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4 Warning Signs That Your Brand Has Grown Disconnected from Your Association

Phil Tretheway June 24, 2024

Marketing directors at associations have a variety of goals, but two areas constantly demand focus. One, to ensure your organization consistently retains and engages its current generation of members. And two, to grow your organization’s membership. To be successful, you have to clearly illustrate the value of your association to the generation of members still to come.

When your work falls short of these goals, your association faces an existential crisis. But before you examine every marketing initiative to find out what went wrong, consider zooming out and evaluating the state of your organization’s brand.

A good brand system is more than a logo and a set of colors. It’s a toolbox providing the resources necessary to communicate your organization’s purpose in a way that resonates with the right audience. As you look to keep your marketing efforts on track, you must ensure you’re addressing the right problem.

Why a Strong Brand Is Crucial for Member-Driven Associations

An underdeveloped or outdated brand isn’t the reason behind every marketing issue your organization may have. But if your brand is incomplete or out of alignment with your organization’s identity and/or audience, all your efforts will be a struggle.

A strong brand system defines the verbal and visual tools to communicate who you are, what you stand for, and why you exist. Fundamentally, your brand needs the support of a comprehensive system with all the resources to tell your organization’s story. 

All communications and marketing should be in sync with your organization’s identity as well as the values of your audience. If your marketing projects are not resonating with members, or if your messaging is inconsistent, a disconnected brand may be the root of your problems.

Warning Signs Your Association Is Disconnected from Its Brand

The following four red flags offer a few signs that your organization needs to focus on its brand:

1. Members or Sponsors Switch to Inferior Competition

Regardless of your association’s audience, current and prospective members have options competing for their dollars and attention. Local, regional, and national alternatives may offer services comparable to your organization, as do more specific or broader professional associations. A healthy brand system gives you the tools to communicate your value effectively, connect with prospective members, and showcase what sets you apart.

When you start losing members or sponsors to other organizations, your brand system may be falling short of your needs. This is especially true if your members or sponsors are leaving for competitors that provide services that are comparable or even inferior to your offerings. Whether your organization offers member education, networking, advocacy, or other services, your brand system provides the building blocks to communicate these benefits effectively. Declining membership could indicate a communication breakdown between your association and its audience.

2. Staff & Stakeholders Explain Your Organization in Different Ways

When your messaging is poorly defined or articulated, your staff and board lack the proper tools to communicate what’s most important about your mission. You, your board, and your employees are all individuals, and how you discuss your association will be shaped by your experience. However, everyone should start from the same baseline when introducing the organization. You should all be able to deliver a cohesive elevator pitch that captures the key elements of your brand narrative.

Typically, a message needs to be repeated five to seven times to be remembered. By having everyone in your organization follow the same core messaging points, you build a consistent narrative that develops a cohesive identity with the audiences you need most.

A strong brand provides your teams with a messaging system that adds clarity and consistency to every expression of what your organization has to offer. It enables your organization to speak in a unified voice, building trust among membership, sponsors, and the public.

3. Marketing Projects Lag Without Adequate Brand Tools

If your brand guidelines include a logo, two fonts, and three colors, your organization lacks the tools to communicate in today’s multi-channel environment. You need a brand system that is robust enough to set your organization up for success regardless of the medium.

You’ll see one of two possible red flags when your organization lacks sufficient brand resources. If you’re steering a tight ship, your marketing projects may start to look boring, uninspired, and basic over time. Or even worse, your creative teams will scramble to reinvent the wheel with each project and start making up their brand components to fill the void. Instead of appearing unified with your communications, your brand becomes a mishmash of disconnected visuals across different channels. Projects will take longer to produce and lack the cohesion required to support your goals.

4. Events Outpace Your Organization for Sponsorship Dollars

Your organization’s events are critical opportunities to connect with current and prospective members. Sometimes, a marquee event takes on a life of its own, with a special look that stands apart from your association. In cases like these, sponsors may spend their money on your popular event while leaving out the wider organization.

Ensure every sub-brand connects with your larger association and adds to your brand story — not compete with it. The success of your events should always be attributable to your organization and remain strongly connected to its overall brand. With a well-planned and robust brand system, your organization has the capacity to build and support multiple complementary sub-brands that are clearly related in support of the same, singular mission.

Create a Cohesive Experience with Your Association’s Brand

Effective design, persuasive messaging, and a strong brand are crucial to associations looking to nurture a strong connection with their audience. Without these elements, your communications will get lost in the noise of a crowded landscape and fail to express the value of membership.

If your organization is struggling to connect with its audience, you should look beyond the surface to examine the state of your brand system. With an experienced partner, you can transform your brand into a powerful communication platform with verbal and visual language that expresses your identity. 

If you think you’re noticing red flags and want an impartial third party to assess your brand’s positioning and ecosystem, consider an Impact Analysis. We will audit your brand and prescribe a plan of action, identifying opportunities for improvement and the resources needed to achieve your marketing goals.If this sounds like a resource that would benefit your association, get in touch with us.

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