Today in my newsfeed I had a wonderful gift waiting for me: this great article on Socialfish by Amanda Kaiser: 5 Elements Of Your Association’s Brand. I found it particularly interesting because in talking with association professionals many consider their association separate from the regular needs and efforts of marketing. For example, yes, they want word out about their association, but marketing? Nah. We just need more members.
It seems counterintuitive, though. Marketing is just promoting and selling products or services. In other words, “spreading the word” about your association and selling memberships.
Perhaps your association doesn’t want to pick up a hard sales pitch, and that’s a pretty good instinct to follow. People are marketed to constantly, and while your members may be willing to pay dues to participate they certainly don’t want to pay to be "sold to." However as Amanda points out in her article, knowing your association brand is a good thing. Let’s use Seth Godin’s definition for these purposes: A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. (Read the rest of Seth’s thoughts on brand on his blog!)
So going on that thought of feeling and expectation, let’s go back to Amanda’s post. She submits five essential brand elements as product, promise, look, voice, and story. You could probably answer all of those about your association if you sat down and thought about it right now. Really, read the rest of Amanda’s analysis. It’s great!
So once you have your brand, then what? In my experience, new ideas and different ways of thinking often crop up just in carefully considering your brand, but if not chew on this big important question:
Does everything you do reflect your association’s INTENDED brand?
For example, say your association’s brand is fun, innovative, and professional but casual. You regularly publish industry reports that are certainly helpful to your members but they are very data-heavy, difficult to read, and require some pretty intense interpretation. Those reports don’t reflect your association’s brand, but a quick, easy-to-read analysis will. You should still provide the reports but in a context that works for your members.
The branding conversation is a big one. Businesses spend big money and often hire outside marketing firms to deal with these things, but your association is just a collection of people. Establishing your brand could be as simple as a brainstorming session with your members answering the questions, “How do you feel about our association and what do you expect?”