How Macmillan is moving its brand beyond metaphors to show ‘harsh reality’ of cancer

Macmillan Cancer Support is prepping a radical brand overhaul, as it looks to introduce more people to the brand amid increasing cancer rates.

At first glance it might seem peculiar that Macmillan Cancer Support is planning a brand relaunch. Macmillan was the third biggest charity in the UK in terms of fundraising last year, according to figures by the Charity Commission, having raised more than £214.1m in 2015.

It was also named the UK’s top charity brand in 2015, according to YouGov’s CharityIndex. The rankings show the organisation retains its position ahead of Cancer Research UK in second and Help for Heroes in third.

Yet Richard Taylor, Macmillan’s executive director of fundraising, marketing and communications, has revealed that the charity is in the process of appointing a new brand strategy agency ahead of new brand development work expected in early 2017. Macmillan will also be reassessing its marketing campaign strategy.

While Taylor believes the brand is “brilliant”, he admits there are some challenges it needs to tackle. There are now 2.5 million people living with cancer, but he predicts this will rise to four million by 2030. As a result, the charity must raise its profile further so it can boost funding and ensure it can provide support to as many people as possible.

“My worry is that not enough people know how to find our support. We have a massive role to play in terms of helping people get the support they need sooner. Often that comes through our brand’s salience,” he says.

“So many people are touched by cancer, so we need to have a broader appeal. In a noisy marketplace, we have to have greater cut-through than we have had before. We need to show ourselves differently.”


Macmillan’s future direction

Taylor has been in his role at Macmillan for nearly a year after replacing former marketing and communications director Hilary Cross.

Macmillan’s most recent ‘Never Walk Alone’ activity gives a taster of what the brand’s future direction might look like. The ad sees a man diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment, while showing the effects on his family. While the charity has been running its ‘Not Alone’ activity for the past four years, Taylor says he is keen to evolve the activity and show that the brand is “more than its cancer nurses”.

“[The Not Alone campaign] was about a simple truth that people recognise. But cancer isn’t just about feeling on your own. We want to move away from metaphors and take consumers to the next stage,” he explains.

“There were a few clues in the latest advertising campaign, which tries to demonstrate that support can come from many different touchpoints. We are trying to show we have other ways of trying to help people.”

He adds: “It is also more reflective of the harsh reality that cancer is really tough. We have found cancer has an effect not just on an individual but on the whole family. It’s a bit grittier, but also hopefully it conveys the hope that more people are surviving or living with it. That’s not how Macmillan was portrayed before.”


Richard_Taylor Macmillan

Richard Taylor
Executive director of fundraising, marketing and communications
Macmillan Cancer Support

Macmillan used to have separate director of fundraising and marketing roles. Why did it merge them?

We need to be very clear about how we talk to our audiences. It’s not only about how Macmillan supports people but also how they can support us. Almost 70% of people who have financially supported us were motivated to do so because either they themselves or someone close to them received our support. We need to plan how we talk to consumers, about how we support them, while hopefully building a relationship where they want to [donate to] us. We are much more likely to succeed if we bring the marketing expertise in one place. Now fundraising and marketing are united under one single purpose.

What are you hoping to change at Macmillan?

We pretty much have a new team around us. The great thing about that is that it has given us a good platform and mandate to look at a new organisational strategy. We also think it’s timely due to the external environment we are in. The NHS is struggling and more people are getting cancer. We are now looking to create a new marketing strategy. It’s still relatively early days. In 2017 we’re looking to build a new brand strategy. I don’t want to predict what it will look like, but we will look to relaunch our brand as there are some challenges we need to tackle.

Is one of those negative perceptions of the charity sector as a whole following criticism over fundraising practices last year?

Trust in [the sector] has been declining for a number of years. It’s a huge concern. On top of that, we‘ve had a lot of media-stoking of some very serious issues that have taken place, which has exaggerated the issue. People say: ‘I’m not comfortable being stopped on the street’. It makes it difficult for charities to do some of their work. When they’re done well, they’re excellent and they need defending. If you don’t ask people to donate, they very rarely do.

This has been a good year, for [the sector] to stamp some of that stuff out and rework our standards. There’s a code of practice that charities have to abide by and that has been repurposed. Regulators totally have got their act together. And it’s not just about charities; new data regulation means where you get permission, that’s all changing. A new regulatory act in 2017 will make it much clearer in terms of how any company can talk to people.

What are the Macmillan brand’s main challenges?

The clarity of how people understand what we offer and who we are. I think it needs to be more inclusive. So many people are touched by cancer, so we need to have a slightly broader appeal. In a noisy marketplace we need to have greater cut through than we’ve had before and show ourselves differently. We are trying to convey much more the breadth of our work and we’re moving away from using metaphors.

How do you ensure you get continued marketing investment?

We have a very progressive board who understands the value and need for our brand messaging. It’s not easy to get more investment, but they understand the power of the brand. When people think about Macmillan, they remark on the brand first or the services. Other charities are more famous for their fundraising activity, but we are mainly known for our brand. That’s very helpful.


To learn more about brand and creative, visit the Festival of Marketing, which is running on the 5 and 6 October at Tobacco Dock, London. For more information about the event, including how to book tickets, click here.

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