Do You Have a Website Problem or a Branding Problem?

Let’s get to the root cause of what you’re trying to fix.

By Deroy Peraza, Partner at Hyperakt

It’s a familiar scenario for many organizations: the marketing website feels outdated, confusing, and disconnected from what the organization truly represents.

The straightforward solution seems to be a new website. Tangible engagement metrics on Google Analytics make it easier to persuade leadership to set aside funds to fix your primary channel for marketing and communications.

An abstract illustration depicts colorful, fragmented human figures and limbs inside overlapping rectangles on a peach background. A large mouse cursor is centered, pointing at one rectangle. The style is playful and vibrant, with varied poses and bright colors.

Illustration by Merit Myers

But, what if the root of the problem lies deeper, in the very essence of your organization’s brand?

Deciding what to invest in first should be based on the root cause of your symptoms. With several hundred projects under our belt over the last few decades, we can tell you that many nonprofits that think they have a website problem, actually have a branding problem.

Where Do Common Website Problems Stem From?

When there's uncertainty about the organization's direction and focus, it becomes incredibly difficult to make decisions about content organization, taxonomy, navigation, calls to action and the user experience as a whole.

Let’s zero in on one example. Web navigation is all about guiding your audience to the most essential information they need to access. If you are an org with 30 issue areas or 15 programs, showing all that in your navigation will make visitors’ eyes glaze over with decision paralysis. You have to prioritize or you risk losing people. Your choices will tell a clearer and more strategic story about your organization. But arriving at these choices is hard work.

Many website problems are rooted in strategic brand work to clarify the organization's story and objectives.

Questions like “Who are our audiences? What is the ultimate story or impression we want them to walk away with? What are the three most important aspects of our work and approach that we want them to know?” are really brand questions that follow questions like “What makes us different from our peers? What value do we uniquely bring to this work?”

Starting your work by answering brand questions is how you make sure your website’s content strategy and user experience effectively support your organization’s mission and engage your audience.

While it’s still a little harder for nonprofits to justify investing in branding — with some still seeing “branding” as a bad word — without a solid brand strategy foundation, website projects are bound to be slow, frustrating, and expensive because no one is well equipped to make important decisions.

So you think you need a new website, but you probably need a brand. How can you uncover what you really need?

Brand-First Approach: Aligning Identity with Strategy

Being 100% real here, more often than not, clients who come to us wanting to focus on their website, with a light brand refresh attached, don’t have a solid brand strategy footing.

Think about it this way — trying to rebuild your website in these conditions is akin to asking an architect and construction firm to make you a building when you don’t yet know what the building is trying to accomplish, who it’s going to be used by, and how you want them to feel when they’re using it. Sounds like a waste of precious real estate and money, right?

If this is where your organization is, do yourself a favor, shift your resources towards building strategic alignment so you can make sure the brand authentically represents your organization. Engage your team members so they can voice ideas, understand the brand's rationale, and its relation to the strategic plan. This will make all decisions about your website much more straightforward.

Digital-First Approach: Refreshing the Verbal and/or Visual Identity

If you have a solid brand strategy foundation, a digital redesign is a great opportunity to update your verbal identity, which might feel jargony or stale, and your visual identity, which might feel outdated or limited. A sharper verbal identity can make your brand more accessible, and a flexible, well documented design system will enable your team to communicate quickly and efficiently. These updates will all help your brand identity be an authentic reflection of your brand strategy. But the key here is that you’re refreshing your brand, not transforming it — you’re optimizing your brand identity to better reflect your strategy, not building your entire brand strategy.

There are a few important things to keep in mind when taking this approach. First, while the UX and technical implementation are a key priority for these kinds of projects, it’s important to not treat the branding part of the project as an afterthought when it comes to budget and time — make sure you give it the energy it requires and that you carve out time to have discussions about how design decisions align to the promise and personality of your organization. You should also be aware that, even though you might have a solid brand strategy in place, the concrete nature of content strategy work often reveals gaps in the clarity of your positioning which you might need to solve for.

Your Approach Should Inform Your Choice of Creative Agency Partner

Food for thought: most agencies in the social impact space are optimized for a digital-first approach to branding. Many agencies that sell digital-first branding as their primary service do so because that’s what many organizations have been comfortable buying over the last decade or so. This approach works if conditions are right, but if it isn’t what your organization actually needs, it’s not a shortcut.

Make sure that if your organization needs a brand-first approach, that you’re working with a brand-first creative agency equipped to facilitate a deeply collaborative brand strategy process with your team.

Evaluating Your Organization's Needs

The choice between a brand-first and digital-first approach is not a one-size-fits-all decision. Both approaches, whether leading with a more in-depth branding process that sets you up for your website redesign, or leading with a website redesign that incorporates a brand refresh, require significant investment. You want to make sure you’re thoughtful in choosing the right path — the path that best aligns with your organization’s current needs and future goals.

Determining the right approach requires a reality check. Ask yourself: Is your brand clear and resonant to our staff and stakeholders? Are you able to articulate what makes you unique and indispensable to your cause?

By carefully assessing your brand's current state and understanding the implications of each approach, you can make sure you’re using your organization’s money and time effectively and setting yourself up for success.

Need help assessing what problem your organization is trying to solve? Let’s chat.

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