Like any for-profit business, an association’s brand is its most valuable asset. The brand is the glue that holds everything together and moves the association toward the fulfillment of its mission and vision.
A strong association brand:
- Motivates board members, volunteers and association staff
- Provides members with an assurance of quality and value
- Guides the future direction of the association
- Attracts new members and prospects
- Encourages ongoing sponsorship
If building a strong brand sounds like a lot more work than creating a logo, tagline, website or marketing brochure—it is. A strong brand represents an emotional bond that is built over time.
A brand is defined as everything that a person thinks or feels about a particular product, service, experience or organization. Logos, taglines, websites and marketing brochures are ways to communicate a brand, but they are not the brand themselves. A strong brand provides guidance to all aspects of association management—from what programs, services and experiences to offer to the types of members to recruit.
A common trap is to mistake a high rate of retention for having a strong brand. At 83%, the average member-based association retention rate is admirable. Yet high retention rates can be a result of inertia. Or, association members may simply face a lack of alternatives.
The question that association leaders should be asking is, “How much more can we achieve with a strong brand?” Whether an association decides to revitalize an existing brand or rebrand itself entirely, there are a few key points to remember:
Brand building takes time and commitment.
Strong brands don’t happen overnight. They require a long-term, strategic perspective that begins with a clear definition of the association’s business goals and objectives for the future.
Involve members, staff and key constituents.
Don’t build a brand solely on the input of leaders whose personal and professional needs may differ from those of association members. Involve members and stakeholders in the branding process as much as possible.
Case Example: To help a multistate trade association rebrand one of its core program offerings, The Galvanizing Group conducted a series of in-person interviews and online surveys to get to the heart of what association members needed (and what they weren’t getting elsewhere). The result is a brand that reflects the values, beliefs and needs of its members—and has their full support.
Formalize and internalize your brand.
A brand is only as strong as its weakest link. An association’s brand is the sum of all its actions, from the way it markets itself to the delivery of services, quality of programs, responsiveness of staff and more. The way to ensure that everyone is on the same page is to articulate a Brand Promise. A Brand Promise is exactly that—a promise. It is a clear and cohesive statement of what your association brand stands for in the hearts and minds of members and prospects.
At its most basic, association branding is about connecting with members’ deepest values and beliefs. That doesn’t come easy, of course. Yet many associations benefit from a level of participation and care that other companies don’t enjoy. Add to that a strong brand that is worth “buzzing” about, and soon people will be talking about your association, referring it to others, and offering their time and involvement.