joan-jett-bad-reputation-cropI know that “brand” sounds like marketing lingo, and many social justice folks shy away from it. But the more I talk to clients lately the more I’m convinced that you ignore conversations about your brand at your peril. Your ability to deliver on your brand = your ability to be an effective advocate for social justice. Here are two words that you may find more useful when having brand discussions with your leaders: “reputation” and “personality.”

Your brand is your reputation

One thing about brand discussions that frustrates people is this reality: your brand is not what you say it is, it’s set largely by what others say about you and how they react to your communications. Many of us dislike things that are outside our control, and I think this is one of the reasons leaders sometimes avoid brand work: brand conversations can be excruciating.

Just asking, “what do people say about us?” is bland and many people resist turning ourselves out for a popularity contest — and rightly so. But how your key audiences view you can either get you closer to or farther from your goals. It’s worth paying attention to the answers to these questions:

What is our reputation? How do policy makers we want to influence talk about us? What do our opponents say about us? When people search our name on the web, what do they encounter from other sources about our organization? We don’t have to be loved by all, but to reach our goals, we need key audiences to respect us and see us as credible.

What do we want to be known for? This discussion can help us make communications and strategy decisions like: What do we do best? What activities strengthen our reputation? If your group has limited resources, these are tough but useful questions that get illuminated through the brand/rebrand process.

Your brand is your personality

Now here’s the bright counterpoint to my earlier, “your brand is outside your control.” You can make decisions about how you present yourself, you just have to remember: everything communicates.

From the way you answer the phone to the type of paper your brochure is printed on — everything communicates a personality. That personality either helps build the reputation that you want… or builds the reputation you wind up with.

Communications with a consistent personality help you to build the relationships you want to have with your key audiences.

More about branding or rebranding

It doesn’t have to be a tortuous process to review and strengthen your brand, or even rebrand. I have found the book Brandraising helpful, and of course, you’ll find some great resources online: