The Marketing of Associations and OrganizationsBy Tom Dougherty
Marketing Associations and Rebranding of Professional Associations
You Exist in a Competitive Market
Most associations never think about stealing market share when marketing associations and not the rebranding of professional associations.
Although the directors of membership and marketing of these groups may beg to differ, the reality is different. Groups and trade associations like these historically have ignored the ideas of competition. And, more to the point, taking share up to the business world.
You arrived at this article because of a Google search. That means you have an interest in the rebranding of professional associations—Smart of you. You understand that rebranding (read our rebranding checklist here)— especially in the rebranding professional associations does not necessarily mean a name change. Call us right now. We want to hear about changes in your market.
The purpose to the rebranding of professional associations is to reposition a stale brand into a more emotionally significant marketing position. A rebranding of professional associations aims at creating a persuasive brand.
Nothing stands in the way of your associations’ success and growth. So, a name change must be on the table. Experience tells us that only in rarest circumstances must the name change. Rebranding of professional associations give new life and build a foundation of relevancy.
Time has moved on since the association’s inception. Refocusing the emotional intensity lifts the brand.
Choices and More Choices
Groups and professional associations leaving rebranding solely to the business world do so at their peril. Potential members are busy with activities such as work travel, even children’s activities. That’s incorrect. Rebranding of professional associations needs to be in your considered marketing set.
Even Medical Associations, as crucial as they are in continued learning, face challenges. We rebranded EACTS (European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery) during Covid-19.
The Annual meeting was virtual. Many members view this change as more convenient. Even if the session is live this coming year (that is the plan), the virtual show is here to stay.
Your world has changed
Telecommuting, working at home, church groups, working out, fraternal organizations, and commuting takes a larger piece of the typical individual’s time.
And, for folks to be members of civic organizations and associations, they need to devote some amount of time to them even if you must do no more than reading their publications.
Membership in many civic organizations, associations, and clubs has been decreasing. And, umm…increasing. That is a case of the rebranding of professional associations by itself.
The total number of people joining organizations overall is increasing. But membership numbers for individual organizations are generally on the decline. A rebranding of professional associations is an intelligent consideration.
Why? Is there a fundamental problem when marketing associations? Nope. There are just a plethora of choices today, which offer a degree of specificity unheard of.
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, and Chamber of Commerce. They can be 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 in Marketing Associations
The problem in marketing associations and the rebranding of professional associations is that there are only a finite number of days in a week, a month, or a year.
If a consumer does not purchase your product; THIS time, you still have an opportunity to sell them NEXT time. Professional Associations are different.
With marketing associations and projects for rebranding of professional associations, there may or may not be the next time. In many cases, once individuals choose their organization, they stay with it for an extended period, sometimes forever.
With so many organizations, professional associations, trade groups, clubs, and groups people must choose from, the hard truth is that 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. We need to think of trade unions in this as well.
Given that there is a giant pool to choose from, it is time that associations, clubs, civic organizations, and unions recognize they exist in a highly competitive “marketplace.”
And that they must alter their approach to marketing associations and the rebranding of professional associations 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 when Marketing Associations
The word “steal” has some negative connotations in marketing associations. I granted that. But that must be the purpose of any project to rebrand a professional association.
So, 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 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.
He has many 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 and marketing associations’ efforts, each organization wants its members to be as devoted and active as possible. It is effectively precluding most members from joining and being involved in other groups. Especially after one factor, work and family, into the equation.
How does your group or association arise preeminently? By the rebranding of professional associations.
There just isn’t time left for them to be involved in anything else. Therefore, if the individual chooses Lion’s Club, the club takes or “steals” a potential member from the other organizations.
Stealing, in this case, is in no way underhanded or unsavory. Instead, it describes, rather briefly, the dynamic that is in play.
One may substitute the word “win” or “take,” but the meaning is the same.
Like Roy Williams, “The Wizard of Ads” says, “the price of clarity is the risk of offense.”
The Strategic Point of Rebranding Professional Associations
So, what does all this mean for you when marketing professional associations or trade groups? The incredibly competitive market space that associations, groups, and civic organizations of today commands that these groups change.
You must begin to think and act like any other “business” in a competitive industry.
You can no longer rest on your laurels, relying on people with similar interests (i.e., mountain biking, cardiac surgeons, nurses). 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). You must align your association with the core values of those you wish to influence. And do so in the same manner as businesses.
Competitive Positions in Marketing Associations
Figure 1 below shows an axis that shows potential competitive positions when marketing associations. You should read about our behavioral modeling. It is a predictive tool used to identify emotional intensity.
The 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 specific offerings. 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.
AAA as an example
In AAA’s case, this may be, “I need assistance while I am on the road.”
We design all processes 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 more vigorous.
The lower part of the horizontal axis in marketing associations represents the “category descriptor.”
Here is where most groups have positioned themselves. And therefore, a rebranding of professional associations is in order.
This is only a description of the category the group is part of. For example, mountain biking, marketing, or charitable organization) and serves only as a “first step” in the selection process.
The upper portion of the marketing associations axis shows “beliefs (precept).”
This describes the core value and belief systems the group has aligned themselves with and aligned to make them more relevant in the marketplace. At this end of the axis, groups have the most potential to “steal” market share.
The 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 stated, most groups are currently below the XY axis.
Ideally, if a group can focus, the marketing associations position north of the XY intersect. And, to the left of the horizontal axis, the competitive advantage effect will even be more profound. This is the best position to attract the most members who hold the closest set of beliefs.
Marketing Associations and the Rebranding of professional Associations
Many groups do this and do it well. However, most of these groups arise only out of a value system. But value systems are not unique.
A value system is the foundation of all associations, groups like the Christian Coalition, many church groups, political parties, and even the KKK.
Conversely, to satisfy a need, AARP or the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons formed. But it has also developed itself out of the core beliefs and value system of its target.
In their mission statement, “AARP is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all as we age.”
So, where is the value system in that?
We infer a brand based on values or “precepts,” They don’t state the value. In this case, the precept that guides AARP is the belief that people over 50 deserve it.
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 falls 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, permits it to do all the things it does.
Like discount programs, advocacy, political work. And even believe to be essential and relevant for those who are not even retired. Despite the word “retired,” it is in the organizations’ name.
For many, NOT being a member of AARP is like chopping off their arm. AARP represents who its members believe they are. Figure 3 shows AARP’s relative position compared to other groups.
A Second Filter when Marketing Associations
Rebranding of professional associations demands aligning the brand with a ruling precept. It is simply one filter that any good brand needs.
Another element in great rebranding is telling who 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 those 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 offense. Clear, cohesive, and consistent messaging both internally and externally is any brand’s best friend. To be clear, we must tell our target both who we are and are not for.
Change. Be successful and grow
So many brands, especially those that fall into the general categories of associations, organizations, and groups, forget to act like a brand. They are, in fact, a brand and a business. And they are pulling people in more and more directions.
These groups need to focus on a belief system or precept rather than function (mountain biking, marketing, etc.). That’s why rebranding a professional association is innovative.
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.