Sometimes when we start talking about how important your “brand identity” is in the marketplace, we automatically think of the branding challenges facing destinations and venues, especially in the COVID-19 era (and beyond). However, we shouldn’t forget that there is a very synergistic relationship that exists between the customer base (associations) and the provider base (the hospitality industry), and the association side of this equation needs to be concerned about its brand, too.
When we went through the travel panics after 9/11 and the cut-backs of the 2009 recession, many in the association world felt that travel, hospitality, trade shows, and conferences would go through an extended “buyers’ market” as destinations and properties tried to lure back their customers. Neither of those buyers’ markets lasted as long as we thought. This one won’t either. We in the association world need to realize that effective branding by venues and destinations makes us want to do business with them.
Our branding should make them want to do business with us, too.
We should all hope that our organisation’s “brand” makes us a client that any destination, conference center, hotel, or city would love to use as an example of the quality clients they serve. Many of us in the association world, unfortunately, don’t realize that our brand – our image in the marketplace – is more under our control than we think.
Here are four keys to create your organisation’s brand with your various stakeholders and publics:
1) Brand your organization through quality control and consistency;
Don’t try to be all things to all people, even to your own members. Set quality control standards on everything your organization does before your offer it to your members, stakeholders, and various publics. Do not force meetings or publications or social media communications that don’t meet a specific list of quality standards. How would you like to live in a world where when someone is asked about your organisation the response is, “Well, I don’t know everything about the organisation but I can tell you this – whatever they do, they do it first class.” You can make that image be a reality.
2) Brand your organisation through affiliation;
One of the very best ways to brand your organisation in a positive light is through the establishment of key affiliations. Members and supporters want to be part of an organisation that use the word “partner” frequently and credibly. Develop a reputation as an organisation that is more concerned with outcomes and impact than you are with who is getting the largest part of the credit. “Win – win” isn’t just a negotiating term – it’s a culture.
3) Brand your organization through slogans and images;
Your visual and communications images are also a critical part of your brand. You may not have the resources to create something as memorable and recognizable as the McDonald’s Golden Arches or the Nike “swoosh” but you can stand out from the crowd by identifying your organisation’s uniqueness through your logos, letterhead, and social media images, etc. Find ways to communicate your mission and your impact (value) effectively, and you won’t have any trouble attracting partners.
4) Brand your organization through customer loyalty;
Remember when McDonald’s used to list on their signs how many hamburgers they sold world-wide? At one point, it was well above 50 billion hamburgers. They didn’t do that just to brag about the amount. Their point was “we couldn’t sell these many hamburgers if people didn’t keep coming back!” They were branding their company through their customer loyalty rate.
In our associations, our member retention rate is our customer loyalty rate, our customer satisfaction rate. What better message to send to all of your publics than “we not only represent ‘x’ thousand members worldwide, but our retention rate is nearly 90%. That means our average members stays for more than 10 years. In today’s marketplace, that’s a great sign we’re giving them the value they seek.”
Creating a brand that tells your organisation’s story the way you want it told creates not only an “image” but also a reputation as a successful and reliable partner. Yes, destinations and venues want your business (especially now) but they don’t want to just make sales - they want to build mutually beneficial relationships. Let them know you are the kind of organisation with which to build them.
Mark Levin, CAE, CSP has more than 25 years of experience as an association executive and is also an internationally-known speaker and consultant to the nonprofit and association community. He currently serves as Executive Vice President of the Chain Link Fence Manufacturers Institute, an international trade association, and as President of B.A.I., Inc., his speaking and consulting firm.
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