When your organization needs to connect with new and prospective members, your brand is the most powerful resource at your disposal. A strong and cohesive brand provides more than a useful framework to streamline the development of your organization’s marketing and its collateral. It codifies the details of your organization’s story and the value it provides to a critical audience — your current and future members.
Though you need a highly flexible and specific visual language to develop a strong brand, one of its most important components is also its fastest communicator: Color.
The colors associated with your organization are much more than aesthetic preferences. They’re a strategic decision that impacts how current and future members perceive your organization. As you work to ensure your brand delivers the clearest picture of who you are, you need to consider the impact of the colors you choose and what they say to your audience.
The core building blocks of your brand are derived from a long list of visual and messaging components that extend well beyond a logo and a tagline. One of these building blocks is your color palette, which can greatly influence how your members perceive your organization.
According to one recent study, color influences up to 90% of our initial impressions of the environment while impacting our behavior, mood, and stress. For example, red evokes passion, aggression, and urgency. Blue inspires feelings of reliability and tranquility.
In marketing and advertising, brands tap into these unconscious responses to demonstrate who they are. For example, healthcare and security brands frequently use blue to communicate stability and trust. Or, the food industry often uses yellow to stimulate appetite and create positive associations with the brand.
For your organization, the right color choices draw a deeper connection with members and demonstrate your organization’s personality. Is your brand associated with innovation? Approachable and collegial? Or more professional and academic? The colors you choose underscore those values and add to your brand narrative
Plus, a unique and memorable color palette sets you apart from competitors, which adds to your presence in the marketplace. When implemented strategically, your organization’s color choices improve brand recognition while nurturing a close connection with your members. Consistently using select colors can be a strong cue for invoking loyalty and pride in your organization. If I say red, white, and blue, what do you immediately associate with that color combination? Next, think of sports fans. You’ll never see them wearing the wrong colors on game day. Color is a very powerful tool in building loyalty and defining your identity.
Color choices carry great power but they also require great responsibility. A department may be tempted to adopt new colors to energize a special project, add flair to a landing page, or provide a fresh look to an upcoming event. But you have to ensure every color you choose is consistent with your brand or risk diluting your impact and undermining the brand equity you’ve built up.
Your brand should work with a variety of colors, but your visual presentation has to remain cohesive. A consistent use of color provides another way to build trust and loyalty among your membership. With these attributes in place, your organization gains improved member retention.
Your organization may have a long history with its current color palette, but you have to ensure those choices work effectively across your digital channels. For example, colors on your website can be used to establish a visual hierarchy. A bold, contrasting color draws attention to call-to-action buttons, guiding your website users to the right next steps. A well-considered color palette enhances usability by incorporating specific colors to highlight navigation menus and other links to get around your website.
However, not every user will view your website’s color choices the same way. When used together, some colors lack contrast and violate ADA Guidelines, which can expose your organization to legal risk. When you’re working with the right agency partner, you can ensure your website offers an inclusive experience for all users.
Your brand is too important to rely on personal tastes to inform its color choices. By collaborating with a design partner, your organization gains a robust set of options through the following steps:
If your organization hasn’t considered the impact of its color choices, we should talk. We’ll ensure your brand has the right palette in place to serve your members and their needs.
Member-driven associations like yours play a vital role in bringing together businesses, professionals, and stakeholders within your industry. A well-crafted website is not only a digital hub for your members. It’s also a powerful tool for demonstrating the value of membership. As the next generation takes over the workforce, you need to rethink your website to serve a new audience of digital natives.
We’ve found that every member-driven website thrives with the support of several core features. While the use cases for the following elements may vary depending on the size of your organization or its focus, each offers a crucial opportunity to empower members and make a positive impact on your industry.
Your website often gives the first impressions of your organization. Given its importance, every element of your website must look, feel, and function in a way that attracts and engages your members. For associations, that effort begins with ensuring your brand draws a strong connection between your organization and its audience.
