Shared Identity and Local Voice

I keep a picture of my grandparents on my desk at work. As I write for a variety of stakeholders, it really boils down to this sweet couple in faded black and white, and I ask myself “would they really give a damn about this?”

I’m currently doing work for a very small provincial organisation that has a national partnership. I find myself doing the splits between what the top down messages are and the bottom up perceptions are. Many hours are spent at my desk looking at Jack and Beryl, wishing I could give them a call and just ask them what they think about something I’m working on. Would they give a damn? Would they donate to this cause? Would they see the value in this program? Would they toss this in the trash?

I share an identity with these two individuals: they were my grandparents, after all! But they represent the identity we should share with all our stakeholders. “When individuals perceive themselves as part of a community… they’re more likely to act in a way that supports conformity and loyalty to this group” says Caryn Stein at Network for Good in a recent post about Shared Identity. In other words, speak with them, not to them. Share who they are, and don’t expect them to share who you are. Not right away at least.

One of the easiest ways to appeal to this shared identity is to speak to people in a localized way. What matters to them in their community? What is their community exactly? And (the crux) how do you as an organisation become an integral part of that community? Does your organisation have a brand that speaks to a shared identity that is going to win supporters?

Ugh. The word brand is one I’m not a fan of. Rule number one of the non-profit branding club is to never talk about non-profit branding. I could get into definitions and strategy-talk, but all that really matters is this: are you living your brand or just talking about it? Are you who you say you are or are you too busy saying who you are to be who you say you are? Does your brand co-exist with your stakeholders, does it share an identity, does it matter?

“So the biggest obstacle we face is the problem of creating infrastructure, systems and protocols to support truly local marketing that bubbles up versus that which trickles down” says Brand Networks CEO Jamie Tedford. Tedford talks at length about the importance of local branding for big corporations, but his thoughts are easily applied to non-profits. The shared identity of community is a starting point.

While I don’t think any organisation should leave branding to organic chance, I do think that a crucial step in creating a successful brand is to start with this vision of shared identity. And these conversations shouldn’t find their inspiration at a board room table. They’ll find it at a kitchen table. With Jack and Beryl. And possibly with a cup (or seven) of terrible coffee. And the shared experience of speaking truthfully and listening passionately.

Network for Good’s post on Shared Identity: http://www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com/site/trouble_connecting_plug_into_identity

Street Fight’s article on why brands need a local voice: http://streetfightmag.com/2013/08/06/why-brands-need-a-local-voice-on-facebook/