People in a meeting room

As our CEO said earlier this month, rebranding is about more than just a new logo. When setting out on our journey to rebrand at the start of this year, I for one didn’t know where the project would take us. Everything was on the table in the beginning, even our name! Over the year I’ve learnt a lot about branding, but what’s perhaps more important is that I have learnt a lot about Pilotlight: how our Pilotlighters and partners perceive us; what external audiences think about why we’re called Pilotlight; and a little bit more about what’s been holding our charity back.

It wasn’t until Ed took over the mantle of CEO last year and we started discussing the development of a ten year strategy that the brand was on the horizon for investigation. I’d been Marketing Manager for over four years and things were going well, but we’d never been able to really cut through and gain greater visibility despite our efforts. This is where a rebrand could come in: Branding after all is about the perception you create of your organisation in the mind of your customers. Good branding can reach across that void between customer and organisation and elevate both, creating a platform from which we could reach a broader audience. Questions arose that I’d never even thought of before such as: Does Pilotlight’s name get in the away of people understanding what we do and joining us? My gut feeling was, very possibly.

So with the support of our trustee board, and a lot of good will from our community, we ventured forth on our journey to rebranding. I’m pleased to say that we went live last month, and you’re now reading this on our newly rebranded website. And we’re very pleased. What have I learnt that I can pass on to other charities? Well…

  1. Look at how your brand is currently perceived with key stakeholders. Ask someone independent from your charity to do this so you get honest feedback!

    Before you even start to think about colours and logos, take a good look at the brand as it is currently. After we set the scope for the project, we asked Cornish and Grey our evaluation partner, to conduct research with key stakeholders into their perception of our brand. This included the logo, name and our website. I can’t tell you how helpful this was! Not only did we get honest feedback, but we were also able to really gauge how the brand was being perceived by people.

    We discovered that there’s a lot of love for what we do but a misconnect with the brand as it was. The word ‘cold’ came up, as did a misunderstanding of what our logo depicted (something that I’d always assumed was obvious). We spent the first quarter of the project internally looking at how our brand was perceived and this feedback. We also surveyed people on what the word Pilotlight meant to them. This was invaluable time spent and gave us a strong base for the project.

  2. Work through how you would like the brand to be perceived. You can see how far you want to move as an organisation.

    The next part of the project involved thinking about how we wanted the brand to be perceived in the future. To meet the goals set out in our strategy, we knew we were going for a ‘systems change’, but our rebrand was purely a reframe of who we are and always have been. We knew we’d need to be bolder and perhaps more thought-provoking to get people engaged in our cause. Looking at this internally and then asking key stakeholders for their opinion of where we could go, helped us understand how far we wanted to go.

  3. Find experts to help

    Once we’d done all this work internally, we tendered for the work. We’re a charity that believes in finding the right people who can share their expertise to help charities with the challenges they face. This project would be no different. I worked closely with two of our board members who are marketing experts to write the brief and would request pro bono rates from the agencies I met. I was encouraged to trust my gut feeling when meeting agencies. I know our charity, I now understood the drawbacks we had as a brand, I’d be leading the project. I took time to find people who I felt connected with us as a cause and with the work we’d already done.

    Because a rebrand and a website are two different beasts, I looked for two different agencies. I set my net wide and met a lot of people who gave me tips on marketing as well as ideas for our brand in just the brief chats I had. It’s amazing the good will of just a coffee and chat (via zoom) to get to know each other even before a tender is invited. Once we’d selected the agencies, each one interrogated the work we’d already done and got under the skin of what we do and what we needed. Just as our Pilotlighter teams do for charities on our programmes. They did all this before they then presented us with recommendations and ways forward.

  4. Your brand sits above your vision and mission helping you to deliver consistent value

    I thought that the vision and mission of a charity is what sits at the very top, guiding the charity in the work it does. During the project I learnt that there’s something that comes before that, a brand promise, which everything else follows through. Of course, you can’t get to it without a vision and mission. A brand promise is the promise of what a customer, beneficiary and supporter will experience every time they interact with you. This was critical for us as an organisation because we bring a lot of different kinds of people together to service our mission to help charities help people most effectively. And this is what had been missing: one unifying promise that could run through everything and bring our brand together.

  5. Good branding takes time

    And lastly, but by no means least, like anything worth doing, good branding takes time. You have to have a contingency if things don’t quite run to time, but the brand work isn’t finished once the brand is live. We’re now working on training staff up on the rebrand and in the new year we’ll be continuing tooling up our trustees, Pilotlighters and partners to help refer people to us.

    We’ve been in conversation with staff internally and with our community over the year about our rebranding and this has been an important part of the process. Our brand is ultimately experienced by everyone who works for and with us, and we want our staff to feel as supported as possible. We believe our new brand will help us do more for the world so it’s important everyone feels part of it.

If you’re a charity leader looking for help to navigate the next step in development for your organisation, we can help you do more for the world. If you’re a charity in the North or Midlands of England or Wales, apply for our support via the Weston Charity Awards.