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Strategic Branding for Your Organization

Phil Tretheway January 10, 2023

Syncing up with the attitudes, behaviors, desires, and values of your association’s target members isn’t a choice. To stay relevant, your association needs to leverage the right tools to attract, engage, and inspire your current members and entice the next generation of members. While the branding need may be obvious, the way forward certainly isn’t. Strategic branding requires a huge investment of your time, energy, and financial resources.

In our recent webinar, we were joined by our creative director Phil Tretheway to share actionable tips and strategies on:

  • Identifying who your new members are and what they expect from you.
  • How to meet (and exceed) those expectations through branding.
  • How to gain the enthusiastic internal support you need for a successful rebrand.

If you missed the live webinar, it’s not too late! Access the recording below. You’ll leave with the information you need to secure the brighter future your organization deserves.

About the Speaker

Phil Tretheway is the Vice President and Creative Director at Position, a digital agency specializing in brands and websites for member-driven organizations. He brings over two decades of experience in leading large-scale creative projects for nonprofits and associations.

As one of the founders of Metro Edge, the biggest young professionals group of its kind in the country, and the Emerge Summit, the West Coast’s premier young professional conference, Phil is intimately attuned to the wants and needs of the next generation of members.

Webinar Transcript

Strategic Branding for Your Organization

I’d like to share with you a bit about the branding approach we’ve developed over the past few decades. 

Let’s start with some news that shouldn’t be new to you all…

  • Yesterday 10,000 reached retirement age in America.
  • Today 10,000 people will reach retirement age in America.
  • Tomorrow 10,000 people will reach retirement age in America.
  • Every single day until 2030, on average 10,000 people will reach retirement age in America.

This is the Silver Tsunami you’ve heard about. 

The topic we’re talking about today is “What should you do about it?” Is your organization going to get wiped out by this tsunami? Or are you going to adapt and ride this wave?

416 people will reach retirement age by the time I finish this presentation. Now think about your most engaged members. Think about your board of directors. Think about those easy sponsorship asks – the ones that support every year with the big checks. How many of those people will be retired in the next 5 to 7 years? Are you ready for that? What’s another major business headline of the day? The Great Resignation, right? The “you can take this job and shove it” phenomenon.

In August of 2021, 4.3 Million Americans left their jobs. That’s 3% of the American workforce. Goldman Sachs’ economists dug into this and realized that two-thirds of the folks leaving jobs that August weren’t actually “quitting.” They were retiring. One million were “normal” retirements, and an additional 1.5 million opted for early retirement. What does this mean for your member-driven organization? Members are retiring in droves. Declining membership numbers are a problem that needs to be solved if you want to keep your organization alive and thriving. Without a doubt, the key to your future success starts with your brand. 

We need to know:

  • Who are your new members and what do they expect from you? 
  • How to meet (or exceed) those expectations in your branding
  • How to gain the enthusiastic support you need to successfully rebrand.

You need to prove yourself to the next generation of members.

Declining membership is partly due to the accelerating pace of retirements and because many organizations are having trouble connecting to the next generation of members. 

I don’t know how many of you reading this are parents, but parents, especially parents of teens, this story is for you. My son Jack is 14. He’s a part of Gen Z. He’s a good kid, he loves mac and cheese, he likes Xbox, and soccer, and knows more about YouTube than I’ll ever know. I am 43, born in 1979, right on the cusp between Millennials and Gen X. The challenge is he’s not a big sharer. “How was school?” I ask. “Terrible.” don’t worry that’s his word for “fine.” when it comes to school. “What’d you do at school?” “nothing.” “What did you talk about with your friends?” “stuff.” Can you feel my pain here? So a few years back I saw this pattern and knew that I needed an open line of communication with my son. Especially as he started high school. I want to stay connected to him and know what’s going on in his life.

So, what did I do? I plopped down on the couch and started playing Minecraft with him. I downloaded Clash Royal on my phone and now I play in a group with a bunch of teenagers. Do I want to play Minecraft on my Saturday? Not really. Am I more excited to get in the backyard and work on my pizza oven? Yes. I knew I needed to build a gateway to conversations with my son. Because playing Minecraft is actually building a conversation my kid is comfortable with — and that will pay off over time.

