, well, annual. Typically it comes out once a year, and even worse, due to the expense, it often gets sent to only the best donors and best volunteers. Yes, the facts and figures are important to telling the story, but they are not the story.
This goes back to some of the concepts in the first three bullets — it's about knowing along the way and throughout the engagement that a donor has made the right choice to back your organization. An organization is a leader not simply because it says so. It's a leader because it has the stories of impact and the stories of progress. And, don't forget, the stories need to be relevant to the constituents who have made the decision to support the organization. It's not about self-promotion — it's about ensuring that supporters consistently reaffirm their belief the organization is the best at the cause.
Finally, and perhaps this is the most difficult to grasp, many organizations are not communicating to donors, volunteers and members, etc., what they are doing to help THEM. People engage with a nonprofit for a reason. A donor has a need that must be fulfilled, which is different than beneficiaries of your brand. In other words, a health charity might be serving people who have a disease through research, treatments, programs — and those individuals are the beneficiaries of the organization. Yet donors and volunteers need to benefit as well. Today's donors give to help others, but they expect a relationship with the organization they are supporting — relationships exist because the expected value on both sides of the relationship is met.
Nonprofits need to make sure they truly understand why their donors are engaging with them and don't just scratch the surface and believe it is to help their beneficiaries. There are expectations that need to be met to secure the relationship for the long term. Make sure every experience with the brand seeks to confirm the value and deliver the value to the supporters.
So, for me, what started with a cool article that seemed relevant to me because I was working on my personal brand turned out to be also very relevant to the industry I have spent my career serving. I urge all of you to read the article. Think about it relative to yourself as an individual and the relationships you have. Are you consistent? Are you providing value to those whom experience you?
Then, after you've analyzed yourself like I have (and perhaps stress about it like I have), turn the attention to your brand and how you are communicating the value of it to those experiencing it. Funny how such a simple, five-letter word (brand) can be so complex and so much more than just a logo.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.