On branding: what kind of animal..?

If you had to descibe the Trust as an animal, what would it be? Those of you who attended the AGM last month will know that this is one of the unexpected but illuminating questions our consultants have been asking us in our discussions on branding, as part of our current lottery-funded Onwards & Upwards project. 'Brand' is a word that can conjure up negative images of commercialism, in-your-face advertising and - in the virtual world of social media - a type of narcissistic self-promotion.

However, the purpose of a brand is to ‘distinguish an organization or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer’ and this is important even if you are a not-for-profit charity. Although our members know who we are and what we do, the results of this summer’s surveys indicate that most of our visitors know next to nothing about us – and they are therefore a lot less likely to join as a member, contact us to volunteer, put some money in the donation box or leave us a legacy.

We have been looking at how other organisations approach this and I was struck by this excerpt from the National Trust’s brand standards:

What we give people: Essential Refreshment
We all need beauty in our lives. We all need fresh air, open doors, hidden depths, new views. We need places that can lift our spirits and help us to find a different rhythm in our lives. This kind of refreshment isn’t a luxury: it’s vital [1].

This kind of ‘selling’ seems a world away from our usual idea of a brand.

It put me in mind of the two hours Katie and I spent at Burgh Castle Fort during half-term last week, collecting the last few visitor surveys of the season. It was a warm, bright day and the interior of the fort was buzzing with families - children running about, exploring, picnicking, reading the interpretation. The grown-ups were all content to give us the five minutes it takes to answer the survey, and most of them had lots of their own questions about the Fort, the landscape and the wildlife. They all thought the site was amazing and special. Everyone was happy – including me.

Burgh Castle Fort is also home to the Almanac project which the Restoration Trust is running this year and next. As I reported in the Annual Newsletter, participants, who all have mental health issues, report that their regular visits are very rewarding. The Restoration Trust ran a similar project at Stonehenge - called Human Henge - which is showcased on the HLF website to commemorate 100 years since the site was given to the nation. One of the participants says, ‘It was a magical experience to walk the landscape for 10 weeks with experts treating us all as normal intelligent people, instead of our "illness"' [2]. Laura Drysdale from the Restoration Trust, and some of the participants will be talking about the project on Radio Norfolk today (November 1st) at 4.30pm.

There is something about visiting a site with a tangible depth of history such as Burgh Castle Fort - walking through the ruined walls, lumps and bumps; and discovering the intangible stories of those who walked here before us - which has the power to uplift our mood. It may just be a quick walk with the dog with the Fort as a backdrop; thirty minutes spent looking across the Halvergate marshes and imagining the Roman Great Estuary; or a couple of hours carrying out surveys with happy visitors, that helps us find a ‘different rhythm in our lives’. But it is undoubtedly ‘essential refreshment’. CD.

[1] https://brandcentre.nationaltrust.org.uk/downloads/2/NT_brand_standards_...

[2] https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/news-features/how-stonehenge-project-hel...

News in brief

  • Saturday 17 November: Humphrey Repton and His Norfolk Connections Sarah Spooner, Senior Lecturer in Landscape History & Engagement, UEA. NAHRG lecture. Meetings take place at the UEA (Thomas Paine Lecture Theatre) at 2.30 pm (except in December, when they hold a joint lecture with the NNAS in Norwich Castle) Non-members are welcome to try a couple of meetings before joining (no charge). www.nahrg.org.uk
  • Saturday 10 November: Living with Monuments: settlement, monumentality, and landscape in the Neolithic of the Avebury region. Josh Pollard, Univ. Southampton & Mark Gillings, Univ. Leicester Joint lecture with the Prehistoric Society. NNAS lecture. Lectures begin at 2.15pm at the Town Close Auditorium, Castle Museum, Norwich (unless otherwise stated). Lectures are free to all members; non-members are most welcome and are asked to leave a small donation. www.nnas.info