Lots of organizations come to our company, Advertising for Humanity, asking
for “a new brand.” They typically mean a new name, or icon, or a new
look and feel for their existing name. Lots of people think that brand
begins and ends there — that once we shine up the name they can stick it
below their email signature, pop it on their website, and, voila, they
have a new brand. Much of our work consists of disabusing people of this

Brand is much more than a name or a logo. Brand is everything, and everything is brand.

Brand is your strategy. If you’re a consumer brand,
brand is your products and the story that those products tell together.
Ikea’s kitchen chairs’ tendency to fall apart after two years is part of
the company’s brand. If you’re a humanitarian organization, brand is
your aspirations and the progress you are making toward them. Share Our Strength’s audacious goal to end child hunger in America in five years is its brand. The work the organization is doing
to get governor after governor on board is its brand. Its seriousness
is its brand. Back in 1969 NASA didn’t have the best logo. But man did
it have a brand. It has a nicer logo now — but the brand no longer
stands for anything. If you don’t know where you’re going or how you’re
going to get there, that’s your brand, no matter what fancy new name you
come up with.

Brand is your calls to action. If Martin Luther King
had offered people free toasters if they marched on Washington, that
would have been his brand. Are your calls to action brave and inspiring
or tacky? Are they consistent with some strategy that makes sense?
Getting more Facebook “likes” isn’t a strategy, in and of itself. If
you’re a humanitarian organization, the things you ask your constituents
to do are your brand.

Brand is your customer service. If donors call your
organization all excited and get caught up in a voicemail tree, can’t
figure out who they should talk to, and leave a message for someone
unsure if it’s the right person, that’s your brand. It says you don’t
really care all that much about your donors. If they come to your annual
dinner and can’t hear the speaker because of a lousy sound system,
that’s your brand. It says that you don’t think it’s really important
whether they hear what you have to say or not. If the clerk at your
checkout counter is admiring her nails and talking on her cell phone,
she’s your brand, whether she’s wearing one of the nice new logo caps
you bought or not.

Brand is the way you speak. If you build a new
website and fill it with outdated copy, you don’t have a new brand. If
the copy is impenetrable — a disease of epidemic proportion in the
humanitarian sector — that’s your brand. If you let social service
jargon, acronyms, and convoluted abstractions contaminate everything you
say, that’s your brand. If your annual report puts people to sleep,
that’s your brand. If it’s trying to be all things to all people, that’s
your brand.

Message is a central part of your brand, but message alone cannot
make a great brand. How many times have you encountered a product or
service that didn’t live up to what the copy writers told you about it?
That disconnect is your brand.

Brand is the whole array of your communication tools.
Brand is the quality of the sign on the door that says, “Back in 10
minutes.” It’s whether you use a generic voicemail system with canned
muzak-on-hold, or whether you create your own custom program. The former
says you are just like everyone else and you’re fine with that; the
latter says you are original. You might have a pretty sale banner that
adheres to all the right visual standards, but if it’s sagging and hung
up with duct tape, that’s your brand. It says you don’t pay attention to
the details. Can you imagine seeing a crooked banner with duct tape in
an Apple store? Never. And that’s their brand. It says that the
motherboard in the Mac isn’t hanging by a thread either.

In the digital age, user interface is your brand. If your website’s
functionality frustrates people, it says that you don’t care about them.
Brand extends even to your office forms, the contracts you send out,
your HR manuals. Do you rethink traditional business tools or default to
convention? The choice you make says a lot about how innovative your
brand is.

Brand is your people. Brand is your people and the
way they represent you. Having a good team starts with good hiring and
continues with strong and consistent training and development. No matter
how well your employees adhere to your new brand style guide, if they
couldn’t care less about the job they’re doing, that’s your brand.

Brand is your facilities. Are the lights on, or is
your team working in darkness? Is the place clean and uncluttered? Does
it have signage that’s consistent with your visual standards? Does it
look and feel alive? Your home is your brand.

Brand is your logo and visuals, too. A great brand
deserves a great logo and great graphic design and visuals. It can make
the difference when the customer is choosing between two great brands.
But these alone cannot make your brand great.

Ultimately, brand is about caring about your business at every level
and in every detail, from the big things like mission and vision, to
your people, your customers, and every interaction anyone is ever going
to have with you, no matter how small.

Whether you know it or not, whether you have a swanky logo or not,
you do have a brand. The question is whether or not it’s the brand you
really want.