As you approach the deadlines for your organization’s annual event, the pressure only grows. After all, no matter whether you’re set to stage a gala, fundraiser, or convention for members, the gathering provides a crucial connection with your most valuable audience.
If you host events for your members, you know attendance and sponsorship numbers from those events have a significant effect on your bottom line. Each event presents an opportunity to energize or even expand membership and increase revenue. To unlock your event’s real potential, you need to incorporate clear, consistent branding and an elevated design.
Events present a chance to create a physical extension of who you are as a brand. When executed properly, event branding delivers an experience that engages members while elevating the value and perception of your organization.
Branding your event requires more than a color scheme and clever theme. Any association can create collateral pulled from a few standard design templates and hope for the best. But how do you take an event to the next level?
Put simply: you create an event experience that’s smart and elevated. When we say smart, what we mean is that your event’s design is inspired by strategic decisions rather than arbitrary preferences. Each detail and design element you choose to incorporate into your event should be there because it reinforces the goals of your organization.
However, an elevated event experience doesn’t only communicate all the right things to embody your brand’s position. It can also inspire your members with a cohesive visual presentation and create a positive connection with your brand.
Think of what happens when you dine at a high-end restaurant. From the moment you check in with the host all the way up through dessert, your experience has been curated to communicate a message about where you are. Your event should provide the same elevated, consistent experience for your members.
From the earliest stages of marketing to the moment members leave the venue, the most successful events deliver an experience consistent with their brand. They are planned around a distinct set of goals. Every element of the event reflects a unified narrative and central purpose that serves the organization.
For example, if one of the goals of your event is to encourage renewals, then a well-branded event provides an opportunity to boost enthusiasm for members. If they feel energized and engaged by an event that’s elevated, cohesive, and exceeds expectations, they’re more likely to attend more events. And event attendance is a key element of member retention.
Any event is a two-part experience: The pre-event marketing and the in-person experience. Months beforehand, your communications should set the tone by providing a consistent journey from the save-the-date announcement through ongoing marketing. At the event each interaction with your members is a moment that adds to or detracts from the overall experience.
A successfully branded event comes down to bringing three elements into alignment:
At Position, we align each of the elements above by collaborating with your team and event planners to ensure all aspects of your conference or gala reinforce your brand’s story. By shaping all the details into a cohesive whole, your organization delivers a more engaging experience for the audience who matters most.
Organizations like yours host events for a number of reasons. Bringing your members together can provide real educational or inspirational value, convert attendees to members, and increase revenue through additional sponsorship. With the help of the right partners, your events can become game-changing assets for your organization.
When Associated General Contractors of California wanted to breathe new life into their organization and events, we helped them evolve their 100 year old brand and reimagine their industry conference. With AGC’s new strategic branding in place for its events, the organization increased attendance for CONSTRUCT 2021 by 31% and sponsorships for their Gala by 300%.
Your ability to deliver an experience that serves your organization’s goals is a complicated, high-stakes undertaking. You shouldn’t have to navigate all the details on your own.
A conference that acts as an extension of your brand reinforces the value of belonging to your organization. The equity you gain from a successful event constitutes something of a loop.
The more engaging experience your members have, the more likely they are to attend the following year and renew their membership. As member attendance and engagement grows, so do sponsorship dollars.
Your event branding should add to the overall perception of your brand among your members and in the marketplace. But knowing whether the time is right to take your event to the next level depends on your organization. If attendance has been lagging, sponsorships have been flat, or you want to unlock untapped potential, it’s time to create a more engaging experience that’s aligned with your brand. If you’re ready to create a flagship event for your organization, we should talk.
Many associations default to writing a request for proposal (RFP) when it comes to choosing a professional firm to help them rebrand their organization or redesign their website. And while it’s easy to assume RFPs are the way to get the job done fairly, effectively, and economically, this assumption tends to reduce a complex problem down to a simple matter of where to get the best deal like you would when buying a car.
The reality is that when you’re ready to buy a car, you start by evaluating your needs (car features and benefits) and then your constraints (your budget). Eventually you find the best option and then a dealer offering the best price. Then, you buy that car.
