Branding an Association or Organization – Think Differently

 Brand Development for Associations and Organizations

By Tom Dougherty

look outside the box when branding an association
Branding an association means looking at more than current membership

If your organization’s brand does not command greater preference or produce increased margins then you do not have an association brand — you have a business. The only reasons to invest in competitive branding of an association is to grow margins and/or increase your association’s preference. If your organization’s brand is not adequately delivering one of the afore mentioned values, then it’s time to take an honest look at your brand.

Too often the foundation of your association marketing strategy, your organization brand, is ignored when developing association marketing strategy and tactics. It is where your marketing strategy gets its permission to play that proves to be the most important part of your entire association’s marketing strategy. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu states, “Those known as sophisticated at strategy do not have unorthodox victories, are not known for genius or valor — because their victories contain no miscalculations,” and his thinking is point-blank. (Read more marketing wisdom from Sun Tzu here) The question now becomes, what constitutes an “unorthodox” victory in the organization and association marketing arena? How do you build an organization’s brand? The temporary victory that comes from developing an association’s marketing strategy without redeveloping or redeploying your brand strategy is anything but orthodox.

Branding As Marketing

At Stealing Share, we cross the boundaries because we know that your organization’s brand needs to steer your marketing strategy if it is to grow market share and increase your association’s preference. Branding an association or an organization means it must blend with the marketing organically.

When we discuss an association’s brand permission, we are referring to the permission attributed to the association’s brand by the organization members in order to accomplish a particular meaning, advantage, or occupy a specific brand position. Most association marketing strategies lack this permission because they have confused their association’s brand with their corporate proposition or product (association) attributes. As a result, the expensive marketing juggernaut fails to fulfill the organization marketing department’s expectations.

brand naming needs to follow the strategy
When branding an association look closely at the aspirations of the prospective members

The reason most marketing strategies fail is not because the organization’s strategy was wrong, rather because the marketing department was unable to observe the association’s brand dispassionately. Just take a look around and see how many people have no idea as to how they appear to others. Look, for example, how many bald men think the “comb over” is an effective disguise. People cannot see themselves as others do, and organization marketing departments quickly reinforce this fundamental truth when they step into the “corporate body” — unable to see itself dispassionately.

The corporate body sees its circumstances in terms of its own needs and wants. Such blindness presents an opportunity for visionary organization brands that are willing to see association brand development as central to its marketing development and not simply as something to be managed by the best intentioned of brand managers and marketing mavens. (Read more about untapped marketing power here)

How Marketing Has Changed

Brand is about persuasion because it is all about the beliefs that drive your target audience to covet the association brand. It is not static and needs to illuminate marketing activities and strategies that were submerged. Stealing Share is a brand development company, but branding an association without a concrete marketing strategy as part of its deliverables is like going to the finest restaurants in the world, deciding what it is you want to eat, and then eating the laminated menu rather than what you ordered. This meal has the same taste and nourishment value as tree bark.

Ad Agencies Are Not The Answer

The current organization and organization market environment is a living and breathing example of “Who Moved My Cheese?” The association market seems more competitive and crowded than ever, and new fresh marketing ideas are scarce. Promotions seem run of the mill, and they often reduce the association brand’s ability to command good margins and preference.

Collaboration with advertising agencies seems to be increasingly adverse because there is a growing gap between what the agencies consider great and the association brand’s understanding of outcome. Marketing messages tend to define category benefits (i.e. white sandy beaches, great weather, and outdoor activities if you were a tourism destination). The positioning differences only exist in the minds of the organization marketers and seem to be completely lost for the member.

Large gaps and incomplete perception in the organization market are good news for any association brand that is willing to undergo a rigorous and dispassionate brand overhaul. Are you willing to challenge everything for the sake of profits and preference? Are you willing to partner with outsiders who have the benefit of objective viewpoints? Are you willing to listen to your target market and build your entire marketing strategy on their beliefs and self-affirmation?