I’m not telling you to go play Minecraft to connect to your members. It’s a story about the necessity of learning someone’s language so they’ll listen, engage, and want to connect with you. As membership and marketing leaders, you need to learn the language of your new membership base so they connect with you.

Let’s talk about communication channels. Take a minute and ask yourself

  • Where do millennials go looking for knowledge and education? 
  • Where do millennials go looking for community and belonging? 
  • Where do millennials advocate for causes that are important to them? 

Here’s the thing, with YouTube, Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Coffee Shops, and Co-Working Spaces, Millennials think they have education, networking, and advocacy all figured out. The sad truth is that the next generation of members don’t think they need you. So what can you do about it?

The generational makeup of your member base is likely going through the most dramatic shake-up since your inception. As the Boomers exit the workspace we need to take a deep look at their replacements, because they don’t think or act like the Boomers you’re used to.

It’s crucially important to know who your audience is. Each person on this webinar’s membership base is slightly different and unique. So do your homework to figure out your membership demographics. According to Forbes, Millennials (born between 1979 and 1999) will make up 75% of the US workforce by 2025. The numbers are likely quite similar for your membership base. This is why you need to be attuned to the behavior patterns of Millennials.

The next generation of members… 

  • wears Converse to work, not wingtips. 
  • wants on-demand digital knowledge, not flyers, workbooks, and endless seminars.
  • next episode starts in 15 seconds, not next Thursday at 8 pm.
  • wants seamless online systems like the G-Suite, if your members need multiple logins to access all your benefits, you’re in trouble.
  • wants to know the value of your membership as quickly as they can Google how many spotted leopards live in Asia.
  • doesn’t ask Mom, they ask Siri.

The membership and marketing game has changed. The next generation of members don’t think they need you. 

But, I know they need you. You know they need you. You just need to clearly communicate your value, in their language. They speak a digital language, a beautifully designed language, and a language where they are empowered to make choices based on the alignment of values. 

Now that you understand your audience a bit better what should you tackle first? Millennials are digital natives, so is your website the most important project to tackle first? No, There’s core work to be done first that sets the right foundation for everything else. 

I’m talking about your brand. The reason you’re interested in this webinar. Not your dad’s “brand” with a logo and two colors. A modern brand system, rooted in your values and translated into the native language of your target demographic.

Your brand embodies your ethos and communicates it to your members.

The good news is that when you win over millennials, they will become fiercely loyal advocates of your organization. Rivaling and likely superseding your favorite Boomer members. This may be hard to believe for some of you and some of you may already be seeing evidence of this in your organization.

How do you get your staff and board to agree to a rebrand?

Rebranding sounds great, but you can’t move forward without the permission and trust of your execs/board… and it’s not always easy to get approval.

That’s like how I felt trying to get the car keys from my dad on the day I got my license. He didn’t trust me with his precious 1995 Ford Explorer Limited — and he had the right to worry — as your board does! No matter how experienced of a marketing or membership executive you are, you need to set yourself up for success. You need to have a plan and an experienced partner to back you up.

Just like those Explorer keys were the keys to my freedom as a teen, your brand is key to your success as an organization. Branding is not extra. Not a nice to have. It’s not icing on the cake. It is the cake, it is a must-have. When done right, a brand will inspire and revitalize your entire organization.

Take a moment to reflect on your past experiences with rebranding projects:

  • How did your past rebranding projects go?
  • What factors made it succeed, fail, or struggle?
  • What obstacles did you run into?

How you go about your rebrand is as important as the end visual result. Let’s set ourselves up with a plan for success. Three of the core steps of this plan are: 1. Identifying stakeholders and roadblocks 2. Avoiding death by committee 3. Involving everyone.

Identify stakeholders and roadblocks.

The sooner you get buy-in from those critical to the rebranding project’s success, the better. Naturally, that implies you need to identify just who those stakeholders are. We know that will include your CEO or Executive Director, but who else should be involved, and at what level?

Do some research and determine who was in your organization when branding was last approved. Understanding who made previous decisions AND why they chose what they did is extremely valuable. What was that process like? 

If those people who participated in or witnessed the last brand evolution considered it a success, they may have an emotional attachment to the results that you’re about to change. If the last brand project felt exceedingly difficult, stressful, or unsuccessful, you’ll need to have empathy for that. They may dread tackling a rebrand as they imagine round two. 

