Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

Global study highlights risks to charities of tampering with their brand

Global study highlights risks to charities of tampering with their brand

An international study on properties encourages charities to use a more scientific approach to building and strengthening their brand. Those that tamper with their brand, for example when a new CEO or director of is appointed, risk damaging supporter confidence, destroying ‘brand memory structure’ and in some cases promoting competitors.

The study is a collaboration between Phil Barden, Managing Director of Decode Marketing and author of ‘Decoded: The Science Behind Why We Buy‘, and David Taylor, Managing Partner of international consultancy the brandgym, and author of ‘Grow the Core: How to Focus on Your Core Business for Brand Success’.

Charities and brand properties

The research is “the first global study on brand properties”, namely shape, slogan, sound, symbols, and similar elements.

Its authors point to considerable opportunities to charities for building iconic charity brands if they use a scientific approach that draws on  and psychology. They can enhance their brand by considering and adopting a wider set of brand properties such as sonic and shape.

The survey found that 95% of marketers use logos as brand properties and 85% use colour, but only 18% use sonic branding.

[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]Charities continue to focus on the obvious – logos and colour – whereas properties such as shape, sound and image can be powerful assets in building iconic brands[/quote]

Conversely, charities can damage their brand and supporter confidence if they make changes to their brand based on subjective decision-making or as a result of staff changes. Furthermore, the study’s authors argue that celebrities can have a low or negative “Branding Power Score™” and should be used with caution.

Indeed, the survey found that 55% of marketers change their brand properties due to organisational change, especially a change in marketing director, with a further 20% changing brand properties based on a judgment call. Only 24% of marketers change brand properties strategically based on quantitative data.

Phil Barden explained:

“One reason for the current, and narrow, perspective on brand properties is a misconception about how the consumer, or supporter’s, brain perceives and processes brand properties. Charities continue to focus on the obvious – logos and colour – whereas properties such as shape, sound and image can be powerful assets in building iconic brands, something we see so clearly in some of the major charities brands – you only have to think about a poppy or a red cross, a panda, a daffodil for powerful and evocative brand recall.”

The research

The research was carried out in July and August 2014. It involved a survey of 85 senior marketing professionals from Europe, Africa, Asia, USA and Latin America. In addition, 1,000 UK consumers took part in the Iconic Asset Tracker™ (IcAT) study. Developed by Decode Marketing, this uses techniques from cognitive neuroscience to evaluate brand properties regarding their impact on branding and brand equity.

The IcAT study measured the strength of brand properties, highlighting the ‘iconic assets’ that activate the brand and build brand equity.

The technique uses insights from decision sciences on how brand properties are processed and how memory structures are built, in order to enable objective, fact-based management of these brand assets. It enables decisions about which brand properties are safe to change and which are iconic assets that should be sacred.

Identifying and tracking the strength of brand properties

Phil Barden and David Taylor

(l-r) Phil Barden and David Taylor

David Taylor commented:

“The research shows that brand properties are seen as ‘highly important’; however, only half of the organisations surveyed have a proper process for identifying and tracking the strength of these. As a result, brand properties are often chopped and changed based on personal judgement alone or as a result of changes in staff, such as the arrival of a new marketing or fundraising director. This prevents the creation of valuable memory structure in supporters’ minds which can take several years to build. The study presents major opportunities for charities to create stronger, iconic brands.”

Barden added:

“This knowledge will enable charities to protect their brand memory structure, avoid common branding pitfalls and save money on misdirected rebrands.”

More details on the findings and issues are available in free papers available from the agencies on request:

1. brandgym has produced a paper on the practical issues of identifying and amplifying brand properties, ‘The Power of Brand Properties’.

2. Decode Marketing has produced a paper with more detail on the scientific background and how to set up an iconic asset management platform to effectively steer these important brand assets, ‘Unlocking the Power of Brand Properties through Neuroscience.’


Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

Get free email updates

Keep up to date with fundraising news, ideas and inspiration with a weekly or daily email. [Privacy]

* We do not share your email or personal details.
" />