An illustration depicting marketing and positioning.

This is the seventh in our series using our workbook Developing Your Nonprofit Brand. Since October 2019 we’ve been posting a new blog every two weeks to help you follow along with the exercises. If you’re late to our branding party, download it now and very quickly you’ll be on your way to having more impact in 2020.

Just getting started? Begin here.


Recap for Branding Success

If you haven’t completed all the previous workbook exercises it’s important that you go back and do so now. Because the workbook is meant to be followed in a specific order, it leads you to this important step: determining your differentiation and positioning. A bit later I’ll clarify these two words so you understand the part each plays in a brand strategy. Now let’s look back at how far you’ve come!

Steps You Took

1) You got your target audiences and personas out of your head and into your team’s hands.  You identified who you’re targeting and which groups to prioritize. 

2) You conducted a brand audit to assess where you are now. The audit uncovered your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). Your audit included these crucial 4 parts:

3) You put all your findings together in one document. The outcomes from your brand audit led you to some conclusions about what makes your organization unique. You set goals for strengthening what’s working and taking corrective action for anything that needs a course change.

Strong Brand = Standing Out

Now let’s turn to page 14 in the workbook and answer the questions. A strong brand means standing out. This is a really simple idea. But people often get stuck in a muddle of trying to do too many things and serve too many needs. Differentiation is what makes an organization unique in its field.

Your brand audit gave you a thorough understanding of your competitive landscape and your stakeholders’ needs. The audit is critical in determining what unmet need you address. This is your differentiation, which is the essence of branding. A strong brand means you’re memorable and not lost among your competitors.  

You have to be really clear about what you do in order to stand out in the mind of your audience. This uniqueness can stem from the mission itself, the clients served, geographic location, your capabilities, or expertise. Differentiation also means being clear about what your organization is not.

This is more than messaging work. Ultimately, it’s strategic planning and organizational development work that will guide your entire organization. An easy way to understand differentiation is to say that you’re helping your stakeholders remember you. You’re creating clarity. If your brand is too complicated, confusing or generic they won’t remember you or understand why you exist.

A word about nonprofit competitors—we know this may be an unfamiliar or even an uncomfortable idea, but nonprofit organizations do compete for resources and attention. You may even compete with your partners but that doesn’t mean you don’t also collaborate. It’s vital to strategically think about your brand in this way.

So What Exactly is Positioning?

Moving onto pages 15-17 in the workbook. In the “How Brand is Manifested” chart, the positioning ring is just outside the brand core, demonstrating its importance to building a strong brand. Positioning builds on differentiation. It is the process of communicating what makes you unique to your stakeholders. It also enables you to understand how the organization fits into the landscape.

Positioning is the space you occupy in the mind of your target audience.

In the featured image above, the woman has several brands she likes and are “positioned” in her mind for certain purposes. World Wildlife Fund is her go-to nonprofit for endangered species, Coca Cola is what she likes for refreshment, Nike is her choice for athletic gear, and you get the idea. She may be aware of other brands but these brands are “hers”.  She connects with them on some level. They are memorable because they have “positioned” themselves as her brands through their branding activities, products and services.

Obviously our examples have enormous marketing budgets, but being memorable doesn’t require that kind of investment. It does mean having consistency and clarity in your branding activities.  It also means communicating how you are the “only” one that does what you do. So how do you position your brand? You start with a positioning statement.

Write a Positioning Statement

Developing a positioning statement can be done on your own, but many organizations benefit from outside expertise to help them see things from a new perspective. We have the easiest way to begin. Start with your mission statement and use these word prompts in this order to help you craft a unique positioning statement. See the examples in the workbook to help you get it done.

  • What
  • How
  • Who
  • Where
  • Why
  • When

Think of your positioning statement as a longer version of your elevator pitch. It’s primarily meant to be discussed internally on a regular basis and integrated into everything you do. It’s also to be used as a guide when producing external communication materials, but probably not one you’d want to repeat to unqualified potential donors or clients.

Delivering Your New Brand Strategy

Differentiation and positioning brand strategy is worthless if it cannot be realized and delivered. You want your materials to convey your positioning in a way that’s memorable. If you made it to this point in your brand development journey, you may be ready hire creative professionals to help you effectively and consistently design and create materials that reflect your new differentiation and desired positioning. If hiring creative professionals isn’t in your budget, its even more important to work with your internal teams to make sure they understand your brand and how you’d like to see it delivered.