Senses’ new brand challenge

27/08/2008 - 22:00

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For more than 150 years, the Royal WA Institute for the Blind has supported visually impaired people throughout Western Australia.

For more than 150 years, the Royal WA Institute for the Blind has supported visually impaired people throughout Western Australia.

In the 19th century when the institute was founded, many blind people were institutionalised, with the system unable to find an effective way to manage their needs in the broader social context.

Things have changed overwhelmingly, however.

Vision impaired children are now attending mainstream schools and blind people are integrated into the workforce, making valuable contributions in the community.

To remain abreast of changing social values, the institute undertook a rebranding in 2001 and amalgamated with the WA Deafblind Association to form the Senses Foundation.

WA marketing agency Marketforce Communications developed the new title to encompass the changing dynamic of the Burswood-based not-for-profit organisation and reposition it within the market.

However, like many businesses that undergo the rebranding process, it has been an uphill battle for the Senses Foundation to retain brand affiliation.

In an effort to boost its public profile, Senses has expanded with a new commercial services directorate under the guidance of WA Business News 40under40 winner, Jacqui Jordan.

"While the Royal WA Institute for the Blind's traditional client base was dwindling, two new groups of people were coming forward in need of services and support - those who were deafblind and those who were vision impaired with an additional significant disability," Ms Jordan said.

"The institute had to re-energise and regroup and had to change their advocacy all together. Senses was born of that.

"Because the institutionalising of blind people is no longer the thing to do, people who are blind can quite happily exist in society.

"So we've been changing from something so old and so entrenched in people's understanding in the community to a name called Senses, with a whole new advocacy, which can be very difficult for obvious reasons."

Recent research shows there are 40,000 people in WA who are deafblind, or who are blind with significant other disabilities, 14,000 of whom live in rural or remote communities.

There are almost 2,800 deafblind people living in the Goldfields-Esperance region, 8,170 in the South West, 4,072 in Mandurah and 3,690 in the Mid West.

Ms Jordan said despite such a large market segment, Senses was still struggling to gain brand recognition in the not-for-profit marketplace, seven years after the name change.

She said although it was a difficult and risky decision by the board to rename such an historic and well known not-for-profit institution, it was a vital part of the transformation process.

"We've been operating for more than a century now, historically we're the oldest charity in WA. We still carry the [Royal WA Institute for the Blind] brand as a subtitle and we're very proud of that heritage, obviously it's very old and was around well before not-for-profits became fashionable," Ms Jordan said.

"But our challenge and what we need to do is get out to the corporations and companies in these remote communities where these deafblind people are from and say to the businesses out there, even the SMEs (small-to-medium enterprises), we're here and we need your help."

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