Planning for the Full Life Cycle of Your Brand

Thinking beyond the rebrand process.

By Deroy Peraza, Partner at Hyperakt

We’ve noticed there’s a tendency in the nonprofit space for organizational leaders to think investing in a rebrand means investing in the rebrand process and consider the effort done when the updated brand debuts. Similarly, we find that many nonprofit marketers go into a branding project thinking about it as a short-term initiative. The excitement and pressure of a rebrand often clouds consideration for how the brand is activated, used post-launch, and built over the years that lay ahead to tell stories about the organization’s work. Essentially, they’re buying a new car and leaving it parked in the garage.

What if we were to think of the launch of a new brand not as the end of a project but as the beginning of a multiyear life cycle when the brand has its greatest impact?

A colorful illustration depicts a diverse group of people gardening in a community garden. They are working in several raised beds filled with various plants. Watering cans and a wheelbarrow are scattered around. The scene is lively and vibrant with greenery.

Illustration by Merit Myers

The Big Picture

Much like organizational strategy, brand strategy is something that should be planned out over time. A strategic plan maps out how an organization is going to work towards accomplishing a clear, ambitious mission or business outcome over the next 5 to 10 years. But org strategy is an internal process, and one typically limited specifically to an organization’s leadership team. In order to make a strategic plan a reality people can get behind, organizations need their brands to do a lot of heavy lifting. Every strategic milestone over the next 5-10 years should be concretely expressed through brand milestones. So why do we typically think of it as a one-year affair?

The Continuous Evolution of a Nonprofit Brand

Just as their work is never static, nonprofit organizations must evolve their org strategies and their brands to stay aligned with the dynamic landscape they operate in. A constant swirl of change affects their work and their perception, including:

  • Political changes, such as shifts in government policies or elections, that significantly impact their funding and focus areas

  • Societal transformations, including cultural and generational shifts, that require nonprofits to reassess how they manage their teams and connect with their supporters and beneficiaries

  • Economic fluctuations that alter funding streams and donor priorities, necessitating a strategic brand realignment

  • Technological advancements that force nonprofits to adapt their outreach and engagement strategies

  • Internal changes to leadership and staff that usher in new visions and approaches, aligning the organization's brand with its evolving goals and values

As nonprofits navigate these myriad changes, a responsive and adaptable brand isn't just beneficial—it's critical to maintaining relevance, impact, and support in a rapidly evolving world.

The life cycle of a brand starts with a thorough evaluation and preparation, followed by the creation of a strong identity, a strategic launch, active promotion, and expansion. Finally, it matures with a return to evaluation, ensuring that the brand remains aligned with the organization's evolving mission and goals.

Each phase requires a blend of internal expertise and collaboration with partners, making it a journey of learning, growth, and strategic partnerships. This life cycle isn't just about maintaining a brand; it's about ensuring that it thrives, resonates, and makes a lasting impact.

Let’s look at each of those phases in a nonprofit brand’s life.

Year 0: Brand Evaluation—Laying the Foundation

To find solutions, one first needs to know what problems they’re trying to solve. The branding journey begins with a brand evaluation, a critical step to assess whether a rebranding is needed. It's not just about looking at the logo or tagline; it's a deep dive into how well the brand aligns with the mission, vision, and strategic priorities of the organization to communicate and fulfill its highest purpose. Is your brand an asset? It should be. If it’s getting in your way, it’s not doing its job.

This phase is about understanding your brand's relevance and strength and intervening when necessary. Our Nonprofit Brand Score tool, which you can take for a spin now, is a good starting point to gauge how well your current brand stacks up against critical benchmarks.

Year 1: Brand Creation—Developing a New or Refreshed Brand Identity

Here, the focus shifts to developing or transforming the brand's visual and verbal identity. This includes creating a brand foundation that serves as the cornerstone for all messaging and design work.

A rebrand involves developing a verbal identity that aligns with the brand foundation, creating a cohesive visual identity, and considering elements like naming and brand architecture. Comprehensive brand guidelines are developed to ensure consistency across all touchpoints.

This process generally takes 6 months to a year or more depending on the size and complexity of the organization.

Year 2: Brand Launch—Introducing the Brand to the World

It’s time to bring the brand to life internally and externally. Your new website will align with your new brand. You’ll need to plan internal brand training for staff and volunteers, and both internal and external launch events. A PR campaign and a detailed marketing plan are essential in this phase to ensure the brand reaches its intended audience effectively.

Year 3: Brand Activation—Promoting and Reinforcing the Brand

After the new brand is up and running and all your people know about it, attention shifts to activating it in the real world. Creative campaigns and branded events or experiences collectively shape the story your brand tells and help you accomplish your organization’s strategic goals. All the while, you’re monitoring, measuring, and learning about the effectiveness of each touchpoint so you can keep building your reputation.

Years 4 and 5: Brand Growth—Expanding Your Reach

These years are pivotal for brand expansion. Introducing new services or programs that align with the brand, forming strategic partnerships, and continuous campaigns and events are key activities. Continuous measurement of the brand's performance helps identify opportunities and weaknesses.

Years 6 and 7: Brand Maturity—Coming Full Circle

As the brand reaches maturity, it's time to circle back to the evaluation phase. This includes reassessing the brand's alignment with the organization’s goals and impact, as well as its alignment to cultural conversations and stakeholder needs. Establishing feedback mechanisms and focusing on continuous improvement ensures the brand stays relevant and impactful even as it matures.

Taking the Long View of a Brand

When you’re in the thick of brand strategy work, it can be difficult to imagine how the brand will look and feel and act 6 or more years down the road. How do you start thinking that far ahead?

We’ve found that it’s actually helpful to envision years 5, 6, and 7 first. Where will your strategic plan be at that point in time? What milestones will you need to hit and what goals will you need to accomplish? Your brand should be there to support and express these milestones every step of the way.

In our branding process we use group exercises (such as asking staffers to write an article from the future that captures what the organization has accomplished over time) to help teams visualize their greatest impact, and then work backward.

Taking a long-term perspective not only allows you to plan the entire brand journey but also budget for it effectively. It gives you space and freedom to dream about things that feel aspirational today but won’t be in the next few years. What do you need to do to achieve those goals? Every strategic decision stems from that. You’ve built a brand not just for now, but for what your organization most aspires to accomplish over the long term.

Investing in your brand throughout its lifecycle ensures that it remains active and continues to evolve. You’re not leaving the car in the garage; you’re taking it on road trips to destinations you’ve always dreamed about. And you’re making sure it gets regular service so you can enjoy it as long as possible and so it performs at its best. The same is true for your brand. In order to maintain its vitality and secure its longevity, you need to invest in it and care for it through each stage of its life, not just when undergoing a complete rebranding.

Let’s begin a conversation about your brand's journey.

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