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

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An underdeveloped or outdated brand isn’t the reason behind every marketing issue your organization may have.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.

6 Design and Content Best Practices to Improve Your Association’s Email Marketing

In an overcrowded media landscape, associations must build a strong connection with their members. But many of the marketing tools at your disposal have a barrier between you and your audience. Social media outreach requires time, talent, and financial investment to navigate complex algorithms. Advertising offers a potentially broad reach, but it requires considerable investment for the right exposure.

Of all the communication strategies available to you, email holds great potential because it is a direct line to your audience. In effect, members and those curious to hear more about your association have invited you in. But what does your association have to offer once you arrive?

Inboxes are competitive spaces with an array of voices vying for the audience’s attention. However, with a strategic approach to content and design, you can break through the noise and deliver a standout experience that nurtures your connection with members now and in the future.

Why Mastering Email Is Vital to Your Association’s Health

Email offers a wealth of opportunities for associations, but it can feel like walking a tightrope. Send too much clutter and your members will unsubscribe or, even worse, flag your messages as spam. Send irrelevant content, and your messages won’t be seen as useful and will become part of the noise.

You need to ensure that the content and design of the emails you send allow your audience to see the value of a direct connection with your association. Factor in the changing demographics of the workplace and the stakes grow even higher. A recent study showed 73% of millennials prefer communicating with brands through email than any other medium. 

Email marketing presents a golden opportunity to nurture a connection with members. But it’s a two-way street. Your members signed up to receive messages from your organization because they want curated information from a trusted source to help them succeed.

To ensure you meet these expectations, we’ve assembled the following best practices:

1. Provide a Seamless Experience with Every Email

Much like your association’s website, every email should positively reflect and expand upon your brand story. The visual design should be consistent with your organization’s overall brand ecosystem. Your emails will include links that send readers to your website, and what they see on one should function as a fluid extension of the other. A consistent experience will enhance the perception of your brand and build a sense of trust among readers.

2. Understand Your Audience and Their Needs

Your current and prospective members give you their time and attention when they read an email. You have a responsibility to deliver on that investment and make it worthwhile.

Your organization should survey its members about the content they want to receive and consult analytics to track user behavior. That way, you develop a sense of what your audience wants and respond appropriately. Applying personalization, such as using a member’s first name from your database, will help increase email engagement and ensure your members feel valued and seen.

You should also avoid trying to serve every audience with a single newsletter. Comprehensive newsletters quickly become irrelevant if their content doesn’t resonate, and they’re often too long. Instead, create multiple audience segments and deliver customized content for each to ensure subscribers only receive relevant content.

3. Optimize Your Association’s Content for Reality

Emails should be short, scannable, and mobile-friendly. More than 46% of all emails are first opened on mobile devices. You need to ensure your designs are responsive to these screen sizes and remain lightweight so they load quickly.

You should never include the full text of a message in a newsletter unless it’s a one-off announcement or update. Instead, give your content an engaging headline with a one- or two-sentence description, followed by a button guiding readers to read more. Along with providing a digestible amount of content, you also gain analytics data on what is resonating with your audience.

4. Leverage Effective Design

Email design isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Creating templates with multiple modules optimized for different content types, such as articles, event announcements, news, etc, helps your messages stand out.

Whatever type of email you send, the content must be useful and easy to read. Design practices such as retaining an appropriate amount of white space in each message will ensure your emails appear light, airy, and inviting.

5. Use Strong Visuals Appropriately 

Images enhance the storytelling in your email and engage your readers. Infographics provide engaging opportunities to express information in a persuasive, scannable way. Animated GIFs will also catch your reader’s eye, but they should be used sparingly and primarily as header images, as they can be overwhelming.

However, your email should not be one large image. Services like Gmail will identify these messages as spam and block your visuals by default. You should avoid putting text in images when possible, as images are often turned off by default in many email programs. When you can’t avoid it, be sure to add alternative text to those images — this ensures you are compliant with accessibility guidelines, and your message will still be understood if they don’t load properly.

6. Send Useful, Actionable Messages That Meet Legal Standards

Email is a powerful tool, but that power is effectively a double-edged sword. Don’t send enough, and you’ll be forgotten. Send too many, and you’ll likely annoy and eventually lose the audience you need most.

Worse yet, your IP address may be blacklisted for not complying with CAN-SPAM requirements, which is difficult to resolve and could also lead to legal action. You should always make the unsubscribe link easy to find to avoid alienating your members and being marked by readers as SPAM.

Whether inviting members to a gala, encouraging a renewal, or sharing professional resources, you should never email your members without a clear and compelling purpose. Before sending an email, ask the following question: What’s in it for your members? If you apply this simple guideline to your email marketing, you’ll nurture a lasting connection that will continue to serve your association’s goals.

Illustrations Enhance a Brand’s Story. Can They Help Your Organization?

For member-driven organizations, your brand has to tell your story and set you apart from the competition. Targeted visuals and messaging help to communicate the value of membership, and engage your audience. As you aim to connect with the next generation of members, you need to ensure that the story is consistent, unique, and memorable.

