From Charity Organization to Charity Brand: An exploratory (reception/audience research) study into the importance of Brand Orientation in the Charity Sector, with a specific focus on the use and representation of the Institute for the Blind’s ‘brand’ in local media texts and the effect this perception of the brand has on the donating practices and choices of two age-related differing groups of potential donors.
Over the last 50 years, the commercial sector has developed and built brands as a means of differentiation in an increasingly competitive environment. The charity sector, on the other hand, is becoming similarly competitive as consumers demand transparency and clear information about the added value of the charities. Kooiman (2010) argues that, in recent years, “there has been a tremendous growth in the charity sector. This growth is reflected in a huge increase in number and in competition, but also within the charities themselves, through developments in their brand thinking.” Some charity organisations are turning to charity brand status, not only in terms of a name, slogan and logo, but more importantly in terms of communicating value and meaning to their stakeholders and donors.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: THE BRAND ORIENTATION CONSTRUCT
As this study will mostly be focused around the concept of “Brand orientation”, it is thus important to note that the term encompasses that the formulation of a company’s strategy is based on brands. By focusing the company’s commitment, energy, time and resources on creating, building, developing and nurturing their brand, a platform for a sustainable competitive strategy is achieved. The essence of having a brand orientation approach for any company in any sector, therefore lies in the fact that successful application of branding can create “distinctiveness and value for the organization, its product and the consumer” (Graham, Harker, Harker & Tuck , 2003: 33). ‘Branding’ thus provides benefits to both the company, its products and the final consumer. A branded product or service distinguishes itself from the competition in similar markets, enabling it to be easily recognized and recalled by consumers. The adoption of the practice of branding ultimately presents the opportunity to a company to increase a product′s recognition, awareness and visibility, and to clarify the image of the product in the consumer′s mind. According to Graham et al (2003: 33), branding therefore is a significant marketing tool and, as mentioned earlier, is used to differentiate an organization′s product(s) in the marketplace. Branding strategies are “developed by the organization, for the product, in order to position and identify the brand with positive product benefits to attract potential customers (or in this case, donors).” Aaker (1991: 271), on the other hand, defines brand awareness as “the ability of a potential buyer to recognize or recall that a brand is a member of a certain product category”. Many generic or undifferentiated consumer goods have been differentiated by means of branding and successful branding can therefore be said to achieve high market share and sales for an organization in both the commercial as well as charity sector. Charity organizations are increasingly realizing that they should professionalize their conduct in order to continue their existence. The Institute for the Blind (the specific NPO chosen for this research study) is a non-profit organization based in Worcester which is over 130 years old. Their mission is “To empower persons who are blind, partially sighted or deafblind, including visually impaired persons with additional disabilities by means of education, training, development and care towards a fulfilled life and complete citizenship” (Institute for the Blind, 2011). The question this study aims to answer is whether non-profit organisations such as the above mentioned, accept the theory, practice and effective implementation of branding, and whether or not they regard it as strategically important to endorse the conversion from charity organization to strong charity brand. An organization that centers around the brand in this way can thus be described as “brand oriented”. For the purpose of this study, exploratory research needs to be done to determine whether (and how much) or not age plays a role in the donating behaviour and donor choice process in terms of the representation and strength of the charity’s ‘brand’ in the media. A non-profit organization such as The Institute for the Blind is well defined in terms of their target market or target donor segment, but the primary question this study will try to answer is how the organization’s ‘brand’ in the media is perceived by two different age groups in diverse life stages, and how the Institute can use these findings or insights to appeal to and target more segments in its quest for donations.
The purpose when undertaking this study is to conceptualise and explore, through qualitative exploratory research (specifically through reception/audience research using focus group interviews), what the effect and perceptions regarding the use of the Institute for the Blind’s ‘brand’ in media texts (print, video, audio) are of two different age groups of potential donors. The selection of the two groups will be based on age and life stage, in an attempt to answer the research problem whether the perception, reception and importance of the strength of a charity’s brand in the media is influenced by the potential donor’s age and if the latter plays a role in donating behaviour. Thus, the effect of the existence and strength or non-existence of this brand- orientated approach and its use in the media will be evaluated and interpreted according to the selected young adults (18-24: group 1) opposed to selected older individuals (50+: group 2). Depending on the results and insights born from this study, recommendations can be made to assist the Institute in using its branding strategies and brand identity to appeal to a wider donor segment.
