Will the Co-operative Bank brand survive?

Will the Co-operative Bank brand survive?

This morning’s news about the continuing difficulties of the Co-operative Bank raised one obvious question in interviews and reports: will the brand survive?

The survival of the bank, in one form or another, is highly probable. It’s difficulties relate to the future ‘financial resilience’ requirements of the Bank of England rather than immediate operational issues. These requirements broadly require banks to hold a higher proportion of capital assets than has been the case in recent history so that come another financial shock they will be better placed to withstand it than they were in 2008. Getting to that threshold has proved a problem for the Co-operative Bank. A buyer with sufficiently deep pockets would get them out of this hole. The question is, however, would the Co-operative brand – associated with mutuality and ethical practice – survive or be subsumed.

Beggars, as the saying goes, can’t be choosers. Thus the survival of the Co-operative brand within the banking sector will depend on whether or not the Co-op’s buyers believe that there is commercial benefit in retaining the Co-operative message. The brand, essentially, ‘belongs’ to the Co-op Group – the one that does the supermarkets and the funeral homes as well as a few other less well known notions. To say understanding exactly how the Co-op operates is tricky is something of an understatement. Behind the retail brand is a web of locally own mutual with democratic structures that buy in to the stores in some obscure way to which most of its modern-day customers seem oblivious. Nonetheless it has a reasonably clear ‘niche’ of ‘fair-trade’ and ‘ethical sourcing’. The bank was the choice for many for similar reasons. You knew where ‘your’ money was invested. You didn’t really, because that’s not actually how banks work of make money, but they need customers and that was one way they found them.

Despite having squandered its position as the UK’s largest retail group in the 50s and 60s, the Co-op remains the seventh largest food retailer, only recently having been overtaken by discounting insurgent, Aldi. The bank clings to the brand based on 20% ownership from the Co-op group and its continuing its ethical financial policies. The uncomfortable fact, however, is that the Co-operative is a massively damaged brand.

Confidence in banking is everything. Without it banks fail to prosper and, ultimately in times of shock, just fail because banking confidence is a matter of smoke and mirrors. The difficulties of the Co-operative bank are too well documented to be easy to escape – the brand symbolises those difficulties. The Co-op Group well knows this because the difficulties of the bank, its ‘colourful’ former Chairman, Paul Flowers – the Crystal Methodist and the less than ethical activities of other bank directors damaged the brand of the entire group. The Co-op may spin its reversion to the ‘Co-op’ brand and logo of the 1960s however it likes but nobody will ever convince me that repairing the damage done by the scandals at the Co-operative Bank was not THE key driver.

So back to the original question – can the brand survive in the banking sector? My guess is not. First and foremost the damage outweighs any particular benefit the retention of the Co-op association might provide, secondly the interests of the Co-op Group would seem best served both financially and by brand association by just getting the hell out of banking and completing as far as possible the ‘cleansing’ of the Co-op brand. And finally, there are better non-mainstream brands around. Nationwide has long made a virtue of retaining its mutual status, and TSB, while not driven by ‘ethical investment’ policy plays on being the local retail banks – smaller, more trustworthy than the big players who made such a mess of it (including its former parent, Lloyds, of course. I can’t for the life of me see how the residual loyalty of a diminishing social niche could be sufficient for any suitor to outweigh the downside of retaining the Co-operative Bank as a brand. Nor can I see why it would be in the interests of the Co-op Group any longer to allow their brand to be subject to factors and owners way beyond their control. My guess is that in time and following its eventual return to the private sector, the NatWest and RBS banking brands too may have to be, erm, shredded.

The moral of this tale is that there is a point beyond which the damage done to a brand, no matter how well known, cannot easily be repaired. Brand assets, which are the stuff of real balance sheet value for many a conglomerate, need to be maintained, protected and valued. They are key elements in merger and acquisition and, for growing SMEs, need to be understood, valued and protected. Growing that asset requires strategy and day to day attention. To anybody who still thinks a brand is just a logo the carry on at the Co-operative Bank should convince them otherwise.


Public Impact advises and mentors businesses seeking to maximise brand assets, create and re-fresh their brands and develop robust brand strategies. Get in touch for a chat.


Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Posted by John Howarth in Brand, Business, Communications, Public Affairs
When Strategy Fails: What business can learn from 2016’s political shocks

When Strategy Fails: What business can learn from 2016’s political shocks

Neither of this year’s big political shocks needed to happen. Both were failures of strategy in which there are clear lessons for business communication.

I’ve done a bit of number crunching in my time and I must admit I didn’t see the election of Donald Trump coming. It seemed a more secure prospect that Hilary Clinton would make it into the White House than the UK voting to Remain but, as one of the best of the number crunching sites, Nate Silver’s 538, pointed out to those who cared to listen, though the election of Trump was improbable it was never impossible. In 2012 Silver, despite polls at times closer than this years, placed the probability of Mitt Romney ousting President Obama at less than 10% throughout the campaign. Trump went into election day at 23% – a long shot, but far from out of the question.

