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Nonprofit Brand Building: How to Navigate Relevance and Differentiation to Serve Your Mission

2 min read
Nov 30, 2023

“UNICEF is a brand that punches way above its weight. Everyone knows it, but no one knows it.” - Shelley Diamond, Chief Marketing Officer at UNICEF USA. 

It’s this climate that Shelley Diamond walked into as the new Chief Marketing Officer when she joined UNICEF USA in 2018. Maybe you can relate to that sentiment or maybe having a well-known brand is purely aspirational because you’re just starting out. No matter where you are in your brand’s journey, we have a case study for you. We sat down with Shelley in a recent episode of the Good Marketing Unplugged podcast to talk about building a trusted nonprofit brand. In this article, we’ll explore UNICEF USA’s brand journey and highlight practical steps taken to build relevance with diverse audiences and create differentiation in the nonprofit sector.

Understanding the Challenge:

Every purposeful marketer knows that brand awareness alone is not enough to make transformational change in the world. Brands must resonate with the values, needs, and aspirations of audiences to connect at a deeper level. For Shelley and the team at UNICEF USA, relevance was crucial, especially among younger demographics who may not have a direct connection or understanding of the international work UNICEF undertakes.

Crafting a Unique Identity:

To address this challenge, UNICEF USA embarked on a journey to redefine its brand identity. This involved evaluating the brand's relevance, differentiating its superpower in the humanitarian space, and creating an experience that resonates with a diverse audience. Shelley emphasizes the importance of understanding the brand's superpower and its specific point of difference in the vast international humanitarian landscape.

Key Steps Taken:

Internal Alignment and Education:

  • Educating internal stakeholders, including the board, on the significance of the brand.
  • Finding champions within the organization and the board who understand the impact of a strong brand on overall success.

Audience Temperature Check:

  • Conducting a thorough analysis of how internal audiences perceive the brand and identifying obstacles faced in engaging major donors.

Comprehensive Market Research:

  • Conducting market research to understand how the general public perceived UNICEF USA in comparison to other nonprofits and socially responsible companies.
  • Creating a brand scape to assess the organization's position among a broader spectrum of do-gooders.

Unveiling the True Brand Image:

Analyzing the research, UNICEF USA discovered that while the general public saw them as relevant but limited, their loyal supporters perceived them as smart, innovative, cutting-edge, and daring. Leveraging this insight, UNICEF decided to showcase the dynamic and impactful side of their work, highlighting stories of midwives in Nigeria, vaccine delivery in canoes, and innovative approaches to global challenges.

The ongoing brand campaign, titled "We Won't Stop," has become a cornerstone of UNICEF USA's strategy. It reflects the organization's relentless pursuit of a more equitable world for every child. The campaign integrates seamlessly with performance marketing efforts, ensuring consistency across channels while adapting to the preferences of different audience segments.

Innovation as a Core Value:

Shelley emphasizes the importance of fostering innovation within the organization. UNICEF USA encourages big thinking, bold action, and a culture that allows room for experimentation and learning from failure. The organization is investing in marketing technology, digital transformation, and strategic partnerships to stay at the forefront of innovation.

In conclusion, the journey of UNICEF USA in redefining its brand and staying relevant provides valuable lessons for purposeful marketers. Trust, authenticity, deep understanding of the audience, and a commitment to the mission are foundational elements. By aligning internal stakeholders, leveraging market research, and showcasing the brand's unique attributes, nonprofits can build a resilient and impactful brand presence.

Connect with UNICEF USA and follow their journey of driving positive change for children around the world at www.unicefusa.org.



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