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.
Chances are that prospective members will first meet your association through your website and your existing members use it as a primary touchpoint. And their interaction with your site will influence whether or not they choose to pursue or renew membership. Therefore, when you start a website project, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve done all you can to guarantee its success.
Your website is your digital front door and one of your most important investments. It’s got to look, feel, and function in a way that helps attract and engage members over time. In short, your website has a big responsibility for which it cannot afford to fail.
While a website project is not easy, its foundational elements are straightforward. When working in concert, these five elements can result in a website that’s relevant, useful, and engaging to members — present and future.
User experience (UX) encompasses all the ways in which users interact with your website. Its goal is to make user interactions as easy, satisfying, and useful as possible.
Good UX is based on your answers to three seemingly-simple questions:
These answers provide valuable information you can use to inform site architecture, site map, wireframes, design, development approach, maintenance plans — basically every corner of your website.
User interface (UI) refers to your website’s visual and interaction design. Once you’ve developed a strategic approach based on your members’ needs, you should design accordingly. An off-the-shelf template designed to meet the needs of any generic association simply won’t do.
Your association should already have a strong brand system designed to communicate your story and appeal directly to your audiences. If not, stop. Go no further. Engage a branding partner who can work with you to create a comprehensive, cohesive, and flexible system.
When you have a strong brand system, leverage the design tools in your brand guidelines to tell your story, craft a distinct digital presence and bring the user experience to life
Good visual design is no longer a luxury. The next generation of members are digitally discerning and expect a seamless, impactful, and inspiring website. If you want members to trust you to represent their industry or cause, you need to reinforce that trust with excellent design. Good design takes your website from a necessary tool to a high functioning asset that enhances the member experience and amplifies the efforts of every department.
Accessibility — making your site usable by people with disabilities — should be top of mind from the beginning of your website project. People with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, visual, and speech disabilities require specific considerations and adaptations.
Every strategic, content, design, and development decision contributes to the final usability and accessibility of the website. You’ll need to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 requirements as you make these decisions. The level of accessibility (A, AA, and AAA) you meet is up to you — but greater conformance results in more use by more people.
Neglecting or de-prioritizing accessibility concerns will alienate your members with accessibility needs and open up your organization to costly legal suits.
Don’t forget: another facet of accessibility is ensuring your website is mobile responsive. Your members visit your site on different devices, primarily their mobile phones. Your site should be optimized for your members to be able to interact, consume resources, and engage with your organization regardless of what device they’re on.
Integration is your website’s ability to communicate well with external systems and data sources. When done well, the integration is both strategic and seamless (without interruptions).
However, poor integration can quickly lead to user frustration. For example, a user might enter through the main association website to view the list of upcoming events. As soon as they’re ready to sign up, that member may be taken to an external website (typically the association management system) to register for the event. This external website will often look very different from the main website, which may have that member wondering if they’ve gotten lost.
Another example of poor site integration: mismatched committee information. A PDF or a static page on your website may not have the up-to-date committee list from your association management system. Outdated information makes your organization look unprofessional, eroding trust and relevance. A better integration would automatically sync the committee information data from the association management system to the website and display it in a user-friendly presentation.
The content management system (CMS) allows you to create, edit, and publish content to your site. A good CMS is flexible and customized to your association; its functionality should help you optimize your members’ digital experience.
Your CMS should anticipate and address your future needs. What if you have a new annual event? Are you able to build a robust landing page for it? What if you need to fight a certain piece of legislation? Can you build a page that will provide timely information to your members and drive action?
If your website has fresh, compelling content but your staff can’t maintain it, your website will devolve into a useless relic. Your CMS must be easy for your staff to train on and use daily.
UX, UI, accessibility, seamless integration, and CMS are the necessary ingredients to creating a dynamic and valuable member-focused website. When your association is ready to make this all-important investment, make sure you thoughtfully consider each of these elements. Then your website will serve you — and your members — for years to come.
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.
Prospective members can meet your organization in several ways: at a mixer, on your Facebook page, through an article on your website, or through an email a friend forwarded them. The combination of those experiences adds up to something critical: their perception of your brand.
