Whether you’re crafting the perfect sentence, explaining an abstract idea, or building a new brand identity, it’s easy to fall into habitual thinking as you search for solutions. Look for fresh ideas by using analogies. This technique of reframing the puzzle can help you see your organization in a new light and unlock new ways of representing and talking about what you do and why you do it.
Writers, thinkers, and creators have long believed in the power of analogies. In his memoir On Writing, author Stephen King explains that analogies help people see an old thing in a new, vivid way. The writer and philosopher Edward de Bono created the term “lateral thinking” — the same cognitive pattern used when processing an analogy — to invite provocation and challenge thinkers to consider whether there might be other paths to solving the problem.
For visionary organizations ready to further your mission, branding can serve as a powerful tool to communicate your vision. But how do you avoid the homogeneity trap? The sneaking pressure to be like everyone else around you?
Analogies can crack open a problem and breathe freshness into it
Try this simple exercise:
- What if __(your organization)__________ was the ___(analogy)______ of ___(the category or sector you operate in)_____.
- What attributes / personality traits would come to the forefront if this were true?
- What functional benefits would you emphasize about your organization and its work?
- What emotional benefits would you emphasize about your organization and its work?
We did this activity with a public defenders office who came to us for a rebrand. Rather than deal in the overused tropes of the legal world or abstractions of the word “defense” or “defender”, we did the above exercise.
The analogy of Olivia Pope broke open the dam. The staff immediately saw themselves in Olivia Pope: relentless, savvy operators, fixing broken situations, with a balance of hard-edged determination and soft-edged compassion and empathy. This exercise led into a whole new way of talking about the organization, its work, its approach, and its people.
The value of a nonprofit brand is manifold
When done right, it can attract new and more funding, enable game-changing partnerships, build internal cohesion around your mission and values, and serve as a strong bridge between your programming and your external communications. The rise of branding in the nonprofit sector has been a decade or two in the making, and it's here to stay. More and more organizations are willing to invest money in building a bold brand. In your efforts to build an identity, make sure you’ve got the tools for standing out from the pack rather than unintentionally blending in.
Artwork by Merit Myers