Avoid death by committee.

Branding affects every corner of your organization, but it can’t survive every opinion in your organization. One to three people should work on the rebranding project from start to finish and make the decisions. Then, at key points, they can communicate the decisions to everyone else.

Whoever you choose to be on your committee has to be invested and willing to act as a champion for the rebrand. Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure committee members have integrity, expertise, and resilience. After all, they’ve got to be able to speak authoritatively to your leadership and board and defend their decisions. 

Involve everyone. 

Everyone does not need to be a decision-maker. Everyone should be heard. Staff. Volunteers. Board. Members. Even key vendors and partners. A brand is a consolidation of what people think – their perception of you, your product, or service. To get a good understanding of the current state of your brand, all you have to do is ask.

Online surveys are a great way to reach a broad audience of staff, board members, and stakeholders. Be sure to ask specific questions regarding their thoughts and feelings about your organization. Follow up with in-person conversations with department heads and critical stakeholders. 

Consider whether to do this yourself or have a third party administer the survey. Individuals will typically be more honest and open in a survey or conversation from a third-party, neutral source.

Listen and take into account valid concerns. Your staff and board will feel heard and legitimately connected to the branding project — then when it comes time to roll the brand out, they’re primed to embrace and champion it. The alignment you can build within your organization during this process is often transformative to the organization and integral to the success of the project.

Remember, Your brand is not “the icing on the cake.” When done right, a brand will inspire and revitalize your entire organization. This is the foundation of a well-grounded plan for branding your organization. Doing a bit of this homework upfront sets your project up for success… and then the exciting work begins.

Once you’ve won the staff and board over, it’s time to craft a stellar brand and introduce it to the world properly. 

We’re going to discuss how to build a robust brand system and ensure it’s adopted and embraced. But first, a little background on me, in the late 90s I had applications in my hand for culinary school and one of the best Design Programs in the state. I think I made the right choice on career paths, but I still love to cook. You know who loves that I can cook? My friends and family. I’m a good guy to have around. Some of my friends are a bit less into food, they’re good with meat, potatoes, salt, and cheese. I love those things too. They’re delicious. But way too often I’ll show up at their house around a big event or a holiday, where they’ve done the shopping and I’m asked to cook the meal. 

Hey Phil, you’re a great cook, can you help out with the Turkey, and the potatoes, oh and we love your green beans, 30 minutes later, can you do gravy and cranberry sauce, you’re so good at it. I’m a good sport and I like to eat good food, so I say yes. Then I walk over to the kitchen and find… meat, potatoes, salt, cheese, and canned beans. I’m looking for fresh herbs, citrus for sweet acid, stock for umami, and nuts for texture. That’s when I cry inside a little. 

I’ve been asked to do great things. 

I have the skills to do great things. 

I have the desire to do great things.

But I don’t have the tools.

I feel this same way when I come across “brand guidelines” from a client that has a logo, two colors, and Lato as the font. 

A good brand system is like a well-stocked Italian pantry. If you put a talented Italian chef in a well-stocked pantry, full of species, herbs, fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats. They can make you almost endless, delicious Italian meals.

If you arm a talented creative with a deep and meaningful brand system they can create valuable and enriching experiences for your members for years to come. 

Brand Systems

A robust brand system will have many or all of these components:

  • Mission, Vision, Values & Purpose
  • Audience/Personas 
  • Messaging platform 
  • Character traits 
  • Logo
  • Sub brands
  • Color palette
  • Typography
  • Graphic elements
  • Textures
  • Patterns
  • Photo style
  • Video style
  • Illustration style
  • Icon style
  • Sounds
  • Even smells

Having these elements is immensely beneficial for the long-term health of your brand. Building a reputation with a consistent message and visual style will help you tremendously. But let’s go back to our millennial demographic. How do we maximize our robust brand for the next generation of members?

Millennials are digital natives, they prioritize design, and most importantly, they make choices based on the alignment of values. The last part is the most crucial element for your brand. Your brand elements must be rooted in the essence of your organization, and your values. The elements need to come together in endless combinations to consistently reinforce the same core story.