But it’s not that straightforward when it comes to complex, high dollar value, and customized solutions. When you rebrand an organization or redesign a website, you need to do much more than search for the firm with the lowest price. You’re looking for a firm that has solved the same problems as you’re facing in your industry. Working with a firm means entrusting them to correctly diagnose the source of your problem areas, and have the experience and expertise to solve those problems in your industry.
RFPs aren’t the only way to select a firm to do your long-awaited rebranding or website project. The RFP process doesn’t typically lead to the best qualified expert, solution, or even the best value. There’s a better way. When you use qualifications based selection (QBS), you’ll get a fairly-priced, customized solution from a true expert.
RFPs do work in cut-and-dry scenarios when:
When your association takes on a rebrand or a website redesign, you’re attending to a critical part of successfully moving your member-driven organization into the future — not a simple, cut-and-dry issue like the above criteria would cater to. Again, in order for the RFP process to work, you need an accurate self-diagnosis. But what happens when you take on writing an RFP and incorrectly define the source of the problem?
It’s not only writing the RFP that’s a challenge. It’s also identifying an expert vendor. Naturally, vendors who respond to an RFP will want to win the project. They’ll make promises based on your prescribed requests for the lowest price they can offer and bind themselves to it.
More and more expert firms won’t even bother participating in the RFP process. That’s because RFPs offer no incentive for firms to spend the extensive time necessary to research and diagnose the real cause of the problem or to generate custom and innovative solutions that best address it. After all, that would be a waste of their time and effort if and when you choose another firm.
Don’t end up selecting the wrong vendor or the wrong solution because you were lured by the lowest price or perceived value. By the time you figure out the solution you paid for is half-baked, you’ll have no budget left to start your project over. So skip the RFP and begin with QBS.
RFPs often don’t reflect an association’s true needs. Why? Because even those who do know the project best — and who have perhaps begged and pleaded to have it approved — are too close to the project to see all the variables. It’s easy to see the car needs fixing, but knowing what parts to replace or if you need a new car altogether? Those decisions take the know-how, experience, and eyes of an expert.
When you need expert solutions for complex problems, qualifications based selection (QBS) makes sense. The process was established by the Congress in 1972 as a method to ensure government agencies hired the most qualified architecture and engineering firms rather than the cheapest. Since then QBS has been adopted as a procurement method in the private sector as well.
The QBS process ensures:
QBS gives you an opportunity to collaborate, to ask tough questions — and be asked tough questions. You can have conversations with the firm that builds a mutual understanding of the problem and the real cause of it, before determining the most appropriate solutions, costs, and deliverables.
It might be tempting to stick with the RFP process to select a vendor for your project. It’s human nature to choose the familiar — despite evidence that the familiar isn’t the best for the desired outcome.
You can still lean on something familiar as you begin QBS. Treat the process like you are making a new staff hire and follow these 3 steps:
When you’re finally at the point of firm selection for your project, you should insist on one who has these two qualities:
Aren’t you looking to hire a vendor in the first place because you don’t have the expertise yourself? Old school RFPs simply aren’t designed to help you access top industry experts.
Instead of sinking time, energy, and budget in a process that proves inefficient at best, invest in a more effective selection process. QBS springs from a firm belief that only experts should do your work and that your engagement with them should be focused and productive. It makes way for you to hire the best available firm to build your association’s custom ride — empowering you to take your members where they want to go.
Branding is the sharpest tool you have to attract and keep members. But it’s also a way to realize your organization’s purpose by building recognition and trust. There’s no question about it: if you want to grow your member-driven organization, you need to invest in branding.
Deciding what branding efforts to pursue — and when — isn’t easy. Should you start with a website rebuild? A microsite for an upcoming campaign? Or should you start with something much smaller, like a presentation template? Of course, budget plays an important role in your branding plan. But so do your CEO and board members. It all adds up to a lot of pressure to get it right — the first time.
You’ve got to identify your most pressing problems and opportunities so you know which solutions to prioritize. That requires beginning your branding work with an expert analysis of your current brand ecosystem.