Once your brand and messaging are aligned, every association website begins with the following foundational elements:
When your website is built on a platform that’s tailor-made for associations, you can access a suite of features to serve your current generation of members — and the next one.
With effective design and seamless integrations, your site can operate at a higher level by utilizing the following seven features.
Your login page should be easy to find and enable access to member-specific features with single-sign-on (SSO) capabilities that keep them logged in across your site, AMS, and any other resources.
Create a custom user experience by determining the sections of your website that should be accessible to the public as well as vital information that is exclusive to your members. By incorporating single-sign-on (SSO) capabilities between your website and your AMS, your members will be able to log in once and have access to managing their membership, signing up for events, as well as member-only content across your site based on their level of membership (member, associate, committee, board, etc.)
Events are the heartbeat of most associations. They’re often the primary way for members to connect with each other and the organization. Every conference, seminar, and convention should be branded in a way that elevates the attendee experience and draws a positive connection to your organization. Incorporating a dynamic and easy-to-use event section into your website allows members to find and engage with these events, purchase tickets utilizing the AMS, and streamline the registration process. Plus, it builds excitement for what’s ahead.
Nurture the bond between members by offering a full directory of members. Users should be able to browse membership by whatever category suits their needs (region, role, etc.) By syncing your website member directory with your existing member database, you can ensure information about your organization’s most important audience is current and accurate.
Tap into your website’s potential as an educational resource by offering a library of articles, white papers, toolkits, webinars, and other content vital to your members and their industry. It’s critical to organize the resources by categories and implement robust filters that allow users to find what they need quickly and easily.
Manually managing job board submissions is both tedious and inefficient for your members and staff. A modern website enables members to submit and pay for job postings on their own. An approval process allows your staff to review and approve each posting with ease before it’s published, and the posting will automatically expire at the end of its contracted time. This process will not only empower your members to more easily and readily use this important resource, but you’re also saving your team’s time from having to manually manage all these details.
Your membership is a community. Strengthen those bonds by publishing stories and updates from your members that highlight the positive impact of your association. Real-life examples and testimonials inspire current members and encourage new members to join.
Volunteering is critical to most associations. Highlight the various groups and committees within your organization on their own pages. Your website should include details about these groups as well as their leadership and objectives to encourage member involvement. When integrated with the single-sign-on(SSO) functionality, you can give board and committee members tiered access to protected documents.
Association websites are much more than digital brochures or informational archives. They’re the lifeblood of the industries they serve. Implementing these features empowers your organization to connect with its audience and deliver education and advocacy for your overall mission. If these sound like features that will enable your organization to function at a higher level, we should talk.
When organizations consider a rebrand, visual elements like the logo, color palette, and typography are all clear areas of focus. But to ensure all that work makes the greatest impact on your organization and its connection to members, you can’t neglect your brand messaging.
Your messaging system is the backbone of your brand. It constitutes the suite of words, statements and attributes chosen to reflect and support your organization’s identity. Your website copy, how you greet members at events, and every social media caption are all products of a messaging system.
When your messaging is in alignment, it’s a powerful tool for your organization. However, if your messaging isn’t cohesive, your current and prospective members and internal teams will lose trust in your organization because there’s no clarity or consistency in how you express who you are.
I recently had a discussion with one of our messaging experts, Catherine Warmerdam, on the most important way you can communicate the value of your brand. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
Phil Tretheway: I was preparing for a branding presentation with a group of outside partners for a client, and was surprised to find that the heart of what I really wanted to present was the messaging.
Being a classically trained designer, it’s not natural for me to skip over the visual part. Do you feel much pressure with your work building the core of an organization’s brand?
Catherine Warmerdam: Yes! That initial attempt to distill a company or an organization into just a few memorable words or sentences is deceivingly difficult. For me, balancing brevity and complexity is the hardest part. That’s when it becomes so important to be precise with one’s words, because those words have to support an entire brand.
I’m curious how the strength of the messaging affects your visual approach. Is it hard to design around a weak or uninspiring message?
