Picture this real-life scenario: a well-known association has been operating for more than 80 years, yet still doesn’t promote itself with a consistent style. While more than capable of delivering beneficial outcomes, at times this association struggles to convey the genuine value of its services to members and potential members. Unfortunately, such a scenario is not unique. In fact, this lack of a clear ‘voice’ is typical of too many otherwise productive associations.
Associations as brands
People don’t necessarily think of associations as brands. Hidden behind long abbreviations, chaotic service offerings and numerous partnerships, associations too often lose their identity.
However, ‘brand’ is actually more important for associations now than ever before. Today most associations face challenges such as low engagement, declining membership and a low percentage of young members, meaning it’s vital to build your brand personality and foster strong relationships with your existing and prospective members.
In brands we trust
The key to any strong relationship is trust. And trust grows from consistency. When the design, messaging, service quality and information remain consistent across a variety of platforms, the audience knows what to expect and is more likely to return. People attend your events, read your reports, and eventually join as members. Why? Because they hear what you’re saying. They understand what you’re trying to achieve. They trust you.
Associations generally find it more difficult to keep the brand consistent for a few different reasons:
- The number of services offered. Associations need to operate in multiple environments. We are publishers. We are event organisers. We are the voice of our industry. We are standards keepers. Today we’re in serious mode as we develop a new policy; tomorrow we’re in fun mode at that networking event. It’s not easy wearing all these different hats while trying to stay cool, calm, collected and – you guessed it – consistent!
- Inconsistent target audience. While our target audience has something in common – their profession – in other ways they represent a broad cross-section of society e.g. career beginners to retirees, customer service staff to senior management, city dwellers to those in remote areas. It can be tricky to communicate with these contrasting demographics – while your goal may be to attract more young members, the older generation of your membership may not be as fond of those hip hashtags and other modern marketing methods.
- Complex web environment. While some are lucky enough to have everything under one roof, quite often associations work on various web platforms. You may have your MAS with one provider and event administration with another, while sending emails from a third. But you don’t have to wait for the implementation of new software – creating simple, consistent design across all your platforms is a fairly simple task.
- The number of parties involved. You engage a lot of volunteers to provide services. Your board and committee members are highly involved in service delivery. Your relatively independent branches may represent you in different ways in different locations. Your members use your logo as their own credentials on websites and social media pages. It’s essential for associations to maintain a simple, easily accessible Style Guide that encourages a standard approach to message delivery.
We’ve looked broadly at an important topic – building a strong brand and keeping it – but in upcoming articles I’ll dig a little deeper and share some handy tips to help you maintain that brand consistency across your platforms, without spending time and effort you can’t afford.