Council on the Environment of New York City
NONPROFIT BRANDING CASE STUDY
This case study provides a detailed description of how the Council on the Environment of NYC (CENYC) changed its name to GrowNYC and updated its brand in order to leverage the recognition of its primary program, create more visibility for its other programs and reach more donors. This article describes the entire process and provides tips and resources for nonprofit organizations seeking to update their brand.
PART 1. Defining the Situation
2. Marketing Teams and Roles
3. Reviewing The Brand
4. Determining the Marketing Objectives
PART 2. Developing the Brand
5. Conducting Research
6. Defining the Brand
7. Developing the Organization’s Name
8. Defining the Key Messages
9. Designing the Logo / Visual Identity
10. The Final Logo
11. Approval & Acceptance of the Brand
12. Managing the Brand
PART 1. Defining the Situation
The Union Square Greenmarket – the largest and most successful open-air farmers market in the country – is a New York City icon, but few people are aware that this and all greenmarkets in the city are programs of the 40-year-old Council on the Environment of NYC (CENYC).
“CENYC? What’s that?” would be the response of most New Yorkers when asked about the Council. As a result, the Council lost opportunities to engage people in its programs and to raise money from donors, many of whom didn’t grasp the full scope of the organization’s work. To address this need, the Council decided to undertake an initiative to rename and rebrand the organization for greater recognition by New Yorkers.
The Council is a privately funded citizens’ organization (within the Office of the Mayor), donations and volunteers are critical to its mission. It is a hands-on, nonprofit organization with about 50 staff, who are charged with improving New York City’s quality of life through environmental programs and empowering New Yorkers to secure a clean and healthy environment for themselves and their children.
Julia Reich Design had worked with CENYC since 2006, when the company was hired to re-design CENYC’s annual report. The new look of the report was successful and the relationship continued for the next three years. In addition to annual reports, Julia Reich Design designed brochures with the same look as the reports.
Using the same typefaces, colors, and overall design approach made clear to the reader that the brochures were issued by the one organization. Such consistency began to visually tie the Council to its programs. But typeface and color consistency were only part of the branding needs. And so, in 2009, the Council turned to Julia Reich Design to create a new brand identity that would be recognized by more people.
In the meantime, their latest annual report needed to be produced. Instead of delaying the publication of the annual report until their name and look unveiled, the report was handled concurrently to the branding process.
Tip: A new brand identity should ideally be developed before new communication vehicles, such as an annual report or web site, are produced. While this is not always possible, you can create an organizational marketing calendar that outlines the steps you want to accomplish and who is responsible for each. You can continue to work on existing materials as they are needed while the larger marketing issues are being addressed.
2. MARKETING TEAM & ROLES
In order for the project to run smoothly, it was essential to know exactly who would be involved in the process and to understand the scope of their responsibilities.
Three parties worked on the project to give CENYC the recognition it deserved: CENYC staff, Julia Reich Design, and Harvard Business School Community Partners. Each played a specific role in the process.
- The Director of Development and Communications at CENYC was the primary client contact and oversaw the daily work. She was responsible for circulating the designs to the appropriate decision-makers, including the Executive Director; collecting all comments; and getting the final designs approved.
- At Julia Reich Design, Julia Reich was the Creative Director, overseeing the development of the logo and affiliated materials.
- The Harvard Business School Community Partners provided pro-bono research, including a consumer survey that helped define CENYC’s marketing challenges and objectives.
Representatives of CENYC’s board also worked closely with the consultants.
3. REVIEWING THE BRAND
The brand update project was undertaken to address a number of critical branding issues that CENYC had identified through the research done by Harvard Business School Partners.
1. Misconception about what CENYC does. The name and logo of the Council on the Environment of New York City perpetuated a misconception that CENYC is a bureaucratic, policy-oriented city agency, housed in and funded by the mayor’s office. In fact, it is a privately funded citizens’ organization.
2. A long and outdated name. The name” Council on the Environment of New York City” was unwieldy, used outdated nomenclature, and was frequently abbreviated as CENYC.
