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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Myths and Reality about Branding

by Larry Checco

Recently I was asked if I would help an organization develop a branding campaign. I politely declined.

“But I thought you specialized in branding?” came the quizzical comeback.

“I do,” I replied. “But to me a branding campaign is an oxymoron. A campaign has a beginning, middle and an end; branding is how you conduct your business every single day.”

Which segues into another question I’m frequently asked, and that is: “What are the industry standards for branding?” And therein lies the rub. From my perch, when it comes to branding, there are no obvious industry standards.

Despite how long branding has been employed as a “discipline” – especially in the for-profit sector –there are still many people who believe branding is primarily about having an attractive logo and tagline to be used to attract as many eyeballs as possible.  

Others think it’s all about marketing, advertising, public relations and awareness campaigns. Still others think they’re fulfilling their branding obligations by distributing pens, refrigerator magnets, stress balls, etcetera that have their organization’s name on them at conferences and fairs.

Fact is, branding is all of the above – and much, much more – most of which is captured in the myths versus realities that follow:

Myth #1 
Marketing and branding are one and the same.

Marketing and advertising are promotional strategies.

Good branding is far less about how you promote your organizations, and far more about good leadership, appropriate and ethical behavior and an organization's commitment and ability to fulfill the covenant, or promises, its brand represents. A brand reflects everything associated with an organization, including, but not limited to, the quality of its:

  • Work
  • Reputation
  • Leadership
  • Staff
  • Core cultural values (i.e. integrity, accountability, transparency, trustworthiness, etc.)
  • Programs, services and products

Think of it this way, the brand characteristics you appreciate and admire most in the companies and organizations you like doing business with should be the same brand characteristics to model and nurture in your own organization.

Myth #2
Once we have an attractive logo and catchy tagline, we have our brand.

Many organizations spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and money developing logos and taglines believing they are creating their brands, when in fact a logo and tagline are simply the banners for the brand. Your brand drills much deeper into the core of your organization (see Myth #1).

If all you have is an attractive logo and catchy tagline without the commitment and ability to fulfill whatever promises your brand conveys, then what you have is all sizzle and no steak – and it won't take long for your target audiences to see the smoke and realize there's little else there.   

Myth #3
Branding is the responsibility of our communications and marketing folks.

Branding is the responsibility of EVERYONE affiliated with your organization, from board members to support staff, volunteers and clients. If it helps, consider the person who answers your phones your "Director of First Brand Impressions."

You might hear, "I work in finance.  What does that have to do with branding?" Just ask the folks who worked for Enron, Arthur Anderson, World Com, Global Crossing, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and a slew of other for-profits and non-profits, alike, how much their finance folks had to do with their organizations' brands – and their livelihoods!

Myth #4
We don't have a budget for branding our organization.

If you effectively leverage your current resources – namely your board members, staff, volunteers, customers – you may not need much of a budget to better brand your organization.

Your brand is only as good as the people who live it day in and day out. Board members, staff and others who are knowledgeable about what your brand represents, take pride in their work, feel secure in their jobs and are appreciated for the good work that they do make excellent Ambassadors for your brand.


A brand screams out TRUST ME!  A good brand quietly – and always – fulfills that pledge, everyday, by you and everyone affiliated with your organization.

Larry Checco is author of Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization. He is president of Checco Communications (www.checcocomm.net) and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter and consultant on branding.


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