Partnering with an agency specializing in member-driven organizations can give you the truth about your current branding efforts. You’ll get the benefit of unbiased expertise, which will help minimize the risk of future bad brand investments. Plus, a thorough analysis can assure your resources will be used to maximize positive impact on your organization and your members.
Organizations never want to make bad investments, yet it happens all the time. A poor choice can do more than derail your branding plan; it can harm your organization’s reputation. And when you don’t have an unlimited budget, it might be years before you can make another significant investment.
There are three ways organizations like yours can make mistakes with their brand investments.
Sometimes the approved budget doesn’t support the real investment that’s required to produce results. It can take months to secure a branding budget. If the budget isn’t adequate, you might be tempted to settle for cheap solutions.
It’s not just the budget that can cause problems; timelines can, too. For example, you may discover you actually need a new messaging platform before the website rebuild you mapped out. Your timeline could potentially double! And, of course, reworking your entire proposed timeline negatively affects your carefully laid plans, and relationships with others in your organization.
Budget and time pressure can lead to choosing solutions that are cheaper and faster — which may not be solutions at all. All elements of your brand interact and build on top of each other, so one incorrect decision will have a ripple effect.
It’s also all too easy to prioritize the wrong element. You may believe website redesign should be your priority, but the truth is that you need a brand identity redesign first. Your organization could spend time and money on a solution that doesn’t get you the results you hope for.
Avoiding the common mistakes starts with clearly evaluating the current state of your brand. An outside partner like Position can precisely diagnose issues and build a personalized brand plan to ensure your investment is a good one. And that begins with an audit of the totality of your organization’s current brand positioning and ecosystem. After all, accurately mapping the way forward requires knowing your starting point.
Discover Where to Maximize Impact By Auditing Your Current Brand Ecosystem
We’ll start by asking these broad questions about your brand positioning:
The way we gather and analyze positioning information helps us understand your organization’s underlying challenges and opportunities.
Auditing your brand ecosystem is a rigorous process. We will detail what components are present and whether or not they are in alignment with your organizational mission and identity.
We will evaluate your organization’s:
Once we understand your past and current state of affairs, member personas, and organizational goals, then we can help prescribe the right solutions.
Auditing your brand positioning and ecosystem provides time for us to collaborate with you. We’ll gain understanding of your challenges as you see them, and share our understanding of your challenges as we see them. Together, we will prioritize the items in your custom plan of action to maximize your budget and potential impact.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each membership organization has unique priorities, and each marketing director comes with their own expertise. Even though membership organizations are all different, you can rely on the stability of our experience. You won’t have to wonder — or wrongfully assume — cost, timeline, or optimal order of projects.
Naturally, needs differ from organization to organization, but the following serve as examples of potential plans of action. We might:
Leaning on our expertise in robust brand ecosystems will align/enhance your marketing efforts to maximize results. Our objective report and detailed, custom strategy illuminates the right path forward. You can get it right the first time and avoid additional costs for re-dos and rebuilds.
Brand change requires wise use of your resources. But most importantly, it requires a willingness to review, reflect, and listen to sound advice. If you’re ready to make the right investments to serve your members better and attract more prospects, let’s talk.
Your members see you as one organization and one brand experience. They can’t distinguish between your membership, finance, marketing, or events departments. For their experience with your brand to be a good one, you need to consistently deliver the same messaging across all departments and channels. The first and crucial step to ensuring that happens is to create strong brand guidelines.
Good brand guidelines are more than a catalog of logo usage, colors, and fonts. They communicate your organization’s reason for being — your mission, values, and vision — in a way that’s relatable and memorable. Brand guidelines, when applied diligently, build your member’s trust in and loyalty to your organization.
The best brand guidelines have three distinct qualities and ten essential components. Once you check each of these boxes, you’ll have a flexible system for every part of your brand experience.
Your brand identity forms in a member’s mind through a long process over multiple experiences. It requires time to build equity with your audience and present a unified story. To keep your brand story clear in the minds of members and future members, your team should be armed with comprehensive, cohesive, and flexible brand guidelines.
