Peace Corps Writers
Talking with John Bidwell (page 2)
 Talking with
John Bidwell
page 1
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Okay, what’s branding?

Branding is the process of consciously creating in others’ minds an authentic and relevant image of your identity. Everybody — and every organization — has a default brand. It is your character, and how that character comes across to others. Thus, the question is never whether you need a brand, because you have one. The question is how you foster the part of your character that works best for you, that communicates what your mission and values are.
     
Good branding is not just a logo. It requires knowing thyself, and finding communications that capture the best you have to offer, and using them in consistent innovative ways.
     
That’s what I love about this work. It is authentic and gets to the heart of an organization, and can have a profound and positive effect.

Give us an example of what you do to brand an organization.

We worked to rebrand the Greater Lynn Mental Health and Retardation Association. Market research confirmed that the name was a liability: too long, hard to recall, and not in vogue. Their logo — a flying dove — didn’t help since it had religious and end of life connotations. The communications (brochures, promotions, website, etc) were ad hoc and inconsistent.
     
We collaborated on name development, creating the name Bridgewell, which is short, easy to remember, easy to spell, and easy to locate in the telephone book. Most importantly, it communicates the mission of the organization, to help the disabled bridge a path to optimal wellness and independence — and instead of focusing on geographic or diagnostic limitations, it expresses a promise of growth and empowerment. In the new logo, we took that optimism a step further, with brush-stroke figures that are human in imperfection and exuberance, and upper and lower-case type that is friendly and accessible. To ensure that the new image communicated the requisite professionalism in all media, we established visual guidelines for the organization that included templates for the Web site, stationery, and collateral pieces.
     The organization now has a consistent identity that is uplifting, easy to identify with, and rally behind. Its positive impact has been felt in many aspects of the organization, from recruitment to outreach to development.

How did you get into the branding business?

I have always been interested in symbolism and meaning, especially since my religious studies. My senior thesis was on why we portray Jesus the way we do. It’s not like we have photos, or even a single reliable portrait. So, why does Jesus look like Jesus? What does that mean? Why does Jesus sometimes look different? I believe that symbols — visual and words — are packed with more than we realize, so it helps to have a better understanding of these symbols and how they relate to your organization. I like digging into the heart of an organization, the place of meaning, and creating the tools to communicate that passion. On a symbolic level, branding is a lot like well work. You need to dig down to find your wellspring, and create a safe and efficient way to bring that life force into the light.
     
I also want our work to be a real asset for organizations, and that means transcending mere aesthetics. Communications must be well organized and relevant to the client and project, or it is just a waste. Pretty, but a waste nonetheless.
     
Mostly, branding requires collaboration. This is a value I learned in Peace Corps. I may be the outside expert, but a project’s success requires that I partner with the client (or village), and not impose my solutions. Avoid the white elephant at all costs.

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