A Brand Is a Promise to a Customer

A strong brand personality can help nonprofits attract more support for their mission.

September 01, 2007

| by Ben Pimentel

While brands are typically associated with for-profit corporations, successful nonprofit organizations should also be aware of and try to manage the way they are portrayed and perceived in public.

Jennifer Aaker, the General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, outlined some of the principles of effective brands at a September 27 meeting of nonprofit leaders, stressing the importance of standing out and evoking emotions.

“A brand is a promise to a customer,” she said at the Nonprofit Management Institute conference, hosted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review at Stanford University. “A successful brand delivers on that promise.”

Aaker said a strong brand personality can help a nonprofit attract more support for its mission, whether in the form of donations or volunteers. While nonprofits typically don’t see one another as competitors in the same way that commercial entities battle it out for customers and attention, it is still critical for a nonprofit group to define and manage its identity and public image.

Aaker cited the example of the American Cancer Society, a major U.S. nonprofit with more than 3,400 local offices. The nationwide organization aims to eliminate cancer as a major health problem through research, education, advocacy, and service.

But with 100 other organizations with “cancer” in their names, it has sometimes proven difficult for the American Cancer Society to establish and develop a separate identity. Aaker cited one survey that found 34 percent of respondents thought they had donated to the society when, in fact, only 16 percent had done so.

It is important for nonprofits to establish a brand with which a target audience can feel a relationship, and these organizations must actively manage and measure these relationships.

“Brands matter,” she said.

Aaker spoke at the 2nd annual Nonprofit Management Institute, which was cosponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and brought together leading experts and professors from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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