Ep 152 | Building Your Brand Message with Ashlee Sang
What you'll learn:
→ what a brand statement is and how to create one.
→ using your brand voice for consistency.
→ how to use your why to create better conversation with your donors – and use your brand voice.
Want to skip ahead? Here are key takeaways:
[8:38] Brand Statement What is it that you do? Who is it for? Why do you do it? Make sure to revisit these questions as your organization grows to ensure your messaging is up to date.
[15:37] Brand Voice Keep the way you deliver your message the same even when speaking to different audiences.
[21:45] Directing your Message Focus on why you do what you do when delivering your message. Your donors are there for the same reason and will have a connection to that message.
Founder, Ashlee Sang Consulting
Before doing brand messaging strategy and marketing consulting, she worked with a variety of nonprofit organizations, including a human rights education NGO in Senegal and a local branch of Habitat for Humanity. The common thread has been sharing messages that matter.
Ashlee is passionate about small, personal changes anyone can make to protect our shared environment and improve people’s lives. She’s a fan of one-liners, happy surprises, and taking walks in the sunshine. Learn more at https://www.ashleesang.com
We love creating the podcast and help you grow your organization. If you like what you learned here please give us a tip and help us offset our production costs.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Hey, hey, Sami here, your host of the digital marketing therapy podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today as we talk through your brand messaging. So it's been great over the last few weeks to have a couple of episodes around how to create your customer avatar or your buyer persona, and then how to figure out where they are, so that you can talk to them. And today, we're talking about how to craft your messaging in order to reach them, and make your life and your team's life so much easier. This could affect your volunteers, your board members, your staff, your hiring, all the things to make sure everybody's on the same page, and make things way more efficient when it comes to reaching out to donors, or the population in the community that you serve to make sure everybody is getting the right messages at the right time. So my guest today is Ashlee Sang and Ashlee is based in central Illinois with a background in anthropology and a penchant for travel. Through Ashlee Sang consulting she works with visionary founders who want to grow their impact and their business in a way that's rooted in values and propelled by purpose. Before doing brand messaging strategy and marketing consulting, she worked with a variety of nonprofit organizations, including a human rights education NGO in Senegal, and a local branch of Habitat for Humanity. The common thread has been showing messages that matter. Ashlee is passionate about small personal changes anyone can make to protect our shared environment and improve people's lives. She's a fan of onliners, happy surprises, and taking walks in the sunshine. This is a great conversation, it might be a little bit overwhelming if you've not done this work before. But I promise, give it a listen, and the beauty of it is you can chunk it off piece by piece. So just do what you can and then keep building upon it. Because as Ashlee will mention in this podcast, your brand messaging is always a work in progress. And it doesn't need to be overly fancy, it just needs to be authentic in you. So head on over to thefirstclick.net/152 for the show notes for this episode, and also the links to the other two episodes that I just talked about. All three of them will be great at kind of pulling this whole brand piece together for you and helping you really get in front of the right people to make your fundraising and your growth even easier. But before we get into this episode, it is brought to you by our digital marketing therapy sessions. If you need just a little bit of time with me to review your buyer personas, to brainstorm where to find them, to go through maybe some of the messaging statements that you've come up with, our digital marketing therapy sessions are 30 minute one on one consulting sessions that you can book to just go over whatever it is in your digital marketing space or website that you need support with, you can head on over to thefirstclick.net/officehours to book one today. But for now, let's get into the episode.
[INTRO] You're listening to the digital marketing therapy podcast. I'm your host, Sami Bedell-Mulhern. And each week, I bring you tips from myself and other experts, as well as hot seats with small business owners and entrepreneurs to demystify digital marketing and get you on your way to generating more leads and growing your business.
[Sami Bedell–Mulhern] Hey, everybody, join me in welcoming Ashlee Sang to the podcast. Ashlee, thanks for being here today.
[Ashlee Sang] Hi, thanks so much for having me.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So I love this conversation, especially because we've come off of a couple of podcast episodes about defining your buyer persona and how to find them and you are all about the messaging and how to then really connect with them on a deeper level. So tell me a little bit about why messaging? Why was that something that you were attracted to as you kind of started growing your business?
