How Investment in Branding Contributes to Organizational Success


It’s easy to rally investment behind the next great marketing campaign, consumer demands for product-line extensions, or UX upgrades. They all have clear, measurable ways to track results. But what about brand?

The organizations FiveStone partners with, both for-profit and nonprofit, are looking to make smart investments that prove their worth. They want to know the ROI of the project.

But, an asset like a brand exists to serve multiple organizational and departmental strategies. As such, it’s doing a lot of lifting in a lot of places. Not to mention, brand is a bit of an abstraction, especially compared to that product-line extension. This makes brand more difficult to track with traditional ROI thinking.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t measure a return; you just need to shift how you think about the investment.

​​The thoughts below suggest three lenses that shift ROI thinking around brand, each with a respective set of metrics. Although in reality, there’s natural cross-over between the tools and tactics used — we’re streamlining and forcing separation for the sake of simplicity.

Brand acts as an accelerant and a sustainer

A brand is considered an accelerant to speed along a user/donor/customer moving through your marketing funnel. As a person moves to the bottom of the funnel, the brand helps keep them there. So, a good brand brings the right people into the funnel, moves them through the funnel at a quicker pace, and keeps them at the bottom of the funnel longer.

A typical marketing funnel

This means the ROI around the activity within the funnel stages increases through a strong brand. Attributing that higher ROI to the brand itself can be difficult, but with planning, it can be done.

The return on brand as an accelerant and sustainer can be inferred by analyzing the funnel performance (awareness, engagement, conversion, etc.) against strong points of brand comparison, like:

  • Pre v Post of the brand optimization: Look at funnel performance along various seasons of branding lifecycles, particularly before and after branding work (like an elevation or refresh)

  • Direct industry analogs: Compare funnel performance to direct competitors representing a mix of brand strengths

Bonus: Those types of performance trends (e.g., when performance starts to wane or is underperforming competition) can also signal when it’s time to evaluate the branding.

Brand health matters

When branding, we think of value in relationship to the brand’s equity. The healthier the brand, the stronger the equity, the stronger the equity, the more value the brand brings to the organization.

Author and UCLA professor David Aaker suggests that you can track Brand Equity along five dimensions that each attribute to the overall health of a brand:

  • Brand Loyalty — support for the brand

  • Brand Awareness — familiarity with the brand

  • Perceived Quality — consumer understanding of the brand

  • Brand Associations — linked memories with the brand

  • Other Proprietary Assets — unique IP, models, or strategies

Brand Equity can also be thought of as how your audience feels and perceives your brand. Dartmouth professor Kevin Keller thinks of brand equity as a pyramid, with the pinnacle of a brand’s health being resonance, or a consumer’s strong relationship with the brand.

Keller says, “the true measure of the success of a brand depends on how consumers think, feel, and act with respect to the brand.” Here, the audience is gaining an ongoing appreciation as to why you’re a better choice than the competition. Keller goes on, “the strongest brands will be those to which consumers become so attached and passionate that they, in effect, become evangelists on their behalf.” The last point, “evangelists on their behalf,” is directly related to the last stage of the marketing funnel. A healthy brand has strong resonance.

Considering both Brand Equity as an idea and resonance as a key part of that, you can start to develop a framework for measuring brand health that acts as a coordination of metrics across multiple dimensions. The goal of the framework is to build a holistic and reliable representation of brand health, allowing you the ability to measure, track over time, and clearly attribute ROI to brand.

The measurement framework should include both primary audience data (e.g., interviews and surveys) along with in-market performance data. The tools and inputs you use can scale up or down to suit the stage of your organization and your specific needs (i.e., depending on resourcing, fidelity/rigor, etc.).

A few of our favorite inputs are:

  • Linear Awareness Tracking: A highly controlled, recurring survey of the target audience to monitor trends in Brand Awareness over time (e.g., unaided recall, recognition, etc.). This is also a great way of keeping a pulse on key competitors and the category overall.

  • Audience Interviews: 1:1 deep dive interviews with the audience to gain feedback and insights into Brand Salience, Associations, and Quality Perceptions

  • Social/Search Performance: Using analytics to monitor Brand Engagement and Brand Presence/Share-of-Voice out in the wild with Google Trends, social listening tools, platform business managers, etc.

  • Net Promoter Score: A single-dimension, quick, and simple metric for Brand Loyalty and a good indicator of customer satisfaction.

Brand drives returns... and impact

In the for-profit world, numerous studies show that a strong brand increases the value of a company. Companies with stronger brands significantly outperform their competitors.

The same general principles of the for-profit space hold true in the non-profit space: the audience is more likely to support a healthy non-profit brand with strong equity. And, in some instances, a strong brand allows the non-profit to own an entire category (e.g., clean water), which of course has tremendous value in donor development.

Ultimately, a non-profit is trying to increase its impact. Brand increases impact by giving you the tools needed to articulate your strategy, model, or program in a clear, compelling way.

This clarity provides the foundation needed to build strong partnerships, credibility, donors, and advocates for your work.

There are some nonprofits whose organizational strategy includes driving awareness of an issue (think: Autism Speaks). In these instances, brand often becomes a primary driver of the organization’s social mission; the brand helps create impact and build a social movement.

We look to several measurements to gauge these types of impact:

  • Donation: Brand has major implications for the funding lifeline, so it’s important to monitor both robustness and resilience (Is the amount of funding adequate to support the mission? What is the lifetime value of the donor? Are the donations coming from reliable, diversified sources?)

  • Engagement: Brand helps nurture support for non-monetary activities/actions, as well. Depending on the organizational strategies, this could range from social media profile frames and TikTok challenges all the way to cause-based 5Ks and writing letters of encouragement to the frontlines.

  • Advocacy: As brand builds momentum for movements, we look to the size and energy of the discussion. What is the volume/intensity of media/social conversation? Has awareness of your issue grown over time within your audience? What’s the sentiment score and trend? Is there community demand for the necessary legislation?

The real bottom line of investing in brand

The financial return on a healthy brand reaches into every aspect of your organization. If you aren’t tracking anything now, start with something simple and see what you learn. If you are measuring your brand, then continue the tracking and allow the framework to evolve based on what you are learning or as a way to look for growth opportunities. In either case, report this back to your executive team and start an ongoing conversation around the importance of brand health.