Ominously, Silver, who’s other great passion is sports statistics, wrote after the third game of the baseball World Series that the Chicago Cubs (then 1-3 down in a best of seven) had less chance of winning than Trump had of making it to the White House. The Cubs won the next three games and took the title 4-3.

However, it wasn’t probabilities or polls that cost Hilary Clinton and Remain, these votes, the full significance will remain unclear for some time, were lost because of fundamental failures in the strategy adopted by the campaigns.

To stay with Trump and Clinton first, it was clear for many months that the election was Hilary Clinton’s to lose. The Clintons had rescued the Democratic Party from situation where its only electoral victory since Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights legislation turned the southern states to the Republicans was Jimmy Carter’s in the aftermath of Watergate. Bill Clinton’s campaign explicitly rejected the notions of ‘rainbow coalition’ in favour of a return to the mainstream Democrat approach of looking to working Americans, the aspiring middle class and campaigning across rather than within the lines of social division. Barak Obama, though harnessing the African American and minority votes effectively, again did so with his focus firmly on majority issues of economic wellbeing.

Despite this clear evidence of success Hilary Clinton’s campaign returned to the notion of the rainbow coalition – either by choice or by default. They did this because they perceived Trump as deeply unpopular among these groups – the problem is people don’t necessarily see themselves as part of a ‘group’. By taking the approach it did the Democrat campaign neglected the ‘economic mainstream’ issues that played heavily in the key states Trump won in the northern mid-west. Democrat messages were confused and fragmented, Trump’s were unconventional yet clear and his ‘inexperience’ in office was a positive for enough people to take a punt on a ‘businessman’ rather than a ‘politician’.

Remain had similar problems. Faced by a Leave campaign with a series of simple assertive messages presented by eccentric but largely untested messengers, the Remain campaign sought to project expert opinion and, indeed, succeeded in demolishing the Leave case. Three weeks out from the vote (as with Trump) the Leave ship was sunk – their economic narrative had fallen apart and their vision of what might follow a Leave decision was shown to be non-existent, however there were still three weeks to go and Remain took the campaign onto migration. The Remain campaign, who’s messengers had no credibility on the issue, failed to engage and lost.

The strategic failures were many, but firing all of your guns and running out of ammunition before the battle is over is never a good move and, while fighting on the ground of your choosing is an important thing to attempt in any strategy, having no battle plan for fighting on opponents ground is simply unrealistic. Remain knew two years before the referendum that migration would inevitably be part of the campaign but utterly failed to come up with a sustainable line of counter-attack.

So what are the lessons for businesses in these two historic engagements?

First and foremost, have a strategy, test that strategy and challenge that strategy. This involves three principle actions:

  • Ask ‘what if?’ – explore the possibilities and think about the unexpected.
  • Play to your strengths but address weaknesses and prepare defence – because they WILL attack you.
  • Understand the audience before you think about the messages

One way or other the two campaign that lost from winning positions failed on all three.

Challenging assumptions is essential in forming strategy. It is also difficult, particularly for owner managers. The owner manager has, usually, come up with the idea, put in the money, worked long hours and put huge quantities of themselves into their businesses. Essentially, winning owner managers do positive thinking and they do it well. It is hard for employees to challenge effectively – particularly where there is a sole owner. This is where it gets dangerous because lack of challenge leads to lack of thinking leads to taking the field ill prepared.

One of the most valuable aspects of Public Impact’s work on strategy is challenging internal assumptions as a critical friend. We tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear.


To find out more about Public Impact’s strategy development services click here to get in touch.

Posted by John Howarth in Brand, Business, Communications, Public Affairs
What is a brand strategy and how do we get one?

What is a brand strategy and how do we get one?

With a clearly defined brand strategy in place you have a roadmap to developing internal buy-in, creating brand ambassadors, building awareness and enhancing the balance sheet value of your brand assets.

The brand as a tool

The brand is a modern management tool. Brands, if they are understood at all levels of the organisation, create a unity and common purpose. Businesses, to state the obvious, perform better when the whole team is pulling in the same direction. The brand strategy play a central role in creating and nurturing the understanding of the brand, its communication and its ongoing development. A brand strategy is far more than an enhanced set of brand guidelines. It is the plan of engagement in the battle to create awareness in the marketplace, the criteria for forming alliances with other brands and the road map toward acheiving the business objectives of the brand.

Developing brand strategy

Strategies are road maps for organisations and brands. To use a map effectively it is essential to know where you are right now – so it start with exactly that. An honest assessment of where the brand is at and how it is perceived within the business and outside. The next step is knowing where we want to end up – the definition of the destination and, logically, the steps along the way. But every journey has its barriers and usually rivals who what to get there first, so competitive analysis forms an essential part of strategy development as does understanding the means of travel – can you afford to travel first class and what’s the state of your equipment. You get the idea. You can muddle along without a strategy or you can be effective. Public Impact provides the framework and the critical friend who will challenge your thinking – and a real friend tells you what you need to hear, rather than what you want to hear.

