In a previous blog post, we discussed how an industry or trade association benefits from having a strong brand. Briefly, a strong association brand:

  • Motivates board members, volunteers and association staff
  • Provides members with an assurance of quality and value
  • Guides the development of new programs, services and experiences
  • Helps attract and recruit new members and prospects
  • Encourages ongoing support and sponsorship

A strong brand guides all aspects of association management. And yet, it is not always obvious when association marketing and brand messaging need a makeover.

The Leadership Trap

Association executives are under considerable pressure to meet short-term financial goals and membership milestones, meaning that long-term brand building activities often get moved to the back burner. It is also natural to mistake high rates of member retention for having a solid marketing message. Yet high retention rates can be a result of inertia—or simply a lack of good alternatives.

In fact, the personal and professional needs of an organization’s leaders may be very different from those of its members. Members should have an active hand in shaping an association’s marketing message and ensuring that it stays relevant over time.

Your Members are Your Message

Ask for value-added feedback. Go beyond basic satisfaction surveys to ask members about their most pressing needs and their most promising opportunities. Then ask whether your association provides a framework to address those needs. Check back periodically to ask members how well their actual association experience aligns with your messaging points and make adjustments accordingly.

Identify your brand champions. Ask your members’ opinions on brand-related issues without shying away from terminology that gets to the core of messaging—things like target audience, brand promise and value proposition. Your members have a greater understanding of the brand process than you may give them credit for. It’s also the best way to ensure that your association communicates the values, beliefs and needs of the people that it serves.

Make the most of members’ stories. Stories are an essential part of messaging, but they also play an important role in the relationship building process. Member-submitted stories also help keep communications real in the sense that they avoid “marketing speak” and industry jargon. They are also a way to keep online content updated and relevant.

Case Example: The Galvanizing Group works with an industry association that funds scholarships for college students. In exchange, the association asks scholarship recipients to provide first-person stories—in written format and in the form of videos and pictures—that it uses as marketing materials to communicate with members, prospects and sponsors. Not only does the association gain relevant and valuable marketing content, but it also inspires members and reminds them of why they joined the association in the first place.

Outside Perspective

Your members are your message but there is considerable value in getting an outside perspective. Working with a marketing and communications expert from outside your organization, or even outside your industry, can provide fresh and objective insights that expand the association’s current ways of thinking. It can also send members a positive signal of change and encourage their input and participation. The result is a message that they “own” and take forth to help the association expand and grow.