Addressing changing views of humanity: Australian Red Cross and its rebrand strategy

Head of engagement and support of humanitarian not-for-profit unveils fresh brand identity and positioning. Here's why

A fresh brand identity, overhaul of social media tone of voice and a digital profile strategy are key ways the Australian Red Cross is hoping to connect to more diverse audiences and changing perceptions of charity.

The humanitarian-focused not-for-profit, part of the international Red Cross movement, has debuted a fresh brand look and approach, including the new tagline, ‘Act for humanity’. It has also stripped back its visual branding to achieve a more modern look using a minimal design system and guidelines, as well as adopted a new social media tone of voice roadmap.

The work, done in partnership with brand agency, Principals, was driven by the central brand idea, ‘We are what we do’, and takes its cues from a raft of customer experience insights and observed macro trends stretching from satisfaction scores to surveys, longitudinal panels and more. It was supported by in-depth research and interviews across the leadership team and volunteers from the Australian Red Cross network of shops.

Red Cross director of engagement and support, Belinda Dimovski, said the brand shift was prompted by two major forces. The first was changing perceptions on the nature of vulnerability, triggered by growing awareness of issues like climate change, diversity, social inequality and technological divide. The second was a more generational shift, with younger people looking to serve specific causes that tie into their own value systems and beliefs.

“We have been working on a strategic direction to make sure we can engage with audiences differently,” Dimovski told CMO. “What we found is we had difficulty being able to articulate a single-minded proposition; we do so much for so many, that when you ask people what Red Cross does, they could absolutely identify us but had a different view on the support services we provide.

“We also have the cross emblem, which is on loan to us from the Ministry of Defence, but which didn’t have a brand story attached to it – we weren’t getting that emotional connection with people to show them how their money and support made a difference in the lives of everyday Australians. Then we had microbrands, sub-brands and co-branded initiatives, and we weren’t clear enough on what we wanted to communicate.”  

Despite these perceived challenges, the Australian Red Cross has a loyal and supportive audience of 80,000 people regularly donating each month, plus 30,000 volunteers across the country. But it was equally clear the organisation needed to do more to lift its connection with younger consumers as well as diverse group across the nation.

“We identified people were starting to donate and connect in different ways and increasingly working with the things they were passionate about, and we weren’t connecting their passion to our passion,” Dimovski continued. “We were working for the same outcome, but we weren’t able to express that in a way with consumers that was simple, articulate and connected to their why.”

Over the last 12 months in particular, Dimovski said rally cries around the world have escalated about things we all need to be better at. It’s these intentions the Australian Red Cross is hoping to practically support.

“We want to act for humanity. It’s not just about listening, understanding and doing what we always do, but about supporting people to connect with us,” she said. “There are so many things that can go wrong with the world; we’re not saying we are going to fix it, but we’re going to help you connect to where to start.

“There are younger, more diverse audiences, quite a bit of new thinking and new ways of doing things, and we wanted to show people we were in that space as well.”

Brand recognition

The work to rebrand commenced two years ago when the case for change became apparent – well before the COVID-19 global pandemic reared its ugly head.

“We had the case for change, clear objectives, knew what we wanted to shift, understood how our brand was tracking in terms of trust and respect, we knew which audiences we were appealing to and which we weren’t,” Dimovski said. “The amazing part of the last 12 months is that it gave us was impetus and clear board support. In fact, bushfires, COVID and now floods have accelerated the momentum.

“There was some buy-in previously and understanding that we needed to lift how we play. It has been accelerated through the work we have been doing in communities, conversations we were having on social media, and the fact we were focusing on our messages as opposed to expanding them. We want people to feel like we are part of their movement.”  

One of the most important changes for Dimovski is having different types of conversations through social media. The organisation’s new voice roadmap encompasses specific tiered voice traits and plots where it was sitting in terms of key attributes such as energy, intimacy and attitude, and where it is looking to move to.  

“It has been an excellent exercise – if there was one thing that came out of this that really opened our stakeholders’ eye it was this change in tone,” Dimovski commented. “We knew we wanted to shift from sensible, theoretical, research conversations through to saying this is how we want you to help and how we can help. We needed to adopt simple language and be clear in everything we communicate.”  

To amplify the brand work, Australian Red Cross is launching an advertising campaign in coming weeks. It’s also working with Channel Nine on a program to bring its supporter stories to life, supported by a series of TV and digital activations. Again, Dimovski said the stories it’s telling take a different approach to the way it’s communicated historically.

“The not-for-profit sector tends to reach out and gains your support by showing you where we need to help. For example, showing a baby crying that isn’t getting the support its needing will pull on your heartstrings and prompt you to want to help,” she explained.  

“We have taken a strengths-based approach, meaning we will not show you a person in deficit, and we will not show a person saving you or needing saving in the same space. Instead, we will show that everyone has strengths and we’re going to help you find that internal resilience you know you have. It’s a very different approach for the sector and means we can bring our story to life in different ways.”  

The strengths-based approach was one of the first brand refresh steps taken. “We wanted that to be what we stood for, to make sure we understood we are not saviours,” Dimovski said. “What we have are the mechanisms, expertise and network to allow that to occur.”

Dimovski admitted it was somewhat of a hard sell, “but it felt the right way according to our principles to operate. And we hope to shift the sector, quite frankly”, she added.  

“Lots of the words we are using are all about action, doing things, being a humanitarian at heart, speaking plain language and acting together.”  

Measures of success

In terms of short and long-term measures of success, Dimovski said the organisation’s quarterly brand tracking work is instrumental in understanding how people are shifting in a social sense.

“We have objectives with regards to that, plus trust and respect and where we end up on trust barometers then we also have key metrics around recall plus donations,” she said.  “We are setting this up in a different way though – we want multi-year partnerships with people and organisations to help us change society’s view on certain things and move some metrics.”

One such significant issue is getting people prepared so they know what to do around disasters and flood. “We have metrics around audience reach and media and how we resonate as a commentator on specific issues; and we certainly want the brand to be able to engage with new audiences,” Dimovski said.  

Younger audiences is one such category, so are diverse communities. Dimovski said it’s important supporters are representative of the whole of Australia. To this end, Australian Red Cross recently issued communications pieces in 17 different languages.

“What we found was we weren’t getting the cut-through in some communities around Australia, so we’re also measuring our impact in that area,” she said.  

Another priority is to help supporters better access areas they’re interested in through a My Red Cross portal. This profile-based offering has started being rolled out across certain audiences and allows individuals to share what they’re interested in, what they want to connect with and what they want to hear about.

“It’s more than about communications, it becomes your place to go where you want to add value to the organisation – how you want to volunteer, what it is you want to be part of, and how we can help connect you to the projects in your area where you can make a difference,” Dimovski said.  

“It isn’t just about money, it becomes hearts and minds, and that creates the long-term connection with people. Yes, we need donations to run – that’s the fact of the matter – but I’d prefer to have your heart too.”   

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You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page.



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