The logo, design elements, and messaging are critical building blocks of your identity. In this article, we’ll explore a potential visual component of your brand.

Populating your website or any marketing asset with predictable images or generic stock photos adds nothing to your brand’s story. Custom photography, captured to represent your brand and your members, is much more effective. But even that may only get you so far. There are many situations where you should consider illustrations to set your organization apart.

Leveraging Illustrations

One of the biggest challenges for any organization is finding a way to distinguish yourself from competitors in an overcrowded digital landscape. When strategically planned in a way that aligns with your brand, the right illustrations deliver much more than just a visual companion to your content. They add personality and character to the message your brand delivers.

Of course, illustrations are not appropriate for every organization or scenario, and you should use illustrations in a way that’s cohesive and enhances your identity. When applied correctly, illustrations offer two advantages over conventional photos:

1. Create a Distinct Visual Experience for Your Brand

Illustrations provide a way to add character to your overall brand. The personality, color, and texture they add to a marketing piece go above and beyond what a photo or design element can provide. Each illustration is a unique and custom piece of art that has been thoughtfully composed to embody the distinct characteristics of your brand and communicate the idea at hand. The possibilities are endless with illustrations and, best of all, they are completely custom to your organization, so they are highly ownable. For an organization serving doctors or other medical professionals, a suite of clean illustrations can add a note of professionalism, trust, and humanizing compassion. Or, alternatively, more expressive and loose illustrations add welcoming warmth and whimsy to a brand.

Illustrations are available through stock websites and clip art libraries, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. If you are going to make illustration a part of your brand it needs to be consistent and custom to your needs and brand characteristics. Your organization is unique — you need to establish an illustration style for your brand and work with one or more professionals to create unique illustrations. 

2. Capture Complex or Abstract Ideas Specific to Your Needs

Stock images exist because they depict common scenarios organizations like yours need in their communications. But what if you need an image of a concept specific to your audience or a more abstract idea? You’re inevitably left with a generic photo that falls short of and looks indistinguishable from any other organization.

However, the right illustrator can capture the most esoteric concepts without being constrained by the limits of photography. For example, imagine you needed to depict loyalty or perhaps the idea of someone juggling multiple priorities. A custom illustration can cleverly capture these ideas without resorting to clichés or predictable images from a widely available and overused stock library.

Better still, an illustration allows your organization to own the images you use. It becomes part of your brand and adds to a distinctive style your audience won’t see elsewhere.

Are Illustrations Right for Your Organization?

Like any other design element, your organization can’t start arbitrarily incorporating illustrations to enhance your content. You have to first understand your brand to ensure the visuals you choose will make the right impression on your audience.

To gain a clear picture of your organization’s brand, consider who you are, what you’re trying to say, and who you are trying to reach. If illustration is the right format for your organization, you should assess what style is appropriate to communicate your brand’s characteristics and values.

The illustrations should retain a consistent style and fit your overall brand system. Your goal is for each visual to feel cohesive, and tailored specifically to your organization and members.

Incorporating the Right Illustration Style to Tell Your Story

Finding the right illustration style to suit your brand is ultimately a strategic decision. Style isn’t everything — but it goes a long way toward enhancing your brand. The following options are just a few approaches at your disposal:


If your visual presentation lacks a human element, your audience may subconsciously feel your organization is emotionally distant. Relatable depictions of characters or other figures engage your audience and open new avenues for connection. 


A less-is-more approach transforms complex ideas into the simplest, most efficient visuals. These illustrations retain the focus on their subject with clean lines and clear images.

Big & Bold

A form of minimalism, this style uses outsized representations of shapes, forms, figures, and even letters. Applying exaggerated designs and bold, colorful lines is another way to capture your audience’s attention.


Influenced by the shapes and textures from a bygone era, throwback illustrations connect with the viewer by provoking nostalgia.


Challenging the limits of two-dimensional design, 3D illustrations increase user interest by adding depth and a sense of the unexpected to environments, characters, and styles.

Cohesive Illustrations Enhance Brand Identity

Finding the right illustrator to work with your brand is an art, and you should make sure the visuals they create are flexible enough to suit your needs. When you’re working with the right agency partner, you gain access to a rolodex of illustrators and a creative professional who can translate your business needs.You don’t have to tackle it on your own. If you’re looking for a visual approach to your brand that will resonate with your members, we should talk.

Understand the Meaning of Colors in Design

The visual language of your brand is a powerful storytelling tool for illustrating key attributes of who you are as an organization. And though everyone has color preferences, you must choose color in an intentional, strategic way.

The colors you associate with your brand in your marketing collateral communicate vital details to your current and future members. Review this chart to gather more information about the meanings associated with colors, how they’re used, and more.

See Your Organization’s Event Venue in a New Way

Does your organization have an important event coming up? You need to view your venue with a critical eye that extends beyond what the event planner and facility manager can provide.

Applying a creative viewpoint that will anticipate what your members need and how the venue can best serve your organization’s goals will open new opportunities to take your event to the next level. Use this three-step guide to gain a better understanding of how to recognize opportunities through a fresh perspective on your event.

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