How the British Heart Foundation became a ‘fighting’ brand

For the past 18 months, charity the British Heart Foundation has been rolling out new branding, developed with The Partners, based on the proposition Fight for Every Heartbeat. With the launch of the charity’s new Bag It, Beat It campaign, we look at how the charity took influences from sports brand Nike to create a unified and focused new position.

The British Heart Foundation was set up in 1961 by a group of medical professionals who wanted to fund extra research into heart disease. In the 50 years since its formation it has developed into a charity with a range of activities. Alongside its core research function it also works to inform the public of the dangers of heart disease and what they can do to prevent it. It also fundraises on a large scale – in 2013 its gross income was more than £133 million, with around a third of this coming from fundraising.

But with this scale comes issues of engagement and recognition. Louise Kyme, senior brand and design manager at the BHF, says, ‘We had the challenge that people didn’t really understand what the BHF does. Everyone knows our name but they didn’t really understand what it was that we do – so if we want people to get involved with us and to raise funds that’s quite a fundamental challenge to overcome.’

Kyme adds, ‘We undertake quite a wide range of activities – we fund nurse training courses, we fund research, so in talking about these things in perhaps not as strategic a way as possible we were confusing our audiences. We realised  we needed to be more focused on what our messaging was.’

Nick Radmore, programme director for marketing and communications at the BHF, says that through brand tracking mechanisms, the charity saw that it had ‘massively high awareness that just didn’t turn into connection and relevance’.

In 2011 the BHF underwent an internally-led audit programme that led to two main conclusions – a focus on the charity’s core research activities, and a brand statement of Fight for Every Heartbeat.

The charity then engaged The Partners develop a new brand strategy based around this positioning, and to ‘creatively bring it alive’. Radmore says, ‘We said, “We’re a 50-year-old charity with huge amounts of heritage, so don’t unpick that, but revitalise it – get it back in people’s minds.”’

Nick Eagleton, creative director at The Partners, says, ‘We started with the core idea of Fight for Every Heartbeat and we knew it was the right idea, but the questions were “what fight?” “how?” and “how do we articulate this?”’

Eagleton says the first breakthrough came when the consultancy ‘turned the clock back’ to the BHF’s establishment in the 1960s. He says, ‘We looked at what heart disease was like back then and the picture was really devastating. It struck us that 50 years later the transformation was really breathtaking and driven by the research the British Heart Foundation had done.’

Eagleton adds, ‘For the first time we realised – and I think for the first time the BHF realised – this is a battle we’re winning.’

The second major turning point came from an unlikely influence. Eagleton says, ‘We said to ourselves – independent from the BHF; independent from the charity world, what’s the ultimate winning brand? And the ultimate winning brand is Nike. It’s an enabling brand and when you look at the way they communicate with their audiences it’s all bound up in obstacles and overcoming them.’

Eagleton adds, ‘When we started this process we felt that the BHF was quite passive and polite and humble – and we thought that’s ridiculous for one of the world’s biggest heart charities… So now if there’s one thing we hold dear it’s about making that winning spirit come through in everything we do, because people want to back a winner.’

The BHF’s visual identity remained focused on its ‘heartbeat’ logo, which was originally created by a BHF member of staff in 1969. The primary typeface was changed to Knockout (‘appropriately named’, note The Partners in the brand guidelines) and guidelines were created on writing impactful headlines and using strong photography and illustration.

Radmore says the BHF has moved away from issue-based tactical campaigns, such as the Vinnie Jones CPR campaign, to focus on three or four key ‘hero moments’ each year in which the charity can ‘talk with one voice about the fact that the fight against heart disease can be relevant to people’s lives’.

The BHF’s newest campaign is launching as children return to school and focuses on the struggle some youngsters have overcome. Radmore says, ‘There are 40 000 children across the country with heart disease and these children have fought through hell to get to school, so what we’re doing is telling their story to connect with people.’

The people-focused aspect of the new branding also carries through internally. Radmore says, ‘We wanted to get people to realise that regardless of what position and division they are in the charity – from frontline nurses to people sorting out the invoices – everyone is involved in the same fight.’

Internally, the BHF set up workshops to outline the new positioning, appointed brand champions in each division and made sure the new brand language permeated throughout the organisation – for example changing the name of the staff bulletin to Fighting Talk.

As well as focusing its external communications on people affected by heart disease, the BHF also started inviting these people in to tell their stories. Radmore says, ‘A few weeks ago we had a 17-year-old girl who had saved her mum’s life through CPR telling her story to a room of 300 people. It really connected – we sit in the office all day and we don’t always hear these stories.’

Kyme says the rebrand has affected the BHF in a number of ways. The charity’s external engagement has improved – and it has moved to its highest ever position (fifth) on the Third Sector Charity Brand Index. She also says the engagement from the public, particularly on social media, has been more open and personal, with people sharing their own stories of fighting heart disease.

As well as increasing staff engagement and collaboration it has also, she believes, allowed the charity to be ‘braver in our creativity and much more single-minded’. The BHF works with a roster of design consultancies including Alphabetical and Magpie Studio and Kyme describes this roster as ‘a really important part of Fight for Every Heartbeat’. She adds, ‘We’ve got some plans afoot for something really exciting’.

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