Nonprofit Branding: To Protect NPR Brands, He made His Mother Work The Assembly Line.

While celebrating Mother’s Day, Janice and I reflected on the factory owner who put his elderly mother to work in his factory. On the night shift! He had a problem. She could solve it.

Her new job? Help protect our clients’ brands. Outfits like Car Talk, Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

We’re writing about a powerful nonprofit branding tool – logo-mugs. Today’s post explains the Nonprofit Bonus & warns you that mugs can also hurt your brand. Which is the precise reason Mom went to work on the factory floor.

RECAP:  Good story here. But first, the background. Last week’s post presented stunning data about how much bang for its buck logo-mugs generate compared with other print and broadcast media. (Important stuff.)  We also introduced Burke’s Unified Law of Logo-Mug Power:

  • Without a logo, a mug is a generic tool that holds beverage, but no affection.
  • Apply your nonprofit logo and BINGO! That mug became a powerful, cost-efficient branding tool for your nonprofit AND a display of personal affinity for the owner.

That’s the combination we’re looking for…personal branding and nonprofit branding in one package!

COST/BENEFIT: for every dollar invested in marketing, your nonprofit can present its branding elements to more people with a simple coffee mug than it can with a sophisticated broadcast commercial or print advertisement. (Read the market research here)

THE NONPROFIT BONUS: mission and affinity create a huge bonus for nonprofits. This is how it works:

the research mentioned above, showing logo-mugs are incredibly inexpensive branding tools, primarily reflects the market data on mugs with corporate logos.

With the exception of outfits like Apple and Porsche, few corporations are so brand-intensive that someone will prize a mug with their logo. Think about that. You may own a Buick, wear Reebok sneakers, use a GE hair dryer and patronize Wendy’s. But there is little chance that you would covet a mug with a logo representing the brand of Reebok or Buick or GE or Wendy’s.

On the other hand, there is a very good chance that you, and many of your friends, colleagues and family, will happily use a mug specifically because it displays the logo of a favorite nonprofit.

Research shows mugs are incredibly inexpensive ways to spotlight the brand of any organization. But it is affinity that makes logo mugs an even better branding investment for nonprofits than they are for corporate brands.

Mission drives affinity. And affinity drives the use of products that display commitment to the mission.

Thus, nonprofit logo-mugs are kept, used, displayed and prized as functional statements of personal affiliation – the kind of emotional commitment few corporate brands receive.

That’s the nonprofit bonus!  (If you haven’t followed the discussion of affinity-power, check here for information about one of the most important sources of nonprofit energy.)

THE DOWNSIDE: Respect the branding power of mugs when used in marketing and fundraising programs. But keep these points in mind.

  • Mugs are expensive to mail. Most weigh over a pound and require special packaging to protect them in transit.
  • The number of colors that can be imprinted on mugs is limited. It is difficult to produce bright colors on standard, kiln-fired ceramics. Butt-registration of multi-color art is tricky. Your design cannot reach all the way to the rim because of FDA rules. (There is an exception. I will write about it soon.)
  • Warning – the market offers substandard mugs. They were culled during the quality control process before being imprinted and kiln-fired. They are often sold at very low prices to budget-conscious organizations. Be careful – the most expensive way to save money is to give your constituents flawed mug with your logo.  This risk has been covered in several posts on this blog, like this one.

How a retired mother helped protect the NPR brand

In the early 1990s, after producing millions of perfect mugs for VisABILITY’s public broadcasting clients, our favorite ceramics factory ran into trouble. Mugs with illustrious brands like Car Talk, Fresh Air, Morning Edition, NPR News, All Things Considered, were showing up with slight flaws. Nothing major here – a drip in the glaze, a slightly tilted imprint, an overlap in the registration, a bit of fading at the edge of an imprint, pinholes in the glaze, etc.

Nevertheless, we refused to accept less than perfect mugs. They might have been OK for corporate or small business use – but not for use as contribution incentives. (For public radio stations and for many other nonprofits, a $3.00 logo-mug may trigger a $100 contribution. So the mug better be perfectly glazed and perfectly imprinted.)

The factory owner was dumfounded. Couldn’t find the problem. Unable to babysit the assembly line, he brought in his elderly mother. 50 years earlier, hadn’t she demanded he make his bed? And pick up his room. Wasn’t she the one who made sure that the dishes he washed were REALLY clean? Not to mention imposing quality standards for homework, leaf raking and snow shoveling.  To him she was a demanding, formidable enforcer. The solution!

This elderly lady became the factory’s Quality Control Maven!

Her son sent her into the heat and roar of the factory production floor. She wore a hard-hat and carried both clipboard and Betty White attitude. While strolling back and forth on the production line, she stopped and peered over each worker’s shoulder. And made notes.

Mom scared the hell out of the folks who print the mugs, the folks who load and unload the huge kilns, the folks who inspect mugs after they have cooled. She patrolled the day shift. Then the night shift.

Finally, she found the problem!

In a misguided attempt to protect the company’s profitability one crew of quality control folks was intentionally reducing the number of rejects. Rather than throw them out, they let some substandard mugs get packed and shipped.

Mom pulled that crew over to a quiet section of the production floor. She then went into the motherly act that nurtured and terrified the factory owner so long ago. “Listen up, boys. We only ship the perfect mugs. A mug that is less than perfect goes into the reject bin. Or you go into the reject bin yourself. If our clients receive perfect mugs you get to keep your jobs.”

Then she turned in her hard-hat and clipboard. And went home. Problem solved. New Case Study for MBA students!

5 thoughts on “Nonprofit Branding: To Protect NPR Brands, He made His Mother Work The Assembly Line.

    • Appreciate the comment. Tomorrow’s post (5/22) is more about branding tools. No stories. But the week after (5/30 – a day late because of Memorial Day) I will post a great story to illustrate the fundamental goal and common failure of tending to a brand. It involves a friend of Janice’s who survived a plane crash in the mountains. Chilling. And, for our nonprofit marketing purposes, quite apt. Let me know what you think of that one, too.

    • Thanks, Nate. She WAS using her strength, as you indicate. According to her son, Mom used to scare the hell out of him when he was younger. THAT was the strength he put to work for the company. The fact is that she figured the situation out and solved it in a few days because she had that determination to take no nonsense from anybody.

No need to agree with me - but DO share your own thoughts!