OBJECTIVES OF THE RESEARCH AND PROPOSITION
The overall objective is to explore the increasing importance of a brand-orientated approach by charity organizations, and what the effect of brand-orientation is on the donor behaviour of two different age groups. This overall objective can be broken down into three main objectives. The primary objective is to determine the level of brand orientation implemented by The Institute for the Blind in media texts. The secondary objective is to verify whether or not donors are influenced by the strength and efficiency of a charity’s brand identity. The tertiary objective is to identify whether the Institute for the Blind is making the best use of their current ‘brand’ in the media to appeal to a wide range of audience in different life stages. Due to the subjectivity and qualitative nature of this study, the following proposition can be drawn: The use of a brand-orientated approach in the media by non-profit organizations has an effect on the perceptions and donor behaviour of different age groups in different life stages, which consequently influences the donor choice processes of these groups. (Omitted the entire ‘dependant and independent variables’ part, as you suggested – more appropriate for a quantitative study)
A qualitative approach to address the research problem will be used in this study. The specific research methodology that will be conducted is of an exploratory nature. Exploratory research (specifically in this case, reception/audience research) is not intended to provide conclusive evidence, and further research needs to be done to determine a particular course of action (Zikmund and Babin, 2008). Exploratory research is thus used to gain new insights and understandings regarding the complex world of non-profit organizations using a brand-orientated approach in their operations and consequently its effect on the potential donating behaviour and choices of different age groups. The prescribed and preferred methodological approach to reception analysis entails a kind of qualitative interview, thus the research method that will be utilised in this study is focus-group interviews (where respondents can specifically verbalize their experiences of the media material presented to them). According to Deacon et al (1999: 55), “focus-group research is becoming an ever more popular qualitative research method within communication and cultural studies…(and) one of the most popular means for analysing media audiences.” This research technique is appropriate because it is relatively easy to execute, relatively fast, provides multiple perspectives, produces rich qualitative material suited for interpretation, and is relatively flexible. The interviews will contribute to the existing knowledge of the charity industry as a whole as well as the donating experience; and more importantly new insights regarding the role that age and different life stages play in the choices made when donating will be born. For the purpose of this study, non- probability sampling will be used. The latter sample selection is based on the personal judgement of the researcher or convenience of the sample selection. Thus, the probability of a member in the population being selected for the purpose of this study is unknown. In this specific study judgement and snowball sampling will be mainly used where the researcher will purposively select the sample units. Experts in the charity field, employees of the Institute as well as a recent donor database of the NPO will be consulted to assist with the selection of the respondents. The reason for selecting a focus group for this study is supported by Zikmund (2003: 117) for “the focus group interview has become so popular that many research agencies consider it to be the ‘only’ exploratory research tool. Two focus group sessions will be held with a total of 6 to 8 respondents in the group selection. One group will contain respondents aged 50+, whereas the other group will consist of a selection of 18-24 year-olds. The criteria for the selection of the two groups of respondents (besides their age) will predominantly be based on demographic factors such as income, previous donating practices/experiences regarding the Institute for the Blind, LSM group, history of involvement with any other NPO, religion, access to basic local media material (TV, print, radio), residential area (all respondents should be located in the town of Worcester). The focus groups will be held in Worcester and will be of an informal and relaxed nature. A convenient location, most probably at the head-quarters of The Institute for the Blind, will be provided where the focus group sessions will take place. The discussion will be based on the use of a schedule of questions, and the interviewer will facilitate the group discussion by actively encouraging group members to interact with each other. The interviewer will expose different forms of media texts (TV commercial, radio interviews, newspaper clippings, brochures) in which the Institute’s ‘brand’ has featured and is used. The discussions with the two different groups will be recorded using an audio recorder, after which the data will be transcribed, and then analysed using conventional techniques for qualitative data, most probably thematic analysis. The findings will be used as building blocks for concluding arguments concerning the proposition made.
Primary and Secondary research
Published books and journals, such as the Marketing Research Reader, the Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, Journal of Business Research International Journal of Management Reviews, International Journal of Voluntary and Non-profit Organizations, Journal of Voluntary Action Research, will be consulted to gather additional information. Professionals and experts working in the charity sector (specifically managers and selected employees of The Institute for the Blind) will be consulted for further knowledge of the industry and the organization itself. The University of Cape Town Library database will be used to further gather additional secondary research material. Furthermore, internet sources will also be consulted as a tool to gain information and insights regarding the subject. The primary research (assembled specifically for the project at hand) that will be undertaken in this study is of a qualitative nature; thus subjective, and “leaves much of the measurement process to the discretion of the researcher” (Zikmund 2003:132).
Aaker, D. 1991. Managing Brand Equity: Capitalizing on the Brand. The Free Press:
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Deacon, D.; Pickering, M.; Golding, P. & Murdock,G. Researching Communications: a Practical Guide to Methods in Media and Cultural Analysis. London: Arnold.
Graham,P., Harker, D., Harker, M. & Tuck, M. 1994. Branding food endorsement programs: The National Heart Foundation of Australia. Journal of Product & Brand Management, (3)4: 31-43.
Kooiman, N. 2010. The succes of ideals [Online]. Available: http://sites.google.comlsite/nataschassite/publication [2012, February 14].
The Institute for the Blind. 2011. [Online]. Available: http:Ilwww.blind-institute.org.zal [2012, February 15].
Zikmund, W.G. & Babin, B.J. 2008. Exploring Marketing Research. Louisiana: SouthWestern Cengage Learning.