Rebranding an organization which has a distinguished history.


Branding has been shown to be a very effective activity in an organization’s efforts to increase its influence in a marketplace. This increased influence equals increased sales, increased awareness, increased understanding, increased margins, increased business valuation, etc. And this strategy is as effective for non-profit organizations as it is for companies.

The Young Men’s Christian Association is a charity well known by its initials, YMCA. And as is popular in the marketplace, names are shortened in common use. Jennifer Lopez is known as J-Lo. And the Young Men’s Christian Association has for years been known as the “Y.”

Now the Young Men’s Christian Association has formally dropped those four descriptive words in favor of the single letter “Y.” And they have modified the visual identity and logo as well. Is this a good idea? The short answer is “yes.” But are there unfortunate consequences? The answer depends on the strategy.

What is the strategy?

If the strategy is to include those who are not young, it makes sense to drop the word “Young.”

If the strategy is to include women, it makes sense to drop the word “Men’s.”

If the strategy is to abandon its Christian heritage, it makes sense to drop the word “Christian.”

It remains to determine whether all or any of this three-fold strategy would be wise.

The role of the marketplace.

On the other hand, the brand lives in the marketplace, not in the executive suite, and the marketplace has dubbed the organization the “Y.” Therefore it makes sense to embrace that as the official moniker. However, it can, and should, be done without abandoning important legacy elements that define and validate the brand’s promise. This has not been lost on family groups. For example, the YMCA is a Christian organization, and for that reason the American Family Association officials take issue with the change.

Origin of the YMCA.

In 1844, according to its website, the YMCA was founded as a local men’s Bible study group in London. The Association’s size and influence have grown enormously over the years.

Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for government and public policy for the American Family Association pointed out that “The YMCA was founded because the founder, George Williams, realized boys need Christ to become grown men. By removing Christ or Christianity from their title, they’re just taking another step away from their original mission.”

Many well known and immensely helpful charities began as, or arose out of, Bible Study groups. The Bible has spawned a significant amount of altruistic and benevolent behavior over the years. Keeping its historical roots in focus would provide important validation and meaning to the mission of the Y.

The decision to rebrand.

Changing a company name can yield treacherous results. The decision to change the name was not a whimsical one. It is the result of two years of research and analysis. And the logo has been modified to align with the new strategy.

When should a logo be modified? When it can do a better job making the strategy visible. To reinforce and lend visual support to the communication of the organizations goals. Remember, we are visual people. Visual images are very powerful in communicating ideas. Well conceived and executed, they are important clues providing a valuable short cut in the communications process.

In that regard, the new logo is modified to be more “friendly” and more “dynamic”– both very positive for the organization. The sharp, angular, strict, upright, stark, black and red design is replaced with a warm colored, soft edged, angled design. And the new design elements are coördinated effectively in marketing communications materials including website, literature, displays, signage, stationery, etc. Continuity and consistency are critical to build an effective influence.

The bottom line.

Given the market’s decision to refer to the Young Men’s Christian Association as the Y and the fact that the minor modifications of the logo make it more “friendly” and more “dynamic,” it seems to be a good idea. Keeping its historical roots in focus would be a good idea as well. Abandoning them would be an unfortunate consequence.

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4 Responses to “Rebranding an organization which has a distinguished history.”

  1. Sheryll Rombis says:

    Never thought about the role of the marketplace in branding. Interesting.

  2. Kala Germana says:

    This is a great post. Rebranding an established organization requires a LOT of thought. If not done right it will backfire.

  3. Liz Dots says:

    I’d like to see you analyse whether Wal-Mart’s new upscale brand identity programme would really result in transforming its image and whether it would alienate its core customers.

  4. EdwardM says:

    Thanks, I’ve been searching for details about rebranding for weeks and your blog is the best I’ve discovered with excellent understanding of the rationale behind the repositioning of an organization with a history.

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