A good brand system is like a well-stocked Italian pantry. A good chef can make hundreds of different dishes with the same ingredients, but they’re all unmistakably Italian dishes. Similarly, your brand should be fully stocked with tools for every use case. No matter where or how a member experiences your organization, your brand should be unmistakable. So whether you’re designing a brochure, shooting a video, or planning the stage of your marquee event, you’ll need to choose the right set of tools from the many in your comprehensive system.
Your brand elements must be anchored by a common story. Though those elements need to create variety and interest, they must be consistent, recognizable, and reinforce the same core brand narrative. Your name and logo are only the start: an interrelated system of fonts, colors, textures, patterns, image styles, messaging characteristics, positioning statements, and more all work cumulatively to reinforce one clear story and bring your organization to life.
Your guidelines need to allow for elements to be assembled and tailored in a way that can handle any number of applications. A robust and thoughtful system will allow for many different combinations of brand elements that will keep your brand fresh longer. Keep in mind that flexibility can be a double-edged sword. If you give too much flexibility and freedom, you’ll sacrifice potency and brand equity.
Your brand elements are reflective of your greater brand strategy. Over time, you’ll need to evaluate how your messaging is being received and make changes as needed.
The modern world is a very noisy and competitive space. Other brands, many of them with huge budgets, are competing for your members’ attention. In order to make a lasting impression and break through the noise, you’ll have to be deliberate and consistent as you build out your toolkit.
These ten components are necessary to help you do just that.
Messaging is the art of choosing the right words to capture the essence of your brand. It helps define how your brand is perceived and articulated. It’s one of your most important tools.
Brand messaging starts with the heart of your team and works outward to members and prospects. Every individual in your organization, from the CEO and the board to the administrative assistant and volunteers, needs to embrace and embody your carefully chosen messaging.
Strong internal messaging allows your organization to:
It’s natural for team members to think messaging only belongs to marketers. But relegating messaging to writers shortchanges not only the rest of your staff but also your board, volunteers, stakeholders, and vendor partners.
Specific messaging components include:
All of your marketing efforts flow out of these defining brand elements.
Your logo is a powerful strategic brand tool and the foundation for your brand’s visual identity. It acts as the face of your organization, and, as such, must be both unique and memorable. Your logo should aim to differentiate you from your competitors.
This keystone brand element needs to be handled carefully. Your guidelines need to outline how and when to use different versions of your logo and how to access the most current files to use and share with partners. Along with the rules, don’t forget to include the why of your logo. What does it represent? What are the meanings behind different elements and colors? A good understanding of the why goes a long way in the adoption of the rules.
Sub-brands are divisions of your main parent brand (foundations, initiatives, and chapters) that share fundamental factors, personality, and image with your parent brand. Sub-brands may be appropriate when a division of your organization has a specific audience or a set of unique goals. For example, your program manager may feel their initiative warrants a unique brand solution. It may be a good idea — or a bad distraction. Setting parameters and guidelines guides staff to make decisions that are in alignment with your brand as a whole.
However, sub-brands do come with the risk of diluting your brand’s impact and equity. The more distinct your initiatives and programs look, the less likely they are to be associated with the parent brand. People may love your event or mentorship program, but is it clear that it is yours when it comes time for sponsorship or passing legislation?
Have a discussion with outside experts and your leadership to get a range of perspectives on the need for (and risks of) sub-brands. If you decide to move ahead, set clear rules and guidelines on how sub-brands are to be handled.
Co-branding is a partnership between your brand and another one. Co-branding can be a strategic way to build awareness and drive business if your brands share values and an audience. You’ll need to consider how you will partner with another organization on an initiative ahead of time. If you don’t make plans for co-branding in your guidelines, you may end up risking your brand reputation and budget.
Events are core opportunities to impress, rally, connect, educate, and inspire your members or potential members. Member-driven organizations need to set guidelines for events, too. The branding of these events says a lot about the caliber of the event and reflects back on the entire organization. It also sets expectations for sponsors and attendees before the event happens.
Your events need to be tied visually to your organization’s brand, but they can have their own unique look and feel. Ideally, your brand system has anticipated event use cases and accounted for them in the guidelines.
