Adventures in CDFI Branding

Posted by Larry Garfield

At last month’s OFN conference we looked at the state of branding in this dynamic social innovation industry.

On October 17, I was fortunate to lead a panel discussion at the 2014 OFN conference in Denver Colorado. OFN (Opportunity Finance Network) is the leading national network of community development financial institutions (CDFIs) investing in opportunities that benefit low-income, low-wealth, and other disadvantaged communities across America.

Headlining the panel were three marketing pros with deep experience in CDFI and social innovation branding: Lina Page, EVP for Strategic Communications at Opportunity Finance Network, Jason Anderson, Sr. Director of Communications, Capital Impact Partners, Kavita Vijayan, Director of Strategic Communications at TRF.

Here are a few highlights on the trends and adventures that were shared.

  • The Growing Influence of Marketing: Marketing, which used to be look upon as a “necessary evil” is now seen as a strategic weapon. Budgets and resources are still on the small side compared to other industries– but are slowly growing year over year as leadership understands its value. And CDFIs are being charged to “broaden the funnel” in terms of relationships being established– funders, borrowers, foundations, developers, government. A lot of energy and thought is also being given to ways that general consumers and investors — outside the CDFI industry — can become engaged.
  • The Empowerment of Digital Marketing: Owned broadcasting channels– through the web, social media, mobile, marketing technology. Opportunity to reach and influence many more people– in a very cost-efficient way. Use of video, photography and other forms of storytelling. Lots more data to track and understand– success metrics and measurable outcomes– traffic, to followers to search, to tracking deeper engagement with content.
  • The Influence of Social Innovation Branding: CDFIs are learning from the broader Social Innovation brand community– “movements” that can turn grassroots activity into breakthrough campaigns.
  • The Importance of Storytelling: The growing need to tell compelling stories that connect audiences to the brand and results delivered in an emotional way. This involves a mind-shift from talking about “transactions” to talking about “transformation,” the ways that the work we do changes communities, and changes lives. It’s critical that CDFI branding stays authentic and not slick — using real photos and stories of real people, and the obstacles we’ve helped them overcome.
  • The Power of Brand Experience: The way that every touch point for the brand — not just marketing materials like the annual report or the website — but every single interaction that people have with your organization is an opportunity for a great (or poor) brand experience that can reinforce your strengths or expose your weaknesses. For this reason, doing a proper “360-degree” review of brand touchpoints, and training to help employees act as brand ambassadors are essential to establishing a positive brand experience.

Together, OFN and Garfield have compiled a summary of the key ideas shared during the panel in a new eBook, “Adventures in CDFI Branding.” It’s available for download here.