As an association, thinking about the strength of your brand can often be a secondary concern.
While social media and the business press are replete with themes surrounding “personal brands”, making the concept appear like nothing more than a vanity project, the importance of your brand can’t be understated. Without a strong brand, your organization won’t have the credibility to sway opinions, nor will you have the strength of authority needed to drive membership. For the benefit of both our associations and our members, branding has become a necessary way to stake legitimacy upon the space, and to champion the concerns of our communities.
So how can, and why should, you turn your brand from vanity to vibrant?
A Strong Brand Is a Credibility Indicator
Lost in so much of the conversation around brands is that your brand is simply an indicator of value.
All companies are brands in the eyes of the market and whether you manage the impression you want to give to the world or not, the world receives some impression - or no impression.
The challenge for most associations is that the “Differentiation Gap” between how you view your value and how the industry and the world at large sees you can be quite large.
Most of us are committed to making our associations stand out, so that they can play a trusted role in shaping industry discussions. If the differentiation gap between how your value is perceived by you and the world at large is too wide, it diminishes your credibility to act as the legitimate source of information.
Think about the way that the Project Management Institute has managed to position themselves as the global leaders in everything related to project management. This constant effort to build trust around their opinions about project management means that when the federal government wanted to introduce project management best practices into government operations as a way to save taxpayer money, they were compelled to work closely with PMI because PMI had the credibility and authority needed to make the initiative seem vital.
Your organization can work towards establishing a similar level of influence in your area of specialization by defining clear parameters around your focus of energy.
Consider how the National Association of Ticket Brokers has worked over the past 20 years to change the conversation about ticket resale, from a story of brokers being street corner hustlers to a conversation about consumers having a right to fair and open markets.
The consistency of their position along with the actions they have taken reinforcing their perspective has given their brand tremendous credibility, and has allowed the organization to achieve consistent growth and a higher renewal percentage than any other association that I am aware of.
Your Brand Can Drive Membership
The fact is that a strong brand can act as a driver of membership for your association.
For a moment, visit the website of the American Institute of Architects. They have positioned themselves as thought leaders discerning the way that architecture positively enhances the world around us, which has helped establish and maintain the role of architects as respected, innovative professionals.
This emphasis on mission, position, and establishing a modern, forward-looking façade for the world outside of its membership has enabled the AIA to gain over 90,000 members.
By focusing on your own brand and the position of your organization in the world, you can achieve the same thing.
A good place to start is by thinking through the core challenges that are confronting your industry and figuring out how you and your organization can help advocate for solutions or help your members tackle these challenges. Remaining consistent with your focus.
Take, for example, the Credit Union National Association’s website, in which they lay out the 8 areas that they are focusing on resolving. The top priority by position is fighting for consumer protections and over the last year, CUNA has been a leader in pushing for regulations that help Main Street banks protect themselves and their customers from rules that hurt consumers and favor large institutional lenders whose actions haven’t always been consumer friendly.
This consistency helps create value for your members and your industry. It is this valuable consistency that can drive membership and renewal because these types of actions demonstrate to people that their support of your association’s efforts can have a real impact on their bottom line, meaning that membership isn’t just nice to have, but essential.
At this point in time, branding has moved from a vanity consideration to a necessity. For associations, this is truer than ever before: as the internet has given rise to crowdsourcing information, ideas, and actions, it can be hard for people to curate information, to decipher the ideas that are valuable or important, and, most importantly, to know how to direct their actions. This means that associations are all the more relevant and significant, but to ensure that is manifested and recognized, our value must always be present and always on display. That’s the power that branding promises for all of us.