Brands are where we assign meaning to organizations. At the core of meaning is messaging. Do you know how to describe yourself to millennials? Can you clearly communicate your value in a way that aligns with the values of your members? Can you communicate the passion all of you feel in your hearts, through a website to a prospective member, on their phone, who’s killing 2 minutes waiting for a Zoom call to start? A good messaging structure can help you do all of this.

Do you know how to describe yourself to millennials? Can you clearly communicate your value in a way that aligns to the values of your members? Can you communicate the passion all of you feel in your hearts, through a website to a prospective member, on their phone, who’s killing 2 minutes waiting for a Zoom call to start? A good messaging structure can help you do all of this and more.

Each and every visual element I listed earlier needs to add to your story. Here are a few examples:

Color Palette

The Association of General Contractors of California’s original color palette was red, red, red, black, and gray. Heavy, masculine, bold, and old. How do we improve that for the next generation? Adding in secondary colors to give a brand depth and range. Assigning colors that are welcoming to all ages and genders. That lightens and freshens the brand, to make it more approachable. Still strong but more welcoming.

Graphic Elements

Capitol Public Radio has products to serve its members across the web, podcasts, print, social, app, and more. They needed core graphic elements to give their brand depth, flexibility, and continuity. Their graphic elements tell the story of an impactful brand anchored in audio and simultaneously innovating into new storytelling platforms.


Visit Sacramento’s brand is all about an attitude and a tone. A rebellious, underdog spirit. Should their icons be clean and corporate, no way. The hand-drawn style of their icons helps set the right tone and adds to their brand narrative. 

Each component in your brand system builds on each other to tell a complete story. A good brand system is like a well-stocked Italian pantry. 

A quick, but important moment of clarification here. If a well-stocked Italian pantry is good. Isn’t the whole grocery store better? Don’t we need some Mexican tortillas, polish sausages, and Canadian maple syrup? No, my friends, no you do not. Your brand needs to be distinct and ownable. It needs to tell your unique story, your values, and your characteristics. 

For example: You want enough colors in your palette to work for all your events, your conference, your gala, and your seminars, but not so many that nobody can recognize your events over your competition’s. 

Brand Roll-out

So now you have this exciting new brand system that is deeply flexible and uniquely you. Are we done? The next step is where I’ve seen so many organizations misstep or shoot themselves in the foot. They hired a great partner, collaborated deeply, they listened with intention, crafted an amazing brand and then they botched the internal rollout. 

External marketing campaigns are necessary and great, but if you don’t pause and make champions of your staff, board and volunteers you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Your brand is not just your marketing. It’s not just “the icing on the cake.” 

A brand is a consolidation of what people think – their perception of you, your product, or service. This perception builds over time through their experience with your CEO, front desk staff, sales team, event experiences, social media impressions, and volunteer committee experiences. Your entire staff needs to be trained on your brand.

Your event volunteers need messaging training, how do people representing your brand talk about the organization? Your board of directors should be some of the biggest advocates of your organization. Shouldn’t they be talking about your organization the same way your social media captions and sales decks are defining what makes you unique? The board needs to be onboarded with your new brand. Then vendors, partners, etc. 

You and I know that marketing and communications isn’t easy, the world is a very noisy and competitive place. Let’s get the whole choir singing the same song, so we can break through the noise.


I think about 402 people have hit retirement age since I started, so it’s time to wrap this up. There are big changes coming your way. If you’re not already feeling the shifts in your member base, it’s coming and fast. These new members are very different from what you’re used to, but they’re also packed with potential.

Your new members are digital natives, they prioritize design and need to feel aligned with your product or service. 

They expect to be able to understand what you have to offer within seconds, they need seamless digital and print experiences and intuitively designed visuals. You must meet (or exceed) those expectations in your branding. And it’s all possible with the right mindset, tools, and partnerships. 

While the challenges are great, the opportunities are greater. People are looking for ways to connect and belong, and sometimes dancing on TikTok doesn’t cut it. I believe the next generation of members needs you. 

You provide deeper education opportunities than YouTube, more meaningful connections than LinkedIn, and hold the power to affect political change that is crucial to their business. If you reach out and speak their language you’ll transform into an organization the next generation of members will proudly champion.

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