Connecting Brands: The Alchemy of Content

Associate your brand with thought leaders who have something to say

A gordongroup White Paper by Rob Ferguson, Director, Brand and Communication Strategy

How can your business reach out meaningfully to new prospects in an increasingly fragmented marketplace? By aligning your marketing messages with leading organizations that have something unique to say.

Organizations that take the time to clearly explain their ideas are devoted to injecting their brands with quality perceptions. They use publishing—often across platforms—to build a broad community of people interested in their insights. They transmit what they know in order to demonstrate their capacity to lead.

The people these organizations want to reach are looking for unique, forward-looking ideas, and want to associate with the leaders who produce such ideas. Those people are committed to being part of a community, and are highly receptive to each new message from their trusted source.

As an advertiser, that message could be yours. By connecting your brand to that of an innovative organization, you become part of the community, too, and partake in the same quality perception.

But not all organizations communicate well.

NGOs publish because this is a critical time for public institutions: they can’t depend on the unquestioned financial support they may once have enjoyed, because a weak and unpredictable economy means less money to go around. To survive, NGOs need to develop and maintain strong brands that clearly demonstrate their public value and make a compelling case for their relevance.

Not all NGOs do this, of course. Despite lofty aspirations to be recognized as leaders, most aren’t very good at providing the necessary evidence to underpin their branding.

Organizations rely heavily on the promise that branding’s “best practices” will make them better- known. Today’s reality is that conventional tactics may be “tried,” but are no longer necessarily “true.”

Organizations can’t differentiate by pursuing the same strategy as everyone else. Most don’t look beyond conventional branding tactics that have lost the power to hold people’s attention and aren’t up to the task of meaningfully communicating identity, mission and value. Branding shouldn’t be a temporary mechanism for grabbing media attention, but that’s how many treat it.

Where’s the proof of unique ideas amidst the fancy designs, digital distractions, and superficial phrases?

Our view of branding must change.

A brand shapes the expectations people have about what you do, defines the benefits your organization provides, and lays the foundation for relationships. The simplest and most direct way to achieve quality perceptions in the mind is to communicate your expertise. That’s the value of publishing: proprietary content is the right catalyst for generating a perception of leadership. By cultivating audience interest with proprietary content, using that content to keep them connected, and building durable relationships, NGOs can get more people to believe in their capacity to deliver on their mission.

Most organizations are pathologically passive about the care and feeding of content. Their content ends up being cosmetic and superficial because organizations don’t invest it with any sense of glamour. Web content is, for the most, not very good: the stuff used to fill up a wonderfully designed website. Which is too bad, of course, because it is supposed to be the voice, the message, the meaning that your customers come to engage in. Their limited view of branding—which demands “look at me!” or “listen up”—may give them temporary visibility, but it isn’t enough for them to become robust and financially self-reliant.

Leading organizations, on the other hand, know about the alchemy of content: they know trust can’t be built unless they expose their intellectual blueprint. That mission-connecting communication highlighting unique knowledge is the key enabler in the effort to demonstrate relevance. They know that they have to give people something to talk about in order to sustain their interests; that they have to challenge audience thinking beyond their walls; that they have to establish communities wanting to stay connected—before they can expect support for their work.

By increasing their ability to engage minds and keep people captivated, articulate organizations have brands that are always “on,” and always working, thanks to an arsenal of effective tools keeping audiences interested in their ideas, nurturing emotional bonds, and, over time, turning them into donors. Their Communicating Brand helps them stand out in a cluttered marketplace and proves that their organization is “worth the cost” to politicians, taxpayers and funders who grudgingly surrender resources—in tight times or not. They are aggressive at transmitting what they know because they need to expand their community.

What do we mean by “publishing” today?

Active publishing on multiple platforms will help give NGOs a strong future with new audiences. That’s the alchemy of content: turning common and often-overlooked knowledge assets into something precious and powerful through a consistent and coordinated publishing strategy leveraging social, digital and traditional channels; keeping audiences engaged through captivating and informative web-based experiences including blogs, podcasts, ebooks, and online magazines, documentary films, as well as traditionally published books and magazines.

Publishing is an undervalued communication system capable of effectively delivering meaning about organizational identity. A vital publishing process says, in effect, “this is what we do, why we’re good, why we’re different.” A deliberate and sustained content-first brand strategy crafts a believable and engaging narrative that puts you at the centre of a vital public discussion; it ensures that thought leadership is the core of your brand and that people talk about you the right way. It’s an essential tool NGOs need to build its brand and reach out, to expose its expertise and build community.

By advertising with them you are recognized for supporting their work. You become part of their community.


  1. PEOPLE DON’T KNOW YOU: The public won’t automatically accept your claim to leadership just because you have a tagline proclaiming it.
  2. PEOPLE AREN’T TALKING ABOUT YOU: You can’t stay in people’s minds if you don’t say something worth listening to. Articulate organizations give people something to talk about and lead vital public conversations.
  3. THE “NEW” MEDIUM NEEDS A MESSAGE: Social networking can’t generate quality perceptions of your leadership in the marketplace unless you add your organization’s unique and substantive point of view. Content, not the delivery vehicle, is King.
  4. BUILD THOUGHT LEADERSHIP INTO YOUR BRAND: Original and compelling content tells everyone you know something other organizations don’t—that’s the starting point for market leadership. The approach of Harvard Business School or National Geographic Society is within the grasp of any organization.
  5. TRANSCEND PLACE: Redefine “visitor” and expand your audience: live in the minds of people by providing anytime, anywhere access to what you know regardless of where they live. Organizations have to be multi-channel masters offering customers multiple points of contact to what they know.
  6. PUBLISH OR PERISH: Leveraging what you know creates a brand that is always on, always working: start using your content now to stand out in a cluttered marketplace.

gordongroup works with clients not only to advance the case for content development and publishing as a effective tool for branding, but for advertisers trying to understand the impact of associating with leading ideas and with leaders promoting their expertise.