3. The acronym ‘CENYC’ and the old logo communicated nothing about the organization. In the old logo, the letters ‘CENYC’ were the largest graphic element, but they did not communicate what the organization was, and the logo itself was unremarkable.
4. Poor brand recognition. CENYC was not recognized as the agency responsible for community gardens, environmental education, recycling, farmer training, and its other initiatives throughout the five boroughs.
5. Stagnant and inconsistent visuals. (See logos below.) The logos of CENYC’s many programs were all different. They didn’t relate to each other or to CENYC. People had no way of knowing how much CENCY was contributing to their quality of life. The brand issues included:
- CENYC’s logo had not been updated in 40 years.
- Several versions of the logo and stationery were being used concurrently but not consistently.
- The designs of the sub-logos for the programs had no relation to each other or to the parent brand.
- No color scheme, visual element or wording unified the sub-logos and CENYC logo into a cohesive brand.
6. Ineffective marketing. This fractured brand presence cost CENYC the opportunity to engage participants or funders of one program in other CENYC programs. It also made it difficult for donors to see the full range of benefits that the program offered.
4. DETERMINING THE MARKETING OBJECTIVES
Now that the needs were understood, it was important to determine what we wanted to accomplish. CENYC’s executive staff set out its marketing objectives, which were to:
- Effectively communicate that CENYC is the leading agency in New York City dedicated to improving the urban environment, and that it has a strong history and good reputation.
- Increase recognition of CENYC among its stakeholders including donors, farmers, city residents, students, teachers, business leaders, and local and state policy makers.
- Cultivate new donors, both individuals and foundations, to diversify funding so the organization is not dependent upon the Greenmarket revenue.
- Unify all the programs and projects under the CENYC umbrella, including:
- Open Space Greening
- New Farmer Development Project
- Greenmarket, Wholesale Greenmarket, and Youthmarket
- Environmental Education Training Student Organizers
- Learn It, Grow It, Eat It
- Office of Recycling and Outreach Education
The first step in addressing these needs would be to simplify the way that CENYC conveys what it does.
Although the main marketing objectives were comprehensive and complex, they did not address all the factors that had to be considered:
- Not all programs were equal. Greenmarket was clearly the most recognizable program; it was even more well known than the parent entity. We wanted to capitalize on the existing brand value of the Greenmarket program and achieve the same level of recognition spread for the main organization and its other programs as well.
- The name-change process had to reassure stakeholders and the general public that the organization’s values and programs would remain the same, that CENYC – by any name – would continue to be an essential resource for New Yorkers who want to make the city a sustainable place.
Tip: Because the branding process takes into account input from various stakeholders, the process itself is an opportunity to forge stronger bonds among the board, staff, clients, and donors. Look for ways to include a variety of people in the process so that they feel connected to your organization and are vested in the outcome.
PART 2. Developing the Brand
To create a clear, evocative brand, the organization must have a solid understanding of its mission, its core values, and its value to the community. That requires self-knowledge. If a strategic plan is in place, the road to understanding and agreement may be smoother. But in every case, the design team must research the existing situation in order to develop an effective brand for the organization.
With all these objectives and considerations, the process of creating a successful brand identity can seem daunting. Approaching the task in phases creates clear expectations for outcomes at specified intervals. In this case, the development and design of the new brand identity for CENYC was accomplished in these phases:
Phase 1: Conducting Research
Phase 2: Developing the Organization’s Name
Phase 2: Defining the Key Messages
Phase 3: Designing the Logo / Visual Identity
Phase 4: Managing the Brand
5. CONDUCTING RESEARCH
A. Review of Competition
A Competitive Landscape Review was undertaken to get a sense of the way in which similar organizations present themselves. People interested in environmental issues are likely to be familiar with other environmental organizations, so it makes sense to find out how CENYC compares to other groups vying for their attention. This research can easily be done online. Looking at CENYC’s main programs, the design team identified search terms that were associated with CENYC, such as urban farming, gardening, environmental advocacy, green urban initiatives, recycling, and farmers markets. We then searched for regional and national organizations to see what made them unique and what kind of brand image they projected. We found that many of these organizations had contemporary-looking logos that set a high standard for CENYC’s new logo.