Fonts are one of the most commonly used elements of a brand system. Typographic styles are an integral part of the brand tapestry you’re weaving. For example, if you’re a progressive, modern, technical association, you may choose a versatile sans serif typeface to represent your brand. Or if you’re a humanistic or journalistic organization, you may choose a serif typeface. There are an infinite number of possibilities.
Depending on the attributes your organization wants to communicate, you may want to include a display or handwritten typeface as well. These special use typefaces require clear parameters.
Make sure you think through consistency across mediums (web and print.) Specify alternative systems fonts for each of your custom brand fonts when they aren’t available.
Colors are loaded with meaning; the colors you choose should reflect your brand’s values, character, and tone. You’ll want to establish how primary, secondary, and tertiary colors should be used. Generally, the fewer colors you have, the more impactful your brand will be. More colors give your brand more flexibility but less distinctiveness.
As you make color choices, remember over 8 million Americans have a vision impairment. These people might rely on a screen magnifier or a screen reader or have a form of color blindness. Follow accessibility standards in all mediums.
Textures and patterns can also go a long way to giving depth and personality to a brand. For example, rubbed blue jeans and concrete textures communicate that a brand represents blue collar members who work hard. Marble patterns often communicate higher education and government. Whatever you choose, specify how these additional elements should be used in your guidelines.
You should specify a photographic/video style, lighting, and editing style. If you have a distinct demographic you serve or specific diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, make sure to include guidelines on who should be in your photos and videos.
Because events are a big part of member organizations, consider adding a subsection about shooting events in your guidelines. That way, anytime you hire a professional photographer or videographer to capture one of your events, they’ll have clear ideas of your organization’s dos and don’ts. If you have an online photo library, link it in your guidelines and leave instructions on how to gain access.
If you have standard branded video bumpers (intros and outros) link them in your guidelines as well.
Icons are used more often than you may think. The icons your organization uses should reinforce your brand aesthetic and story. You may want to develop a custom icon library that will save you time and money in the long run. If your organization creates a lot of fact sheets or reports, you will want to invest in creating a library of your most frequently used symbols.
Illustrations are a powerful communications tool when you need to convey concepts that don’t fit in the frame of a photo or the confines of reality. They can also provide a strong dose of your brand’s personality and be a visual differentiator. Like any other visual element, you need to be consistent with your illustration style and tie it to your brand (i.e. utilize your color palette.)
Your document full of rules and guidelines can seem quite conceptual and theoretical. So it’s wise to show your brand “in action” as well. In this section of your guidelines, show brand components applied across a variety of mediums (for example, on letterhead, presentation decks, signage, and events).
You don’t want your brand guidelines to be a burden to your team; you want it to make their jobs easier. Creating a quick reference guide and offering appropriate training will help them on their way.
You don’t want your team to be overwhelmed by rules, so simplify the brand guidelines adoption process. Make and distribute an easy one-page cheat sheet with top brand elements you want everyone to use regularly, like color codes and typeface specifications.
Schedule meetings with your entire staff to educate them on the brand. While not every department needs to be educated on every guideline, everyone needs core brand and messaging training. Depending on your company culture and dynamics, it may be best to leverage the “outside authority” of your branding partner and have them deliver this presentation.
After all your brand guideline work is complete, you’ll need to keep your guidelines from getting outdated. Instead of managing files in several places, consider a DAM system that allows you to maintain a single digital source of truth. This is a very helpful solution if you produce a lot of different materials with a variety of vendors or have a large distributed team.
Your brand guidelines need to be maintained, enforced, and celebrated. Throw a party and gift your employees new branded apparel and swag. Your guidelines can seem like a lot of new rules and extra work. So make sure people understand what the brand is communicating, why it will benefit them, the organization, and most importantly — your members.
A sophisticated brand system and accompanying guidelines document are some of the best investments you can make in your organization. Expert designers, writers, videographers, and photographers will understand how to innovate within your brand system and engage your members, present, and future. Done right, a branding system cuts to the chase, answers questions, focuses resources, and empowers good people to do amazing work.