Ownership – living the brand

To live the brand you have to understand the brand and an effective strategy will encompass the creation of that understanding. An ultimate aim adopted by the most effective organisations is to create in every member of the team an ambassador for the brand reflecting the values of  the organisation and practising its ethos in their daily rolls.

Building brand awareness

Creating and maintaining brand awareness is an essential marketing function of any organisation. Public Impact enables businesses to assess, measure and raise brand awareness through a combination of market research services and creative communications programmes. Objective setting, promotional programmes, advertising design, social media content and marketing programmes all contribute to the creative mix that helps improve brand awareness.

Brand strategy workshops

A workshop approach is a great way of achieving the internal buy-in vital to both rolling out a new brand and putting in place a strategy for existing brands. Depending on your organisation the process may require one or a series of workshops for different groups of staff, management or locations. In developing brands we work with the culture of your organisation – and a workshop approach doesn’t suit everyone, but it remains a proven way of promoting the ownership and understanding that underpins success.

Public Impact’s Strategy Workshops set out to develop the understanding of brand, examine the current state of your brand(s), test internal perceptions and ensure that leaders, managers and staff have direct input into a practical strategy for the brand going forward.

Auditing and evaluating the brand

Brand audits provide you with an in-the-round assessment of the effectiveness of your branding either on a corporate or product/service level. A Brand Audit is the first step toward getting a better return from your brand investment.

The brand audit examines the fundamentals of the brand, how it is communicated through words and pictures, internal and external perceptions and the cohesion of brand design with values and how the brand relates to products and services.

Brand audits provide you with professional brand consultant recommendations that enable you to make better informed decision on the direction of the brand and provides a road map for creative brand development through brand workshops, brand values, brand identity, logo design and brand management.


If you want to quantify the performance of your brands and maximise the brand assets of your organisation get in touch for an initial chat.

Posted by John Howarth in Brand, Business, Communications
Time to Re-fresh or Time to Re-brand?

Time to Re-fresh or Time to Re-brand?

There is a fashionable view that in the digital age it is necessary constantly to re-invent the brand. To re-brand almost as a matter of course. Some agencies even believe that rebrand should be conducted on a fixed cycle – it’s the permanent revolution of branding!

Public Impact doesn’t approach the issue with pre conceived ideas. While it is good practice to build review of the brand into the Brand Strategy thinking on the right time to refresh or re-brand is best approached like any thinking – with an open mind and without prejudice.

Re-branding or refreshing

There are a range of decisions that need to be made to determine whether the project is about refreshing the existing brand or creating a new brand. Examining the performance of the brand against its objectives, reviewing the perceptions of the brand internally and externally and auditing the effectiveness of the implementation of the brand are all part of the process and each enables a careful assessment of the accumulated value of the existing brand. The objective is to reach an informed decision and to achieve buy-in to the need for the re-branding (or not).

The extent of a the project

The decision on refreshing or re-branding will define the parameters of the project. If the current brand has baggage and its negative associations have outgrown the positive then rebranding from the ground up may be required involving name change and an effective fresh start for the business or product line. On the other hand a successful brand may simply need to be brought up to date – perhaps with a colour change, the tweaking of a logo and/or a new strapline around which to base future campaigns.

Whatever the decision, a successful rebrand is more than just playing with logo ideas.

The re-brand or re-fresh will require a roll-out plan and should ideally encompass the revision or development of the brand strategy.

A workshop approach

Brands are not merely logos or slogans. At their best they are expressions of the essence of your business approach. The effective modern brand is a guiding light to the organisation; the expression that guides everyday business practice as well as providing a platform for the outward projection.

A workshop approach is a great way of achieving the internal buy-in vital to rolling out a new brand. Depending on your organisation the process may require one or a series of workshops for different groups of staff, management or locations. In developing brands we work with the culture of your organisation – and a workshop approach doesn’t suit everyone, but it remains a proven way of promoting the ownership and understanding that underpins success.

Public Impact’s professional facilitated workshops set out to examine the current state of the brand, to test intention against perception and to create a sound platform of understanding for a brand enhancement project. The workshops enables creative designers to understand your business. We would normally make a series of recommendations from the workshop on the direction of branding projects involving corporate identify, values, product identity, logo design and brand guidelines.

Posted by John Howarth in Brand
How to Achieve Effective Brand Management

How to Achieve Effective Brand Management

Brand management is like training a dog. Or anything for that matter. Start in the right way, follow a number of principles and the brand is manageable. Ignore those well established principles and the brand becomes an out of control dog – hard to manage, hard work and barking at all the wrong times.

OK, so its an analogy of sorts, but how do we get a manageable brand.

