Our client first came to us for a logo update — but their real challenge ran deeper. With six sub-brands, multiple audiences, and a complex business structure, this nonprofit corporation needed a solid brand strategy.
Cornerstone Associates helps people with disabilities connect and contribute through meaningful employment. Their three-tier business model creates opportunities at every skill level:
- Cultivate basic job skills through their Day Services program
- Offer in-house employment opportunities through six Cornerstone-owned businesses
- Guide qualified participants to find work at companies outside of Cornerstone
This three-tier structure (encompassing six separate business entities) isn’t exactly simple. On the contrary, it posed a major branding challenge. Add to that the sticky task of telling a complex story to four different audiences:
- People with disabilities
- Shoppers at Cornerstone-owned businesses
- Hiring managers at private companies
- Prospective donors
Before beginning work on our client’s logo update, the MAC conducted intensive research to fully understand their needs. When Cornerstone saw the insights that turned up in the process, they decided to expand our engagement to include a full rebrand.
Our team created distinct visual identities for each business, tying them together within the overarching Cornerstone identity. We developed a website that intuitively guides four separate audiences just where they need to go. And we clarified the message for each: positioning Cornerstone to fulfill its mission, grow its brand, and drive sales and donations.
Cornerstone faced several significant branding challenges, which we identified during our rigorous discovery process:
- Each of their six businesses are essential to their mission — but they shared no continuity
- As a result, our client’s audiences (even those who shop from them) had no idea that the nonprofit and its sub-brands are united by a common mission
- Cornerstone struggled to speak to separate audiences separately: e.g. telling private companies about hiring opportunities requires one voice; conveying human impact to prospective donors requires quite another
- Aside from all of this, their brand was due for an update
After discussing our findings with Cornerstone, we identified the following goals:
- Create a new identity system to bring all sub-brands into step with the nonprofit as a whole
- Preserve the significant brand equity and recognition they’ve built
- Develop a website that unites all Cornerstone businesses while allowing them to function as separate entities
- Serve the separate needs of four discrete audiences online, without mixing them up
- For each audience, build engagement with the nonprofit’s mission, driving program participation, sales, hiring decisions, and donations
The MAC identified these challenges and goals by auditing our client’s brand, sub-brands, and website. We conducted a competitive analysis. We also interviewed their staff and board, some of whom are Cornerstone donors. Then we developed a twelve-month communication plan to put action to what we learned.
Changes in identity can be uncomfortable, especially for well-established organizations operating in the risk-averse nonprofit sector. However, change is also healthy.
We guided our client through a fruitful exploration of creative solutions that weren’t just comfortable to their team, but inspiring.
As we developed their new logo, we took care to protect its brand equity. We wanted to show that Cornerstone is about people, so we softened and humanized it, while keeping its signature color and shapes intact.
Then we created an identity system to bring all six business entities under one visual umbrella — including two that had seemed irreconcilable.
We designed the information architecture of the new website to convey distinct messages to people with disabilities, business leaders, Cornerstone business customers, and donors, while supporting our client’s organizational goals by driving donations and sales.
To tell the Cornerstone story, we used original photography and illustrations. We wanted prospective donors to see the human impact of their contributions in the faces of those who benefit from them. We also wanted customers to see the quality of the products and services offered by Cornerstone businesses.
I think the world of the MAC — their creativity, their professionalism. Probably more than anything, they truly understood what our needs were.
Cornerstone came to the MAC for a logo, but discovered an opportunity. We helped the nonprofit connect to its donor base, tell a complex story to multiple audiences, and illustrate how the many components of its organization come together to fulfill its mission.
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