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CDFI Brand Awareness vs. Brand Clarity

22 Apr

Which of the following would you rather have at your CDFI?

  1. MORE people and organizations know ABOUT you
  2. The same number of people and organizations know about you, but UNDERSTAND your brand BETTER?

If you answered #1, you’re wishing for brand awareness. If you went with #2, you voted for brand clarity.

It turns out these are actually two very different things. Each is helpful and important, but for different reasons and in different ways. Let’s explore. Then–guess what–we’ll give you our take!

The Benefits of CDFI Brand Awareness

It’s not uncommon to hear people (at any company) say “we just need to get our name out there.” And at first glance, that makes perfect sense–if people don’t know you exist, they certainly can’t buy your product, refer you leads or become your advocate.  But implied in this comment is a belief that “our brand/product is great, clear and worth paying attention to…we just need to broadcast this perfect message further.” And that’s where the fallacy usually exists. In many cases, the truth is that awareness is low for many organizations because the message is not really WORTH being aware off.

So how do you create a message that’s worthy of awareness? Well, it takes two steps:

  1. Develop a high level of brand clarity (the subject of the next section)
  2. Make the message word-of-mouth-friendly (the subject of our next post)

The benefit of CDFI brand awareness is fairly obvious: when your name is familiar to others, it’s easier to start a dialog with them. One of the risky benefits of brand awareness, however, is that it tends to make you feel good–we all like to discover that we are widely known–and lulls you into thinking that broad awareness will automatically make you successful. Not necessarily the case.

The Benefits of CDFI Brand Clarity

Brand clarity is when a CDFI brand stands for something clear and distinct, and people know EXACTLY what that is. To be clear (pun intended), it doesn’t mean everyone LIKES that brand…it just means that the attributes of the brand are understood without question. As an example, think of Harley-Davidson. Everybody knows exactly what that brand stands for: rebellion, freedom and bad-assness. And while that brand is understood by everyone (it has a high level of clarity), it’s not loved by everyone (including me). It polarizes…which for a brand is a very good thing.

Brand clarity is critical in business–whether for-profit or not-for-profit. When people understand exactly what your brand stands for, they can determine quickly and easily if that brand is something they align with…or not.  Otherwise, without brand clarity you’re left with a whole lot of unclear, uninspired and confused people.

In the CDFI world, brand clarity means your brand must be distinctly its own. While you no doubt share a passion for community development with your fellow CDFIs, this passion is not enough to qualify as brand clarity for your organization. The important question is, “what is OUR unique, one-of-a-kind brand DNA? What is it that makes us who we are…unlike even other CDFIs?” Once we can answer that, we can begin to establish brand clarity.

Our Take: Focus First on Brand Clarity at Your CDFI

If you haven’t noticed yet, we believe CDFIs will be more successful if they focus first and foremost on brand clarity. Once the brand is clear and people “get it,” then it’s time to scale up awareness. But increasing awareness before enhancing brand clarity is not very useful.

The truth is, many companies have high levels of brand awareness–but this doesn’t mean they are necessarily strong brands. Take, for instance, US Bank, a huge company that has tremendous brand awareness (who hasn’t heard of US Bank, after all?). But what would you say their brand stands for? What are the personality attributes you associate with that brand? Good luck answering that one. I study financial brands for a living, and I can’t even tell you.

By comparison, take a look at USAA. You may or may not know about USAA…their brand awareness is high, but not ubiquitous. However, if you know of USAA, you definitely know what their brand stands for: patriotism and the pride of national service.  They are well in touch with their brand, and they realize that while it’s not for everyone, it’s really powerfully connected to veterans and their families. The brand’s attributes are clear, and USAA and its veterans stand for the same thing.

Conclusion: Brand Clarity Comes First for CDFIs

If all you needed was to create more brand awareness, you could solve that problem easily: spend more money on marketing to spread your message further; buy more ads. But in almost every case we’ve seen, the real issue is not brand awareness as much as it’s brand clarity. Take the time to build a clearer, more distinct and distinguishable brand, and the people who are aware of you will understand what your brand stands for without a doubt. Once you’ve achieved that, then go and find more of those people.