Non-Profit Rebrand: On the House 2010

September 27, 2010


            As part of my ongoing partnership with Matchstic’s On The House project, I have helped transform another non-profit brand this year.

  Old logo and new logo with tag_edited-2

            Last year it was the Swift School. And On the House transformed the branding strategy and identity for a relatively new school that works with children with dyslexia. The success of that On The House project has far exceeded expectations. It shows that it isn’t just about doing good work, success also depends on building a powerful brand in the mind. Enrollment at the Swift School is way up this year. But more importantly, the students at Swift feel a new sense of pride about the themselves and their school.




On The House 2010

            This year we worked with the Atlanta Union Mission. The Atlanta Union Mission is a non-profit that was established in 1938 for individuals in crisis that were displaced by the Great Depression.

              Seventy-two years later, the Great Depression of 1932 is ancient  history but the Atlanta Union Mission is still going strong. The Mission provides emergency food and shelter, residential recovery programs and transitional housing to as many as 1,200 homeless, addicted or disenfranchised men and women and their children.

            The Challenge: Help a 72-year-old brand founded during the Great Depression update its image, clarify its mission and focus its message.


            The Name: Atlanta Union Mission.

            In the early part of the 20th century, long, generic names were all the rage. General Electric. International Business Machines. American Telephone & Telegraph. Standard Oil. When most businesses were small and local there was an advantage to sounding big and scopy.

            Today, it is different. Today, generic names make poor brand names. The ear hears the name and doesn’t distinguish between uppercase and lowercase. A generic name is a description, not a brand. Almost all the best-known, most valuable brands in the world are proper names not generic ones. Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Apple, Disney, Ford, Susan G. Komen.

            The one stand out is General Electric. But G.E. is No 1 or No 2 in the categories it competes in and more importantly it only competes against other conglomerates with equally poor brand names. G.E. hasn’t succeed in new technologies like computers and got out of the consumer appliance business. Remember, just because G.E. can violate a law of branding it doesn’t mean you can too.

            Atlanta Union Mission is a very long and very generic name. So long that most people inside the organization and in the community call it by its acronym AUM. AUM is even worse than Atlanta Union Mission. AUM? They need to have a name people will use and that stands for something.

            The most focused word they have is Atlanta, because that is the market they serve. Atlanta differentiates them from their competitors which are the large international charities.

             “Union,” what does that mean? Today it has a much different meaning than it did. Back then it was used to show that the organization was “non-denominational.” Today it means “labor unions” and voting for Obama. This isn’t a political action committee, so using the word is confusing and worse polarizing.

            Mission is a nice word, it conveys action and purpose but gets lost.

            The suggestion was to drop Union. And to shorten the name to “Mission Atlanta” my choice. Or alternatively “Atlanta Mission” the clients choice.


            Starting over from scratch isn’t always an option for a brand. The Atlanta Union Mission has a lot of support in the community and without a huge budget a totally new name would not have been the best decision. Here we have simplified and shorten the name to its core elements. And most importantly will help get people to use the name and not an acronym.


            The verbal nail

            The current tagline for the Atlanta Union Mission is “Saving Lives with Your Help.”

            Like most taglines it is not specific enough. Is this a school for lifeguards?

            No, the Atlanta Mission is a charity that helps people who are homeless get back on their feet. They help them with emergency assistance and with on-going educational and transitional programs.

            Therefore, the word that Atlanta Mission needs to own is “homelessness.”

            The verbal nail that drives that word in the mind is “Ending homelessness.” That is a tagline that is specific, memorable and emotional.



            The visual hammer.

            The current visual is an old-fashion lamp post. The new visual is a lantern.


            The concept of "Shining The Light" has been a core element of the Atlanta Mission brand. This idea is retained while modernizing it with a new spin on its meaning. Instead of waiting for people to come to it, the Atlanta Mission will strive to bring the "light" to those who need it. The lantern is also a visual that can be incorporated in many creative ways. Giving people lanterns as they walk the streets. Using lanterns at fundraising events etc.

            The mark also now includes a simple cross at the heart of the lantern representing Christ as the central force of the Atlanta Mission. If you are a Christian group than it is best to disclose this in an open, honest and friendly way.



            The official launch of the new Atlanta Mission brand will be in Jan 2011. So this is a sneak peek. I feel very proud to have participated in this project. And look forward to the next On the House experience.