Kivi Leroux Miller started an interesting discussion in a post on Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog. The post detailed a question from a communications professional at a nonprofit that has just undergone a re-branding process. As part of the new brand, the communications person proposed a standardized, professionally designed email signature on all corporate electronic communication. There has been considerable resistance to this move. Some staff members have suggested that this direction is an infringement on personal freedom.
Kivi offers some sound advice, stating that trying to “force” a brand on staff risks a backlash and makes it difficult to sell the brand to the public. She suggests finding some middle ground. There are a number of other good comments posted by readers. One shares the observation that first came to my mind. Can you imagine a staff person refusing to use the organization’s letterhead for the same reason? How is a corporate email signature any different?
There are good reasons for a standardized signature. It does reinforce the brand—making it more recognizable. It also aids the reader. I often groan when I receive an email with just a name attached—or sometimes no name at all. If I need to call the person or pass along their contact information, I’d like to just glace at the email instead of having to call up my address book or send an email back to the person to get particulars. Overall, a straightforward, simply designed signature line projects professionalism. A mishmash of styles, fonts, cute taglines and emoticons does not.
The above rationale, however, does not address the problem of buy-in among employees. Presuming the organization has explained the reason for standardizing the signature, the fact that employees are rejecting the direction speaks more to a change management issue than one of communication. If there has been resistance to the overall branding process, the email signature likely represents the one small area the employee can exert control over.
There are some great suggestions in Kivi’s post including the possibility of allowing staff to create a unique description line for their specific department to encouraging buy-in. Others suggest riding easy on enforcing this standardization until staff come to adopt the new brand. To do otherwise risks negatively reinforcing the brand among employees.
I’m not sure, but I think resistance to organizational branding is more common in the nonprofit sector. Workers in the corporate world seem to better understand the benefits of a consistent brand. Perhaps they’re just so use to it they don’t question it. I think this speaks to the fact that attention to branding is new to nonprofits. Perhaps we need to spend more time educating staff to gain their participation in the branding process at the outset before we embark on a change.
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