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.”

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