PT: The worst thing is to work on a visual identity with no messaging, because that’s just decorating and making things pretty. To do our best work, the design needs to solve a problem and achieve a goal. It needs to say something. Hence the need for messaging.
When we develop a brand for a client it starts with three things: who they are, who they serve, and their message platform. Nobody should start on a project without a clear understanding of the organization, the demographics of the audience they’re trying to serve, and a message to communicate.
I love building a brand that has a well-defined character, tone, style, and core messaging (what, why, purpose). When do you start defining an organization’s messaging system?
CW: Pretty much immediately. But first I want to build a really thorough understanding of what they have in place already — and I want to know the ‘why’ behind everything. So there are lots of questions in the beginning.
That initial dialogue also yields other useful information. For example, if a client is clinging to a ‘we’ve-always-done-it-that-way’ approach — even if it’s not working for them — that’s sometimes a signal that they’re looking for an easy fix. Or it could mean that the person who brought you in is looking to make a change, but maybe their boss isn’t convinced it’s necessary.
Have you encountered that before? How did you handle it?
PT: I was recently reading “The Global Identity of Cities” by Brookings, which was a fascinating report on best practices for branding a city or region. Spoiler alert: the report’s findings and process are highly applicable to branding organizations. One of the early points they make is that for a project to be successful, your stakeholders must embrace the need for change. I think this is critical.
Most executives I’ve worked with have been on board with the branding projects, though as we work through the process, they gain an even deeper appreciation for what we’re doing. Once we get into the discovery questions and past talking points, and really dive into their goals and vision, they realize that we’re not just making a logo and color palette. We’re here to understand at a deep level who they are, what they do, and where they’re going. Then, we translate that into words and visuals.
Once they start to feel heard, they see the potential for how much we can help them with their job. I really love this phase of the project. What questions do you like to ask as part of your discovery?
CW: For messaging, I like to first ask about the audience, because it all begins and ends with who you’re trying to reach. I want to know as much as I can about them. From there, I ask the client, ‘What do you want that audience to know? And what do you want them to do?’ Just those couple of questions can yield a lot of helpful information from which I can begin to build some messaging elements.
What questions do you ask to kick off a project?
PT: I ask very similar, basic core questions. At least that’s where I start. After those beginning questions it’s a conversation, and asking the right questions to pull out deeper truths is an art form we have become good at over the years.
These initial conversations are one of my favorite parts of a project. Sometimes I feel like an annoying 4-year-old who is asking why again and again. Other times I feel like a therapist, guiding the client through a progressively deeper conversation about why they do what they do and who they do it for.
CW: In the end, I feel it’s all about getting clarity on who you are, what you offer, and who you serve and translating that into the language of your audience.
Your messaging is like the invisible glue that holds your brand together. If it’s not strong and durable, the brand doesn’t hold together like it should.
Messaging isn’t just a component of your branding initiative. It’s the foundation of every element that expresses your organization’s value to its most important audience.
But beyond messaging, you need to ensure your organization gains a complete brand system to support its goals. With these tools in place, you don’t just provide your organization with a clearer means of forming a connection with current and future members. You create a greater sense of belonging and ownership within your internal teams that builds confidence for the future.
If your brand is falling short of communicating all your organization does for members, let’s talk. We can help your organization get where it needs to be.
To build a strong emotional connection with your audience, you need a comprehensive resource that enables you to create a meaningful and cohesive narrative over time. More than a recipe outlining color and text options, you need the support of a robust and sophisticated brand system.
With a brand system, you gain a toolbox that’s built to ensure your organization speaks to its audiences in a way that saves both time and money. Rather than starting from scratch with each new marketing project, a brand system gives your organization a head start.
The details that constitute how your brand looks are typically outlined in a logo guide or brand guidelines. These documents perform the vital work of ensuring the visual elements of your brand remain consistent across every platform.
By contrast, a brand system provides a more comprehensive framework. It encompasses who you are and how to verbally and visually communicate that to your audiences. This covers not only colors and typography, but also your brand’s tone of voice, messaging, values, and more.
