Susan G. Komen for the Cure - The Power of a New Name and a Re-Ignited Mission
Susan G. Komen for the Cure: the power of a new name and a re-ignited mission
by Nancy G. Brinker
Founder, Susan G. Komen for the Cure®
On a sweltering afternoon in July 2006, I found myself in a converted aircraft hangar at Dallas’s Love Field, getting ready to address a crowd of staffers, Affiliates, board members and special guests of The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the advocacy and fundraising organization I founded 25 years ago this year.
We were all gathered at the Frontiers of Flight Museum, a place dedicated to the history of aeronautical ingenuity, boldness and courage. In the museum’s main exhibition hall, a billowing white tent had been erected, with seating inside for the 400 guests. They knew what they were gathered for. But they didn’t know what to expect. They knew big changes were afoot. When I took my place in the middle of the tent, the suspense had grown and the event had the feeling of an old- fashioned revival meeting.
In many ways, that’s exactly what it was: I was there to deliver the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation into a bold new future. I had exactly 20 minutes to pump up the crowd and convince the ‘Brand Ambassadors’ in the audience – deputized headquarters staffers and reps from Komen’s Affiliate organizations – that with our 25th anniversary on the horizon, it was time for truly big changes. We were introducing a new name, along with new logo and iconography, a new organizational color scheme and a whole new way of talking about and marketing ourselves.
With the years of success and growth we had experienced, I was a little nervous. In the non-profit and cause marketing worlds, the Susan G. Komen Foundation is an often-imitated success icon. What in the world were we doing, changing the organization’s name and look – the very same name and look that had propelled Komen from a handful of names in a shoebox to an organization of more than 120 Affiliates, 100,000 activists and a billion dollars invested globally in community-based outreach programs and promising breast cancer research?
Komen’s founding ‘cameo’ logo carried us through nearly 25 years of incredible growth, progress and success. It was more than just a logo; it was the profile of my beloved sister, Susan, in whose memory the Foundation was established. I lost Suzy too soon to breast cancer back in 1981, when she was only 36 years old. Her name remains at the forefront of our organization and her memory still serves as the power behind our mission. It was difficult for me to let her profile fade into our institutional past. It took many, many discussions before I agreed to a new name and a new logo.
Why Change Now?
While we were most definitely not changing our core mission – which is to save lives and end breast cancer forever by empowering people, ensuring quality care for all and energizing science to find the cures for breast cancer – our reasons for big changes now were clear: The Foundation continues to be a phenomenal success, but the world is changing. There’s more clutter and competition in the media and in the marketplace. Our identity, our messaging and our mission were getting lost in the shuffle. If we want to take our important mission to a higher and even more effective level, we need to do a better job of marketing ourselves. It was clearly time to re-brand.
Re-branding is essential if an organization is to grow and become iconic – instantly and accurately recognizable for what it is and what it does – with the public. And that public is bombarded with messages every day. Based on exhaustive surveys of all kinds of people, Komen recognized the need to rise above the clutter and stand out in the minds of the constituents we already serve and the new audiences we want to attract. Despite Komen’s success, research showed we really weren’t sticking in people’s minds very well. Our research also showed that we needed to be more aggressive in our efforts to connect with key population groups.
My task that July afternoon in Dallas was to explain the move to re-brand, endorse it, build excitement for it, provide reassurance that we were not changing our mission, and then give staff and volunteers the tools, the time and the instruction they needed to roll out the new name and marks in their own communities. Careful preparation leads to effective coordination.
An Unmistakeable Message, Mission
I travel all over the country. People know the name ‘Komen’, but they often don’t know who we really are, or that we are the breast cancer advocacy and research funding leader. They ask me, ‘Are you a Race?’ ‘A research foundation?’ ‘A national women’s organization?’ ‘Are you part of the American Cancer Society?’ It is especially sad to me when I realize that most people do not make a connection between the woman in whose memory the organization was established and my sister, Susan. Too often, parallels were drawn between the profile of her that we used in our founding logo and that of some emblematic Southern lady . . . or even Betty Crocker.
At times, I told staff and Affiliates, it’s as if the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has developed multiple personalities – different Affiliates with different identities, different names, different logos and different looks. If we want to remain one, strong, powerful organization, I told them, we needed to get behind and new name and a new icon that were as powerful and progressive as Komen is. We needed to be instantly recognizable for who were are and what we do.
By our 20th anniversary, we recognized that we were ready to take off to greater, even more distant horizons. We could now use the incredible scientific and social advances made in the past couple of decades as a flight manifesto into bold new territories, including new policy initiatives at the national level and international cooperative efforts to help women in countries where breast cancer occurs in alarming numbers, but is treated with the shame and secrecy it once was treated with in the United States. The new brand launch was the fuel we needed for our journey forward.
