strategy: bonding not branding

Interestingly the last post I ran with contained a series of thoughts, okay rants, called “think this, not that” that didn’t provoke much in the way of discussion on the blog. But it did generate some back-channel discussions via email and phone. “Think bonding, not branding” started more than a few, “nice line, but what does that mean?” conversations.

First, I should say that are several firms out there who used the phrase before me. I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s turf. Google around, you’ll find ‘em. As much as I like the ring of “bonding not branding” I like the concept and implications far more.

So what does it mean? I can’t give you my one-liner yet, but here’s a little riff that has been banging around in my head for the last few days.

Bonding not branding means that your nonprofit is a living breathing entity. Don’t think about one of those silly “If your company was a movie star who would you be” kind of branding exercises. Think: “are we human?” How do your donors know?

Bonding not branding means that your motive is to engage with your donors, not fool or manipulate them…and never, ever lie (ever).

Bonding not branding means when you ask for money it is heartfelt, honest, hard-hitting and necessary. (Yeah, that “hard-hitting” got you didn’t it?) If you think hard-hitting is wrong, think of the last time one of your kids lobbied hard for something they really, really had to have to survive (I’m not talking minor issues like life or death, we’re talking something really serious here, i.e. social status). Recently we heard a pitch from our 13-year-old daughter for the shoes she couldn’t live without. Heartfelt? Yes. Honest? Yes, raw, in fact. Hard-hitting? Oh man. We could save a social pariah simply by purchasing shoes. How could we let her languish? How could we not give generously so she could not have embarrassing shoes? Necessary? She sure thought so, and I did too before she ever made it to the Ask.

It worked because of bonding not branding. In case you’re wondering about the shoes in question: Plaid Converse, unbelievably overpriced, yet a fully funded project by Hoots and Thomas.

Bonding not branding means that you’ll persuade with genuine emotion, not guilt or coercion.

Bonding not branding means that you care about your donor’s dignity more than you care about their AVG or ROI or LTV.

Bonding not branding means that moves management is more about honoring your intentions than about meeting your goal.

Bonding not branding means Social Media is about giving your friends a platform more than selling your product.

I believe in a brand’s voice, look, promise, mantra, tagline, etc. etc. etc. But I believe in relationship more than I’ll ever believe in branding. The funny thing is that many of your donors are bonded to you and you haven’t thought about it. They connected with your mission. They bought in and are sold out on who you are and what you do.

Now, think about how you build that bond. Don’t worry about how you’re going to capitalize on it. Worry about how you deepen your relationship with them. Insert some heart and soul into your fundraising. Tell your friends how they made a difference, STOP talking about The Budget. Get rid of all those phony, baloney people on your website. Don’t tell people what you did; tell what your friends are doing through you. Quit twittering about drivel. Stop strategizing and start relating.

OK, I really can’t believe I wrote that last sentence and Hoots let me leave it in this post. I’m one of the most strategy-focused people I know. But strategy devoid of relationship is propaganda or manipulation or worse. Whatever it is, strategy without relationship is heartless. Heartless will not thrive in this new world of ours. That you can take to the bank.

Careful thinking about building relationships with your donors and connecting with them at a heart level…now that’s what we’re all about.

How about you? What do you think about branding and bonding? And if you don’t want to have the conversation on the blog, email me. Love hearing what you’re thinking.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Hoots iPhone)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

7 thoughts on “strategy: bonding not branding”

  1. I’m thinking somewhere along the line branding got a bad name. In the seventies, we didn’t call it “Branding,” we called it “Positioning.” It was essential in an over-communicated marketplace, a critical part of forming a bond with the people with whom you might develop a mutually beneficial relationship. You have to find each other in order to bond.

    Unfortunately, Positioning has gotten co-opted into the weaker, current popular use of Branding that is often all style, no substance, calculated imagery, fakery. I know you understand the importance of positioning or branding. So why does branding (the ethical honest representation of who you are) have to be in opposition to bonding?

    “Bonding not Branding” IS a Positioning statement (a powerful one in our current culture – kudos for that).

    In the classic book, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” Ries & Trout wrote something to the effect, “You can’t brand your way out of reality.” That key part, among others, has been violated so many times by inauthentic people and organizations that we’ve become cynical about Branding. But when branding clearly communicates who you are and what you stand for, well, that’s just being authentic in a very good way…it helps you bond better.

    1. I really enjoyed reading the blog as well as the comment section. I like how the author mentioned not lying or manipulating your audience. Nowadays, because of the poor branding strategies and image polishing, there are many countries where branding and Marketing are considered jobs of scammers. But the truth is as you mentioned authenticity is the key to win over your audience. That’s the only way to really bond for long term.

  2. I like that, bonding, not branding.

    Bonding with people instead of trying to get your brand out there is definitely a good way to build long lasting business relationships online.

    Cool post.

  3. @Deborah–as always, brilliant thinking. I hadn’t thought about “bonding not branding” as a positioning statement–duh! You are right.

    I think I am reacting to the superficial take on “branding” which is all about look, design, fonts, colors, taglines without heart and soul. In fact, you are correct, branding does not have to be in opposition to bonding. The engagement or bonding, the human element is so often overlooked in modern branding.

    Thanks for reining me in! I go to hyperbole quickly.

  4. Pingback: oneicity // income solutions for non-profits » the future of fundraising

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