In recent years professional associations have recognized that applying the principles of branding can be critical to their success and sustainability. Some may seek to brand their mission; others look to build the image of their members and their profession.
Our firm has helped many associations sharpen their brand to both attract new members and build the brand of the association among key audiences. For example, our work for the Virginia Education Association and the Pennsylvania State Education Association has served to promote the value of strong public education to communities and the critical role of teachers in fulfilling that promise.
For the Pennsylvania Medical Society, our long relationship has continually included brand consulting for their association and ongoing public awareness programs that promote better health among Pennsylvanians.
How to attract new members to an association
For any association the key question for a potential or existing member is “Why should I belong?” And the answers to this question have typically evolved dramatically around changing social values, family structures and communications media.
Choosing to belong comes back to a core principle of branding, which is self-esteem: people buy brands that make them feel better about themselves. For example, taking your kids to Disneyland makes you feel like a good parent, using FedEx makes you feel like a smart business manager, and joining your local, state or national professional or industry organization makes you feel like a leader and part of special group of people.
While associations still have to provide some sense of tangible value, such as exclusive access to resources, continuing education, annual conferences, work groups, and networking, it is usually impossible to successfully build a brand on a dollar value proposition alone. It’s not about the discounts on rental cars. There has to be a strong emotional reason to belong.
Even if membership is automatic, free, or obligatory, there is still the question of why a member or organization should spend time and money to be engaged.
Brand development for associations
Our brand development process for associations includes conducting research with key audiences, which includes members and prospective members, of course, but often other audiences such as public perceptions of the association itself or its members. Results will vary. We often find the barrier to entry is attributed to cost, but that is usually just an indication that the value proposition is weak. The real objections are usually found with deeper introspection—the make up of the membership of the organization doesn’t appeal to prospective members or the mission of the organization isn’t inspiring. For one association client, our research revealed that they were often perceived as ill prepared for the tasks they were taking on.
Our experience with branding or rebranding for associations includes the following clients. These organizations are focused on representing teachers, physicians, social workers, funeral licensing boards, and colleges, among others.