Branding has long been synonymous of product and service promotion applied to commercial activities and viewed with some distrust by non-profit associations. How many times in our business have we heard our clients say: our association is scientific and does not aim to make a profit, it is not in our nature to have a commercial dimension, our members are looking for quality and scientific content and this is what we must promote; we are focused on research and scientific sharing and events are our main (and often unique) means of communication. All of this is true but were these associations catering to all their members and community needs?
In recent years we have witnessed a change in this paradigm with the democratization of branding - a change in the way associations are viewing their strategic positioning: associations are now understanding the importance that branding can have to stay relevant and as a way to stand out in an increasingly competitive industry.
Branding an association is much more than creating a logo and promoting scientific meetings. Associations now need more than ever to think in a holistic and strategic way and brand themselves wisely and effectively. Having a well-defined mission is only a first step towards a consolidated strategy: more than identifying what you represent it is necessary to establish the means to achieve your ends. The right questions must be asked: what is your USP, what are your short and long-term objectives and how will you plan in a concerted manner in order to reach each of your target audience, whether they are members, the scientific community or the general public.
Smart branding has become essential for the survival of associations as much as any other entity. Establishing a bond of recognition, a sense of belonging and, above all, making sure that you deliver what you promise, that you are consistent, reliable and relevant is fundamental for an association to stand out from the crowd.
So, what is a smart strategy for an association? There is obviously no-one-size-fits-all solution, but for sure it means adopting a more business-oriented vision. Setting goals for your objectives and activities, a careful SWOT analysis, implementing your KPIs and measuring the results achieved using all the analytics tools you have at your disposal. Above all never forget to listen to your members and establish a constant, relevant and bi-directional communication with them. Only then will associations be able to remain effective and increase their impact, retain and increase their membership base, make the difference.
When we look at the last few months, we cannot help thinking that associations with this strategic vision are better fit to face such unprecedented times. Maintaining a multichannel communication has allowed not only associations to survive the impossibility of organising physical events but also showed that they are able to stay relevant to their members in times of crisis and that they are able to support them. The new coronavirus has been an enormous challenge but also a way to turn times of adversity into new opportunities.
We all know that physical events are irreplaceable and essential for associations, members and the scientific community and that scientific exchange is particularly important in times of medical emergency. The transformation of physical events into fully virtual, although temporary until the necessary conditions are met for physical events to resume, is part of this growing capacity of associations to create new branding solutions: continued communication and connectivity between associations and their membership, hybrid and longer lifespan events, bite-size content, to name just a few. All these opportunities must now be seized by associations to allow sustainable growth and as a way of getting closer to their target audiences and new members.
This article was provided by the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers, author Monica Freire, Director Congress Department, AIM Group International – Lisbon. AIM Group International is one of the world leaders in the organisation of events and conferences whose philosophy is summed up in: dynamism, reliability, flexibility. AIM Group operates through its 13 offices in 10 countries worldwide.
IAPCO represents today 140 companies comprised of over 9900 professional congress organisers, meeting planners and managers of international and national congresses, conventions and special events from 40 countries.
Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.