Tip: Every sector has a different level of maturity when it comes to marketing. Healthcare and universities have sophisticated marketing programs that have been refined by heavy competition and decades of experience with both in-house communications teams and professional branding agencies. Local community organizations have usually not invested in their brands, making it easier for those with a thoughtful branding program to stand out. To present your organization effectively, you must understand the expectations people have for organizations in your category.
Tip: A Competitive Review is easy to conduct online. Create a spreadsheet with headers for Organization, URL, Services, Audiences, and Key Message Points. Then find organizations in each of your program areas. Take screen captures of each agency’s homepage and logo. It’s easy to do and it can be very valuable to see the language and visuals other organizations use. If you are more ambitious, you can create columns in which you describe each organization’s Uniqueness, Position on Issues, Special Programs, Events, Use of Social Media, or other relevant areas. Note that this review may not be comprehensive because some organizations do not appear online, but it will be useful for assessing the organizations that potential donors may find.
B. Brand Review
Another aspect of the research is getting to understand the organization from the inside. A review of the organization’s documents including strategic plan documents, presentations made to funders, grant applications, demographic or client feedback surveys, or any other research.
Often, there is not much to go on. However, in the case of CENYC, we were fortunate to have research material supplied by CENYC’s Harvard Business School Community Partner with a summary of findings from stakeholder interviews. The interviews asked about people’s perceptions of CENYC and its mission, strengths and weaknesses, environmental issues, and growth opportunities. It also included responses to current marketing materials, ideas on how to promote the CENYC brand, and feedback on a possible name change. This research was critical in understanding what people thought of the Council and provided a foundation for understanding how to improve CENYC’s brand.
The research documentation went a step further by providing a Communications Strategy segment with recommendations regarding:
- Brand Architecture (the naming of the organization and its programs, and the relationship among them)
- Strategic Positioning (the organization’s unique role)
- Message Hierarchy (determining the priority of its various messages)
- Mission Statement (to focus the organization)
The next steps needed to address all these issues. Among their many recommendations, some strong branding suggestions emerged:
- Redesign the logos of the different programs to tie them all together, either by adding endorsement or encircling logos with a CENYC seal.
- All CENYC literature should have consistent colors, fonts, logos, mission statements, program descriptions, and be printed on recycled paper that is labeled as such.
C. Research Interview
As a final step in the research phase, the Communications Director of CENYC was interviewed to clarify several issues including:
- The tone and image desired for the re-design
- Any icons, graphics or other visual devices that had to be included
- A list of things that should not be included
- Particular pet peeves or strong preferences from the executive level or staff
- Examples of brands she thought were effective with an explanation of why she liked or disliked each
As the client noted, “Going through the [branding] process calls for an organization to reflect on its work, its profile, its objectives, and its future. This is not always an easy task for a busy, multi-programmatic organization, but has many rewards in the end, including a better brand that goes far to convey our mission and our work. ”
Although CENYC had research regarding the impressions and responses of outside stakeholders, its staff was not included in the planning process. The client noted that next time around, it would be better to include staff in the process. It is important, she said, to have their buy-in and, often, they have the most well-balanced sense of what the organization stands for.
Tip: If an organization has gone through a strategic planning process, it is much easier to define brand objectives. The strategic planning process will include an assessment (and rewrite if necessary) of mission and values; where the organization is now and where it wants to be; and how it will achieve its mission in the future. This is all important data when developing a brand and marketing plan. If no strategic plan has been done, research should be conducted to include all stakeholders, both internal and external, to ensure buy-in and to get a well-rounded picture of the organization.
6. DEFINING THE BRAND
Just like all members of a rowing team need to be in sync, all aspects of the brand need to work in harmony to be successful. These elements, used consistently, can build credibility and evoke a positive response among your donors, participants, clients, founders and others.
- A compelling and clearly articulated mission that is easy to understand
- An organizational name that conveys the mission
- A tagline, slogan, or supporting messages that amplify what the organization is about
- A professional logo that helps build trust and excitement
- A website, newsletter and other marketing materials that get your message out
These elements, used consistently, can build credibility and evoke a positive response for your organization.
