How to Rebrand Globally on an NPO Budget

CMO Spotlight: Dara Royer, Mercy Corps

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Dara Rover, Mercy Corps.
Dara Rover, Mercy Corps. Credit: Mery Corps
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"Where others run away, I run toward challenges," says Dara Royer, chief development and marketing officer of Mercy Corps, a global organization that has been helping alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression since its founding in 1979.

Royer's biggest challenge? Refreshing the Mercy Corps brand and bringing it to life with a global team of 5,000 and a budget of just $50,000. If, as a marketer, this makes your hair stand on end, you're not alone. In fact, Royer's ability to hit and exceed her goals earned her the prestigious Officer's Award from The CMO Club in 2016.

"All the odds were against us," says Royer. "All of the resources and tools, the elements that make for a successful brand's refresh, were not at our disposal." Mercy Corps numbers among 2 million other purpose-driven organizations in the U.S., but has a smaller marketing team and smaller budget than most of its peers. "Despite all of those things, we ended up with a successful brand launch that's inspiring to our global team and inspiring more people to support our work." Read her story below.

The shoe-string strategy

"There is so much potential for our brand to be stronger than it is," Royer recalls telling Mercy's senior leadership. "It's going to require us to find the simple human truth that exists at the core of our brand and reposition ourselves to be successful in the marketplace."

For many companies, finding that core requires extensive (and expensive) research, typically outsourced. However, Royer and her team are proof that this doesn't have to be a costly undertaking; it simply requires an investment in your team. She and her department trained Mercy employees across different countries on a consistent, qualitative research methodology. "We taught them how to talk to their fellow team members, government officials in the area, and the people we help in order to pull out insights that are going to be valid for us to synthesize," she explains.

The results were consistent and valid, she says, and unearthed a clear positioning and strategy for the brand. "We were able to pull out the same kind of thematics, regardless of the country in which the research was done," says Royer. "The same themes were coming to the surface -- incredibly powerful, and much less expensive than the traditional way of approaching the work."

The enticing epic

After the new elements of the Mercy brand were established came the task of communicating it via storytelling. Through their work, Royer and her team demonstrate that driving home the overall "epic" of a brand in content is sometimes more powerful than disseminating a cute collection of smaller stories. This is especially true for an organization like Mercy Corps, whose reach is already segmented across geographic boundaries. "Telling the epic, being consistent in the story that we're telling" -- for Mercy Corps, the belief that a better world is possible -- "is a huge focus for us in trying to break through the noise," says Royer. "When you try to tell many different episodes, people start to not understand who you are, what you do and why you matter."

The resonant roll-out

But the true test of their rebrand was its resonance at rollout. Royer and her department first presented the refresh to a global leadership gathering in Uganda. Thanks to their extensive research and testing, the new Mercy brand struck a chord -- both with the audience, and with the rest of the organization. "That was the moment where the light bulbs went off," says Royer, because the audience and employees finally saw themselves in the brand. "I realized the fear people had was that we were going to tell a story that wasn't authentic to who we are," she says. "When they realized that the heart of the brand was just shining a bright light on our work … that's when people got it."

Besides telling a "damn good human story," building this meaningful brand also demanded thoughtful execution. "Iteration is now king," she says. "We're evolving little things along the way to make sure that the brand is really usable for people, and that it's responsive to how people need to bring the brand to life within a framework. I think iteration is a big key lesson."

Evidence continues to build that Royer's approach is working. "Every week, I get photos from people in the field who are so proud to share with us ways that they're bringing the brand to life themselves consistently," she says. Externally, fundraising has reached new highs and audiences are more engaged than ever. "They're more interested in spending time with our story and hearing more," Royer says. "All of those metrics are moving in the right direction, and that tells us that our story not only resonates with us internally, but it's also resonating with other people."

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