May 7, 2017

Building a World Class Brand on a Shoestring Budget

Topline Summary

Dara Royer sat alone at her desk pondering the seemingly impossible–how do you rebrand a global organization with only a $50,000 budget?  She knew in her heart of hearts that rebranding was not just a nice next step for Mercy Corps, but it was a critical requirement for the organization to realize its global ambitions. She also knew there is little glory in being right, what really mattered was getting the rest of Mercy Corps to join her on the journey and embrace the forthcoming change.  Royer’s journey as Chief Development and Marketing Officer is chronicled in detail in Episode 15 of Renegade Thinkers Unite and it is profoundly instructive for all businesses especially those with modest budgets and massive expectations.

And just in case you were wondering if I was hyperbolizing, the outcome of Mercy Corps rebranding was an increase in awareness, revenue via donations and recognition by the Harris Poll as the 2017 EquiTrend “Brand of the Year” and “Most Loved Brand” in the category of International Aid Nonprofits. Those are results that would delight any chief marketer and leads to the question, how the heck did Royer and her team accomplish so much with so little?  Once again, you’re encouraged to listen to this very special podcast episode, but in the meantime here are three key takeaways from this episode related to frugality, storytelling and leadership.

Ultimately, these key takeaways can be seen as a mini-marketing plan. For starters, Royer took the idea of “DIY,” or do it yourself, to a whole new level in her rebranding efforts. Wanting to develop a solid strategic foundation for rebranding, Royer knew that conducting research would be invaluable.  The only problem was cost — typically a global study involving hundreds of interviews can cost more than a hundred thousand dollars, money her organization did not have. So what did Royer do? She made sure her team was trained in research methodology and equipped them with the communication skills to work with their team members, government officials, and the beneficiaries of the people they help. By dedicating that time and energy into training her team, they were able to produce consistent and valid results that allowed specific themes to emerge and guide their rebranding efforts.  Involving the organization in the research had the added advantage of making all the key stakeholders feel like owners of both the process and the ultimate outcome.

Once the research was concluded, Royer drafted a clear strategy statement that focused on telling an “epic” story that would resonate across 42 countries and a broad array of cultures.  For her, it wasn’t about any particular ad. She wanted to make sure that regardless of the marketing channel, the “big picture” was clear and rooted in Mercy Corps’ fundamental belief that a better world is possible. This belief extends to meeting the urgent needs of individuals in the present, while building a stronger world for tomorrow.  With this strategy in hand, Royer focused on telling emotionally-charged stories that resonated with all stakeholders including employees, donors and those affected by Mercy Corps actions.

Without revealing the entire podcast, the final takeaway is a leadership lesson. Royer found that the toughest lesson she had to learn when it comes to rebranding is that being right doesn’t matter. Even if you have THE idea, you can’t just expect a large organization to fall in line. Consensus building is an art form that no enlightened leader can succeed without mastering.  Fortunately for Royer, the necessity of conducting the research in-house had the added benefit of involving a large number of employees in the process, making the ultimate adoption of the new brand positioning less of a sales effort and more of a “look what you all helped create” success story.

Meet the Guest

In 2015, Dara Royer was appointed as Chief Development and Marketing Officer of Mercy Corps, where she oversees resource development, marketing and communications. Prior to Mercy Corps, Royer served as Vice President of Brand Marketing for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the largest healthcare charity in the world. There, she was responsible for overseeing a large and diverse marketing team driving national fundraising and awareness campaigns. As an award-winning marketer and successful fundraiser, Royer leads high-performing teams to exceptional success – Mercy Corps was recently recognized as the 2017 EquiTrend® “Brand of the Year” and “Most Loved Brand” in the International Aid Nonprofits category, is a leading organization driven by the belief that a better world is possible. Congrats Mercy Corps!

What You’ll Learn

  • The importance of telling a consistent, epic story vs. inconsistent mini stories.
  • Your first audience is your colleagues, not your target audience.
  • Being “right” doesn’t always matter.

Quotes from Dara Royer

  • When others run away, I run towards challenges.
  • Garbage in, garbage out: If you didn’t have a solid research methodology, then you won’t have valid results.
  • It was important to help get the organization out of what I call the echo chamber, where we talk to each other, we nod our heads, and we all share a brain around what we believe the truth is.
  • We often think about “external” as being a target audience, but your first audience is your colleagues.