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Rebrand to Connect: Red Rover Tells All (Case Study-Part 1)

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Within the first five minutes of meeting Leili Khalessi last year, I learned that she and her colleagues were in the process of rebranding their organization, including a new name. As Marketing and Communications Manager with (what is now) Red Rover, Leili was right in the middle of that challenging project. So I jumped on the opportunity to ask if she’d share the organization’s experience in this marketing adventure.

Most important takeaways:

  1. Pinpoint the problem you’re trying to solve with your marketing decisions, especially when it’s as big as a new name
  2. Ensure your organizational name/brand is recognized (and repeatable), before you invest in program branding. If you don’t, you’re likely to end up with people thinking your organization provides that one program only, which limits your growth in size and direction.

Here’s part one of this useful case study:

Q: Tell me about Red Rover. What’s your focus and how do you carry it out?

A: RedRover’s mission is to bring animals out of crisis and strengthen the bond between people and animals through emergency sheltering, disaster relief services, financial assistance and education.

We use three main strategies to get there—engaging volunteers and supporters, collaborating with others and maximizing the use of online technology.

Q: What was the problem you were trying to solve, and how did you come to rebranding/naming as the solution?

A: Well, our previous name (United Animal. Nations) got in the way of making and sustaining supporter and partnership relationships on so many fronts. So rebranding/renaming was the clear solution

We have evolved a great deal since our founding in 1987, having narrowed our focus over the years to focus in on a few key issues affecting companion animals in the United States and Canada, rather than addressing a wide range of animal issues internationally.

But our initial name (United Animal Nations) and globe-like logo conveyed that we were international in focus (which we weren’t). In addition, the name sounded politically charged although, legislative and policy work have never been a priority for us.

Additionally, we heard consistent feedback that the name United Animal Nations sounded militant, extremist and activist. That’s a huge deterrent to building relationships with supporters of all kinds.

Staff and volunteers were asked, “Are you like PETA?” After hearing descriptions of our programs, an emergency management official who visited our office a couple of years ago sighed with relief and said, “I thought you were a terrorist organization!”

Finally, since we work so closely with government agencies and schools, it’s particularly important that we remain (and are perceived as) politically neutral. United Animal Nations failed on this front.

As a result of these multiple problems, our name (United Animal Nations) continually bubbled up as a real problem (and weakness) during our annual strategic planning. It was constantly getting in our way, and just didn’t represent the kind of organization we were.

Q: It’s crystal-clear that your previous name and brand was a deterrent to engaging supporters and partners (one of the worst marketing problems an organization can have).

Were there any other factors that pushed the name change? I ask because renaming and branding are steps most nonprofit folks (esp. leadership) are deathly afraid of!

A: That’s a long story!

We knew that although the name United Animal Nations was familiar and comfortable to many people, it caused the problems we already mentioned. But there was even more:

As United Animal Nations, our splintered program brands created a confusing environment that got in the way of reaching our communications, outreach and fundraising.

Over the years some of our programs—Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS), the Humane Education Ambassador Readers (HEAR) and LifeLine—had developed identities of their own that were absolutely disconnected from each other and from the parent organization itself.

For example, some people didn’t realize that the Emergency Animal Rescue Service was a program of UAN—including some of our volunteers. You can see what a huge problem that was.

Q: What was the problem you were trying to solve, and how did you come to rebranding/naming as the solution?

A: Well, our previous name was a real barrier to making and sustaining supporter and partnership relationships on many fronts. So rebranding/renaming was the clear solution

We have evolved a great deal since our founding in 1987, having narrowed our focus over the years to focus in on a few key issues affecting companion animals in the United States and Canada, rather than addressing a wide range of animal issues internationally.

But our initial name (United Animal Nations) and globe-like logo conveyed that we were international in focus (which we weren’t). In addition, the name sounded politically charged although, legislative and policy work have never been a priority for us.

Additionally, we heard consistent feedback that the name United Animal Nations sounded militant, extremist and activist. That’s a huge deterrent to building relationships with supporters of all kinds.