[Ashlee Sang] Yeah, so like most people I didn't know brand messaging existed a couple years ago. I come from the communications sort of industry. But I didn't know that there was this really essential piece of the puzzle called brand messaging. And now that I do this, day in and day out, I realized that having a very clear brand messaging strategy is the foundation of everything. This is how you are able to show up consistently and confidently. And clearly, this is how you're able to connect to those people that you really deeply want to serve, or for nonprofits, those people that you really deeply want to be able to pull their heartstrings right. These are the people that are the lifeblood of your business. So once you have listened to the podcast episode about the customer persona that you've just posted, after you've listened to that and you really figure out alright, here's who my donors are. Here's who my supporters are. Here's who my team members are. Once you know who those people are, you need to be able to find that hook that connects. And for me, that is values. That is really where you're able to connect with people. And so your brand messaging strategy, it's the what, it's most importantly, the why, it's the who for, it's the how you do it. That is the crux of why your business exists. And so if you're able to convey that clearly, you're able to really, really grow with ease.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, and I really liked your values centered, because I think that so much of what our listeners are as well with their organizations, so kind of how do you start that process? So I know who I'm talking to, I know what the vision is of my organization. How do I kind of put two together so that I'm really talking to my potential donors and just not talking at them?
[Ashlee Sang] Yeah, so for me, it's an invitation, you're inviting them into your vision, because it's for them, your business or nonprofit exists, because you and the people you want to reach have the shared vision, they want to be part of it. So it's really that intersection of your shared values, and your shared vision, and sort of where your audience is, and where you are as a brand. And that middle portion where everything intersects is where all the magic happens. And this also helps you internally with your own energy as CEO, or Executive Director, or founder, and it helps you manage your team more easily, too. So brand messaging is not just for the external marketing, it's super important in the external marketing, it makes you more referral, it makes content creation easier. But it also is for the operational side, it makes it so that any decision you make, whether it's who to hire, if you're going to charge for service, how much you're going to charge for it, where you're going to expand next, what conference to attend, it makes all of these operational decisions, grounded in something concrete. And that's something concrete is your why. It is those values and the people you want to reach and the vision that you have. So it's a really, really useful, not only exercise, but then also the brand messaging guide that is generally produced at the end of the process is a really useful resource to be able to have a gut check, a Northstar, and be able to evolve with strategy rather than just sort of like, well, this might work and then not really know, not have decisions grounded in anything specific.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, and I like the idea of a guide. Because if you're in any size, nonprofit, I don't care what size you're in, you have event committees, you have fundraising committees, you have ops committees like and they're a mix of volunteers, plus you have your team. If you're small, then there's just a handful of you. But this brand messaging guide is such an easy tool to make sure everybody is speaking the same language backed up by the research that you know, is who you need to be going after. So you're making everybody more efficient, setting everybody up for success. So can you talk a little bit about, like, communication? Or like what kinds of things might be in this guide that might make it easier for people to be more successful? And whatever campaign it is that they're running?
[Ashlee Sang] Yeah, so I can walk through what's in my guide. Um, I like to start with a brand statement. So this is sort of like an elevated elevator pitch, really what you do, who it's for, and especially that why you do it. So, it's really this overarching, what is this brand all about? What is this nonprofit even doing in the world, what makes you special from any other nonprofit that works with animals or works with children or whatever it is that is tied to your mission. What makes you special? That's what the brand statement is really for. And then I also always incorporate a mission statement. So nonprofits should be super familiar with this, right? Most organizations of any type or size have a mission statement. But sometimes, it's a little bit trite, or sometimes, you know, the founder created it 25 years ago, then it's never been revisited. Right? So or, or maybe you're brand new, and you just started six months ago and like the vision has already evolved, because you saw the new perspectives or whatever else, right. So I do think it's important to revisit your mission statement. And again, make sure that that big picture vision of what You're working toward is incorporated. And then the next element of that is the brand values. So really, these brand values should permeate the entire brand. It should be what guides your interaction with all those committees, it should be what guides all of your written communication via email via designed collateral on your website, of course, it should also guide your interactions. So if you value transparency as an organization, and yet you refuse to tell any of your committee members or any of your program participants, any information about your organization, are you truly being transparent, you know, that sort of gut check is really important. So those brand values, what's also really special about them, is that you and I can have the exact same brand values, the words themselves, but we interpret it differently, we live them out differently. So what's really important when you're doing your brand messaging strategy, is not only to define your brand values, but to specifically think about what those brand values mean to you and your organization. And how that can, again, affect every single aspect of your brand.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] I liked that you said that. Because I feel like a lot of times people will use integrity, trust, transparency, like you know, all of those words that are thrown out everywhere, but it Yeah, to your point, it means something different, and you need to be more specific. Otherwise, they don't mean anything.