The worse news you can get from Stealing Share is that you are doing everything right — it is as good as it gets. Change and opportunity is always possible when you round the corner of the track and hit the gas at exactly the moment that your competition taps the brakes. We agree with Sun Tzu when he says, “Attack their weakness and emerge to their surprise.”

Marketing Associations, Groups, and Organizations

You Exist in a Competitive Market

The idea of “stealing share,” growing share, or even the fundamental idea of competition is often lost in most associations and civic organizations. Although the directors of membership and marketing of these groups may beg to differ, the reality is that groups like these historically have left the ideas of competition and more to the point, taking share, up to the business world.

Choices and More Choices

heads of marketing associationsGroups that leave these ideas solely to the business world do so at their own peril. Activities such as work travel, evening children’s activities, working at home, church groups, working out, commuting, and the like are taking a larger piece of the typical individual’s time. And, in order for folks to be members of civic organizations and associations, they more than likely need to devote some amount time to them (even if you have to do no more than reading their publications). Membership in many civic organizations, associations, and clubs has been decreasing and umm…increasing. (Read about the importance of simplicity here).

The total number of people joining organizations overall is increasing but membership numbers for individual organizations is generally on the decline. Why? There are a plethora of choices today, which offer a degree of specificity that has never been seen before. No longer do mountain bikers join a “generic” mountain biking association, they can join an international association, a local association, an association for off-road riders, and if they are a member of a police force, there is the IPMBA (International Police Mountain Bikers Association).

Adults can become members of Rotary, Jaycees, Chamber of Commerce, Shriners, Knights of Columbus, a professional organization tailored to their specific field, or any number of local civic organizations, clubs, church organizations, or athletic leagues.

Never Enough Time

The problem is that there are only a finite number of days in a week, a month, or a year. In business, if a consumer does not purchase your product THIS time, you still have an opportunity to sell them your product or service NEXT time. With associations and organizations, there may or may not be a next time. In many cases, once an individual chooses his or her organization, they stay with it for a long period of time, sometimes forever.

marketing associations is urgentWith so many organizations, associations, clubs, and groups people have to choose from, the hard truth is that if these organizations do not wish to whither on the vine and die, they must attract and retain new members – members that may otherwise choose another group or no group at all.

Given that there is a giant pool to choose from, it is time that associations, clubs, civic organizations, and the like realize they are in an extremely competitive “marketplace” and that they must alter their approach to attract new members, that is, they must learn to “steal” them from other like groups. If you do not believe this, look no further than political parties who are constantly looking for new ways to “steal” members from their counterparts.

“Stealing” Is Not Always Bad

The word “steal” has some pretty negative connotations, granted; but let’s start calling it as it is. Let’s look at the following example: A young businessman with a wife and a young child decides that he wants to become more active in the community. He decides that he “wants to make a difference in his community” and “network” at the same time – two common reasons for joining a civic group, church group, or association.

marketing associations means stealing share

He has a number of choices: Rotary, Lions Club, his local chapter of the Ad Club, any number of church groups, and numerous unmentioned local groups like the Jaycees or Chamber of Commerce. As is the case with most groups, each organization want their membership to be as devoted and active as possible in the group, effectively precluding most members from joining and being active in other groups, especially after one factors, work and family into the equation.

There just isn’t time left for them to be involved in anything else. Therefore, if the individual chooses the Lion’s Club, for example, the Lion’s club takes or “steals” a potential member from the other organizations. Stealing, in this case, is in no way underhanded or unsavory. Rather it describes, rather succinctly, the dynamic that is in play. One may substitute the word “win” or “take” but the meaning is the same. As Roy Williams, “The Wizard of Ads” says, “the price of clarity is the risk of offense.”

The Strategic Point Is

So what does all of this mean for you? The incredibly competitive marketspace that associations, groups, and civic organizations of today commands that these groups begin to think and act like any other “business” in a competitive industry. No more can groups like these rest on their laurels, and rely on people with similar interests (i.e mountain biking) or a similar “functional” area (i.e. local American Marketing Association chapter). Groups must move from only satisfying a “need” or “want” (the typical place where most marketing stops) to aligning themselves with the core values or precepts of those they wish to influence in the exact same manner as businesses do.

