Developing a new brand is an important piece of any solid marketing plan for a merger between two companies. But when the merging entities are nonprofits, the need for effective rebranding is particularly high, according to Christopher Quereau, CEO and creative director at Vibrant Creative in Oneonta, New York.
“Branding becomes exponentially important for nonprofits because nonprofits typically work with small marketing budgets and need to make their marketing and advertising spending as productive as possible,” said Quereau, whose company teamed with Marketing Works PR to rebrand IRI: Innovative Resources for Independence and QPRC in advance of their official merger in July.
“If a nonprofit has good branding in place, it makes their marketing much more effective,” he said. “A nonprofit might put out a subpar ad, but if good branding is in place, the ad can still be effective in planting a seed in people’s minds.
“Good branding sticks with people’s consciousness,” Quereau added.
On July 1, Independence Residences Inc. and Queens Parent Resource Center – two award-winning Queens-based agencies that serve individuals with developmental disabilities – officially merged to become IRI: Innovative Resources for Independence.
Marketing’s job – which began during a three year process called “affiliation” where both organizations began to share resources in preparation for the merger – was to deliver three key message points about the merger: (1) Two agencies that compliment one another can together provide more expansive and innovative services. (2) Collaboration between the agencies can yield greater access to resources and to broad, resourceful thinking. (3) Combining the talents of two agencies allows for greater focus on supporting the independence of each individual they serve.
“Anytime two nonprofits merge, they both need to consider each other’s constituencies. They need to make sure that they do not alienate the constituencies. They also must educate their constituencies,” said Ron Gold, president and CEO of Marketing Works PR. “Often, with a merger between two nonprofits, people will immediately assume an agency has been taken over, shut down by the government or gone out of business.”
Good and proper branding helps control people’s perceptions and avoids misunderstandings, Gold said. The emphasis should be on informing your marketplace that the two merging agencies have kept the best qualities of the old companies, while adding new benefits.
In advance of the official merger, IRI in May unveiled its new logo, new name and new brand. This rebranding – the result of a collaborative effort that brought together employees and board members from both organizations – also involved creating a fresh look to the agencies’ websites, newsletters and other creatives.
“When we carry out a rebranding effort, community outreach is essential,” Gold said. “Everything we do is geared toward getting the agency – or agencies – more exposure. We need to get that new feel out there. We want them to stand out.”
Rebranding helped fuel the success of another strategic alliance between EPIC Long Island (Extraordinary People in Care) and South Shore Guidance Center.
Formerly the Epilepsy Foundation of Long Island, EPIC expanded its services to include working with individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges. While many nonprofit mental health clinics on Long Island have closed in recent years, South Shore’s partnership with EPIC enabled South Shore – a Freeport-based agency that provides outpatient behavioral health services to children ages 5 to 18 – to not just survive, but thrive.
“Our partnership has helped South Shore add more services, hire more staff and receive additional training and supervision for their employees,” said Thomas Hopkins, EPIC’s president and CEO. “There were no layoffs, and South Shore and EPIC were able to maintain their names, their histories, their cultures and their identities.”
The rebranding effort for EPIC and South Shore noted that the two agencies’ strategic alliance exemplifies the benefits of incorporating two different agencies strengths.
“In a merger between two nonprofits, you have to consider the marketing and branding equity that’s been built up at both agencies before moving forward with a rebranding effort,” Gold said.
Gold said one of the most important parts of successful rebranding is delivering a consistent message.
“Consistency builds faith. In your rebranding, consistency tells a subconscious story to your customers,” Gold said. “The story is all about stability, consistency, longevity and most importantly, surety.”
Four keys to good rebranding
Here are some key components of a good rebranding effort from Marketing Works PR and Vibrant Creative:
1. Research: We suggest at least some basic, low-cost research of your constituency to help ensure that your selected course of action is appropriate. Research also builds buy-in from boards and employees.
2. Process: Outline a rebranding process. Every branding project has its own institutional history and personalities that must be properly managed to ensure a positive branding experience. An experienced agency will have suggestions on navigating the course of your transformation.
3. Deployment: Once you are provided with your new branding items, such as a logo, website and other materials, develop a plan to roll it all out to staff, supporters, the public and clients. Brands deployed with a whisper can cause confusion.
4. Marketing: Now that you have your brand, determine how your marketing will exhibit that brand – and how will it change, maintain, or enhance that impression.