[Ashlee Sang] Yeah, and it is not enough for it to simply live on your about page as here are our values and then you list three to five values. That's not enough, the values should be that guiding force. Exactly. The values are absolutely what define your culture. And also vice versa, your culture is often what defines your values. You know, like as your team grows, as your volunteer base grows, as the beneficiaries of your programs change and evolve, that can affect what your organization stands for. And so that's what's really beautiful about the entire brand messaging strategy process is that it is an evolution. Just like your website is never complete, it's never finished, right? It's constantly evolving. So is your brand message because it should be people driven, it should be values driven. So naturally, people evolve. And naturally these perspectives that are getting constantly brought in and reshuffled with new leadership or again, just new opportunities, it should then allow you to evolve your entire brand, right? So we're going for consistency in message, but not anything that stagnant. Right, it's it should absolutely be able to grow with you.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Sorry, I want to just interrupt you for one second. But don't you think like this is a practice that organizations before we get to the next step, that this is a practice that organizations need to be in like, this is something you're talking about? Briefly, at every committee meeting, like you have these plastered everywhere, like this is something that everybody needs to live and breathe or it doesn't work, because when it becomes stagnant is when you have this big strategic planning meeting. And everybody comes together, we create these great vision statements and those core values, and then nobody talks about it ever again. So it's a practice in making sure that everybody lives and breathes that before you can really see the difference in the impact that can make in your organization.
[Ashlee Sang] Absolutely, a strategy is only as good as it is implemented. There is absolutely no point in doing a strategic exercise if you do not plan to leverage that strategy. And that's why I, actually, I create my brand messaging guides in a Google Doc. So it's not the most sophisticated, but it is one of the most adaptable because I know some people design it and like really beautiful slide deck. And that's wonderful. And it really does make the sort of reveal exciting, but then maybe you're a little bit afraid to touch it, right. If it's a Google Doc, you can mark it up. You can copy paste, you can literally start applying this today into your business and you can open it up during team meetings and think about Alright, we have these three prospective donors. Let's look at our brand messaging guide and figure out how we're going to speak to them based on what they care about, and how that aligns with our brand, or maybe it's a grant, and well, it's a lot of money, but eeh, their requirements just really aren't aligned with our values. And so you don't pursue it. You don't waste that time and energy and all of that effort to do something that won't feel good and won't bring you closer to your mission. Yeah. So yes, it should absolutely be applied and revisited constantly. It's easier said than done, but it's definitely worth doing.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] To practice. Okay, so what's the next before I interrupted you?
[Ashlee Sang] Okay. So we have the brand statement, we have the mission statement, we have the brand values, and then it's really about the audience. And so nonprofits are particularly unique, in that they have at least two core audiences, right? The donors and the beneficiaries, or participants or you know, whatever you want to call them, right. So there's generally not too too much overlap, other than potentially, again, those shared values. So it's definitely worth doing a full exercise for audience personas for your donor, your beneficiaries, potentially partners, that sort of thing, and really digging into that demographic information, but specifically the psychographic information. So we won't get too deep into that here. But just in general, when you're doing your brand messaging strategy, who are you trying to reach? How are you going to speak to them and what's going to resonate with them, that is sort of the gist of what is part of the brand messaging strategy. And then the next part of that, that's really related is your brand voice. So your voice should be consistent, even if you're talking to different audiences, right? So you, if you have a very casual laid back brand voice, you should be attracting donors who want that as well as participants who want that right, you shouldn't be necessarily treating those two groups of people differently in the way you speak to them, you might be talking to them about different things, because they care about different things. But the way you post messages, the way you host events, that sort of thing should be consistent, you should have this recognizable voice to you and your brand. And then again, especially if you have a team, they should be carrying through that voice and that experience in everything they do. And then the next component to my process is the core messages. So really, what are those recurring themes that keep coming up. And often they are anchored in those values, often they're anchored in that mission, your specific approach, your specific culture that you're creating. And so this, for me, is often sort of this, like, big, creative brain dump of all these great taglines that could be used in social BIOS or on website copy, either it as headlines or as the descriptor, or as jumping off points for social media posts, that sort of thing. So the entire guide is really able to be leveraged in everything you do. So from your social bios, to your website copy, to your emails that you sent out, to your event descriptions that you're putting in your local newspaper, to pitches to podcasts, all the things, you're able to mix and match and smush together and pull apart and use all of these ideas as a jumping off point, so that you're never starting from scratch.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, and I know this is a big undertaking to put together like the guide the first time around. But I feel like once you have the initial one done, then to recreate it for like a big campaign or you don't have to recreate everything, but just to even recreate the brand messaging statements like the second half that you just talked about. Then you can just replicate that formula for the big campaigns that you have or the big events that you have. You already have that formula then you have something you can deliver to your web designer for that website copy on that page, to your social media person, to your event chair, whatever, they have that core stuff easy and ready to go and you know you're pushing forward the same mission so it's a lot of work up front to kind of make things a whole lot faster and smoother for everything else that you can do.
