It is really, really hard to get outside yourself. Maybe impossible. Some of the most helpful and essential things we did for ourselves was to get people who didn’t know what we were doing to give us feedback. Every time we talked to someone who had seen our website, we would ask them “based on what you saw, what do you think we’re about?”
For example, we often talk about the website work we do. We see this as an entry point for many organizations to begin to think about their brand. However several people we shared our marketing materials with thought that we only do websites, and that the website itself could transform an organization. We realized the language we’d been using was too website-heavy, so we broadened it.
We were somewhat unashamed to ask everyone we encountered to give us feedback. Getting answers from a wide variety of people was immensely helpful in showing us what was connecting and where the gaps were.
As a new organization, we were both uncovering and creating at the same time. We often refer to doing branding and communications work with our clients as “uncovering” or “discovering”. Any organization or business has a heart, a mission and a culture. But until you start examining it, sometimes it remains buried. That’s the most exciting thing about doing the work we do. Watching people uncover the deepest and most powerful parts of their work is incredibly rewarding.
For ourselves, it’s hard to see what’s buried. Again, outsider help is useful here. We did a facilitated branding session with our friend Michelle Geiss at Impact Hub and we learned so much from watching her reflect back to us what we were saying. We had been talking a lot about our “ideal client” in terms of industry but what Michelle kept showing us was that we were really talking about was change-makers in a certain place in their life cycle. We realized that at our core, we aren’t just service providers, but partners. By remaining focused on defining our industry somewhat superficially by nonprofit sector, we were missing the opportunity to go deeper with our clients. Michelle helped us see past our blind spots and more clearly identify the people we really wanted to work with.
We’ll never be finished. Just when we think we’ve arrived at our wonderful, perfect and final message, we change. Or we realize that there’s something else that’s just as important that we want to emphasize. I find I want to have something concrete, that will last a long time. But that isn’t the world we live in. We are in an era of constant iteration and innovation and trying to hold on to something that won’t change is futile.
Some things will remain the same, for a while. Our name, our tagline, our mission. Even these will be evolving over time. Our core message has been finessed, but the details and what supports them shifts as we shift and grow. When new staff come, an organization changes slightly and communications will be affected. The process of branding ourselves has helped me embrace the changing nature of organizations, branding and messaging.