Some of you may be scratching your head, “What’s a single brand strategy and why should I care?” Simply put it’s when an arts organization decides to put all of its branding, marketing, and communications resources behind one name and one brand.

“Don’t all arts organizations already do this?” you might ask. Generally yes, but there are situations when sub-brands (your arts organization’s events, programs and/or facilities) have developed so much equity that they sometimes overshadow and seem independent of their parent arts organization.

If this seems like it could be your organization, you might want to consider an overarching single brand strategy that does a better job of reining in your sub-brands.  This would be a more efficient, effective, and cost-saving way to spend your marketing and communications budgets—and to create a clearer, more consistent, more broadly recognized organization brand.

Here are some examples of sub-brand situations:

  • The annual free concert series that everyone anticipates and loves to attend and everyone knows by name, but few know who creates and is responsible for it.
  • The museum wing or a collection within a museum that has become well-known on its own but in unaided awareness testing, people have trouble identifying in which museum the wing or collection is housed.
  • The history museum whose biennial recognition awards are routinely cited by the press, but whose image fades in the intervening periods with potential visitors and donors, so much so that people view the organization only as an “awards presenter.”
  • The regional theatre company who promoted its theatre venues for decades over the parent organization, with each venue becoming known for a specific theatre genre (e.g. Theatre A does musicals, Theatre B does dramas, Theatre C is experimental).

I’m sure with each of these examples you can see the inherent problems in promoting or branding the event or the facility over its parent brand: little of the equity that the event or facility produces transfers back to the parent organization—and that’s a big problem for an arts organization. “Like publicity, isn’t any brand equity better than none?” Well, yes and no. Yes, in that it’s great your event or facility has become a resounding success. No, in that the success hasn’t accrued to the organization that enabled the event or facility to succeed in the first place.

Hey, it’s not marketers’ fault. They were told to go out and make Event X or Facility Y a success—and they did. However, the organization did not have an overarching brand strategy in place when they marketed the sub-brand. They placed so much emphasis on the sub-brand that it got its own logo, its own message points, organization message points were not included, and connection to the parent organization was pushed to the side.

“So then what?” Well, donors become confused about who they are donating to, parents become confused about who’s educating their kids, communities don’t understand who’s reaching out to them, and audiences don’t realize, or worse, don’t care, whose producing the work that they love.

A single brand strategy is the most efficient, effective, and cost-saving branding model. Arts brands are always affected by limited resources: money, people, and time. A single brand strategy makes the most of the resources that an arts organization does have by concentrating all of its branding and promotional strength on its organization brand. A single brand strategy helps eliminate the above confusion, helps clear up any gap between the perception and reality of the organization, and emphasizes the parent brand over its sub-brands.

“What if my event doesn’t ‘fit’ with my organization brand?” My question would be, “Why would you propose something that doesn’t positively expand people’s perception or expectations of your arts organization?” This reinforces the value of a single brand strategy.

Here are some tactics to move toward a single brand strategy:

  • Always include the arts organization name or logo with the sub-brand name in layouts and text.
  • Don’t create sub-brand logos. Make proposed exceptions defend why they should be exempt.
  • Look at your portfolio of sub-brands that have grown organically over the years and determine how to migrate to a single brand strategy immediately or over a specified period.
  • Look to successful comparable organizations in or outside your region as reference points to bolster the value of a single brand strategy.