RESOURCE: To evaluate your organization’s name and tagline, use the Organizational Name Checklist.
7. DEVELOPING THE ORGANIZATION’S NAME
Determining the whether the name was still relevant for the mission was the place to start. Given the mismatch between the organization’s name and perceptions about the organization uncovered during the research phase, the consultants and the client agreed that the CENYC name had to change. The new name had to tell constituents and stakeholders who CENYC is and what it does. It had to be succinct yet reflect the organization’s vision.
CENYC’s mission had shifted during its 40 years of existence. In 1970, when CENYC was founded, its goal was to be a think-tank; the name reflected this. Now, in 2010, experience and programmatic expansion had transformed CENYC into a hands-on organization, dedicated to improving New York City’s quality of life through block-by-block environmental programs, and by giving New Yorkers the tools they need to secure a clean and healthy environment.
Just like the many organizations whose scope has evolved over time, CENYC knew it was time to reflect the current nature of its work with a new name. Different words were explored to see what was suitable. One of these words was “Grow” which means to “increase by natural development;” synonyms include “develop,” “cultivate,” and “produce.” All these variants applied to the work of CENYC. For the organization, “grow” could mean growing awareness, growing minds, growing food, or growing gardens – all things within its program areas.
And so GrowNYC was proposed as the new name for the organization.
The choice was not unanimous; such things seldom are. Some people thought the term grow had a negative connotation because it seemed to relate to real estate. Others thought the word did not encompass all that the organization did. Some thought it sounded like PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s 30-year plan to accommodate growth in the city. And some people just liked the official sound of the name Council on the Environment of NYC.
8. DEFINING THE KEY MESSAGES
The next stage was determining how to present the various programs that were offered. Julia Reich Design and the client jointly decided that the programs could be categorized under four descriptive headings: Garden, Recycle, Teach, Greenmarket. This would tie the programs together and to CENYC as well as making it easier to promote them.
Tip: Nonprofits often have many programs whose names do not indicate what service is offered. Instead of providing a laundry list of services that will be difficult to remember,you can group programs into three or four overall categories that are easier for people to identify with.
Just as a person has a distinctive personality, so too does every organization – even the ones with similar missions. Understanding these nuances is instrumental in developing messages and a logo that will convey the nature of the organization. CENYC executive staff compiled a list of adjectives and statements that described their mission, vision, and values, how the mission had changed over the years, and proposed changes. These were distilling into a list of Brand Attributes:
- Community focused
Chief among these attributes was accessible. Accessibility was clearly an important characteristic for the brand to evoke because the organization was very conscious of its democratic underpinnings. It is an organization that reaches out to and works with a wide spectrum of New Yorkers. The new brand had to evoke this. Just as the new name shifted from one that evoked a more elitist sensibility, to a more democratic one, the logo and visual identity also had to convey a more popular appeal.
9. DESIGNING THE LOGO / VISUAL IDENTITY
Next, comes the logo, a graphic device that acts as a visual shorthand for the organization, representing its personality and capturing its essence. Sine they are visual, logos act as the entry point for the brand, an introduction to the organization in a quick attention-span world. Because the logo appears on nearly every communication – website, newsletter, email, even events – it carries a lot of weight.
A successful logo communicates a lot in a concise way, and what appears to be magic is actually the result of a thorough process that requires exploration of different approaches, careful consideration of the criteria while reviewing the options, and attention to detail in refining the logo for perfect reproduction on paper and on screen. Logo design requires the delicate balance that orchestrates the right images, symbols, fonts, colors, and layout to achieve harmony.
After careful consideration of these elements two options emerged: one option in which the central icon would be a revised image of the Greenmarket apple and a second design option that would be a logotype, that is, only words with no icon or symbol attached.
Six Initial Concepts Were Presented to the Client
Usually Julia Reich Design presents two or three concepts to a client. In this case, the designers felt they had many strong concepts to show, so six were presented. Each convened specific attributes that GrowNYC wished to communicate.
Concept 1: Simple; iconic; seal-like and official-looking, as befits a NYC-affiliated agency; bold; bright; with a strong visual connection between main logo, sub-logo, and Greenmarket logo. Refers to “the big apple.”