[Ashlee Sang] Yeah, exactly. I just had an operations expert work with the same client as me. And she said that, oh my gosh, your brand messaging guide was so useful in my process, setting up her systems, which I never would have connected. So this idea of the brand messaging, being a jumping off point for all your other contractors, for all of your departments, for those committees for those special events, or new programs that you're unrolling, it's a great jumping off point, so that there is always that common thread. So even though the special event might have a special title, and a special tagline and special branding event like visual branding, there should be a through line, right? It's not just this special event that is operating in this sort of black hole, it's part of your bigger mission. So it's really, really useful to have a jumping off point and then being able to iterate from there.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, I Yes, I agree with that. So one question I have is at what point do you like, I feel like the vision statement or your vision, your mission, like all of that the kind of first part of what you talked about is very inward focus, like we're talking about what we do, how we do it, why we're amazing. But at what point you kind of start crafting statements that are directed towards your ideal donor, let's just say that make it more about them and how you're solving their problem, as opposed to Hey, look at me, like we're amazing, like, kind of where do you draw that line.
[Ashlee Sang] So it's all about it comes back to that intersection, again, that intersection of your shared values and your shared vision and that invitation to be part of this movement. So I think really focusing on your why, because your why isn't internal, necessarily, right? Like your why is the reason you exist in the world, the thing about the world that you want to change. So if you consistently keep that, why, at the center of everything, so we want to make, you know, healthcare accessible, or whatever, you know, whatever it is that you are aiming to do. Your donors also want that. And so if you constantly go back to why donating to this specific campaign, or why I'm sharing this specific post is important, it's because it takes us one step closer to making healthcare accessible to those who don't have access to it. So it's really easy for us to get lost in the details of day to day or oh, well, our competitor, nonprofit is doing this. So we need to review this too, right? Or like the latest social media trends, or whatever it is, it's really easy to get lost in those details or choose those opportunities without questioning whether it's actually aligned. So having that reflection time, but then constantly thinking about the people you're trying to serve, and why is what closes that loop?
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, I'm so glad you said that. Because I preach that all the time. Like just because a new trend or idea is out there doesn't mean it's right for you in that moment. One last thing I want to touch on before, you know we wrap this up, is like, Okay, we have this brand guide, we're good. So then now, we're gonna feel maybe a little overwhelmed at like going back and reviewing all of the messaging that we've already got out there. Right. So, you know, kind of where do you think maybe they should tackle things first to kind of start to clean things up? And then any tips that you have to kind of interweave this then into kind of a day to day, a day to day piece? Because it's going to take time.
