In the branding realm, we spend a lot of time thinking about purpose. Your brand’s purpose statement is its reason for existence. On the surface, this is a chic, sleek little statement — but any metaphysicist will agree that defining your purpose is easier said than done.
It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole when you’re contemplating your reason for being, as I did when writing this blog post. You might even find yourself Googling “why do we exist,” ending up knee-deep in a 2012 entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy aptly titled, “Existence.” At this point, you’ve ventured too far. Rein it back in, Aristotle.
Most brands consider their purpose as part of the broader brand platform, which establishes your brand’s voice and outlines what you bring to the table. If you’re in the nonprofit sector, it’s easy to get stuck on the problems you’re working to solve. Those systemic, dirty, far-reaching, inequitable, pressing obstacles ingrained in our troubled world that brought your organization here in the first place. As a result, your purpose statement might be to “reduce ___,” “end ___,” or “stop ___.” But, hear me out: What if, instead of framing our brand platforms around the issues, we focused on the solutions?
Positive, outcome-oriented messaging puts a spotlight on the work you’re actually doing to help your community, this very moment, rather than the shadow you’re fighting against. In writing, this messaging is direct, inspiring, and actionable. Outcome-oriented purpose statements follow the principles of asset-based community development (iconically known as ABCD) or asset-based community organizing, assessing the strengths you have to work with and rallying action based on those. This way of thinking positions your audience not as victims in need of saving, but pieces of the puzzle with resources and potential.
A few examples of reframing purpose statements through positive outcome-oriented messaging:
“Decrease gun violence in our neighborhoods” could become “Ensure everyone feels safe walking down the street”
“Fight against global warming” could become “Develop sustainable climate initiatives for future generations to thrive”
“Reduce homelessness” could become “Establish attainable housing solutions for all people”
You get the gist. When you keep your external-facing marketing content focused on the intended positive outcome, rather than the overwhelming systemic problem you’re chipping away at, your audience will feel motivated as part of the solution.
At this point, dear reader, I know what you’re thinking: “That’s all swell in theory, Allison, but life isn’t all sunshine, roses, and dancing in the streets like we’re in an Old Navy commercial. We need to be blunt about the pressing issues because if we don’t address them, nobody will!”
Of course! I hear you. Positive outcome-oriented messaging doesn’t neglect the fact that the world is burning. We all need a sense of urgency now and then; if the situation is dire (which, let’s face it, it really is) people might need to be told that, in certain contexts. But the key is identifying where this messaging fits within your marketing materials.
Since most nonprofit organizations were founded to serve as solutions for their respective societal problems, issue-oriented messaging is commonplace. While this content might be beneficial for audiences like prospective funders or legislators and through mediums like grant applications, fundraising materials, and commercials with sad puppies, its effectiveness is diluted when you plaster it absolutely everywhere. And it’s also misdirected when you’re speaking to your community.
Before you get caught up on the negative, consider the unintended implications of external-facing alarmist messaging. Always remember: Your community is hearing this. Before you proclaim “Our school is neglected!” consider the young student internalizing that statement. You wouldn’t want them to think they’re fighting an uphill battle. You would want them to feel supported from the get-go, going on to — yep, I’ll say it — be the change.
TLDR: Consider approaching your brand’s purpose from the perspective of what you’re building, rather than what’s broken. Emphasize the good you’re bringing to the situation, and let the positive momentum do its thing.