The Big Difference Between Branding and Marketing for Your NPO

To me, nothing is better than the excitement of the month of December. My birthday and Christmas both happen in this month, just a few days apart. Family time, snack foods for days and tackle football in the snow are kind of my jam. There’s just one thing that can dilute my giddiness: the inevitable occurrence of when my birthday and Christmas get blended into the same holiday. Regardless of the date they fall on, they should still stay separate – I’m talking to you, Aunt Lynda.

Similarly, as someone who’s been studying advertising for years, what really irks me is when branding and marketing get paired as the same thing. Branding and marketing are as different as my birthday and Christmas. Both situations may be close, but they serve a different purpose.

Branding is all about how your organization is perceived. In its simplest form, a brand is a gut feeling about an organization. Marketing is how you can influence people into perceiving your organization in a certain way. Essentially, a brand is what you achieve via marketing tactics. You do this with social media, web presence and creative consistencies of your brand (i.e. logo, colors, voice), which are all parts of a grand marketing strategy. Even if you may have a similar mission to another organization, you can differentiate yourself by executing exceptional branding.

Marketing contributes to a brand, but a brand is bigger than individual marketing tactics. Nonprofit Village wrote, “Branding is strategic. Marketing is tactical.” You have to determine your overall strategy before you can start to brainstorm specific tactics to achieve the goals you’re setting.

Companies use a positioning statement to lay the groundwork of their brand. That statement is written out to guide marketing tactics towards achieving your brand’s goals. It typically follows the “For, What, The, That” formula. That is, for who is the target market, what is the need or opportunity, state the product or service name, and the ‘that’ is the benefit.

It’s a little different in the nonprofit sector because you typically have two to three points of view because of your audience and the way your organization is structured. First is all of the people affected by your cause. For example, if you have an organization raising money for pediatric cancer, you wouldn’t want your branding to be harsh and abrasive, but rather soft and inviting. The second point of view to consider is people who would be willing to donate time or money to your organization. And in some cases, the third point of view to consider is potential employees.

Being strategic early on allows you to execute the most effective tactics to position your organization. (See where branding and marketing are coming together?) Perhaps the most important thing to do before you pursue a brand with tactical marketing methods is to make sure your organization has a clear mission and vision because ultimately your brand will reflect them.

Developing a brand is not an overnight occurrence. It takes time and you have to make sure that everyone in your organization is on the same page with what brand you’re trying to achieve. A good exercise to band your organization together is to have everyone on staff create a personality statement that describes how they view your organization and how they’d like it to be viewed. From there you can aggregate the responses and shape your marketing tactics to achieve an ideal brand. This will help you develop a brand personality if you haven’t already, while simultaneously getting everyone engaged and on the same wavelength.

Killing two birds with one stone isn’t always the best option. Just like when I receive one card each winter from relatives to cover birthday and Christmas, oftentimes branding and marketing get grouped together mistakenly. I’m flattered to be juxtaposed with a day of such happiness for kids and families, but my birthday and Christmas are still different. Yes, there are similarities (presents!), but just like branding and marketing, they should be kept separate. With that being said, branding and marketing work in close conjunction with each other, but are still separate arts.


Nick Small

With specialties in content strategy and creation, social media engagement and digital marketing optimization, Nick brings a depth of experience in nonprofit marketing. He’s also helped hundreds of nonprofits with their online presence to improve donor retention and attract new audiences, and he still has time for a good glass of whiskey, round of golf or new adventure.

June 12, 2015

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