By Guest Blogger Brandon Ives
“Can you explicitly name the value and added benefits your association offers your members?”
When people discuss branding their association with me, I ask them that question and tell them that their biggest challenge will be answering it. The response will provide the key messages they will want to convey to people who know nothing about the opportunities their organization provides – and can clarify them to those members who are supposed to know what it does.
Some leaders of associations need to contemplate to determine these messages. They know what they offer, but may not have mastered explaining exactly what makes their services or products unique to the general public. The branding process requires them to look inward and ask, “What are we offering members as key selling points? What do our members want from us?”
Once you answer these questions, creating your identity, logo, collateral materials, related branding items and online strategy will flow from those responses. But the process can vary somewhat, depending on the circumstances and needs of your company.
Initial Considerations to Keep in Mind
If your business is part of an existing organization – for example, a chapter of a statewide, nationwide or worldwide group – you should evaluate where they are in their own messaging and visual supporting materials as you determine your own branding. Do this before you develop your online strategy, and look at the overall marketing plan by the parent organization as well as your own chapter. Determine and identify the sales goals of both, and find out how they can or should be combined in your branding. Most associations that my company has handled in the past were part of a larger group or had a national alliance where we were permitted and successful in connecting their logos back to the larger entity.
Visual branding is an essential part of your overall branding and direction, as is developing a true position and message. Find a talented consultant or agency to help you with branding your organization. Associations without logos or parent affiliations should identify the visual marketing and online banners they want to use with their logos as a starting point. This will provide designers with an idea of how to best convey their branding in an effective way throughout supporting materials, online and otherwise. Similarly, a strong tagline or slogan can help push out your messaging and guarantee strong results.
If you have not created one yet, finalizing the mission and/or vision statement for your website and collateral materials is a good self-evaluation process for establishing your overall goal or goals. These statements serve as effective tools for letting people outside your organization know and understand your priorities. Just keep in mind they can be of limited help in branding your association with some people, such as those who view your business as a networking opportunity.
Establishing Strategies for SEO and Social Media
When my company assists in improving the search engine optimization, or SEO, for the website for any organization, we always start with a keyword research process and an online marketing strategy. For keywords research, we consult with association leaders about what visitors they are trying to attract and create a list of words related to that goal. For example, if an association’s primary aim with its online branding is to attract new members, we review which recruiting words and phrases when put in search engines would bring the association’s name up near the top of the listings and then incorporate them into the group’s online efforts.
Online marketing strategy goes beyond determining SEO to recommend other online approaches that will enhance your branding. Again, you should work with a consultant or agency to help guide you through this process and select an appropriate plan of attack. For example, should your organization use blogs to continue to convey your message best, or will linking to other websites to generate traffic work more favorably for you? As with keywords, the methods that work well will be revealed through researching and analyzing all online marketing strategies. When implemented, the result of these SEO efforts will optimize a website in a way that is unique to every association.
While social media is a big ranking indicator for many search engines, its SEO benefits are questionable for some associations. If your organization is catering primarily to a more mature audience that comes to your website for basic information on membership and upcoming events, will they necessarily want to follow you for updates on Twitter or Facebook? And do you have the staff or support ready to answer questions or comments resulting from your social media posts? In such cases, social media may not be a priority for your membership, which always needs to be your primary focus for your branding.
Of course, many associations employ social media quite effectively for branding. One organization I know that is involved in promoting air quality improvements and reaching an audience interested in environmental issues has received excellent SEO because of its active engagement with its followers on social media through frequent updates and responses to queries. This proves once again the needs of your members should determine your branding strategy, online and off.
Why Branding Matters
Many associations have followed the steps previously mentioned and thrived successfully online, no matter their size. Still, some organization leaders consider branding a frivolous or unnecessary expense. If you are one of those people – or encountering resistance from them as you want to engage in branding – consider the following:
- All of your current and prospective members are online.
- You need to connect with people all the time.
- The market for finding members of associations is more crowded than ever.
Given these facts, to stand out and succeed in today’s market, branding is your most effective answer. It can help with recruiting, communications and many other areas. When formulated correctly, it will make a positive impression with newcomers and assist in the long-term success of your organization.
Brandon Ives is managing partner & marketing strategist for Brasco Design + Marketing, which helps companies design and implement creative strategies to springboard their growth. Armed with a client base in a variety of industries, Brasco Design + Marketing specializes in marketing strategy, creative brand design, web development, online / SEO marketing and comprehensive marketing management services. The company, located in the heart of downtown Raleigh, N.C., maintains a prestigious client base, and is a one-stop shop for all aspects of design and marketing creation and management. The agency has been providing services to clients since 2006 and delivers passion, energy, creativity and experience.