ASSOCIATIONS & THE POWER OF BRANDS

Marketing guru Tom Peters must have been gazing into a crystal ball when he said, “we are no doubt in the great age of the brand.” That “great age of the brand” continues today – and applies to individuals, companies, organizations – and associations.

The National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards (NAB) recognized the power of brands and the role brands can play in strengthening stakeholder recruitment and retention efforts. It understood that an association (or any entity) must manage its brand effectively or risk the market (or other forces) managing the brand for it. To ensure that NAB continued to provide value to its members and to help propel the association’s growth, it embarked on an initiative to define, actively manage and promote its brand. That initiative included a review of branding basics, a survey of key stakeholders, defining the NAB brand and developing an overall strategy.

Branding Basics: What’s in a Brand?

These days, it seems like almost everywhere – online and offline – there’s buzz about brands. When managed well, a brand can be a tremendous asset to an organization or to an individual. Sometimes, there’s confusion about what
a brand is – and is not. A brand is the compilation of the promises and perceptions an organization/entity wants its members and stakeholders to feel and believe about its products (and services).

There are several benefits of a well-managed brand. For example, a successful brand can help an organization attract and retain members; create differentiation; increase its marketing return on investment (ROI) and even simplify decision making processes (for internal and external stakeholders). On the flip side, a poorly managed – or poorly
defined brand – can have the opposite effect: it can cause confusion, prompt members to leave and harm credibility.
Typically, branding involves four phases. Phase 1 includes determining the brand’s current image. Once the
current image is identified, phase 2 involves creating the brand’s vision, updating its value proposition, image and positioning. The third phase of any branding process includes developing a marketing plan and an action plan to communicate and promote the brand to key stakeholder groups. The fourth and final stage involves implementing the plan, monitoring and evaluating it. Flexibility is an important ingredient throughout the brand’s development and lifecycle.

Stakeholder Survey

To understand what a brand means to key audiences, it’s important to identify and survey key stakeholders to gather their current perceptions of the brand as well as the vision they may have for the brand’s evolution. Stakeholders should include internal (staff, board members) and external (members, influencers, industry experts) groups. Identifying current perceptions is a necessary first step to understand how those perceptions may differ from reality and the extent to which the brand will need to change from its “current” to “desired” perception.

Defining and Promoting the Brand

Phase 2 involves getting at the “core” of the brand, which requires a close look at benefits and the brand’s promise. This step involves a “deep dive” – to arrive at the core of the brand. Another approach to this phase is to imagine the brand is a person. What characteristics would it have? What makes it unique? Answers to these questions can help an organization shape and articulate the brand promise: the benefits it will deliver to stakeholders.

Four principles guide the development of any brand:

  1. Value: A brand’s value is the perceived benefit(s) that members, stakeholders and/or key audiences want and need. An organization must identify how perceived benefits match up to actual benefits and identify any gaps in perception.
  2. Fit: What is the best way to leverage a brand’s strengths? How can that be accomplished consistently, across multiple channels?
  3. Uniqueness: How is the brand different than its competition?
  4. Credibility: Can the organization deliver on its brand promise – and is it credible?

Together, these four principles help create a brand’s building blocks. To take a brand to the next level and make it really powerful, incorporate beliefs (emotional, spiritual and cultural values), benefits (functional and/or emotional) and attributes (features or processes).

Creating an Overall Strategy and Brand Metrics

The third phase in brand development involves implementation and communication; brand strategies, marketing and communications plans help guide the overall management of a brand. Implementation involves aligning the organization to the brand, establishing brand metrics and monitoring the brand’s effectiveness. Each and every member of an organization – as well as many of its stakeholders – has a role to play in being a brand ambassador.

Managing and measuring a brand’s implementation and overall effectiveness is the fourth phase in the brand development cycle. Brand ambassadors can help not only to promote the brand but can serve to help gather anecdotal and qualitative feedback about the brand, providing an informal assessment of its effectiveness. Given the prevalence and significance of brands across the corporate and not-for-profit spectrum, it’s clear that the “great age of the brand” is here to stay.