If you’ve always suspected the “brand police” were up to no good, you just might be right.  Branding, a narrowly defined exercise that says you become identifiable through consistency, can badly undermine your message. 

If your brand consists of a logo, some prescribed font choices, color palates, and a list of forbidden phrases—that’s all it’s going to be.

And that’s not just neutral; it’s destructive. 

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  Slavish devotion to brand guidelines tends to eliminate real thought.  And I can almost guarantee you that anything you do that’s truly pro-donor will violate the consistency of the brand!

Your brand is what you do and who you are.  What you look like is the smallest part of that. Most branding guidebooks pay lip-service to this fact, but none of them do anything about it.  And that’s no surprise, because they can’t.  A brand is bigger than a set of rules you can put down in a spiral-bound book.

If you have a great brand—one that aligns with the beliefs, hopes, and self-image of your donors—you can laugh at the puny efforts of the brand police to achieve consistency.

Old-school branding is a lot like the thing it’s named after:  You burn your logo onto your donor’s butt with a red-hot iron.  Whether she wants it or not.

New-school brand building is almost exactly opposite that.  You discover how you fit into your donor’s dreams.  Then you articulate that with passion.

imageJeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle|Domain, a direct-response agency serving the nonprofit world.  He blogs at the Donor Power Blog.