A strong brand system informs nearly every aspect of your organization. Plus, it ensures each department has the tools to deliver messaging that’s consistent, clear, and scalable in a way that resonates with your audience.
When you work with the right agency, you gain a partner to help define and articulate your values, audience, and what you do for members. These elements form the building blocks of a strong brand system.
A brand system hinges on four elements:
Once your brand system is established, your organization gains a vital resource to use over and over for any aspect of your marketing. Plus, you gain a valuable ally that resolves common problems plaguing organizations needing to connect with a new generation of members.
Fundamentally, a brand system’s greatest value is its ability to deliver a head start for your team, making your marketing faster and more effective. Imagine you’re a professional cyclist, but every time you prepare for a race, you have to rebuild your bicycle from scratch. Then, once you’ve assembled everything you need, you can jump on and start the race. If you have everything you need for your bicycle already in place, you start racing that much faster.
With a brand system, your team starts marketing projects with everyone working from a common truth. You know who you’re talking to and your organization’s role. By starting each project from that baseline, your marketing team doesn’t waste time rebuilding what defines your brand. Instead, you’re free to put your energy into creating more impact and value for members.
For member-driven organizations, a well-defined brand system provides the following benefits:
Unified Identity: Organizations are made up of members with diverse backgrounds and varying interests. A strong brand system helps unify your members with a shared identity, values, and messaging. With an established brand system, you create a common thread that binds members together.
Credibility: A brand system that is well executed over time enhances your organization’s credibility to new and future members and prospective sponsors. A consistent presentation shows that your organization takes its mission seriously and is dedicated to effectively representing its members.
Advocacy, Influence, and Public Perception: A brand system enables your organization to shape how it is perceived by the public, including policymakers, industry leaders, and potential members. Your ability to create a positive impression to a general audience impacts your association’s effectiveness and reach. A unified visual and messaging identity establishes trust with stakeholders and enhances your ability to rally members around your cause.
Member Engagement: A well-developed brand that resonates with members gives them something to be loyal to and rally around. It can create a sense of belonging among the association’s members.
Partnerships and Sponsorships: Events and marketing materials presented from a strong brand system attract potential partners and sponsors that are aligned with your organization’s values.
Event Promotion: Events, webinars, and conferences provide a valuable lifeline between your organization and its members. A brand system ensures all content associated with these events retains a consistent look and feel to reinforce your overall organization’s identity and message.
Strategic Foundation: As your organization evolves, a brand system provides a strategic foundation. For example, should your organization grow excited about a new idea like a video campaign on social media, you can bring every detail back to your brand’s core character, tone, and central messaging. Does the project reinforce these details? When you tie every initiative to the same strategic foundation, the results are much stronger.
When comparing logo guidelines versus brand guidelines and brand systems, it’s easy to linger on the details. Ultimately, a brand system doesn’t need to document a specific number of elements to give your marketing an advantage. Your goal is to create a comprehensive resource that empowers your organization to connect with its audience in an impactful way.
At the same time, a brand system enables your teams to act from a place of complete understanding of your organization’s identity, as well as who it serves and why it exists. A brand system is a tangible resource. But it’s only powerful when consistently leveraged.
It’s important to ensure your team is aligned and understands how your brand system makes their lives easier and simplifies solutions to organizational challenges. With a brand system in place, your organization gains an ongoing checkpoint for everything it does.
For member-driven organizations, a brand is among the most complex yet valuable initiatives you can undertake. When navigated successfully, your organization enriches its bond with current members while establishing new connections with the next generation.
However, without the proper support, even the most well-executed branding efforts will fall flat. Your CEO or Executive Director (we’ll use CEO in this article) plays a pivotal role in ensuring a brand rollout is effective and embraced by your members and organization. But what is the right level of involvement from your CEO?
The answer sounds a little like Goldilocks: Not too much, and definitely not too little. Ultimately, you need your leadership engaged with a branding project at specific times for its success and the long-term stability of your organization.
Even the most recognizable brands in the world shift with the times and their audience’s expectations. Your organization is no different. By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. While your new audience still needs the resources your organization provides, they engage with your brand in distinctively different ways.