Concept 2: Form of a crest/seal, which is “official” and well-suited to a city-affiliated agency. Icon is urban/natural scene suggesting an environmental organization while covering many issue areas. The apple shape itself is very similar to existing Greenmarket apple, leveraging the Greenmarket’s strong brand recognition.
Concept 3: Compact, playful, colorful. In this option, Greenmarket is also branded with the GrowNYC umbrella logo. The sub-logo names are bold and legible to stand out clearly.
Concept 4: Bold and colorful, the style of this apple directly references the current Greenmarket apple. Also in the form of a seal/crest, making this version self-contained and impactful.
Concept 5: Understated color palette and arrangement. Elements reduced to their most basic forms for maximum legibility and impact provides a sophisticated yet friendly look. Unique visual interpretation of the apple with seeds. Seeds indicate change, new life and freshness.
Concept 6: The only concept presented without an apple icon. Use of simple type and lines achieves variation but with enough similarity to create a family of logos. The type is understated, the color palette is muted. This logo is simple and official feeling.
With many options to consider, a discussion focused on what best serves the organization would ideally result in one direction being selected. However, as it appears in some cases, no clear consensus emerged and the client elected to pursue two of the six designs. Developing two options instead of one increased the scope of work and the fees.
Challenges Encountered and Rejected Concepts
At this point, to keep the project in track, a re-evaluation of the project was required. To continue with the project, we settled on the following scope of work:
- Two new logos, with sub-logos, were presented. One logo was based on a revised Greenmarket apple icon. This new logo used the new “GrowNYC” name, with the apple icon and all four of the descriptive words: growing, teaching, conserving, and farming.
- Five “sub-logos” were designed, using ‘GrowNYC’ and the new apple icon. Four of these incorporate one of the descriptive word, such as “growing” or “teaching.” The fifth logo was for the Greenmarket itself. All five sub-logos were to be consistent in look and feel in order to clearly tie them to the main “GrowNYC” logo.
- The second design option was a logotype based on the letters “Grow NYC,” with no icons. A similar suite of sub-logos was to be provided, as above, to tie in with the main logotype.
Issues in the Decision Making Process
Sometimes however, feedback from the client is often unclear or contradictory (suggesting opposing directions with each round). This can increase the cost, as more design time is incurred. Ideally the branding process will have a clear, logical flow that allows input from various parties and moves the project from one stage to another. Decisions were made during this process that should have been made before the logo redesign was undertaken, specifically whether each program area would have its own sub-logo that was different from but tied into the main logo.
Tip: Before a project is undertaken, a clear approval process and feedback loop must be defined. One person should be designated as liaison with the design team. Information passed on to the team should be the distillation of discussions and the consensus of all parties with approval power. The liaison should work closely with the team so s/he knows the reasoning behind design choices and how those choices mesh with the client’s objectives. The designer must work with a fully empowered decision-maker who is willing to exercise that power. In this case, the designated contact was not a decision-maker and the design team received second-hand information about design options.
Tip: Because clients are not designers, they may not recognize the magnitude of a request: adding one line of type or even one word may send the whole project back to the drawing board… literally. When such changes are requested, the design team must make sure that the liaison and the decision-makers understand the ramifications and cost of the changes before accommodating the change.
The client wanted us to make specific changes to the apple leaf, so we adjusted that, still working with two logo options. We made other adjustments as well. The scope of work increased, as did the fees, because of the many requests for changes. It took a few more rounds for the client to choose their final direction and make further subtle adjustments, including nailing down the wording they wanted around the main logo, as well as in the sub-logos.
10. THE FINAL LOGO
The final logo resembles a seal or crest; it is self-contained and creates a strong impact.
Bold and colorful, the style of the apple directly references the current Greenmarket apple. Although the organization does so much more than the Greenmarket, the apple has been the organization’s recognizable icon for decades, as well as being an iconic symbol of New York City.
The final logo retained a visual connection to the Greenmarket logo in order to take advantage of that brand equity. This connection can be seen in the angle, prominent leaf/stem, color, and textural details.