Clearly defined brands deliver effective management

Successful, strong branding embodies the personality and values of the organisation, the ideas, the products and services. Public Impact works with the culture of your organisation to create brands that embody the personality of business, the benefits of products and the aspirations of customers and supporters. Our collaborative approach to projects promotes internal buy-in, our creativity and business skill creates visually exciting and practical, manageable identities.

Developing brand values

Strong corporate brands and the creative design at the heart of their presentation will be underpinned by a strong set of brand values. Brand values need to be realistic, sustainable and properly express the personality of the business. To an external eye are the brand values of the business in step with the outputs and customer perceptions of the organisation. Where brand values already exist Public Impact works with them. Otherwise our consulting and facilitating helps you better define your brand values and to achieve buy-in throughout your organisation. Public Impact provides a programme of consultation, workshop session involvement, definition and feedback, brand management training and mentoring and managed roll out programmes.

Public Impact’s workshop approach

Brands are not merely logos or slogans. At their best they are expressions of the essence of your business approach. The effective modern brand is a guiding light to the organisation; the expression that guides everyday business practice as well as providing a platform for the outward projection.

A workshop approach is a great way of achieving the internal buy-in vital to rolling out a new brand. Depending on your organisation the process may require one or a series of workshops for different groups of staff, management or locations. In developing brands we work with the culture of your organisation – and a workshop approach doesn’t suit everyone, but it remains a proven way of promoting the ownership and understanding that underpins success.

Public Impact’s Brand Workshop sets out to examine the current state of the brand, to test intention against perception and to create a sound platform of understanding for a brand enhancement project. The workshop enables creative designers to understand your business.

We make a series of recommendations from the Brand Workshop on the direction of branding projects involving corporate identify, values, product identity, logo design and brand guidelines.

Creating Brand Identity

Underpinned by Public Impact’s brand consulting services, the creative design of brand identity puts in place visual and verbal elements that define the brand. Logo design, strapline development digital design and graphic design services all contribute to the development of strong, positive brand identity.

Brand guidelines

Effectively defined, comprehensive brand guidelines are essential tools in the management and projection of brands both within the organisation and to the wider market. Public Impact helps marketing directors and brand managers by developing and providing clear, workable brand guidelines that are easily understood and encompass all the information creative teams and third party suppliers require. Comprehensive formats are portable and easy to use across the range of digital and traditional media including print applications, signage, point of presence/sale, digital media and web design.

Helping you manage your brand

Managing brands requires a degree of skill, visual understanding and strong methodology. It’s about more than just policing the brand, it’s about creating effective platforms, establishing effective channels and disseminating best practice. But most of all effective brand management is about creating and maintaining a brand culture within the organisation.

Businesses can struggle with brand management for want of the right techniques and processes and effective brand definition is a prerequisite. Public Impact’s brand management consulting and training equips businesses of all types with the right approach to ensure the brand is effectively managed both internally and externally. Our brand strategy development review and audit processes provide the basis for a strong ongoing partnership driving the progress of your brands.

Posted by John Howarth in Brand
Five things to ask before hiring a brand expert

Five things to ask before hiring a brand expert

Because a brand expert really ought to know

Regular readers of this blog will know that amid the cascade of cheerfulness and enthusiasm there is the occasional grumpy note. For new readers, it’s best I tell you now that this one’s a little grumpy – but stick with me, please.

I received an email a couple of weeks back, supposedly from a supposed ‘expert’ in branding – or at least that what the grandiose job title said. What is it with job titles these days? I try not to get angry, I really do, but this one made me angry and every time I think about this brand expert I two weeks on I still feel irritated.

Mr Expert (real names have been changed to check the culpable) told me that it was “essential” that businesses like mine “rebrand regularly” to keep our image up to date and went on to explain that “every leading business knows how important it is to re-brand”.

It makes me angry because it’s exactly the kind of thing that gets our industry a bad name. Mr Expert knew nothing about our business. Mr Expert had never spoken to anyone in our business. Mr Expert doesn’t know a thing about our current brand – but somehow he does know we need to change it. Reading further it’s pretty clear that, by brand, Mr Expert means logo. For a marketing junior to equate brand with logo is one thing but an “expert”. Perhaps Mr Expert knows all these things but failed to check with whoever was writing the email – sloppy processes. Anyway, I didn’t delete the email – I’ve kept is as an example of how bad email marketing can get!

So how should it work? How do we know if an agency knows what it is talking about.

Understanding your business

You need to know that the agency is going to take the trouble to understand your business before they start drawing pictures or fiddling with Illustrator. Brands are about business. The needs of different business determine the nature of branding. Unless the brand consultant and the agency to which they belong have a clear understanding of your business objectives it’s unlikely they will get it right.

Full re-brand or refresh?

Often, when people talk about ‘rebranding’ it isn’t really what they mean. A full re-brand normally starts with a blank sheet of paper and is normally driven by a specific business objective. This can be positive – new branding is required to address expanded markets, because on-line business will become much easier or to reflect the greater whole after a merger. Sometimes the drivers can be negative, new branding could be required following a substantial failure of a product or perhaps because the business function has changed so substantially that the old brand was just too well known for something no longer done.