Staff and volunteers were asked, “Are you like PETA?” After hearing descriptions of our programs, an emergency management official who visited our office a couple of years ago sighed with relief and said, “I thought you were a terrorist organization!”

Finally, since we work so closely with government agencies and schools, it’s particularly important that we remain (and are perceived as) politically neutral. United Animal Nations failed on this front.

As a result of these multiple problems, our name (United Animal Nations) continually bubbled up as a real problem (and weakness) during our annual strategic planning. It was constantly getting in our way, and just didn’t represent the kind of organization we were.

– See more at: /articles/4254/branding/nonprofit-branding-case-study.html#sthash.v1PNDo7H.dpuf

Q: What was the problem you were trying to solve, and how did you come to rebranding/naming as the solution?

A: Well, our previous name was a real barrier to making and sustaining supporter and partnership relationships on many fronts. So rebranding/renaming was the clear solution

We have evolved a great deal since our founding in 1987, having narrowed our focus over the years to focus in on a few key issues affecting companion animals in the United States and Canada, rather than addressing a wide range of animal issues internationally.

But our initial name (United Animal Nations) and globe-like logo conveyed that we were international in focus (which we weren’t). In addition, the name sounded politically charged although, legislative and policy work have never been a priority for us.

Additionally, we heard consistent feedback that the name United Animal Nations sounded militant, extremist and activist. That’s a huge deterrent to building relationships with supporters of all kinds.

Staff and volunteers were asked, “Are you like PETA?” After hearing descriptions of our programs, an emergency management official who visited our office a couple of years ago sighed with relief and said, “I thought you were a terrorist organization!”

Finally, since we work so closely with government agencies and schools, it’s particularly important that we remain (and are perceived as) politically neutral. United Animal Nations failed on this front.

As a result of these multiple problems, our name (United Animal Nations) continually bubbled up as a real problem (and weakness) during our annual strategic planning. It was constantly getting in our way, and just didn’t represent the kind of organization we were.

– See more at: /articles/4254/branding/nonprofit-branding-case-study.html#sthash.v1PNDo7H.dpuf

Nonprofit Branding News – Why the YMCA Is Now the Y

Addendum, 7/22/10: Here’s the YWCA’s response to the Y’s name change.

In case you haven’t heard, the YMCA is now the Y.  And believe it or not, the story is covered in the first section of today’s New York Times. Nonprofit marketing news doesn’t usually make the grade!

According to Kate Coleman, the Y’s chief marketing officer, this name change is motivated by the Y’s desire to use a name more closely matched with its mission and emphasizes the impact its programs have on youth, healthy living and communities.  This is definitely a critical focus to reflect in the Y’s branding but I’m not convinced that a single letter can do all that!

“It’s a way of being warmer, more genuine, more welcoming, when you call yourself what everyone else calls you,”  is the second reason for the change  Coleman cites. I don’t agree with that one either.

It is indeed important to know what your organization’s base thinks and what’s important to them. That’s the only way to identify the intersection of your organization’s needs and those of your base – the nexus of your brand. But that doesn’t mean your brand should be what your base is using as your name.

Already, the Y is set up to confuse audiences by asking that while affiliates should be referred to overall by the new name, a specific branch should be referred to the “South Mountain YMCA.” That’s a mess in the making.

I certainly understand the Y’s motivation to have its name more clearly reflect its current mission. That’s good marketing. And the same valid reasoning that moved the United Negro College Fund to change its name to UNCF – because it was serving more than students of a single race.

And the Y does a fantastic job of using the new brand to highlight what’s really important – its current programmatic focus.  No one cares that your branding is different but announcing your new focus is a great way to (implicitly) introduce your new brand. Take a look at this webcast of the Y’s press conference on the change.

But I envision the Y will face some real challenges with this name change, including:

  • What about the YWCA?
  • And the YMHA/YWHA (the Jewish Y)? New York City’s affiliate is already known as the 92nd Street Y.
  • The name “Y” makes me ask “why not?”

What are your thoughts on this name change? Does it work? Should  a nonprofit’s name be whatever it’s called by its base? Please share your comments below. Thanks!