Competitive Positions

Organizations and associationsFigure 1 shows an axis that shows potential competitive positions of players within the general category of “associations, organizations, and groups.” The right of the horizontal axis is labeled “process (it has/is). This position signifies groups that position themselves based on a specific offering such as AAA offering towing or road maps to its members. Groups that fall on this side of the axis answer the question, “It has” or “It is.” Conversely, the left side signifies groups that position themselves based on a consumer “want” or “need” also called a purpose.

In AAA’s case this may be, “I need assistance while I am on the road.” All processes are designed to serve a purpose and all groups regardless of their subject content fall somewhere on this axis – in some cases the purpose may be stronger than the process and in others the process may be stronger.

The lower part of the horizontal axis represents “category descriptor.” Here is where the vast majority of groups have positioned themselves. This is only a description of the category the group is part of (i.e. mountain biking, marketing, or charitable organization) and serves only as a “first step” in the selection process. The upper portion of the axis shows “beliefs (precept).” This describes the core value and belief systems the group has aligned themselves with to make them more relevant in the marketplace. It is at this end of the axis were group have the most potential to “steal” market share.

Chart for marketing associationsThe higher a group can position themselves on this axis the better. Generally, if a group can position themselves anywhere north of the xy intersect they will have a profound competitive advantage (as has already been stated, most groups are currently below the xy axis). Ideally, if a group can position themselves north of the xy intersect and to the left of horizontal axis, the competitive advantage effect will even be more profound. This is by far the best position to attract the most members who hold the closest set of beliefs.

Resounding Success

AARP wins in marketing associationsThere are a number of groups that do this and do it well. However, most of these groups were created only out of a value system. Groups like the Christian Coalition, many church groups, some political parties, and even the KKK were founded based on a value system. Conversely, AARP, or the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons, is a group that was formed to satisfy a need but has also developed itself out of the core beliefs and value system of its target. Contained in their mission statement are the words, “AARP is dedicated to enhancing quality of life for all as we age.” So where is the value system in that?

In a brand based on values or “precepts” the value is not stated as such, it is inferred. In this case, the precept that guides AARP is the belief that people over 50 deserve it. This is what we would call a ruling precept because it is the foundation of many other precepts or beliefs, like “I believe that I sometimes need help to be heard,” “I believe hard work gets results,” or “I believe that things get better with age.” Each of these beliefs or precepts fall neatly under the umbrella of, “I believe that I am deserving.”

Using this as the foundation of the brand of AARP, with its 37 million members, gives it permission to do all of the things it does: discount programs, advocacy, political work, and even believe to be important and relevant for those who are not even retired – even though the word “retired” is in the organizations name. For many, NOT being a member of AARP is like chopping off their arm; AARP represents who their members believe they are. Figure 3 shows AARP’s relative position compared to other groups.

A Second Filter

more-of-the-same in marketing associationsAligning the brand with a ruling precept is only one of the filters that any good brand must have. Another element that needs to be present in good branding is in the telling of whom you are for, and conversely who you are not for.

While the idea of saying who you are not for may seem counterintuitive, when a brand says who it is for it is also saying who it is not for. In AARP’s case their mission statement clearly says, “AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people age 50 and over.”

By saying they are for folks that are 50 and over they are also saying they are not for people under 50. Why is this so important? Remember, the price of clarity is the risk of offence. Clear, cohesive, and consistent messaging both internally and externally are any brands best friend. To be clear, we must tell our target both who we are and are not for.