If however the business objective is to appeal to a wider audience or different demographic or the objective is to bring the organisation up to date then a re-fresh of the existing brand may more appropriate. The agency should understand the need to align your brand strategy with your business objectives.

What’s It Worth?

Brands have a value. It is sometimes difficult to put a precise figure on it, but there is always a value and it can be assessed. Of course the value might, on balance be negative – but that’s what you need to figure out. The agency should be able to help. How is the agency going to work out the value of your brand? What factors are they going to factor in to their assessment?

It’s Not About You!

Well, it is, but it is much more about the people who are buying your products and services and those who potentially might. Understanding the audience is essential to how your agency approaches its work.

It’s about the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’

A reworking of your branding is an opportunity, a chance to bring to the fore what makes your business tick and to create among your people a deeper of what your brands mean to people and how to project them. Your agency should understand the potential of brands as tools of business organisation and how to achieve buy in from your staff.

Where do we start?

There’s a lot more of course: how the digital world affects your business and your branding, how a transition to a new or refreshed brand can be mapped out and so on. But back to the original question, how do we best understand where to start?

In our view the best philosophy is to gain an understanding of the business and the brand with an open mind. To examine the existing brand in detail, to ‘audit’ the brand and to recommend the most appropriate course of action to enhance the value of the brand: a full re-naming, a simple facelift or something between. All of this should be considered before anyone has even suggested sketching out a new logo.

Posted by John Howarth in Brand, 0 comments
6 ways workshops deliver more successful rebrands in not for profit

6 ways workshops deliver more successful rebrands in not for profit

Brand and re-brand projects in UK charities and not for profit involve significant issues. Everyone who works of lends their time in the third sector does so want to deliver the maximum resource to the charitable function or to delivering the services of the organisation to its clients or members. It goes against the grain somewhat to spend resources on the appearance of the organisation (there are plenty of misconceptions around how much does it cost to rebrand a not fot profit) even if the senior staff and management board can see the job needs doing.

Although this sounds pessimistic it is sometimes as well to remember that a problem anticipated can mean it is a problem well on the way to being solved. It isn’t just a question of seeing the problem as an opportunity, though that helps, it is about building a process that recognises the distinct nature of charity, NGO and not for profit businesses and goes with the flow of the culture.

As Public Impact developed and updated brands of businesses and not-for-profits we developed a workshop approach that is part education, part engagement exercise and part internal research. We now strongly recommend the approach to clients as a mean of addressing six typical issues that commonly arise in brand and re-brand projects. So in no particular order here are 6 ways workshops deliver more successful rebrands in not for profit:

1. Creating staff ownership of the Brand

The success of any brand project will ultimately stand or fall on the commitment of the staff to the brand. They are the people who must implement the brand on a daily basis. They are the people who must be able to brief agencies, partners and volunteers on how the brand should be presented and represented. Unless their commitment is secured the brand will fail – so it is imperative to include staff in the development of the brand. Properly structured workshops create the space for constructive input to the design thinking of the agency that can be reflected in the outcome. This isn’t and should never be ‘design by committee’ but it should visibly inform the design process.

2. Gaining Trustee/Management Board ‘buy-in’ to the Brand

Trustees bring diverse experiences to the governance of UK charities, NGOs and not for profit bodies. They also bring an obligation to safeguard the finances of the organisation and in doing so trustees seek to protect the resources of the organisation and maximise spend on the client or advocacy function. Trustees need to understand both the need for and the benefits of re-brand. However experience of trustees is varied and there is no guarantee anyone on a board will have expertise in brand promotion or development. Workshops for the board and senior management enable the understanding of brand, the perceptions of the organisation and the benefits and opportunities created by the re-brand process to be understood generating commitment and ‘buy-in’ to the process.

3. Building consensus around brand values

Brand values workshops are very common and, to some extent, have been misused as a management tactic. Used poorly brand values can become simply another tick box list or in the worst cases sticks to be used in internal battles. Used properly brand values build a consensus that can help drive the development of the brand. Where they exist and are used well they act as a ‘given’ around which consensus over the brand’s direction and promotion can be built. Without values in place the workshop process can develop ‘working values’ around which a common purpose for the project can develop.

4. Creating a better understanding of brand  

In the modern world we are bombarded with branding every day. Estimates vary on just how many brands we see or hear every day. It can run into thousands. In terms of direct commercial advertising messages most reckoning suggests 250-300, while brands run much higher, perhaps above 3,000 – that’s about three a minute. Sounds high, but if I said I could see a dozen different brands just on the very small desk at which I am writing this blog you get some idea. All that said there is only limited understanding of what a brand is and what empathies brands seek to create through an ever more sophisticated visual vocabulary that now transcends spoken language in a globalised world. Workshops create some understanding of brand, explore the way brand message act on individuals enabling participants better to contribute to the development and management of their own brand.

