Strategic planning and branding: like peas in a pod

Strategic planning and branding are different—but one sets the stage for the other. And the other supports it right back. Today, I’m going to define each and discuss how they ideally and effectively work together.

How can your organization get the most out of their relationship? Let’s dive in.

What is strategic planning?
Strategic planning charts a course over time for an organization’s fundamental decisions and actions. “It articulates the problem or challenge your organization is trying to solve, the assumptions and data you have about why it’s a problem and what the causes are, an action plan to carry out and finance the goals and outcomes you are trying to achieve, and the metrics by which you’ll evaluate that”, explains Isaac Shalev, a non-profit consultant who works at the intersection of strategic planning and technology (1).

This is where many organizations get stuck…
You’ve just completed your strategic planning process. It was complex, difficult and time-consuming. Finally, the over-arching vision, mission and values statements have all been identified. Who you are, what you do, what you stand for—everyone’s finally on board! And filled to the brim with lofty and aspirational language, the report reads well. So what’s next?

You can’t just use what’s in the strategic plan verbatim in your outreach. Of course that bulleted list of recommendations is resonant and exciting to you and your colleagues…but how can you translate it into marketing messages that are equally as exciting for your audience? “How do you turn a strategic plan into an inspirational rallying cry?,” asks Shalev.

At the end of a strategic planning process, your organization is perfectly poised for branding (or re-branding). It’s time to hone those messages and trumpet them to the hills and beyond!

Unfortunately, some plans just end up in a thick, dusty binder on the shelf… and all too often, branding gets created without taking them into account.

The symbiotic relationship
Strong branding takes your organization’s strategic plan into account, and translates its goals into engaging, audience-facing communications—which ultimately brings the strategic plan to life. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

The way Shalev sees it,

Strategic planning is the blueprint for how to build a house, but branding is what makes it a home – the collection of décor, landscaping, atmosphere, etc. that makes people want to spend time in it… in other words, your strategic plan tells you what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. Your brand should attract others to those goals by creating a community around them.”

Branding brings the strategic plan down to earth
This is where a brand strategist can catch (or drop) the ball. Your communications need to move people, not just express abstract concepts. Branding works in concert with strategic planning by:

  • Developing and disseminating messages from the strategic plan
  • Insuring the strategic plan, which was written for an internal audience—your staff and board—gets translated to external audiences
  • Taking things that are intangible and making them tangible
  • Answering the questions: How do we share this information? How do we talk about it? Who do we share it with?

As the “visible examples of your nonprofit’s brand”(2), marketing and communications should work together with the strategic plan, serving to enhance it. Branding tells the story of your organization’s programs and services: by boldly declaring how you are different from what other groups are doing, based on your values; how you are making a difference for your constituents; and why supporters should choose you. It’s in the messaging, crafting the right words to use, and being consistent with it. In addition, Shalev says “Good brands make people want to bask in the brand’s halo, to have some of the brand’s identity rub off on them. Charities try to develop brands that supporters embrace as some part of their own personal brand”.

What’s Stone Soup’s role?
My job as a Branding Consultant is to pull back the curtain and show the work your organization has done, but in marketing terms—so your donors and other constituents can learn more about you, connect with you—and so you can stand out from the crowd. I take those internal strategies defined in the strategic plan and translate them into everyday language for the rest of the world.

The process of joining two important components
My branding process involves testingvalidating and ultimately translating what’s in the strategic plan, so people can see the good work your group is doing. I do this using my proprietary Brand Recipe process, a series of facilitated discussions and exercises whereby an organization’s unique and authentic positioning is defined and developed.

For example, if an organization’s brand personality is determined to be ‘friendly’ and ‘welcoming’, it’s much easier to go outwards and design something that’s friendly and happy. The branding process gives the person charged with communications all sort of visual cues. But it goes further than visual. Branding is not only something to design around; it’s all the touchpoints that your organization’s brand has with its constituents—how people answer the phone; how speeches are made to the community; the logo on your twitter page—everything.

Strategic planning and branding, together at last
Branding helps transform the research you did during the strategic planning process into your branded content. The end goal is the integration of strategic planning results into existing marketing efforts. Strategic planning and branding—together, forever.

To provide you with good branding, my job is to consider the overall strategic picture. Your branding, marketing and communications can and should reflect your strategic plan! What’s the point otherwise?

Are you living your strategic plan through your brand? If not, Stone Soup can help.

(1) Isaac Shalev, Sage 70

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