Soul- Searching and Researching
It took more than five years of soul-searching and painstaking demographic investigation to arrive at our official internal brand roll-out last July. We worked with the best strategists in the business and spent countless hours weighing words and images to effect the right tone and the right emotional connection in our new name and in our new marks.
At the internal brand launch event in July, the aeronautical motif the event planning committee had chosen soon became instantly clear, incredibly appropriate. The billowing walls of the white ‘revival’ tent fell away, one by one, like wings, to reveal our new look and name, projected on the walls of the museum’s interior: Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
It’s strong, simple, clear, compelling. And the new pink ribbon, which replaces the silhouette of my sister, Susan, conveys momentum, progress. While the pink ribbon is still the universal symbol of the breast cancer movement, Susan G, Komen for the Cure has succeeded in making it uniquely and passionately our own.
The new logo and our new name, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, symbolize everything we stand for: The name reaffirms our founding promise – my promise to my sister, the promise millions of other people have made to their loved ones and the promise that sustains our organization’s spirit of love, hope and determination. It reaffirms our guiding mission, which is to find the cure, in all the meanings that that powerful word holds for people. Retaining ‘for the Cure’ in our new name also taps into our organization’s single greatest equity – the Komen Race for the Cure® – an event that millions of Americans already associate with breast cancer.
Charged Up for the Change
The Komen Foundation and its Affiliates across the country attract big-hearted and very dedicated activists. Many of them are breast cancer survivors whose involvement in Komen bears witness to their personal experience with the disease and their determination to end it forever. Many Affiliates are deeply and emotionally invested in the culture of the Komen they have known for 25 years. I expected lots of resistance to the new name and the new look. Change is never easy.
To my surprise, and that of the staff members who led two and a half days of intense training in the reasons behind the changes, the research that indicated the need for the changes, the schedule and timeline for making the transition to the new name and look and the intricacies of the new brand, there was overwhelming excitement and near-universal ‘let’s-start-making-the-changes-now’ enthusiasm. Affiliates had the tools and they had planned out, step-by-step, the way to carry out the transition. They’d done practice projects to apply the new brand from everything to t-shirts to stationery to radio and television spots. It was exciting to see their eagerness to take Komen into a new era – particularly since 2007 marks Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s 25th anniversary.
Finally, Affiliates told me, our bold new look and our streamlined name reflect the organization we have become: The world’s largest and most progressive grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists, working to end breast cancer forever by empowering people, ensuring quality care for all and energizing science to find the cures.
Komen’s Bold New Day Dawns
On January 22, 2007, the many moving pieces of the Komen for the Cure public brand rollout clicked into place beautifully. With years of preparation and planning behind us, we stepped into our ‘bold, new day’. The Affiliates and Brand Ambassadors had their training and toolkits, plus access to Komen Brand Central, our new, online brand management system that allows designated users access to downloadable and pre-approved images and logos in multiple formats. The Komen Web site, www.komen.org was re-designed and re-launched, along with a stunning microsite, www.25komen.org, that features moving, talking people (including me!) and a viral component that encourages users to form their own ‘Promise Circles’ by contacting friends and family members. Thousands of people formed instant circles.
Months of desk-side visits and discussions with top-tier editors and producers resulted in great story placements in top newspapers, consumer and trade publications and tons of media inquiries rolled in as the new brand rolled out. Celebrities at the Golden Globe Awards presentation helped make Komen’s hip, new pink ‘Promise Rings’ the latest casual fashion statement. Sales of the rings on our Web site took off with a bang on Jan. 22. People definitely wanted ‘one to wear and one to share.’
Millions of Americans learned about our new logo and marks through national satellite and radio media tours. New and very bold public service print ads greeted readers of People Magazine and other widely read national publications. Drivers in nine carefully selected major metro areas found new billboards emblazoned with our new name, logo and our renewed determination to end breast cancer forever.
A new name and a new logo alone cannot meet the ultimate goal we have committed to meeting: ending breast cancer forever. It takes a lot of work and a lot of people. But the changes we have made are already attracting new audiences, new attention and respect for our organization, new donors and a legion of new organizations who want to partner with us. They remind us that that through collaboration, we can unleash “the dynamic force of many” .With our many research and scientific partners, we can find dynamic new treatments. With our many corporate partners, we can find new ways to raise funds/educate others. I think we have found the perfect way to begin our next 25 years. The new brand reaffirms our founding values and my original promise to my sister, Susan G. Komen.