Back in August of this year, Toastmasters International introduced a complete new branding. This -much needed- initiative aimed at presenting this venerable nonprofit organization with over 13,000 clubs and more than 270,000 members in 113 countries in a new light and give it a distinctive identity.
Founded in 1924 in Santa Ana, California, this institution’s goals is to help members become better speakers and leaders. The public speaking skills are trained based on a self-paced program and the leadership skills are trained by taking over roles in the organization, either at the club, or at a higher level. I have been an enthusiastic member for four years now and already wrote on this blog an article explaining the basic principles of Toastmasters.
The organization encountered identity problems as clubs and geographical divisions were created around the world. Many clubs started to use their own logos, colors and tag lines. The District 59, for example, which comprises all western European Toastmasters clubs, invented its own motto “Connect through diversity”. Although this sentence makes sense for this particular district with so much diversity, the strength of the Toastmasters brand was diluted. Indeed, there are around 89 districts in the world, each with its own tag line !
Toastmasters International gradually lost control on its own brand and needed an energetic answer to the fragmentation of its identity across the world. Moreover, some of its communication artifacts were not representative of the current state of the organization, such as its exponential international growth.
The logo, for instance, was one of the most outmoded part of the branding. Although the globe gave a sense of the international purpose of the organization, it was centered around the American continent only.
The gavels, one is used to open the Toastmasters club meetings, were not understood from a large part of the population. Some even believed to see fists gripping the world !
Furthermore, this logo, which is an evolution of the first logo designed in the 1930’s profoundly lacked dynamics and modernity. On the other hand, it provided a sense of authority (the gavels reminding of the justice) and of tradition.
The tag line of the organization was “Become the leader and speaker you want to be“. Although it perfectly described the goals achievable through this organization, it had a major issue : its length. No one could remember exactly the sentence after having heard it for the first time.
Finally, the organization used to use a patchwork of unrelated colors, changing, at each event or in each manuals.
Toastmasters International hence decided to hire a consultancy to refresh and align the Toastmasters brand on a worldwide basis. The outcome can be seen on Toastmasters International’s website, as well as on my club’s.
A definition of a brand is an idea embodied in, among others, products, services and experiences. The brand represents the interface between us and Toastmasters. It is present on all web pages, all official documents, all flyers and promotional items. If a branding is not efficient or not focused, it loses its strength and the message of the organization weakens with it. Toastmasters hence introduced in August a new unified branding for the worldwide organization. Its goal is clear : the clubs need to align to the headquarters’s communication to give a unified and controlled member experience.
The consultancy came up with a “brand” new concept, with a distinct set of colors that are culturally neutral and are not part of any country flag in order to emphasize the international vocation of Toastmasters. Also, this color panel is distinct from any other public speaking association, thus increasing the distinction and value of TM. I think they completely succeeded in this task.
The new logo is now much less centered on the USA and looks much more modern. However, as modern as it may look, the drawback is certainly that it will be outmoded much faster than the previous, more conservative, logo. Note the use of the new color scheme.
Finally, and this is my only real complaint, the emphasis of this new branding is clearly much more important on the leadership side than on the public speaking side of Toastmasters.
For instance, the tag line was changed to “Where leaders are made“. In the elevator speech provided by Toastmasters for district leaders, I could count one “speech”, three “communication”-related words , one “tell” versus 12 derivatives of the word “lead” !
The reason for that is that the consultancy associated the needs of the target groups (one of the most important being the young professionals) with the will of becoming better leaders. Thus these people will look for opportunities to increase their leadership capabilities and will acknowledge that, in order to become better leaders, they need to become better speakers.
I fundamentally disagree with that assumption. Although I look for leadership opportunities in this organization, I came on first place to improve my public speaking skills, and so did all members I know.
I highly doubt that people will make the connection between leadership and public speaking at first. Googling on the web “public speaking” would lead them to a website where “leaders are made”… not exactly what they were looking for, and in a world where the first impression is often the last one, I think this messaging will not grab the attention of the prospective learners enough to make them stay and learn more on the website.
This brand positioning assumes people want to become leaders, putting the public speaking skills aside. However, leadership can be understood in many ways and is too fuzzy to be really effective as a tag line. Hence, instead of reinforcing the message of Toastmasters, which is dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking first and then their leadership skills, this branding centered around leadership rather undermines it.
Despite this point, I think that this branding was much needed. Unifying and changing the color codes and the logo was necessary to regain control of the Toastmasters brand and to give members a better experience wherever they are on Earth. Nonetheless, I fundamentally disagree with the emphasis set on the leadership side of the educational program. I think it weakens our message, as well as will be less effective for prospective members to connect leadership and public speaking and eventually join this fantastic organization.