Millennials are digital natives who prioritize strong design as a means of evaluating the services they use. Strategic branding ensures you tell the full story of your organization in a way that clearly communicates all you have to offer.
Plus, good branding doesn’t just build a stronger connection with prospective members. It inspires and revitalizes your organization and the membership it serves.
Securing just the right level of involvement of your CEO is key to a successful and smooth branding initiative. When you work with a skilled agency partner, a branding project progresses through the following stages:
For the best results, you need your CEO to be fully engaged during the discovery phase of the project and then advocate for the branding after the work is complete. Apart from weighing in at key checkpoints, your CEO needs to allow you and your team to do what they do best.
If your branding process doesn’t strike the right balance with your leadership, it can impact your project in the following ways:
If your CEO isn’t involved in key points of a branding project, they won’t be invested in its results. Rather than enabling the branding to act as a transformative undertaking that benefits the whole organization, a disengaged CEO will see it as just a marketing project.
As your communications reflect your new branding, members grow confused as your leadership fails to deliver consistent messaging. Soon, your organization is back where it started.
CEOs are busy and consistently pressed for time. If they insist on remaining involved with every step of the project, your schedule will slip as meetings are delayed to accommodate your CEO’s crowded schedule. Plus, CEOs are not branding experts and lack the expertise to micromanage each stage of the project.
A strong brand acts as a guide for how your organization verbally and visually expresses its identity. With these four tips, you can ensure your CEO remains aligned with your branding project at key steps.
Gaining buy-in from your leadership for a branding project encompasses more than budget approval. Underscore that the issues with your brand are an organizational problem — not a marketing issue. Your CEO should understand that a robust brand platform provides the solution by communicating the full story of your organization and its value.
Ultimately, you’re coming to an agency like ours because we solve problems with your brand. We’re not decorators. We’re rebuilding your brand from the ground up so it serves your unique challenges.
During the Discovery stage, you need to maintain involvement from your CEO, leadership team, and board. These people have passion, history, and vision for your organization that your creative team will translate to the building blocks of an engaging brand platform.
Your CEO needs to feel heard in a way that allows them to feel invested and trust the branding project is in good hands. It is critical that they sign off on all strategy documents, as they will be used as the foundation throughout the process.
As the project progresses, bring your CEO back to review messaging and concept presentations from your design agency. Make sure you provide the correct context for feedback, buy reviewing the strategy documents from the discovery stage. Incorporating feedback from your leadership is crucial to ensuring the work reflects your organization. Plus, these meetings enable your CEO to remain invested in a focused way throughout the branding process.
As marketing director, you’re responsible for much of the hard work that goes into a successful branding project. To reflect that involvement, your CEO may want you to present the project’s results to your organization. Instead, your CEO should act as the face of the rollout. Enabling your organization’s brand to come from the CEO positions the project as an organization-wide initiative—not a marketing campaign.
Leadership sets the tone for how your internal teams view the results of a branding project. During the rollout of the rebranded Associated General Contractors of California (AGC-CA), the CEO had a vision for breathing new life into the brand to celebrate its centennial. By offering his full support of the project which included presenting the new brand to the organization, AGC maximized the impact of its rebranding effort.
During the rollout of our branding project for Visit Sacramento, the organization’s leadership engaged us to present the new brand to their staff, board, and partners. To emphasize the importance of the initiative, the CEO introduced it as crucial for everyone in the organization to embrace. With that kind of support, the new brand was in the right position to reach its full potential.
Your CEO acts as a manifestation of the brand and the organization they are steering. Engaging your leadership throughout a branding project gives you a critical advantage in ensuring its success.
But conversations dictating the right role for your boss can be challenging. As you begin pursuing a branding project, you don’t have to navigate these potentially rough waters alone. When you’re working with the right design agency, you gain an expert third-party opinion on how involved your boss should be to secure a successful project. If this sounds like the kind of work that would benefit your organization and its future, we should talk.