5. Scoping Brand management issues for the organisation

It isn’t just the creation or modernisation of a brand that can be aided through a workshop process but the management and on-going promotion of the brand asset. Many organisations, commercial and charitable,neglect the management of the brand. In some cases it is because they don’t understand the concept of brand, in some cases it is because they lack the visual skills in others the promotional or marketing skills to understand how a brand is projected. Brand workshops enable the brand consultants better to understand the culture of the organisation and the skills available and so become better able to make the realistic and necessary recommendations for a successful brand management programme.

6. Understanding the benefits a re-brand offers to charities and not for profit

Finally, perhaps the most elementary of all the aspects of brand that can be tackled through a workshop process is the notion that brand is cost rather than investment and fundraising opportunity. Exercises examining brand investment against the creation of promotional opportunity are simple but effective in getting the team thinking about how to generate return on investment in your charity or not-for-profit brandand can be a vital aspect of creation of brand understanding.

There are probably more benefits to a workshop approach, but it is important to say that, first, every organisation is different, second, that every not-for-profit has a specific culture that needs to be grasped when setting up the programme and that workshop programmes will vary considerably according to the size of the organisation. Most significantly, workshops are a two way process – it is as much an opportunity for the brand consultants and designers to understand the thinking of the organisation as it is for the organisation better to understand brand.

Posted by John Howarth in Brand, Not for Profit, 0 comments
How much does it cost to rebrand a not-for-profit

How much does it cost to rebrand a not-for-profit

Even when you absolutely know that your not-for-profit organisation needs to re-brand the cost and prove to be an obstacle. Persuading trustees that changing or refreshing the brand is a necessary, in fact essential, expenditure can prove problematic even for experienced charity chief executives. So how much does it cost to rebrand a not-for-profit?

It’s easy to understand why committing resources to branding can be tricky. Trustees are there to ensure that the organisation is managed prudently and most, if not all, wish to see the maximum proportion of their income spent on the cause, rather than operational overheads. Neither is there any reason why a group of trustees should have any great insight into the importance of the brand. Some in the third sector even have a problem with the term ‘brand’ – it smacks to them of the corporate world and maybe even seems to be against the ethos of charity.

None of that is surprising when you think about some of the figures cast around in the media as the ‘cost’ of re-brand projects in the corporate world. Sums in the millions are bandied about without any real understanding that the cost of re-fitting vehicle livery on a world-wide fleet or re-signing buildings across a continent can be, well, considerable. But the next time you hear of a £10 million re-brand, such as that recently implemented by catalogue retailer Argos ask yourself how much of that is the TV advertising campaign, how much it is re-badging the stores and how much is the print budget that they would routinely spend anyway? When you think it through seriously it’s pretty clear that they didn’t pay £10 million JUST for a new logo!

Argos were seeking to re-position the organisation somewhat further upmarket alongside more conventional department stores now operating in the online space. A more relevant example for the third sector is Macmillan, who spent £90,000 on their core re-brand from which they gained massive publicity, recognition and profile worth a great deal more than that.

So whatever the arguments for a re-brand, and demonstrating the benefits is essential, finding the right moment that enables cost to be combined with activities that need to happen in any case ensures the best use of cost. These days that often means timing a re-brand, or brand refresh coincident with updating or refreshing the organisation’s website, for example to ensure that the not-for-profit website is responsive for mobile devices. More traditionally it could be timed around the end of a headquarters lease so combined with the cost of the move.

But back to the original question; how much should it cost to rebrand a not-for-profit? Let’s reduce the rebrand to the basics – why should a charity re-brand?

You should get within the basic cost:  

  • Internal re-brand workshop
  • Audience analysis
  • Visual brand development
  • Message and strapline development
  • Usage examples (including digital)
  • Identity manual and implementation guide
  • Roll out/launch recommendations/plan

These are the essentials and they assume existing work on mission and values – if not make sure it is built into the workshop programme. While you could argue that internal workshops are a luxury in my view that would be a mistake. Internal buy-in is absolutely key to brand success and a workshop programme not only creates involvement, it promotes ownership and wider understanding of brands and brand strategies. Without that buy-in the brand will fail, with it you have a better brand and a potentially productive strategy.

For all this you should budget around £6,000-£9,000*  in a small charity or not-for-profit and from £9,000-£25,000* in a medium sized organisation. There are obviously considerable variables depending on the extent to which you are able to include other costs such as web-development, the number or the extent of the audience analysis/market research that is undertaken. In larger organisations this is likely to cost more, but a great deal can be achieved by selecting an agency with the right pedigree. That’s almost certainly not a freelance artworker in a bedroom!

Agencies that understand the third sector and its constraints should be willing and able to work with you to find a route that will suit your needs and to analyse your requirements and roll-out costs. Involving external expertise early in the process provides a degree of objectivity, challenge of internal assumptions, identification of opportunities and focus on outcomes of any exercise. Getting a proper brand audit is money well spent. It should answer the equally pertinent question; what return on investment to expect from a not for profit rebrand? If you can build in improved web search recognition, consequently increase website reads and gain PR coverage then re-brands and refreshes at sensible costs go a long way toward paying for themselves quickly.

