With the political shifts of the late 1970s and early 80s, which saw right-wing governments come into power in Britain and America, both the private and public sector underwent significant changes. Thatcher’s belief in a neo-liberalist society led to a reduction in funding for the welfare state, resulting in a need for NPOs to enhance their brand and brand positioning as they were forced to compete against the rest of the sector for funding that was become ever scarce. Private sector organisations were also beginning to realise the economic benefit of creating and maintaining a strong brand as a means of attracting potential consumers, and began to focus more on communicating their values, mission and personality. In the 1980s and 90s, as brands became ubiquitous, charities became more aware of the value a cohesive brand strategy could bring and began to embrace commercially driven marketing techniques.
A brand has since taken on a new economic resonance by being able to communicate many immaterial values, and therefore can be seen as a new form of information capital. With the increasing number of jobs that fulfil intermediary roles between producer and consumer, such as market researchers, consumer data analysts and brand strategists, we see that branding has moved away from its commoditised origin and is now a tool for organising the internal and external perceptions of an organisation by means of analysis and patterning of information. For a charity, its values are intrinsic and consistent. Its core beliefs generally encompass traits such as being caring, challenging, as well as engaging with a disadvantaged and disenfranchised minority. They relate purely to a charity’s quest to benefit society, and as such they are predominantly inflexible. This contrasts with brand values seen in private sector organisations, which are self-defined, analysed and reshaped by organisations, and as such they have a perceived temporality.
With this in mind, we should consider a metaphor in a paper published by Helen Stride in 2006. She suggests that it is this distinction between the two sectors’ values that is of importance in exploring the employment of a brand within a charity. Imagining a brand’s as a mirror (reflecting a consumers needs and desires), a lamp (influential by mirroring consumers’ needs, as well as projecting their own organisational values) and a lens (facilitating a transparent communication of the organisations’ values) she proposes that if a charity is going to embrace brand orientation, then it is most appropriate to do so with its values being a ‘lens’. The reasoning is that as the brand grows, the organisation’s values remain constant, which allows the organisation to develop its personality, while also establishing itself as unique from competitors and recognisable as a values-led organisation.
It is therefore imperative for a charity, operating in an oversaturated and highly competitive market, to develop and maintain its brand as a way of gaining competitive advantage and differentiating itself. Using the brand personality to indicate traits such as heroism or innovation, communicating with the media in a unique way, and employing a distinctive philosophy or style of management, can differentiate a charity, and be advantageous. So, simply having a brand isn’t enough; it needs to be actively managed in order to create the most value out of it. Brand strategies and management techniques exist as a way of doing this. To that end, successful brand differentiation, and use of brand strategy, leads to brand awareness, and internal and external alignment, resulting in easier attainment of financial and human resources.