Girl Scouts: Embracing a Purpose Bigger than Cookies

girl scouts

Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts have always been bigger than the cookies they sell. In fact, Girl Scouts of the USA is currently the world’s biggest organization dedicated to girls. Founded in 1912, a long list of prominent women today were Girl Scouts – Celine Dion, Venus Williams, Nancy Reagan, and even Michelle Obama (a big fan of the organization and its impact).

Slipping Membership

The organization currently has 1.8 million members, a drop from the 2.1 million members three years ago. And many are asking why the drop? Slipping membership can be explained in several ways. The organization may be losing girls to other activities – sports, arts, school work, or even, in today’s day and age, social media. A decline in parent-volunteering may also be a cause. Some families have voiced complaints about wanting more activities and outdoor experiences and less cookie selling. The organization has also been criticized for its lack of diversity. Two thirds of current members are Caucasian and there is low membership among minority populations.

It seems that at the heart of the slippage is the perception that Girl Scouts is simply old-fashioned – behind the times of what girls want today and what guardians want from the organizations who support those girls.

Shedding The “Campfire Image”

The organization responded to slipping membership and recently revamped its brand for the first time in decades. Because we’re interested in brands and how they are positioning themselves to succeed in today’s world, this rebrand caught our eye. Here’s why.

1. Focus on experiences

The recent rebrand is shifting focus away from the products and materials classically associated with Girl Scouts – think thin mints and badges – and towards the valuable experiences girls can gain from membership. That being said, the organization is by no means ending cookie sales (they bring in about $800 million in annual sales). But instead, repositioning the sales around the experiences and skills girls can gain – business experience, money management skills, knowledge about successful collaboration, and the overall confidence to tackle any project head on.

Similarly, the organization plans to move away from the long-standing tradition of badges. By introducing a new curriculum, called Journeys, they aim to create a learning environment tailored to help girls build a foundation for success down the road.

Girl Scouts is presenting themselves as a more modern brand by focusing in on experiences, and we predict this to serve them well down the road. Powerful, personal, and meaningful brand experiences tailored to the people that brands and businesses are trying to reach, are the future.

2. Fostering diversity  

The organization was smart and dug a little deeper into who their audiences really were. What was the demographic of the girls and families who joined and supported Girl Scouts? And even further, where was brand awareness and reach weak? Like many businesses today, Girl Scouts realized they weren’t reaching some groups of people that had the potential to connect meaningfully with their purpose and what they had to offer girls – leadership skills and a foundation to go and get whatever they set their mind to, taking risks and innovating along the way.

A key group that was getting left out of the conversation were girls of immigrant families. These girls represented a population that had the potential to find great value in the new program meant to transform girls into confident, savvy leaders and connect them with other girls in their communities.

When the team in charge of the rebrand conducted focus groups, it was revealed that many immigrant parents weren’t aware of Girl Scouts in the first place. And those that were didn’t find it to be the right cultural fit. Many parents didn’t feel comfortable with the concept. Amelia de Dios Romero, the Multicultural Marketing Manager, notes: “Selling cookies, to them, meant going door-to-door to strangers and camping was sleeping in the woods with danger there.” Some parents even thought the organization might turn out to be more of a party influence. 

So Girl Scouts’ newly appointed brand manager (in fact, the organization’s first ever brand manager), Laurel Richie, went out to change this. With Richie in charge of building the brand the team envisions, Girl Scout leaders have started to meet one-on-one with mothers to explain how the program might help their children adapt and feel comfortable in their new home or community. By listening to other perspectives and opening up a new conversation, the organization is beginning to foster the kind of culture they want to build – diverse, aware, welcoming, and connected. And as a result, embracing diversity and reaching a group of urban and minority girls who they have failed to reach in the past is more easily seen as an authentic, genuine goal of the organization.

3. Embracing a larger purpose

At the heart of this rebrand is the greater embrace of purpose. The GIRL initiative – standing for Go-Getters, Innovators, Risk Takers, and Leaders – exemplifies this purpose. Ms. Aceveo voices the larger aspiration: “letting girls know we are the premier leadership organization for them.” Strategically, all the changes that Girl Scouts has initiated so far have stemmed from their larger purpose of helping girls become leaders and connecting with each other. The new anthem, the new public service announcement featuring Girl Scouts playing different leadership roles (“I’m prepared…to lead like a Girl Scout”), their promise of partnering with more community-based organizations, the announcement of their Girl 2017 gathering, and their digital fundraising effort echo this purpose.

Like any rebrand, there’s always a risk. Gender roles have shifted so much since 1912, when the organization was founded. And many worried that the rebrand might be too progressive. Others worried it might not be progressive enough. Strategically, the organization rebranded itself in a way that created a brand open to flexibility. Leading with purpose created this ability to shift and create new programs that still ring true to the heart of the new brand.

Focus on Brand

In many ways, the shifts of the rebrand were subtle, especially design-wise. The new logo added bangs to the profile, attempting to give more life to the girls and making the girls appear more contemporary within the playful, familiar shape. The switch to lowercase aimed to make the organization seem more approachable and welcoming. A recent review of the rebrand noted “this project is a great example of what can be called a revitalization, breathing new life into something a lot of people are familiar with.”

But in other ways, the organization made some major shifts – towards experiences, diversity, and a greater purpose. And above all else, Girl Scouts appears to have embraced the power of building a strong, clear, meaningful brand. They signaled this shift when they hired their first-ever brand manager last year. We, at Emotive Brand, will stay tuned for what’s to come with the Girl Scout brand, and it’s more than cookies.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy and design agency.

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