The DOW just passed the 11,000 – signaling (if you believe the prognosticators) that the long recession is officially behind us. Lots of people learned some tough but important lessons during these difficult months and many of us changed our behavior in the process. In looking at the most recent Millward Brown Optimor BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Brands 2009 Report, I was struck by ten key takeaways they note that gave the top brands the edge needed to survive and thrive during the recession. Here are their ten key learnings and my take on how they apply to the nonprofit sector. With thanks to the folk at Millward Brown.

  1. Brands Still Matter. Even in difficult economic times, people still make purchases of things they value. For nonprofits, that translates into knowing that maintaining your brand’s perceived value with key stakeholders is essential.
  2. Go Global – Effectively. Creating and maintaining recognition in many parts of the world is essential in today’s global economy. For nonprofits, even local ones, the lesson here is understand that your supporters are part of a large world – not just down the block. They travel, read, go online and experience and learn from sources everywhere. Be part of that experience.
  3. Don’t Be Greedy. Consumers who survived this recession are not in the mood to purchase from greedy companies. We are all done with over-priced products that don’t deliver quality. For the smart nonprofit, that means be grateful for support even if the sum not as big as in the boom years.
  4. Stay Positive. Consumers have been through a lot and are angry with government, large institutions and certain entire business sectors but they are not necessarily angry with your brand. Strong, effective brands demonstrate security, confidence, and values that consumers (i.e. donors) still rely on. Give them the brand experience that they count on and try hard to even go beyond their expectations.
  5. Think Value for Money. Consumers today really mean it when they say they want value. That hold true whether they are buying a new pair of shoes or contributing to your cause. Make sure they get it by continuously communicating that value back to them and demonstrating fiscally responsible behavior in every small and large action you take. So forget the $500 floral arrangements on the dinner tables this season.
  6. Emphasize Heritage. Consumers are looking for stability, reassurance that you have a history and solid story to tell. Just as they are returning to comfort foods, give them a good portion of powerful messaging around mission, purpose and heritage.
  7. Be Real. Consumers are serious and while humor still sells, make sure it is not done in a way that communicates a lack of respect or lack of understanding for their position. Be respectful to your donors needs and communicate trust.
  8. Listen Closely, Act Quickly and Communicate Loudly. According to the Millward Brown Report, the strongest brands during the darkest days of the recession were Walmart and McDonalds – brands that responded to the both consumers reduced economic situation and to their growing demand that companies labor practices, environmental and health policies get in line with their thinking. So, for nonprofits, that means actively engaging your supporters to hear what they want and expect from their relationship with you. Smart nonprofits are paying closer attention to supporters needs and are adopting policies (like environmental impact) and communicating them through the lens of organizational mission and values.
  9. Stay Relevant. Consumers have traded down but not given up on the things that matter. So, instead of spending $5.00 for a cup of coffee at a coffee house, they are buying free-trade coffee beans and brewing their own coffee at home. For the nonprofit, that means looking for opportunities to give supporters experiences that tap into their psychic needs and filling them. Think powerful volunteer activities that give people experiences they will carry with them for a lifetime and tell others about.
  10. Repeat Often: My Brand is Important. Consumers are still looking for the best in every category even while they are being more selective about their purchasing. Be the “go-to” nonprofit brand they turn to by keeping your brand and their experience with it the best one possible.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.