Be a successful and grow

So many brands, especially those that fall into the general categories of associations, organizations, and groups, forget that first of all that they are in fact a brand and a business and secondly that they exist in a world where people are being pulled in more and more directions. These groups need to focus on a belief system or precept rather than function (mountain biking, marketing, etc). Associations, organizations, and groups that do this will not wither and die like many of their counterparts, but thrive and prosper, producing fruit for many years to come.       Here is a case study on managing a public policy issue for Philadelphia as it transitioned to the new rules of social welfare.Click Here

Public Policy. Changing Behavior AND Making A Difference

Making Associations and Public Policy Persuasive

By Tom Dougherty

Welfare Reform

Public PolicyWhen faced with the challenges of welfare reform, Philadelphia utilized strategic advertising to change behavior. The brain trust at Stealing Share® helped develop the brand strategy for this effective campaign. The issues faced in this initiative are very similar to those faced by political parties (Democratic Party, Republican Party and the Libertarian Party) and organizations. Initially, the campaign merely encouraged welfare recipients to contact the welfare agency in order to learn more about their upcoming transition.

Firstly, the current welfare recipients failed to recognize that welfare was actually ending, so an apparent lack of urgency dominated the market. Secondly, the current recipients needed to be able to find adequate employment opportunities from the welfare agencies rather than merely making a phone call. In addition, authorities offered a tax incentive to any company that hired a welfare recipient.

Precepts. How do you influence decision makers?

However, we thought that this offer simply added to the concept of hiring a welfare mom as a form of charity. Preceptively the messaging had to affect the mindset of the employer as well as the welfare mom. We needed to convince employers that welfare moms were not lazy and unmotivated. It was necessary to suggest to employers that hiring welfare moms made great business sense because welfare moms are motivated employees. In order to give life to the character of welfare moms, we borrowed on the universal concept that it is dangerous to get between a mother bear and her cubs. The messaging emphasized how a mother will do anything to protect her children.

The Work

The resulting campaign encompassed two seperate campaigns. The first part of the campaign targeted welfare moms, telling them to be prepared to plan for their future without the help of welfare. The second part of the campaign focused on local businesses and highly recommended the hiring of welfare moms. Both messages took the form of stories told through the words of the children of the welfare moms. A local paper wrote of the campaign in this way: “The emotional ads, depicting children of welfare recipients, have attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as other government officials around the country.

balance in Public PolicyThe Department of Labor is looking at Philadelphia’s campaign as a possible model for other cities, which have been slow to complement welfare reform programs with advertising campaigns. Philadelphia’s ad campaign supports the city’s welfare-to-work initiative known as The Greater Philadelphia Works Program, a $44 million program created to find jobs for 7,500 women during the next year.

Philadelphia is the first city in the state, and possibly the country, to implement an aggressive ad campaign around welfare reform, according to state and local officials. Milwaukee is the only other city with a campaign. ‘All eyes are on Philadelphia,’ says George Yanoshik Jr., a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, who was involved in the campaign. “This has trailblazing capabilities because of the size and demographics of the [welfare] market.”

The Results Were Astounding

The campaign includes television, print, bus, billboard and direct mail advertisements. It targets two audiences: welfare recipients who will be cut off from major welfare benefits in March 1999, but who have not taken the government threats seriously; and potential employers hesitant to hire welfare recipients because of the stereotype that people on welfare are lazy.

simplicity in Public PolicyNearly 26,500 adults—mostly women—who live in Philadelphia could lose benefits in March if they are not working at least 20 hours a week. The campaign uses children to reach both audiences. In ads targeting welfare recipients—who in Philadelphia are typically female and single mothers—racially diverse children encourage their mothers to begin looking for a job. “You can do it, mom,” reads the headline in the recent print ads appearing in the Daily News. The message, though blunt, does not paint a doom-and-gloom picture, but one of opportunity: “Welfare as we know it is ending. But we have jobs, we’ll help with interviews, job training, transportation and even child care, so you’ll not only get that job, but keep it.”

In ads that target employers, appearing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, children suggest that companies should hire welfare recipients because they have real responsibility. “How about my mom?” reads the headline in response to the text: “Need a hard worker? Moms coming off welfare are motivated, responsible employees. They have to be. Hire one today.” As a result of careful strategy and targeted messaging, this campaign was so successfully executed that it was adapted to run in multiple metropolitan markets all across the United States.

Welfare is ending :30



A market study of organizations and associations