This guest post on the transformative power of a new brand strategy comes from Hannah Walker at the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), a Packard Foundation grantee partner based in Switzerland. RSB is a global, multi-stakeholder independent organisation that drives the development of a new world bioeconomy through sustainability solutions, certification, innovation, and collaborative partnerships.
Over the past few years, RSB has transformed from a small, academic biofuels research project based out of a university to a worldwide standard for biomaterials, recognised by NGOs as best-in-class for sustainability and offering certification, advisory services and collaborative opportunities to global brands and organisations. Through focused organisational development work, we have built a brand that reflects that evolution and supports our growth into new sectors and greater impacts.
Just a few short years ago our brand and strategy had not caught up with the work we were doing. While our closest stakeholders were committed to our organisation, the industry did not know what RSB was offering. As an organisation that seeks to support big picture solutions to sustainability, developing a credible strategy to ensure our work is engaging the right stakeholders, having the greatest possible impact, and remaining on the cutting edge of global trends and innovation was incredibly important. Embarking on a project to breathe new life into our brand was daunting, especially with limited staff and financial resources.
Taking on Organisational Development Projects
In 2015, with Packard Foundation Organizational Effectiveness (OE) support, we brought in external consultants to look at our organisation from a true outsider’s perspective, developing a communications strategy to bring our brand persona and organisational strategy in line with our work. We also engaged a business coach to support our executive team in managing our transition to a new business model, services, and approach.
This work formed the basis for RSB’s rebrand. Building on the insights of our consultants, we moved away from a traditional “green” NGO brand and identity to create something that we felt reflected our position on the cutting edge of the bioeconomy revolution.
After the initial organisational assessment work, RSB took on a follow up project in 2017 to examine how we could catapult our influence into new sectors and to use a variety of communications tools to amplify our influence and build upon our reputation. Through research, insights, strategy and positioning, our organisational agility and ability to push our brand to new heights increased dramatically, allowing us to respond to the requirements of a fast-paced communications environment confidently.
Lessons for Successful Organisational Change
After carrying out two organisational development projects, the core staff was faced with a number of exciting recommendations – and a question. How does a small team of seven people implement so many ideas, continue to build on core services, and keep our stakeholders involved? This brings me to our first big lesson: Trust.
Without the trust of our Executive Director, we would not have been able to take these recommendations and run with them. Understanding that not everything is going to be perfect every time also gave us the freedom to experiment and take risks. By allowing Marcelle Peuckert, our Business Development Director, to lead the process, trusting her decisions and those of the consultants, our team had the freedom to create a bold new strategy without the need for a cumbersome ‘design-by-consensus’ approach. This was a brave decision – and required a certain amount of fearlessness on behalf of our ED in particular, who would be reporting to the board – but it paid off!
Conversely, our second big lesson was the importance of buy-in. As a roundtable made up of many different members, we rely on the input, engagement and support of many different stakeholders – our board, our members, and our team. So, while we didn’t involve them directly in the process, we did make sure that we conducted regular soundchecks with key partners and organisations to be sure we were on the right track! We knew that if some of our biggest partners supported our decisions we would feel more confident in taking our approach to the board.
Next, we learned the importance of prioritizing our time, resources and energy. We could not possibly implement every single recommendation that came from our consultants. We learned to work within our means – to implement what we could, bank the recommendations we couldn’t, and to always think strategically about our short-term capacity through the lens of our long-term needs.
Finally, we’ve begun to appreciate that although it comes with its challenges, a small team can be an amazing resource. Together, we have been able to create something great in a short period of time.
The Power of Building a Brand
Our OE work represented a big leap of faith but it has definitely paid off. It has given us a massively increased capacity to respond strategically. It opened new doors, challenges, and opportunities to build our organisation, and expanded our footprint. We have received positive feedback on the work from global brands, have unlocked new sectors to work in, and have seen growth across the organisation. Our increased capacity to respond to the challenges of a fast-paced and ever-changing landscape has been enormously valuable. By being more proactive in our approach to marketing, business development and membership, our key role in the bioeconomy is more assured than ever.