Seven ways to transform brand perception

The hardest thing for any organisation to change is brand perception. It takes real vision and often involves investing in new people, processes and products. You need to be able to understand exactly what your audience needs and wants from you, and then view everything you do through that lens.

Clare Mullen

At the National Trust, I’ve spent the past few years planning a journey of change for how we are perceived. The organisation has always done well with an older, wealthier audience who are interested in history, but we needed to have more relevance for a broader audience.

I’ve identified seven areas that have been vital to changing our brand perception, from looking at brand values to rethinking how we could operate as a content organisation.

1. Re-examine your brand.

When I arrived in 2011, the National Trust didn’t have a strong enough understanding of itself as a brand. It was seen by its customers and the wider public as an organisation that was a visitor attraction, looking after country houses. We have rethought this and are on the move to become an organisation that is about helping people enjoy, love and therefore want to protect special places. This is quite different in that we are not solely focused on physical estates but also the outcome for the customer.

2. Leadership is vital.

We have brought in a senior leadership team for the marketing and commercial teams so that everyone can recast our activities through the lens of our brand.
For us, that has meant developing our own talent and hiring people with expertise in retailing, private sector hospitality and digital, for example. Last year, our profits grew by 20 per cent across each of our commercial businesses as a result.

3. Have a conversation with your audience.

These days, marketers can’t simply tell people what we think they need to be told; instead we always need to think about the conversation they want to have with us. That goes beyond marketing to being an ethos for the whole organisation.

4. Create the tools to understand the customer.

We are introducing a data framework into what we do, which underpins all our communications, and we are investing in campaign management and analytics tools to understand what our customers want and how best to reach them.

5. Have a conversation with your co-workers.

The National Trust, like many other organisations, is matrixed and complex. It is vast, with not only employees but 70,000 volunteers. These, quite rightly, think that because they give up their time for free, their own perception of the Trust is fine. It’s the job of the brand team to make sure everyone is included in changing perceptions, whether they work in marketing or not.

6. Become a content-led organisation.

We are developing our content marketing because, having identified our audience, the brand then needs to serve them the right content. We have so many wonderful stories to tell and the best way to do this is through content. One of our most successful innovations in this area has been our “50 things to do before you’re 11 and ¾” list, which encourages kids to discover the National Trust through a range of activities from climbing trees to building dens. Digital is the best way to do this and we’ll shortly relaunch our website with a content focus.

7. Spot the future opportunities.

Up-and-coming areas for your brand may not always be what has been core in the past. A new opportunity for the National Trust is outdoor spaces and the future will not only focus on built heritage. As we have reset our brand to be about growing people’s love of special places, many of these are outdoor spaces.

We are making good progress in changing perceptions of the National Trust but the journey has just begun. Sadly I am leaving the Trust this summer to spend three years in India and the organisation is looking for the right person to continue this journey. This person will be a marketer who is passionate about the Trust and about continuing to focus on brand relevance, who understands digital and data, and who is highly commercial. We’re clear where we need to get to, but as always, there’s a long way to go. If you are interested in taking part, let me know.

Clare Mullin is Brand and marketing director at National Trust

Clare Mullin is also one of Marketing Week’s Vision 100, in association with Adobe. Find them all here.

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