How to Build and Communicate Charismatic Branding
Jennifer GoodSmith wasn’t always a “tree person,” but over the course of a branding campaign for the Morton Aboretum in Lisle, IL, she’s come to know more about trees—especially the arboretum’s trademark oaks—than she ever thought she would.
In early October, AMC was honored to host GoodSmith, the Morton Arboretum’s VP of Marketing and Communications, to reprise her session from an American Marketing Association (AMA) session for the Chicago chapter on “Building a Charismatic Brand.”
She shared how to align customer experience (the organization’s programs) with its overall brand (organizational beliefs), connecting the dots from strategic brand to brand strategy to identity and, ultimately, to day-to-day communications.
A Firm, Confident Sense of Self
A charismatic brand, according to GoodSmith, is aspirational but also grounded in actual experience. It requires a clear idea of what an organization’s identity is. She said that brand architecture was key to building the arboretum’s brand as the Champion of Trees, the community’s connection to a global effort in the study and advocacy of trees. This architecture includes three key elements: positioning, promise, and personality.
Positioning refers to who you are and what you aspire to be. GoodSmith described the Morton Arboretum as “strong and quiet” and, in every piece of branded collateral she shared, its 96-year history and enduring values were clear.
Promise points to the single thing that you do better than anyone else. The concept of a “living laboratory” is the distinguishing promise of the Morton Arboretum, where trees are planted and protected, studied, and observed.
Personality is about the voice used to communicate the promise. GoodSmith described their personality as “disciplined, confident, and wildly passionate about trees.” In the brand story video she played, the message is made compelling by impressive footage of the grounds and a clear and powerful voice: “Spring causes a stir. Autumn causes a riot.”
Start From the Inside Out
According to GoodSmith, a key to the success of the Morton Arboretum’s branding was that it started on the inside, within the organization. “Staff are at the heart of your brand,” GoodSmith said. This inside-out approach facilitates a positive, caring, brand-driven culture. Getting buy-in from staff and volunteers—brand ambassadors—leads to a more authentic and natural process of then communicating it outward.
By seeing individuals as Champions for Trees, not just the organization as a whole, GoodSmith was able to bring in fun elements that encourage a connection to this brand, including swag (a green cape!), games, and free passes.
The arboretum’s identity also wasn’t merely communicated to staff and volunteers, it was embodied through and through in every aspect of their experience. GoodSmith and her team felt their story was so compelling, that they eventually created a printed booklet that expressed this story in pictures and words that would only be distributed to internal staff and volunteers. But the story wasn’t only on the pages, it was literally in the pages as well. The booklet was printed on post-consumer fiber, infusing every detail of even an internal document with its beliefs.
Focused but Inclusive
When taking the brand outside the organization, GoodSmith described the arboretum’s approach as “mission and masses,” where it targeted its primary audience—active nature-lovers who would most engage with the mission—but also reached out to the masses to drive people to the gates.
It remains important to keep the visitors coming to see the arboretum, but they are committed first and foremost to their mission “to collect and study trees, shrubs, and other plants from around the world.” GoodSmith encouraged us to remain true to and focused on our own missions, emphasizing that an effective, charismatic brand is one that connects an organization’s core beliefs to its identity and then to others’ experience of that brand.
By doing this, the Morton Arboretum has enjoyed the side effects of increased revenue and customer engagement. Noting a 31% increase in attendance over 3 years (as of 2015) as well as a 194% increase in earned media in just 1 year, GoodSmith certainly showed that a consistent and strong brand identity speaks loudly to customers and industry while also bringing benefits back to the organization.
Tell It Again, Tell it Anew
The question being asked everywhere by the Morton Arboretum is “Can You Imagine a World Without Trees?” This question creates a picture in our minds, contextualized by our own memories and stories, making it personal from the get-go. It draws me in, giving me my own way to connect with the brand. It speaks to the human element of the organization and its mission, to how I benefit from what they’re doing.
We can each ask ourselves questions that can help us find ways to find our own brand story. How does our target audience benefit from our work? How can they connect to what our organizations are doing? How can we make it about them?
Once we know and are confident in our stories, GoodSmith says to tell our stories again and again and to consider how we could tell it in a new way.
June Pinyo is a content strategist in AMC’s Creative Media Services department and co-lead for the AMC Content Managers User Group. For more tips and conversation on content marketing, follow June on Twitter.