Nonprofit Branding: Some Comments About Your Job Security

If you are living off a trust fund, you may not need this advice. If your resume is updated and the bridges behind you are already burning, this information is too late to help.

But – if you are trying to build a stable career in nonprofit marketing, then you need to take the advice in this blog post very seriously.  Job security is an important topic for discussion. That’s why this post has a mascot of its own. His (her?) name is Amalgam. Cute little thing, right?

Study Amalgam for a few seconds. Dog? Bird? What exactly does he/she/it represent? That question hints at why establishing and enforcing a graphics standards policy can help protect your employment.

The following concept has been explored in earlier blog posts:

Brand Equity is the market’s response to an organization’s name and images and reputation and slogans and implied promise. It is an enormously valuable asset and always fragile.

Brand Equity is also intangible, cumulative and derivative. It’s a dynamic force that resides out there in the hearts and minds of the people – a force you strengthen through repetitive and consistent presentation of the organization’s branding elements.

In fact, the one element of your brand that is actually within your control is the reproduction of your graphics and branding elements.

Two questions naturally arise. (Three, if you want to know more about Amalgam’s parentage.)

Exactly WHAT is a graphic standards policy?

A graphic standards policy is a form of insurance. It is the written imprint recipe for reproduction of a logo, positioning statement or other branding element. It states the organization’s requirements in printer-speak and in designer-speak. Thus – the policy controls the way your organization’s images are reproduced on all surfaces and for all presentations – signage, letterhead, flyers, promotional products, advertisements, skywriting and more.

Printers, designers and suppliers charged with reproducing your logo must regard your Graphic Standards Policy as THE LAW! So they will deliver the results you expect. The policy enables you to avoid the surprise and disappointment Amalgam’s mother felt when she reproduced. The policy controls outcomes by providing specifications for the following:

  • It declares your organization’s imprint requirements for such things as color, font, spacing, proportion, location and placement of all graphic elements.
  • It mandates the size and location of appendages required by your lawyers – trademark (™), copyright (©), service mark (SM), registered (®) – and similar legal indicators.
  • It sets forth printing requirements derived from political considerations, the most common of which is whether and under what conditions the branding elements of your organization may be used in conjunction with those of another organization.
  • A fully mature policy also specifies acceptable design adjustments needed to accommodate different printing methods and different imprint surfaces.

Thus, the policy assigns the printer with responsibility for appropriate outcomes. The graphic standards policy doesn’t just protect your organization. It also protects you – personally and professionally – from blame for the misfires that can happen when a printer substitutes its judgment for your precise expectations.

Why is the policy so important?

It doesn’t matter whether you place a small order for imprinted products…or license a product line for sale to your chapters and affiliates…or create a print ad campaign…or mount a national multichannel retail program…or just order letterhead and printed forms. Whatever the scale of your actions, you can’t escape this fundamental reality: Once an item imprinted with your graphic identity is out there in the hands of end-users, it is forever beyond your control. Yet that item will affect your brand equity in ways that are helpful or harmful as long as it survives.

Brand-intensive companies honor that dictate. If forced to choose, rather than give up company graphics that have earned worldwide recognition, it is said that the Coca Cola Company would give away its secret recipe for the beverage Coke – the protection of which reportedly involves tunnels, vaults and uniformed guards, secret passwords, trained dogs, piranha-filled moats, scimitar-wielding gatekeepers, hovering helicopters and other security hoopla.

Perhaps the Coke example is apocryphal. Nevertheless, professors repeat it in MBA classrooms throughout the country. Why? Because the anecdote underscores one of the most important principles taught in business schools – the economic value of brand equity.

Naturally, wise marketing types protect this asset – and their jobs – by thoughtfully controlling use of their organization’s name, logo, supplemental graphics, marketing phrases and other branding elements. A major tool in that protective endeavor is the Graphics Standards Policy. This is a matter of job security! Your employment can depend on the way you handle your organization’s branding elements.

This post gives you real-world examples of disasters and disaster-avoided, all related to the way a nonprofit does, or does not, control its branding elements with a graphic standards policy.

Your organization’s brand is not static. It is constantly evolving in the collective mind of the market. You can symbolize the brand with your logo. You can influence it by your communications programs. You can enhance it with success. But, while you can’t directly control the brand – you can control its graphics.


4 thoughts on “Nonprofit Branding: Some Comments About Your Job Security

  1. As a sign designer/manufacturer, I cannot count the number of Graphic Standards Policies I have read, and it truly is The Law. Thanks for sharing, John….an important message to business owners of all sorts.

  2. Pingback: NONPROFIT BRANDING: This is the policy you MUST have! | Nonprofit Branding Blog

  3. Pingback: Reality is calling. You must respond. | Nonprofit Branding Blog

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