If you like this blog find out more about Public Impact and out work with the third sector and please leave a comment.

Meanwhile, updating the website is an ideal opportunity many organisations use as an ideal time to optimise their spend on a brand refresh. You can find out about the ‘must haves’ for a modern, effective website by downloading our free ebook:


* At current exchange rates that’s about $10,000-$15,000 and $15,000-$40,000 – but it is hard to make direct comparisons between the UK and the USA.

Posted by John Howarth in Brand, Not for Profit, 0 comments
Some typical branding mistakes

Some typical branding mistakes

Public Impact brand expert John Howarth has written on food for newspapers and magazines as well as his own blog. Here he writes about how great products can fail to do themselves justice with typical branding mistakes:

“A couple of weeks ago I visited the Thame Food Festival.For those reading this blog from a far (and London!), Thame is not a typographical error, but a small town in Oxfordshire. Thame is slightly off the beaten track for most people, in that it isn’t exactly on the road to or from anywhere much other than, maybe, Aylesbury. To make this worse Thame had no railways station from 1963 to 1987 when a ‘parkway’ halt opened two miles out of town. So for an unremittingly urban soul like me Thame qualifies as ‘the middle of nowhere’. That said and maybe because of all that, the place has more life about it than many of South East England’s small towns.

“The festival was an enjoyable affair. As ever with these things the food demonstrations were over-subscribed with insufficient space and wildly inadequate PA systems. Raymond Blanc (whose Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is only a few miles away) and the rest battled bravely to be heard to little avail beyond the front few rows. I’m never convinced by these things – live cookery demos are there to pull in the crowds – one rarely learns a lot and the view is dreadful. Only if you are a real showman does it have impact.

“The rest of it, for those who have never been to a food festival, if essentially a glorified market. There are two varieties – tents in a muddy field or stalls in a town market place. Strangely enough the latter is always better. So you stroll around, check out the cottage industries, nibble the samples, buy the odd portion, plump for the lunch that tempts you most and drink a little of what you fancy. All quite civilised, especially on a lovely early Autumn day during one of the very best Septembers in living memory – at least in these parts. It’s not so charming in the drizzle, but this year Thame was lucky.

Good Food, Bad Brands

“The food at these things is intermittently good, sometimes great, sometimes disappointing and frequently overpriced – which is not surprising, food festivals are a day out for a self-selecting audience of middle-class folk with disposable income. What is surprising and a little depressing is the predominance of badly thought out branding. In a highly competitive market an effective brand that projects the product to the target audience in the right way is key but so often small food producers let themselves down with brands that are not memorable or, worse, fail to connect with the audience. This isn’t just evident at food festivals. In Sky’s recent series ‘Cooks to Market’, the most common criticism of the contestants was of their poor, sometimes laughable, attempts at branding.

The Do It Yourself Brand

“Much of this is the curse of the DIY brand – one of the most typical branding mistakes. Much more is confusion of what a brand actually is and who the most important people are in the process.

“The main motivation for DIY is cost aided and abetted by the mistaken notion that access to inexpensive design technology makes everyone a designer. While it was never true that buying a pencil and a paintbrush for a few quid made you an artist it is equally true that the ability to turn on PhotoShop does not a designer make. Cost is just as fundamental an error. Consider this:

  • How much less does it cost to implement a bad identity over a good one?
  • Once the logo is done is that it? How does it transfer to the packaging, web?
  • Who else challenged your thinking before the idea went onto paper or the screen?
  • Why, exactly, are you an expert in these areas – or do they really not matter than much?
  • Do you just like green?

Save Now, Pay Later

“The cost of getting your brand right at startup is invariably much less than putting it right later. Investing properly in a proper plan that helps you avoid the most common mistakes also provides the right foundation for second phase expansion. Investors and buyers for multiples will look at the brand as much as they look at the product.

“One up from DIY is hiring a mate or a freelance designer to doodle a logo. It’s definitely a better idea than playing with Photoshop yourself, but consider this also:

  • How much do they know, or do they want to find out about your business?
  • Do they know your target customer? Did they ask who buys the product?
  • What do you get for your money? An Illustrator file, a .jpg and a .png – is that it?
  • Will they advise you how to manage your branding, or how it might look in context, do they have any expertise in actually marketing anything?
  • Do they just like green?

The Friend with Photoshop

“If you just want an inexpensive but professional logo for your firm or your products then a freelance will do fine and won’t cost you than much, but if you want a strategy for growth its worth questioning whether the solo artworker has the experience of multiple markets, has worked with the marketing and growth of a real business and therefore gets exactly why your brands are assets to be developed and how they will acquire real value and not just a neat badge.

