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Brands: What’s Yours?

As my organization begins to ask how it can achieve the most positive impact on the health of its region, I found the Communications Network workshop, Brand Strategy: Moment of Truth to be timely and helpful.

A few takeaways from the session, before I get to the title of this post:

1. According to facilitators Sally Bock and Ann Bradford, “branding is not a communications process, it’s a strategic process with communications outcomes.”

2. Some people, especially in the nonprofit and foundation world, wince at the term “branding.” For these folks, “identity” can be a useful alternative.

3. We looked at one approach to branding, conceived by Simon Sinek, where an organization begins with the “why” you do what you do, and then, move onto “how,” and finally “what.” According to Sinek, most organizations address these issues in the wrong order, leaving the critical “why” as an afterthought. The “why” is, in fact, your most important consideration, and should be your primary concern in the branding process. It’s the inspiration behind your brand. Another way to look at is is the difference between the “what” and the “so what.”

We also spent a lot of time talking about Apple, and their successful branding work. Their first “think different” spot featured powerful individuals, such as Maria Callas, Muhammad Ali, and Buckminster Fuller, and this got me thinking: what about our own personal brands?

That’s right – I’m talking about you and me.

Do we think strategically enough about our own “why” and “so what.” Just as some people bristle at “branding” for nonprofits, many surely feel likewise when we talk about human beings.

But seriously, it might be helpful for us to ask some of the same questions we ask about our brands about ourselves. Why do we bother? Is it to make it through the end of the day or to do something more? How does that translate to our jobs? Our families, etc?

Sherman Alexie even addresses some of these questions in his plenary address. He spoke to serious identity issues, calling himself a writer and a comedian. And he also touched on more superficial labels, referring to himself as the erstwhile “androgynous skinny Indian”

Just as your organization’s logo is not its identity, neither is your size or hairstyle yours. Nor is your clothing style. But those are indeed part of your brand. Are you “athletic?” “Urban” “County” “Smart?” “Bookish smart?” Academic smart?” “Street smart?”

Those considerations may be part of your identity, but what’s at its core? Providing for your family? Serving God? Making your city block the most fun place in the world?

For many of us, our brand might just be surviving, making it through a long day of work. But maybe if we think more intentionally about what we want our personal brand to be, it might help our professional efforts, and vice versa…

I thank the conference and the branding session for getting me to think a little more seriously about this.

Chris Palmedo is the director of public affairs at Northwest Health Foundation


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