If your design is outdated or inconsistent across touchpoints, you’re giving prospects reason to doubt you. And frankly, they’re already skeptical. There’s no question about it: you need to tell one story of who you are in a cohesive brand experience to win new members.
Fonts, colors, textures, and images are not trivial details. All brand elements should reiterate your organization’s mission and messaging. A consistent brand experience builds trust and resonance with each interaction. Isn’t that what you want to offer prospective members?
It might be time for your organization to update your materials, so you’re telling your one story masterfully. However, deciding what to prioritize and how to sketch out a reasonable timeline is challenging. Whether you need to start from scratch or attend to just a few elements, you need a solid plan. Here’s how to get started.
Perhaps you know exactly what needs updating. But before making decisions, you’ll need to systematically take stock of and prioritize each asset.
Account for your website, emails, social media, event materials and displays, webinars, membership collateral, sponsorship materials, and all other assets. Assign each asset a rating from 1-5 based on the level of potential impact it can have on your organization and members.
In addition, document:
Avoid determining your materials update budget purely on cost. Instead, consider what investment is reasonable based on the value to be generated. If a positive outcome was likely, what would you invest to achieve that outcome?
For example, if you were told that you’re likely to generate $500k in sponsorship dollars for your event if you invest 10% of that goal on branding the event, would you? This exercise gives you a ceiling for what’s reasonable to invest if there was a high degree of certainty in the results. From there, you can reduce the investment based on your ambitions, available resources, and level of certainty in generating that value.
Ensure you have set up adequate internal and external resources to tackle each project. Even if you have the most capable external vendor to help you through this journey, you still need timely information, decisions, and approvals by your internal team.
The following timeline represents an example of a complete brand update. As you approach this process, be patient and realistic. And bear in mind each part of the update affects the following, so the sequencing is important.
Every organization is different, so you can customize this suggested timeline to one that fits your needs.
The story you tell, how you talk about yourself, and the value you bring to members should be consistent and complementary. Your logo, colors, fonts, and visual elements bring your story to life in a unique, authoritative way.
Make sure you work diligently — and with an external partner if needed — to build a robust brand system that equips your team and vendors for success.
Once you’ve solidified your brand identity, you can begin designing and building a website that supports it. The website is your primary communication tool, and it will require the longest time commitment.
Your brochure is a foundational product that will establish messaging, tone, and visuals. It’s a vital asset that serves as another face of your business and a detailed reference of your services. Subsequent materials (like presentation decks and sales folders) can follow and complement this primary piece.
As you wrap up work on your website, you’ll integrate your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Your CRM allows members to connect with resources like webinars and registration for organizational events and cannot be an afterthought and disjointed from the rest of their experience on the website.
Since email drives traffic to the website, design and deploy your email templates post-website launch. Remember: a good email depends on crisp, clear, concise content.
When you sell a membership, you’ll want to leave a sales folder in that new member’s hands. And one-pagers can be just the right thing when you need a brief, easy-to-read marketing piece. Both of these assets play an important supporting role and build from what you’ve established in your organizational brochure.
Decks can be built alongside sales folders and one-sheets and are also inspired by the established organization brochure, website, and brand guidelines. You’ll use it to present information to potential sponsors, members, or partners. A customized PowerPoint template, another must-have asset, will help you create presentations quickly and professionally.
Event design has a unique place in your brand update timeline. Membership organizations typically start marketing events a minimum of 2 months in advance. The development of an event look and feel should start 6-8 weeks before you want those materials to go live, depending on the complexity of the event.
A well designed event not only drives attendance, but also helps to communicate the caliber of an event to potential sponsors. Reimagined events have the opportunity to tremendously increase sponsorship revenue.
Membership organizations like yours need to actively communicate your value with year-round efforts. As soon as the core corporate communications materials (identity system, brochure, and sales kits) are complete, you’re ready for your membership campaign.
Today’s digital natives have high expectations and low tolerance for counterintuitive, disjointed design. So use all of your brand elements to create and maintain your story and your vision. That’s the way to earn trust and make your organization memorable, impactful, and sustainable to future members.