Don’t worry – as a direct marketer, I too shutter a bit at “brand.” It’s often used as code for “that’s going to be too effective, so the brand guidelines forbid it” or “here’s the new logo; have fun getting people to open their envelopes for the next year or two.”

But organizational brands are really the totality of the experiences and resultant associations you have with an organization. Saying you can change your brand because of a new logo or tagline is like saying you can change what’s in your Christmas presents by rewrapping them.

And I was put in mind of brand as it relates to direct marketing, by a statement about Coke.

First, a bit of history. Throughout the 90s, the Coke can added more: splashes and bubbles and polar bears and fizzies and other newness. The idea behind this, as best as I can tell, was to catch the eye and, to the nostalgia and brand associations of Coke, add new.

In came a new look for Coke from Turner Duckworth:

Quote partner Bruce Duckworth:

“Coca-Cola is the real thing – it’s authentic. It was the first, and it is the best. Everything else on the package was a generic element that other brands could use in their designs. So it seemed that the way to convey Coca-Cola as the authentic, original beverage was to remove all of the generic elements that anyone else could borrow. Why did Coke need bubbles on the can? Who in the world doesn’t know Coca-Cola is a bubbly drink?” [emphasis mine]

Hence, my Giving Tuesday rant last week. If everyone does a Giving Tuesday appeal and everyone leads with their matching gift campaign and talks about their goal, then a new entrant with an email strategy to lead with the Giving Tuesday match isn’t Coke.

It’s Brand X. And no one – not one single person – pays more for Brand X.

It’s tempting to think that the solution to this is to add in new things you are doing that are unique. And that’s not an altogether bad idea.

But remember back to Coke. They didn’t add new things to make their product unique. Instead, they took out what is generic.

So what is generic for your nonprofit? One great candidate is your thank you letter.

Does yours say something like “Thank you for making your generous donation. What we do wouldn’t be possible without people like you. You can learn more about the impact you are having at boringnonprofit.org.”? So does everyone else’s.

Remember that the average donor is donating to between three and seven (depending on which survey you believe and the time period at which you are looking) nonprofits. If there is nothing that differentiates your letter from other letters, then you are just ticking the box that says “we acknowledge that you made a gift” and giving the same experience as everyone else.

Thankfully, “different” in thank you letters is a low bar to hurdle (or in this case step over). I’d recommend the tips here: learning a donor’s identity and why they are giving, then playing that back to them using positive affirming phrases.

(And how to learn why different people are giving? There, we can help)

But sadly, even showing an impact from the gift would set you apart somewhat.

What else would you say is often generic for nonprofits that can be removed? Leave us your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!