Your members have options — at least four of them. They can:
- Use your service
- Get their services elsewhere
- Do ‘it’ themselves, or
- Do nothing at all.
What will it take for more of them to choose you?
Associations today are questioning their relevance and how best to strengthen their brand in order to gain, engage with, and keep more members.
Today, associations are looking at everything from their name, their logo, to how to set expectations about the value of membership.
Your brand is more than your name or your logo. Your association’s brand is your commitment that strengthens your relationship with your most important customers. Your people, programs, services are the building blocks to a credible and trustworthy brand.
Before you decide that you need a new name, a new logo, or a new brand, here are 4 important considerations:
1. Take stock of your members’ perception of your association today.
Think of your favorite company and look at their logo. What words come to your mind? What characteristics do you think of? How did you build that perception? Was it first impression? Or over time? There is one group of people who can give you an honest assessment of the job you do, and the strength of your brand: that’s your customers. If you ask the right questions, you’ll gain a valuable baseline to help determine your brand’s strength.
2. What is the business issue that brought you to the idea of changing your name or rebranding?
9 out of 10 times, an association decides on a re-brand in the strategic planning process because they uncover an issue (a weakness or a threat) that could be a barrier to growth or sustainability. There are many reasons to consider a re-brand, and considerations for how significant the re-brand should be.
3. A re-brand can be really effective if you (Executive Officer) are up for being the brand champion at the top. That means:
- You say the words and then live the promise by setting an example for your staff and elected leaders.
- You question how your brand helps you connect to the uninvolved member.
- You change your name or your logo as much as you consider in advance what else can change to be in line with the new brand.
Get this formula right and you’ll create (or revive) a brand you can rely on for a very long time.
4. A catchy name or striking logo is not enough.
A brand is a promise for the long term. It’s a promise of what a member gets from you that they cannot get anywhere else. When an organization promises We Try Harder (Avis) or Your connection for ideas, answers and one-to-one professional advice (a local association in the Northeast), staff and leadership are equally responsible to deliver on that promise.
You don’t brand yourself through a graphic design element…in fact a strong brand must weave through your people, your communications, and your offerings.
- Branded People – Consider your staff, volunteers, committee members and directors “agents of your brand.” From the mailroom to the boardroom, your constituents can be a strategic force for delivering on your promise. What culture is in place now that benefits you — or doesn’t? Do your people communicate well internally? Does that translate to excellent communications with members?
- Branded Offerings – Does your portfolio match up with what members think is most important to their every day business? Are the services you offer useful; no really, do they use what you deliver? Do you build your events on a philosophy of “anticipate, experience, and remember”? Do you deliver what you say you do well — exceptionally well? If you don’t know, it’s time to ask, and then change.
- Branded Communications – Membership materials, your website, brochures, newsletters…all are touch points to your brand. If your newsletter is all about the association (internally) and not about delivering relevant information that the member needs, you are likely behaving in a way that doesn’t support your brand. To build brand engagement, you’ll succeed with a systematic approach to planning content so that it delivers on your brand. Every place a member sees you — at a conference, training event, welcoming new members — you have the opportunity to make a remarkable first impression, a lasting one, to build your brand and live your promise.
An example of a strong brand?
Apple’s brand promise is three simple words: Innovation, Reliability and Simplicity. More than words, these three characteristics ground everything Apple does. Their promise permeates the boardroom to the help desk. No idea leaves the boardroom, and no product goes out the door without passing the litmus test of the brand (the promise).
A brand includes part mission, your values, and what you know is vital to a strong association-member relationship.
Good customer service is not a brand (unless you are Zappos).
Customer service is a prerequisite for running a good business. But is it possible to call it a true point of differentiation? It’s hard work, and takes planning and consistency to declare a promise that’s invaluable, and one that gets a distracted members’ attention.
Selling your Brand
Your brand isn’t a promotion. It’s a commitment. You earn your brand by continuing to deliver on it over time. You wear your brand every day.
A strong brand is any person, place, or organization for which people think there is no substitute.
In a world full of options, what will it take for more of them to choose you?
And finally, a historical reference to branding:
The definition of “brand” comes from cattle ranchers who keep their livestock separate from others by “branding,” burning a unique mark on the haunches of their cattle. In marketing, a brand is a distinctive set of characteristics that differentiates a product, service, person, or place. It’s not about simply a name and/or making a mark (i.e. a symbol); it’s about making a mark (a consistent and unique impression). The European Brands Association proposes that a brand is actually a relationship. “A trusted and loyal brand are earned over time.”