One of the main challenges overall had been to incorporate the four subcategory words while maintaining the visual cohesiveness of the logo. The words around the parent, or main logo – teach, recycle, greenmarket, garden – directly reference the organization’s program areas and are space-efficient.
Unlike the old logo, this new look is accessible, and has a “home-grown” feeling that reflects the grassroots nature of GrowNYC’s work. This now looks like the kind of organization people want to get involved in.
Because Greenmarket is the organization’s strongest brand, and enjoys 30 years of recognition from NYC residents, the old Greenmarket logo was retained, but given a facelift, so that it directly complements the new GrowNYC logo.
This page from the 2009 Annual Report sums up nicely how the GrowNYC name and logo unify all the work they do.
11. APPROVAL & ACCEPTANCE OF THE BRAND
Even though the sub-logos were approved for use in the 2009 annual report (which we also designed), they were eventually dropped from the suite. The client liked the concept but decided that using multiple logos asked too much of the public and required too many changes at one time: the new name, the main logo for the organization, and the new logos and names for each program.
The final approval was a two-step process. First, the executive committee met with the design team. A PowerPoint presentation was given to walk the committee members through the decisions made during the branding process. The committee gave concrete suggestions regarding the designs. Most responses were positive. Next, the full board met and was given the same PowerPoint presentation. At this meeting, feedback was minimal and positive.
The final deliverables included the logos, stationery (business cards, letterhead, envelope), e-newsletter template, and a template design for brochure covers. We also created a Brand Guidelines Manual, a document that summarizes the major findings from the research phase, presents the logos, and provides instructions about using them properly, such as the typefaces and color palettes to use. The purpose of the Brand Guidelines Manual is to ensure brand consistency and buy-in throughout the organization.
12. MANAGING THE BRAND
The timing and coordination of a brand launch is critical. If ill-planned, the brand acceptance and recognition of the brand will suffer.
Happily, GrowNYC had the perfect opportunity to launch its new brand – It’s 40th Anniversary celebration which involved a year-long series of events for all demographic groups of all five boroughs. Events ranged from sit-down dinners to outdoor fairs and ranged in price from high-end to free. This gave the organization an opportunity to showcase its new name and logo to all stakeholders in a celebratory, upbeat spirit.
CENYC is now GrowNYC. The new name and eye-catching logo clearly communicate that its work is growing: regional agriculture, green spaces, natural resources, and the environmental leaders of the future. The name has changed, but its values and programs are the same.
In the future, GrowNYC envisions a New York City filled with:
- Greenmarkets that are also sustainability centers, where residents can drop their food scraps, textiles, batteries and learn about environmental issues
- A generation of New Yorkers who will think the concept of “garbage” as obsolete
- More gardens and green spaces that harvest rainwater, grow food, and serve as an oasis for all residents, including at schools across the city
- A new generation of citizens who have restored the environment around them and have the interest and knowledge to solve future problems
Only a month or so after the unveiling of the new name and logo, communication materials were issued by the organization that are visually consistent:
- An update on the grownyc.org website home page that also explained the name change.
- New stationery that will be used internally.
- 2009 annual report using the new logos and explaining the name/identity change.
- A Brand Guidelines booklet that explains the rationale behind the new visual. identity, and how all the new materials should (and shouldn’t) be used.
About Julia Reich Design
Julia Reich Design is a small, award-winning, creative brand strategy and graphic design firm. Julia and her creative team help clients— primarily nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and progressive businesses— with branding, print design, package design, and website design. She has a special passion for working with the food, wine, education, environmental, and agriculture sectors.
Julia has a strong design, business, and leadership background. She has been design director for several projects in New York City and, for the past 10 years, has been a small business owner. During her career, she has participated in NY Designs, a design business incubator; was winner of the 2009 Small Business Awards from the Cayuga County NY Chamber of Commerce; and her firm’s work has been featured in several books, including Graphic Recycling and The Big Book of Green Design.
In addition to running her graphic design firm, Julia is the President of Aurora Arts & Merchants Association and is on the board of Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty. She is a public speaker on self-promotion for small businesses, and writes a blog, “The Citiot’s Guide to Country Living,” and is an occasional food writer.