[Ashlee Sang] Yeah, so I think there are a few approaches you can take one, definitely, again, revisit it often, have leadership really be on board. So that means your board of directors, your executive director, but then also like department heads, really make sure that they're on board with the entire concept so that they can continually keep that top of mind in anything you do. And then also, you can take two approaches, right, you can sort of tackle it section by section of all of your public facing stuff. So your social bios, your homepage headlines, your website copy, the emails that you send, that sort of thing, you can just sort of go through bucket by bucket, and audit and revise from there. Or you can take the approach of Alright, moving forward, this is how we want to sound, this is how we want to show up, this is what we want to stand for. So, well, we can't change the last 60 emails that we've sent, but the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that we can make sure it always comes back to our core messages. And so really, it's always keeping in mind that the way you talk about your brand, and your why, and the problem you want to solve should be front and center.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, and I like that approach, too. Because, you know, that goes into how do we hire people? Either as contractors or a staff that are going to support what we're doing. And then making that also just part of the natural onboarding process, like then they get drilled into them. This is this. So, like, long term is going to make everything so much easier. This is how we recruit board members, this is how, you know, we choose who's going to be on our event committees are our sponsorship committees, because they're people that have this ingrained in what they do, which might take a bit but it's going to ultimately make things so much more efficient and so much more successful.
[Ashlee Sang] For sure. And I mean, culture change is a lot harder than bringing on people who are on board from the get go. So absolutely, making sure especially that values element, making sure people that you bring on whether they're contractors, whether they're team members, whether they're volunteers, making sure that they have a firm understanding, and ability and willingness to live out those values is super important for making the entire brand cohesive and consistent.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] No, I love that. Okay, so lots of things for listeners to think about, and lots of great places for you to start some of this, you probably already have pulled together some of that you might need some tweaking on. But actually any final kind of last words, and then I'd love for you to share where people can find out more about you and take advantage of some of your amazing resources on this topic.
[Ashlee Sang] Yeah, thank you. So just keep in mind that this is an evolution. And it's worth doing simply for the reflective process of it and the confidence that it will bring you in reaching out to people. Because again, like brands grow because of the people that they're able to get in front of. So the more confident you are in your message and your mission, the easier and faster everything is going to grow. So if you do want to sort of DIY this process, or at least get the ball rolling, you can go to Ashleesang.com/firstclip. So Ashlee with two E's, sang like sang a song. And I have a free workbook called the stand up to stand out workbook. And it has a consistency checklist. So those are some of the first places that you can go through to make sure alright, is my brand message aligned? How can I update accordingly? And then often we need external perspective, because we're all just so close to it, even if yeah, we're just too close. So definitely reach out if, if you find all right, the workbook was great. But we still have some hurdles to get over to really be confident and consistent and clear in our messaging. So you can find me at Ashleesang.com or on Instagram at Ashlee Sang consulting or on LinkedIn just under Ashlee Sang and I'll be sure to reply.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] And we'll have all of these linked up in the show notes, including the two episodes that we've done on creating your customer avatar and your how to find where they are. Because I think all three of these kind of come together in a beautiful space. I also just want to reiterate that if you are in a space in your organization where you are thinking of doing a full on website refresh, or you're kind of in a rebranding mode, before you do anything public facing and going through this brand messaging process is critical. Because you will not end up with a website that functions and converts like you want it. Without it. It doesn't mean you can't be successful. But I think it's like what will take you to that next level much easier. So just wanted to throw that out there. If you're thinking of website refresh, just talk to Ashlee first.
[Ashlee Sang] It makes it so much easier for the web designer, and it makes it so that the money that you're investing in that website is so much better spent because you actually know what you need the website to do for you and what you need it to say and who you're even trying to reach. Because your web designer can't just magically guess that right that you need to tell them that. And so having that brand messaging strategy foundation will just make all of your other investments so much more worthwhile.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, I agree with that. 100%. Well, thank you so much, Ashlee, I really appreciate you being here and giving some people some homework.
[Ashlee Sang] Thanks so much for having me.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Big, big thank you to Ashlee for joining me today. It's such a great reminder on so many things with messaging and how it can permeate through your entire organization. So I hope that you will take it to heart, have conversation with your leadership teams, and really figure out how you can improve on your messaging for increased engagement, increased ease and hiring, and recruiting and just serving your donors and your community better, you can go to thefirstclick.net/152 for the show notes of this episode, and for the resources that Ashlee so generously shared with all of you. For now, I hope you'll subscribe wherever you listen and make sure you subscribe over on YouTube at thefirstclick.net/YouTube. These episodes are recorded and video as well. So if that's how you'd like to consume these, please head on over there. I'd love to see you for now. I hope that you have a great rest of your week and I will see you in the next one.