“Here are a couple of examples from Thame. First a company selling excellent artisan salami called Salty Sea Pigs. A strange name, an odd identity that requires too much explanation (including an overly complex logo that just doesn’t work technically on screen) and questionable association. Old sea dogs eating food preserved for months on end, salt tack and ship biscuits, rum and the lash? Really? But it tastes great and they deserve better – you can order it here (and they do beef too – not that you would have reason to know, of course as the brand is pretty specific).

“Second an outfit we’ve no desire to do them down and we didn’t taste their stuff – which could be terrific for all we know. That said we pretty much know that the symbolism employed by Grim Reaper Foods is niche market stuff at best. We know what they are trying to say – our sauces are really hot, devilishly so (and by implication you have to be really tough to handle them). Fine, but that appeal is to student hot chili eating contests, metal heads and the machismo of ordering the hottest curry on the menu. When it comes to food retail that’s a limited demographic – though it is gradually changing the majority of food purchases are made by women. Beyond the adverturous sould at food festivals, broader food audiences audiences are pretty conservative so sybolism more commonly associated with poison is going against the grain somewhat. A niche market pitch is one thing, but here the money is in products that are scalable and saleable.

It’s About the Audience, Not About You

“So is it all about you, or is it about the customer? Will your identity broaden or restict your audience? Where are the right places to promote ourselves? Does the brand appeal to the audience? In fact, most important of all, who IS your customer? Why make typical branding mistakes when they are so easy to avoid with the right advice?

“Anyway, it was a good day out.”

Posted by John Howarth in Brand, 0 comments
Return on Rebranding Investment for Charities and Not-for-Profit

Return on Rebranding Investment for Charities and Not-for-Profit

Downturns or flat economic times are not great times for charities. Conventionally, tough times are not thought of as good times to spent hard-won cash on refreshing the brand.

But through the recession a surprising number of high profile charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, the Parkinson’s UK and Cancer Research UK to name a few; have invested in renaming, refreshing or updating their brands.

When the economy is slow charity begins at home: fewer people give and those who do give less. Charities have a choice: retrench or try something different in an effort to improve income. One key factor always remains, however; the clearer sponsors, supporters and sympathisers are about what the organisation delivers, its aims, its values, its practical work, the easier it is to engage them in the organisation’s work and secure financial contributions. This is the bench mark against which a not-for-profit brand should be measured: does it provide clarity and help explain the mission.

Charities that take the plunge to modernise, rebrand or refresh and have done so effectively have seen an increase in donations and corporate funders. Macmillan’s rebrand cost £120,000 on the back of which they pulled themselves to eighth in awareness among UK NGOs. Annual income rose from £97.7m in 2005 to £118m in 2009. The 8% real terms increase in income was accompanied by a doubling of the number helped and advised by Macmillan. Rebranding effectively can give the organisation new impetus, restating the purpose, placing its work in an up-to-date context and resulting in the body being taken more seriously by institutional funders and public bodies.

It’s not just the mega-charities that can benefit from a professionally executed re-brand. With a new CEO in place regional domestic abuse charity BWA first revisited their core values and set brand agency Public Impact the brief of updating and refreshing the organisation. Central to the task was changing dated perceptions. Funders and policy makers didn’t appreciate the breadth and depth of BWA’s service offer. The brief required a brand that put that right, emphasised the positive outcomes achieved for clients, matched the values and provided a platform for clearly communicate the extent of the service and the innovative partnerships in which BWA is engaged.

BWA’s aims and values process required the projection of the organisation as: welcoming and empowering, non-judgemental, offering places of safety; building trust, equality and raising awareness. Public Impact’s Creative Director, Jane Coney, sums up the rebrand as a change of tone to one of hope and optimism.

“Domestic abuse organisations like BWA offer the prospect of a new start for their clients. It is an opportunity for survivors of domestic abuse to move toward a more hopeful prospect. The brand needed to be about solutions not problems, hope not despair”, says Jane.

“As well as reflecting the values and projecting optimism we set out to create a BWA brand identity that would reach potential clients across traditional and digital media. The diverse, positive colour palette facilitates the future development of sub-brands, works well online and it has the visual impact to break through the noise as an effective platform for advocacy. It’s fresh, it’s modern but most importantly its use of illustrations is warm, welcoming and hopeful.”

BWA, has now secured medium term contracts to provide specialist refuge services to a number of key local authorities and continues to support a 6,000 call per year helpline, support and behavioural change programmes. Like many forward-looking third sector organisations, it reshapes itself and will continue to evolve. The brand now has the capacity to move with it.

Rebranding is often characterised as an expensive luxury – and sometimes agencies are their own worst enemy. Beware of agencies touting change that casts aside the value of an existing brand for the sake of fashion. Rebranding or refreshing an identity should build on solid foundations where they exist and need not be a huge outlay. A charity and with a coherent design and a strategic approach to rolling out the new brand can produce a return on investment within the first year.

Posted by John Howarth in Brand, Not for Profit, 0 comments