I was presenting my company’s credentials recently and afterwards the potential client, a performing arts administrator, asked, “what’s the return on investment for branding? Part of me was incredulous that he would ask this. Weren’t our amazing services and sparkling case studies alone enough to warrant the investment? Another part of me was glad he asked because it gave me the opportunity to talk about additional aspects of our services. And another part of me was impressed that I was dealing with a savvy potential client.

Okay, so here’s the story on ROI:

1. Remember, nothing occurs in a vacuum. Understand that no marketing, communications, development, education, or programming initiative occurs in a vacuum. Other efforts are always going on that make isolating a new branding program nearly impossible. Other initiatives contribute to (or detract from) the success of a branding initiative, e.g. a season or exhibition is closing or opening, a capital campaign has launched or is delayed, a new director was just hired or quit, it’s a traditionally slow season or our busiest ever, and so on.

2. Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark. Benchmark key audiences’ awareness of and attitudes towards your organization before the start of the project.  Doing this will help you to better understand—after a branding initiative—what’s improved.  Awareness and attitudes are the two main aspects on which a branding effort can have a positive effect. Testing methods ideally should include qualitative and quantitative components, using methods such as focus groups and an online survey. Getting solidly representative groups from the audiences you want to test and good high quality email lists for an online survey are pivotal.

3. Determine your metrics. Decide what will demonstrate the success of your branding initiative? Increased ticket sales or increased attendance are the most obvious to consider and these should certainly be tracked. However, be reasonable in expectations.  A double-digit percentage increase could be ambitious, but this depends what your starting numbers are, what capacities were before you began, and what the previous year’s attendance was. Other metrics could include increased or pivotal press mentions. One museum analyzed comment cards from events and from online. Others went ahead and repeated their benchmark research after an effective period of introduction and compared the two sets of results.

4. Signal the degree of change you intend. There’s a saying in my business that the degree of change you want in your organization should be reflected in the degree of change you undertake in your branding. Keep this in mind as you craft a branding program that can run from evolutionary to revolutionary. Decide where you want to be on that spectrum and track awareness and attitudes both formally and anecdotally to see if they match the degree of change you wanted to convey. Remember, ultimately you are trying to positively shift overall attitudes towards your organization compared to other choices audiences have.

Finally, keep in mind the often touted adage, that if you don’t manage your brand, others will do it for you—and probably incorrectly.