Has branding for social sector in India come of age?
The simple answer would be little of “yes” and more of “no” from a creative industry perspective. Is there a rise in design, communication and marketing of social enterprises and non-profits? Definite Yes but the usual challenges are long-term brand building, consistent communication, a more in-depth understanding and commitment to building a “brand” out of the organization in India’s development sector.
Here when I mention the development or social sector, I’m referring to both, non-profits (Foundations, Trusts, NGO) and social enterprises (a for-profit company with a clear social impact goal).
A few challenges and current trends in the Indian social sector about branding:
– The taboo that “branding is only for commercial sector” is finally breaking in India, especially organizations based in metro cities that are well connected with national / international funders, donors, and network. Social sector organizations are slowly recognizing the need for branding and integrating it with the organization’s outreach and fundraising.
– Organizations don’t completely understand the total scope of brand building and the process of building a brand that can align, integrate with its organizational goals and impact.
– Communication and fund-raising collateral are still core activities which are ad-hoc, project basis and sometimes a “knee-jerk” effort for marketing or fundraising
– As branding and brand building is not considered as part of the organization’s core activities, budgets are not allocated for it, funds are not raised or donors are not willing to invest in brand building. Even if an organization manages a small budget, the team is unable to plan or allocate limited budget for relevant branding scope efficiently. At what stage should the organization invest in the brand building? What is the process? How do you integrate it and manage it for internal and external stakeholders? Does the team have the capacity to drive and manage it in future with constraint resources?
– In India, social sector has generally been struggling with fundraising (barring a few that have excellent network) including credible non-profits. Donors and grants are generally project focused, outcome-oriented and very few donors fund organization for its capacity building, let alone branding and its marketing. International donors still recognize the “brand need” and maybe a larger impetus should be given to Indian ecosystem players to fund social sector beyond its projects and support in capacity building for long-term sustainability.
– Small and mid-scale organizations in the social sector generally hire a communications specialist and/ or marketing/ fundraising manager but the brand building component is neither a job role nor a key activity for anyone in the organization. Finding quality talent is a big challenge, someone who understands the brand process and can align it with all communication activities.
– Larger organizations do have communications and fundraising team that hire external creative agencies to complete the branding exercise. In many of these large organizations, we have found the branding, communication, and all marketing material are fractured, not standardized and/ or created in silos by different agencies over a period of time. This can hurt the brand of the organization and cannot be completely/ efficiently leveraged.
What should the Indian social sector look out for?
- Resources: Branding and brand building for the social sector has been a widely discussed and appreciated topic in Europe and US (especially). The Hauser center at Harvard University has been actively talking about the branding topic, The Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) has featured an article, Nathalie Kylander has been researching on this topic and Asian Development Bank published a short report on role and impact of branding in the public A good resource would be a basic ebook introducing the brand concept and its process by a Canadian organization, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) which might be helpful to organizations in India. These are just a few references to start off from.
- Brand process: Brand process is contextual depending on the type of organization and the sector/ focus area it is operating. However, I have shared a broad approach to branding and its outcome. This might help organizations to imagine a better way to build a brand using their limited budgets more efficiently.
- Differentiation: Although it might sound surprising but there are many organizations working in the same sector, focus area or target community competing for limited funds/ grants. This has led to a sort of competition where marketing efforts have been more aggressive to pitch and engage the funders. A compelling reason to brand and differentiate the organization to articulate and communicate more effectively and consistently. I have seen many organizations that are doing mediocre work yet have managed to get funding and even over-funded due to their ability to access, pitch, market and engage a strong network of funders. Noah Manduke gave an interesting talk on brand approach for organizations way back in 2009.
- Budget & Growth: Organizations have to invest more effort in convincing funders to look beyond project funding and support them to building organization capacity for a sustainable growth and impact. Another way could be that organizations across sectors as a “best practice” can add a fixed percentage for organization capacity/ coordination cost for the project in grant/ funding proposal. It is a challenge to keep an adequate budget for brand and communication activities consistently over a period of time unless the team plans the overall organization strategy and fundraising effort aligned to such budgets.
- Opportunities: Global and local challenges (poverty, education, access to basic needs & livelihood, healthcare) in the 21st century have become more complex and they cannot be solved by organizations that can’t sustain or grow and form a larger ecosystem of collaboration. We need a sustained effort, flow of intent, ideas, capital and best of talent that can attempt to solve the challenges.
Branding is as important for social sector as the commercial sector for better access to funding, some of the opportunities are:
- Branding helps the organization to be authentic, align/ motivate the internal team, engage stakeholders effectively. You can attract quality talent, resources, and collaboration opportunities.
- Corporate companies and large funding agencies/ foundations engage a well articulate and communicative organization more efficiently to inspire/ engage their own shareholders the value and impact the funds can make for social challenges. Branding is the foundation to lay the immediate and long-term engagement of external stakeholders. SSIR talks about using brands for impact.
- HNI’s, global agencies and strong networks can be more easily tapped and have a “pull” factor towards the organization’s work with strong branding.
- Target communities impacted by the organization’s work are aspirational and would tend to associate and adopt solutions more easily when the communication and brand of the solution, service or product are of aspirational quality (at least as close to the commercial sector).
It is a myth that social sector is somewhat exclusive and separate from how the commercial sector and a globalized economy operate. As branding is imperative and critical for the commercial sector to grow, it is equally relevant for social sector organizations too. The non-profits need a consistent support of funding for social challenges that can’t be commoditized (vaccination, basic education, relief operations, protecting human rights). Brand and communication activities for non-profits have to be equally consistent effort like fund-raising. The for-profit social enterprises need to attract impact investments and have to market their product or service as effectively as the commercial sector. The social enterprises will need a solid branding of its product/ service to engage target “customers”, convince funders, inspire the team and sustain the growth while solving the social challenges.
This is no easy task and branding the message to the world that is grappling with complex challenges is the first step.