Tying Multiple Sub Brands To The Primary Idea

May 15, 2008       Tom Pope      

Three people stand under a green slanted image of a house in the Habitat for Humanity International’s main logo. Habitat also has a hammer with a flower for the Women Build program. An image of a person spreading his arms stands for the youth programs.

How many brands are too many for an organization? Some experts believe logos aren’t the same as brands. Brands are the perception held by an audience. The logo has to reflect part of that perception.

"We came up with program logos based on several main audiences of Habitat," said Jessica Boatright, director of Marketing and Branding in Americus, Ga. "The logos came from our department heads’ program identifiers."

Other unique logos are driven by the church relationships and global audiences. Each program is interlocked with the umbrella Habitat logo.

Habitat’s process of brand strategy has evolved since 2005 when the nonprofit updated the global brand. "Historically, the four areas had the largest and most actively engaged audiences," Boatright said.

Habitat aimed for an image the audience was used to seeing. "We wanted the sub-brands to show something similar to the umbrella brand," she said.

The link between the program sub-brand and the umbrella logo is usually immediate. "The program identifier never appears alone without the global brand," she said. "That identity insures that the program is always connected to the organization."

Organizations use branding strategies to attract as many donors as possible. Habitat sought to show many ways existed to engage with the nonprofit. The images reflect that a donor could go overseas to help, could build with an affiliate in his community, or simply donate.

"The Women Build program is underwritten by a national sponsor," she said. "The sub-branding gives us a chance to partner with sponsors like Lowe’s Stores or State Farm." Sub-brands can fit with local communities. The logo for an affiliate can link with the umbrella logo. "In the U.S., we have 1,600 affiliates and we are branded with the name of the local," she said.

Habitat developed guidelines to use for the size, content, and image for the best possible way to link the program identifier with the umbrella. "We use a primary position to place the umbrella logo to the left or above the program identifier so the main brand becomes clear," she said.

If a term exists in the brand with a feel of "fresh" and "innovative," then the sub-brand should have the same feel and consistent with the brand personality, according to Mary Ann Rood, principal of the M.A. Rood Company, a strategic communications and branding firm in Chicago.

The language should follow the consistency whether that brand is being reflected through the logo, advertising, a Power Point presentation, or the T-shirts for volunteers.

Many definitions of branding exist and conflicting ideas crop up. "People think the brand is the logo or a logo line," she said. "The brand is all the promises and perceptions that the organization wants the audience to feel."

How does a sub-brand concept emerge? Start with ideation, Rood explained. Develop an understanding about the perception of the organization where the internally-held perception matches that from the external one.

"That’s where we begin to make a decision about whether we need a sub-brand," she said. "If we have one umbrella brand and a bunch of programs that do the same thing for different audiences, then we only need to tweak the brand a little."

How is this translated? The image needs to become fulfilled by the program. Make sure whatever you claim to offer your external audience whether donors, volunteers, or community can be supported internally by the organization’s infrastructure. "Without the promise, a disconnect appears," she said.

Branding strategy can occur before the sub-brands evolve. Plan a logo design to anticipate possible future sub-brands. Include in that consideration a color palatte that will blossom as time goes on so a consistency grows. "If the feel of the organization has colors like red and yellow, then you can use an orange as a color relationship," she said.

Rood demonstrated how a nonprofit could expand to require sub-brands with an example from the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. "This client is doing some exciting things with distance learning, modified programs for lay people, and opening the campus to the intellectually curious," she said. "Those new approaches are built on a brand of rock-solid excellence that doesn’t change," she said.

"The way our organization speaks to the audiences is different so sub-branding fits," said David Jones, public and community relations director for Seabury-Western, a 150-year-old Episcopal seminary in Evanston, Ill., that trains ordained clergy.

The rebranding started this past June after a group within the seminary tried to develop several different audiences.

"We’re thinking about using sub-brands with tag lines instead of separate logos," he said. "We identified through internal conversations and market research that some clergy wanted continuing education while other lay people wanted a degree program in the arts or spirituality."

The process led Seabury to four audiences. The nonprofit is still in the midst of accepting the tag lines with visual advertisement that would appeal to those not interested in an intense religious immersion. The image of a gothic chapel could change from a cloister to a piazza as an example of the conceptual development. The tag line of, "Seabury answering questions, questing answers," could conceivably appeal to people not wanting to wear a collar, according to Jones.

"The segmentation of the programs allows us to develop audiences that weren’t necessarily established before," Jones said. "Then we can have extra efforts with fundraising from those audiences."

Many nonprofits tend to overlook branding because they don’t see how a product fits with the mission, according to Laura Pasternak of MarketPoint, LLC, a brand management company in Baltimore, Md.

Branding works when the brand or sub-brand helps identify with the perception of the specific audience. Pasternak explained that the American Red Cross has multiple programs that display one brand. "The Red Cross isn’t promoting those programs as sub-brands because the unifying perception is stressed," she said. "The image of the hammer with Habitat’s Women Build would seem more of a campaign or program."

Sometimes the distinction depends on whether separate groups with separate funding exist within the organization. "Is the affinity its own entity so it could fit into a sub-brand or co-brand is a question," she said.

Proctor & Gamble manages multiple stand-alone brands like Heinz and Folgers. "The parent company has done demographic research to see who is looking at what and why — that leads to whether to sub-brand or not," she said.

Does narrowing the brand or image of a mission become a problem? Pasternak pointed to the brand of Volvo as going beyond cars. "The brand is about safety and the extension leads to cars," she said. "The site shows how the core of the business is about people driving cars and wellness is part of the perception."

Organizations need to make sure that the brand connects with the emotional and rational aspect of such a perception. The March of Dimes aims for both a narrow and emotional branding.

"Our biggest sub-brand is the Walk for Babies," said Doug Staples, senior vice president of strategic marketing and communications for the March of Dimes in White Plains, N.Y. "Originally that was the Walk America."

The change occurred to help align the perception better for the mission, according to Staples. Another sub-brand is the TeamYouth program. "That is a sub-brand to an extent while the rest aren’t sub-brands," he said. "The team page has a different look. Viewers still can link up with the main March of Dimes page."

Staples doesn’t see a need for another logo image with the sub-brands because the mother and child symbol retains a major name recognition. "We’re putting 70 percent of the emphasis on that and 30 on the sub-brand."

The sub-brand for March for Babies relies on the tag as the event name and a call to action. "We might have more of a slogan for Signature Chefs Auction as a theme or one that is locally connected so we have flexibility for the grassroots level," he said.

Avoid diluting the sub-brand when using tag lines by thinking of a connecting language. The use of March of Dimes, March for Babies helps the tie-in to the parent brand.

"Sub-brands could play an important role if they are thoughtful and exist in harmony with the overall strategy," Staples said.

Rood considers slogans important that are quick and a telegraphic way to grab attention. "Tag lines for a campaign work if they are short, memorable with stopping power, and stay with the listener," she said. "For example, one that evokes visualization is, ‘Just Do It’ — you can see what will happen."

Branding is a huge opportunity for nonprofits to expand, according to Rood. "This isn’t just for products — it’s an organizational principle that breaks down barriers as a tool," she said. Jones mentioned that for 30 years he had been a consumer of a parish ministry service. "The service or program offered in the nonprofit world is a product," he said. "The word goes beyond the image of a supermarket item because we’re producing a service that will attract people or not." NPT

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Tom Pope, a New York City-based journalist, writes on management issues.