The CI identity: A powerful tool of influence
By Charmaine Smith

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Pioneering, collaborative, team-orientated, brave and bold, knowledgeable, credible, responsive, inspirational, industrious, tenacious….

This is how Children’s Institute staff described the organisation in a brand identity workshop in August last year. The workshop was part of a series aimed at enhancing communications capacity-building in the Institute, sponsored by the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation (RBF).

The brief to staff aimed for maximum participation and creativity: Make a collage that tells the story of the organisation. Staff were asked to bring along objects, pictures, drawings, etc. which represent the CI’s target audience; what the audience expects from the CI (brand promise); the values of the Institute; how the values and impact compare to other organisations (brand positioning); the CI’s image, personality and tone (which determines the experience of the brand); and brand-building opportunities (areas of credibility and niches that can be built on).

The result was two very inspiring, creative and colourful collages that show that the CI’s identity (what it does, who it serves, how it’s experienced) is well defined and rooted in a common understanding of its purpose and position as a child policy research institute. An important reflection was how being associated with the University of Cape Town lends positioning benefits, such as credibility and prestige.

However, the challenges of working in a soft-funded, cutting-edge policy research unit that needs to respond rapidly to policy developments came through strongly: “There’s only 24 hours in one day. Damn.”; “No place for sissies”; “All fired up”; “Dynamite is small packages”; and “Somewhat serious, somewhat fun” were some of the cuttings that described the Institute’s image, personality and tone.

But why the need to ‘brand’ an academic research institute? Africa! Ignite, the communication consultancy contracted by RBF, explained in its workshop assessment report to the Institute: “The issue of identity forms the platform off which communication strategies are built. By affording the organisational identity strategic worth, the tool of branding may well become a powerful tool of influence that CI can use to maximise all communication opportunities.”

There is a small but growing body of research on the value of branding for non-profits. Evans (2008) describes it as: “Very much like reputations, brands precede the individual or organization and shape how the world responds. …[L]ike commercial marketers, social marketers create value for target audiences through their own form of branding – by creating positive associations.”

In short: successful branding can make a non-profit stand out; draws attention to its value; will attract more donors, tenders, the right kind of staff; and has a good communication strategy as part of a brand identity.

To ensure a good communication strategy that enforces organisational identity, the Institute will be keeping its vision top of mind when communicating, and develop a more focused ‘brand promise’ that reflects its vision to replace the current “Child rights in focus”. Add to this the need to ensure that the organisational identity is well defined, clearly articulated and consistently presented, and our communications team has its job cut out!

Evens WD (2008) Social Marketing Campaigns and Children’s Media Use. The Future of Children, 18(1), Spring 2008: 181-203.




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