Supercharge Your Nonprofit's Program With a Unique Sub-Brand

Nonprofit organizations: a robust marketing campaign may not be enough for your latest endeavor. Achieve the best results with a specific program brand.
Maximize program impact separate brand 2020

Your nonprofit organization is investing in a promising new program. You have high hopes for what it can achieve. But in order for your program to create maximum impact, you must first figure out how best to promote it.

Depending on your particular situation, a simple campaign may not be enough. If you want to truly set your program apart and give it an identity of its own, it might be time to consider investing in a program brand.

What is a Program Brand?

A program brand is a fully fledged brand built specifically for one of your organization’s programs. Under certain scenarios, program brands make a great deal of sense and can lead to better outcomes, increased engagement, and maximized impact.

While a program brand is clearly linked to an organization’s umbrella brand, it typically “walks and talks” like its own unique brand. That’s because a program brand’s identity should be shaped not by your organization’s existing brand but by your program’s strategic objectives and target audience. As a result, the name, logo, and all other elements of the program brand’s identity may be completely different from that of the parent organization.

A program brand should include all the same building blocks as an organization’s existing brand, from a logo and brand style guide to a website and social media accounts. As a result, putting together a program brand is a larger lift than the average campaign. Because of that, you shouldn’t consider investing in a program brand unless your program will run for at least a quarter, if not longer.

That said, a program brand can be extremely beneficial. It can:

  • Allow you to speak more clearly to your program’s target audience. This is especially important if this audience differs significantly from — or pulls from a distinct subset of — your organization’s overall audience.
  • More effectively compel your target audience to act. Program brands are at their best when they imply and inspire action. The entire point is to entice your audience to take action, whether that’s volunteering, signing a petition, giving money, participating in an event, or making a personal behavioral change. Everything from your brand’s name to the calls to action on your program website can be used to rally people to your cause and make clear the precise actions you want them to take.
  • Build buzz. Creating a new, program-specific brand enables you to more effectively create buzz as you launch (or grow) your program. Your new name and brand identity allow you to start fresh with all of the potential PR and attention related to a rollout.

When Does it Make Sense to Invest in a Program Brand?

You may want to consider investing in a program brand if:

  • Your organization’s existing brand doesn’t clearly connect with your program’s issue, goals, or audience. Chances are, your organization’s brand speaks to your overarching mission at the broadest possible level. Depending on the issues your organization supports, some of your individual programs may not clearly relate to your parent organization in an immediately recognizable way. For example, let’s say your organization’s broadest focus is on changing government policy related to a particular issue. If that’s the case, your primary brand is likely geared toward policymakers. That same brand — which may have a very insider-oriented, acronym-driven name — won’t translate effectively to a grassroots awareness-building program geared at local citizens. Depending on the context, it might make sense to develop a couple of sub-brands, each directed at a particular target audience.
  • Your organization is attempting to tell a complicated story with multiple audiences under one brand. If you don’t successfully separate out the strands of your story into different programs with different brand identities, your audiences may end up more confused than inspired. Ask yourself: Can you create more effective or specific messaging, or a more focused ask, with a sub-brand?
  • Your program’s efficacy is at risk of being undermined by your organization’s reputation or legacy. If your organization has a long, high-profile history, that legacy can sometimes overshadow or even undermine your program work. If that’s the case, it can be helpful to step away from the perceptions surrounding your existing brand by creating a program brand.
  • Your organization’s parent brand name is hard to spell, long, difficult to remember, too broad, or unrelated to your program. If your organization’s name will be an impediment to immediately helping your audience understand what your program is about, a program brand may be in order.
  • Your program involves a timely action or ask related to a major, time-sensitive event, such as a political ballot measure. If immediate, timely action is in order, a program brand can encompass a future desired state and inspire action. This allows you to shift your messaging and marketing to focus on what can be almost as if it already exists, allowing for a more positive campaign approach.
  • You see an opportunity to name a program in a clever way that grabs attention and leads to increased action. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the JED Foundation’s Seize the Awkward brand is an excellent example.

In our work with clients, we help organizations assess the relative merits of a campaign approach versus a program brand — and guide them in reaching the decision that makes the most sense for their particular situation.

Best Practices for Creating and Managing a Program Brand

Now that you’ve determined a program brand is the right fit, it’s time to focus on implementation. There are a lot of details to tend to, so you should start by putting together a comprehensive plan to get your program brand off the ground. Make sure to include the following details:

  • Trademark the logo, and secure a website domain and social media handles. Don’t forget to put these crucial details near the top of your to-do list! As soon as you have a name you feel strongly about, it’s time to trademark the logo and check into the availability of a website domain and social media handles. If those components aren’t available, it’s back to the drawing board.
  • Create a brand style guide. Plan to treat your program brand as seriously as you treat your organization’s overall brand. In order to present it clearly, consistently, and effectively, you must create a brand style guide.
  • Define a brand hierarchy. How will your program brand relate to your umbrella brand? You want to make sure that your program brand can be easily traced to your organization’s brand, while at the same time allowing your program brand to stand on its own two feet.
  • Build a rollout strategy. The launch of your new program brand gives you a wide-open opportunity to build buzz. But if you want to be effective, you must be intentional. That means creating a rollout strategy that considers the timing of your launch as well as PR activities, the various channels you’ll use to advertise your program brand, and so on.
  • Set up new email addresses. Whether or not your program is supported by a separate, dedicated team, plan to set up new email addresses using your program brand’s domain. Not only will this help your audience avoid confusion, it will also make your life easier, too.
  • Build a separate program brand website. A program brand should have its own dedicated website. Just make sure you include information (in the footer perhaps) about how your program brand relates to your organization. Your organization’s main website should also include prominent information about and links to your program brand’s website.
  • Cross-promote between your parent brand and sub-brands. Don’t forget to cross-promote your brands in a way that leverages each brand’s equity in support of the other one.
  • Create communication rules and protocols. Your team should have a clear understanding of which communications will go out under your parent brand and which make more sense as part of the sub-brand. This will likely be context dependent, which means that your rules can’t possibly cover every scenario. Think through the real-world use cases and ensure you have a firm but flexible strategy in place.

When we partner with nonprofit organizations to help them create program brands, we lead them through the entire process from initial ideation to launch. Want to learn more about how we can help you navigate a program brand? We’d love to talk.

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