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Five things charities need to do to raise brand awareness

Five priorities charities need to get correct if their brand is to reach its full potential.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article on the five worst ways to raise public awareness of your brand – that is the mythical perceived wisdom around brand awareness that marketing and communication professionals often have to counter in order to ensure proper time and budget are invested in their brand if it is not to be held back.

This week is the other side – five priorities charities need to get correct if their brand is to reach its full potential and support the long term fundraising, service delivery, campaigning or public information objectives of the organisation.

For a full set of analysis and recommendations on the relationship between awareness and income, and between awareness and media spend see our recent Ringing a bell? report.


1. Devise a strategy

Central to your strategy is being clear on your audience. Are you really trying to reach the whole of the general public? This is an extremely difficult job in this day and age. Twenty years ago there were five TV channels, now there are over 700. Over the same period the amount of media, marketing and advertising messages the public consume has increased exponentially. This now makes moving general public awareness more expensive than ever: In 1999 the largest charity advertiser of the day was NSPCC, spending £5.8m on media, representing 15.4% of the sector’s activity. Ten years later Macmillan needed to spend £12.8m to take the top spot but only achieve a 5.5% share.

For many brands, it is therefore more sensible to devise an audience led strategy – using research to identify your warmest audiences among the general public, assessing whether you want to promote your current heart land, or take your brand to a different or wider market. Research is also important at this stage to identify issues and messages that will resonate with your key audiences or that will dilute your brand, as well as how your key audience can be reached – their media consumption, lifestyles and communications preferences.


2. Secure a budget 

As already stated, huge resources are needed to build a household brand. Our recent analysis of media spending shows that approximately a third of charities with awareness above 80% spent the rate card equivalent of £5-10million or more over the last few years (nfpSynergy analysis, Neilsen data). So seriously consider the budget you will need to realise your chosen strategy. If you are unable to secure it, rather than under invest and under deliver you may well be better off to revisit step one.


3. Be in it for the long term 

Having a strategy is crucial, but it is the simple part. It is easy to come up with big picture ideas but it is also just as easy get bored, and be tempted to move on to the next thing or next job. It is harder to resist this temptation and to get your strategy off the page and achieving results. This takes perseverance and patience.  Since rebranding and investing in communications, Macmillan have practically doubled their voluntary income (nfpSynergy analysis of Charity Commission data), but this achievement took the best part of a decade, with consistent investment in media throughout (Neilsen data) – it didn’t happen overnight.


4. Be consistent 

As many organisations progress, they suffer with “mission creep” - the accumulation of new projects and campaigns as the organisation grows, many of which can end up far from the founding mission of the charity. For example, the League Against Cruel Sports was set up to ban fox hunting – an issue it still focuses on through enforcement, but which it has since added to with several other issues around other cruel sports, culling and snaring. If not managed correctly, such organically occurring inconsistency is one of the worst enemies of raising brand awareness. The public have little head space for charities (typically, when asked to name the first charities they can think of, they will name three before their minds go blank) and struggle to retrain their understanding of what you do. A particular audience may be motivated by one issue or area of work but completely alienated or put off by another.  

By contrast, WaterAid are a good example of simple consistency – focusing their communications on the safe provision of water. Every year over the last decade they have increased public awareness of their brand from a fifth to almost three quarters of the public.


5. Have strong branding

How many ads have you watched and thought “wow, what a great ad” or even “what a great product”, but then not been able to recall the brand? Perhaps a good example of this is Save the Children’s high profile ‘No Child Born to Die’ campaign - the reach, consistency and fundraising success of the ‘No Child Born to Die’ campaign are extremely noteworthy.

However, our Charity Awareness Monitor has found that while this campaign has a high profile, it doesn’t seem to have driven the profile of the brand more generally. This perhaps calls into question how attributable the campaign was to Save the Children. For example, Save the Children’s logo was at the centre of the “O” of the creative. As a logo on its own it is recognised by a respectable minority of the public without need for description. However, a large majority of the public don’t automatically recognise that the logo belongs to Save the Children, and it is therefore an insufficient clue for many to use to attribute the campaign to Save and drive the brand’s general profile as a result.  Maybe if Apple branded a campaign with just their logo, its almost universal levels of recognition would mean most people would attribute the campaign to the brand. For charities that don’t enjoy such logo recognition, better branding of key campaigns is needed for an uplift of awareness of the brand overall.

For more help on gathering the insight and evidence to inform the effective planning and evaluation of your brand awareness strategy, talk to us. Each year we survey more than 20,000 members of the British and Irish public about their awareness, attitudes and experience of charities. We track public engagement with over 150 brands every quarter, delivering key audience insights to charities with income ranging from under £1 million to over £150 million.

Patrick Brennan


To learn more about how it works download a free briefing pack from the right hand side of this page or reach us at cam@nfpsynergy.net. Like talking to humans? We do too! Call us on 020 7426 8888 and we'll guide you through.


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