Digital futures for charity brands: telling data-driven stories with blockbuster impact

digital futures, charity brands

November saw Manifesto host an evening of discussion on the topic of how charity brands should be positioning themselves in an increasingly digital-first world. Three thought-leaders from the world of charity digital marketing were on hand to share their tips, insights and experiences.

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Data driven charity brands

Gavin Ellison is Director of Public Services and Not-for-profits at YouGov, the international market research firm. YouGov’s BrandIndex tracks the perception of brands daily, based on the responses of a panel of several million people around the world.

Big charity brand picture

Gavin kicked off his talk by taking an overview of the charity sector, noting that, since a wave of scandals in 2015, overall trust in charities has fallen. But, looking on the bright side, the charity sector still inspires more trust than the BBC, the Bank of England, the Church of England and the entire legal system.

In fact, amongst all the ‘brands’ tracked, charities are only less trusted than the police, army and the Royal Family. 4th place ain’t bad.

Digging deeper into this shift in perceptions, Gavin showed that the trustworthiness of charities overall fell from 54% in 2013 to 38% in 2016. However, people’s support for the aims of charities hardly changed at all.

There are important implications here for the role of storytelling in a charity’s brand strategy, but more on that later.

Building blocks of a charity brand

CharityIndex is YouGov’s brand tracker for the not-for-profit sector and tracks a host of different metrics like awareness, donations, perception and willingness to talk to other people about the charity.

The huge amount of data collected by YouGov can also be put to many analytical uses. As well as comparing charities directly against each other, YouGov can also compare the perception of a charity against a basket of charities to assess comparative strengths and weaknesses.


They also seek to understand how people’s affinities change between charities, across age groups and a host of other demographic dimensions. But beyond simple demographics, YouGov are increasingly using connected data to paint much more sophisticated pictures.

The YouGovProfiles tool, for example, generates a representative donor for many large charities (e.g. National Trust). As well as information on the demographics of a typical supporter you also get indicators about lifestyle, personality traits, favoured brands, entertainment and media consumption habits.


Once you start isolating key audiences and asking questions like ‘what makes these supporters different to the supporters of other charities’, you can find new ways to reach them: new communications channels, new potential partnerships, new messages.

From charity brand to blockbuster

Next up was Manifesto’s very own Creative Director Mark Ellis, with a talk on how charities can use their brand to generate energy, excitement and engagement. For Mark, it all centres around turning the charity’s mission into a blockbuster story. A story that’s authentic, unique, ownable, and inspires action.

Starting from John Hegarty’s definition of brand (“A brand is the most important piece of real estate in the world; a corner of someone’s mind”), he made the observation that, given the charity sector’s recent problems holding onto the public’s trust, owning a corner of your supporters’ minds would a very valuable thing indeed.

This led onto Ty Montague and the idea of StoryDoing brands, i.e. those which use a core story to drive action throughout the company.


The Michelin brothers, pioneers of content marketing with their restaurant guides, were Mark’s next touchstone as he used them to illustrate how brands can use content to tap into the interests and passions of their audiences and, ultimately, drive them to take action.

5 steps to inspiring positive action

Charity brands are perfectly placed to inspire positive action with their brand stories. They can talk authentically about their causes, usually have a core audience who are committed to the cause, and have plenty of ways in which people can take action.

With that starting point, Mark offered up 5 tips for charity brands looking to inspire action:

  • Define your mission – when it comes to crafting stories and calls to action, start with the ‘why’ of your organisation, not the ‘what’ or the ‘how’.
  • Set the stage – get to know your audiences inside and out, and develop a content strategy by working out how you’ll use content to get your core story to them.
  • Be heroic – make the work that you do part of the ongoing story.
  • Create positive action – by providing new ways for your audience to get involved, new tribes with whom they can self-identify and new stories in which they can take a leading role.
  • Take the future by storm – never stop looking for new ways to get your story to your audience.

Mark rounded off the talk with a demo of Amazon’s Echo – a potential new channel for charity donations –  to illustrate that last point.


Working with the Unicef UK brand

Responding admirably to a fairly late invitation to speak, Christian Humphries, Senior Manager Creative Services, Brand at Unicef UK, spoke about the brand’s efforts to build awareness of the charity’s work among UK audiences.

Unicef is actually the most appreciated brand in the world, fairly comfortably beating other well-known charity brands like the International Red Cross and Greenpeace in recent opinion polls. In fact, global awareness of the Unicef brand stands at over 90%. Huge achievements for the charity, which exists to protect children’s’ rights and operates in 190 countries.

So what’s the problem?

Closer to home, the picture is quite different. In the UK it seems, people aren’t thinking about Unicef and don’t know what they do. While 89% of the UK population have heard of Unicef,

  • Only 7% of people spontaneously mention that Unicef is a children’s organisation;
  • Only 10% would say Unicef first when asked to think of a charity;
  • Just 55% of the UK population would say they’re familiar with Unicef.

While it’s great that people in, say, South Sudan, know what Unicef do for children, that’s not where the majority of donations that enable the charity’s fantastic work come from.

Re-positioning the brand

Recognising that children are the second biggest motivator for charity donations after health, Unicef decided to relaunch their brand in a bold new direction that highlights the urgency of their work: Children in Danger.

The new brand emphasises that Unicef work for children everywhere – in the UK and globally and forms part of a new and evolving approach within the charity to marketing communications, which also involves

  • Integrating fundraising, communications and campaigns to deliver more for children;
  • More and better content, with fewer words;
  • Bolder headlines, stronger images, better photographs, better videos, more immersive content.

Here’s a video which tells the brand’s core story – a story which permeates, and sets the tone for the charity’s communications and helps them speak with one voice.


The new website, which we’re proud to have helped design and build, also does a pretty good job of articulating the brand’s core story.

Translating the core story into campaigns

Recognising the power of passionate storytelling to engage audiences and inspire action, Unicef set out to imbue all their content with the core brand story (‘Children are in danger. Together we can make a safer word for every child.’). They would do this by making bigger and better, but fewer, pieces of content which targeted multiple audiences.

Here’s Christian on the power of storytelling and Unicef’s audience-centred approach to content, with a revealing look at the personas that inform the new communications strategy:


The outcome? Content like this video about the current Syria campaign, which itself supports direct response TV spots featuring celebrities (a good demonstration of hub and hero content respectively):


Tracking the success of the new brand

Since the launch of Children in Danger, spontaneous awareness of the brand in the UK has increased, along with people’s consideration to support. They’ve jumped from 39 to 29 in the Charity Brand Index, organic reach has tripled and media coverage has increased month-on-month.

  • Over winter 2015, Unicef were the number one charity associated with helping children in emergencies;
  • Awareness of the Syria appeal continues to grow, with 28% of the UK public now associating the campaign with Syria;
  • In 2016, Unicef was the number one organisation associated with the refugee crisis and the most considered organisation to support for helping child refugees.

Overall, it’s an incredible demonstration of the powerful effects of transforming a communications strategy around a core brand story. The new strategy is helping the organisation claim key issues (Syria, refugee crisis) as their own.

Once again we’d like to thank all our speakers for sharing their time and expertise with us. To hear about upcoming events at Manifesto, on charity digital, content and technology, sign up for our monthly newsletter.


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