Sensible Branding

I have to confess something. I have developed negative feelings toward “branding”. Here’s why. With some associations, branding has become an excuse to return to the deadly practice of “if you build it they will come”.

The branding process can stop pro-active marketing in its tracks or can become the end instead of the means to communicating with members and prospects.

After all, who wouldn’t rather spend time focusing on all of their attributes and what members and non-members “really” think about them instead of selling.

It reminds me of the humorous saying: “Enough about me talking about me. What do you think about me?”

But flying back from The Great Ideas Conference and catching up on my reading I was greatly encouraged to read an article that presented a very sensible and smart perspective on branding.

The article appeared in the December issue of Associations Now and was written by one of keynote speakers at Great Ideas Conference, Bruce Turkel.

Turkel defined branding this way, “A brand is not a name, a logo, or a masthead. A brand is the promise of a relationship—the relationship that you build with your customers when they agree to do business with you (page 28).” In many cases, the brand can be described in just a word or two.

He goes on to emphasize that of course you must deliver a top notch product as a baseline for success, but beyond having top products “the most important thing you have to do is to make your customers feel good about the time and money they spend [with you].”

Furthermore, he says, “In order to keep your brand vital to your members, your organization has to be the cauldron where the great new ideas are always bubbling. Like the mama bird catching fat worms to drop into the waiting mouths of her hungry hatchlings, it’s your job to search the world for the best practices and bring them back to your members, often before they even realize they need what you’re offering (page 29).”

Essentially, Turkel is describing great, innovative products and experiential customer service.

But here is the part where some organizations fail and where I think Turkel get’s it right. He emphasizes that once you have a brand, “You must constantly and consistently communicate your brand value. Only a constant message will break through the clutter of all the communicators trying to get your target’s attention. And only a consistent message will present your message reliably enough to stick. Ironically, this doesn’t give you license to be repetitive. Instead you have to regularly refresh your message so it doesn’t bore the very people you’re trying to excite.”

He has it right. A brand does not magically make the world come to your door. Instead, it is the foundation from which to market. Once you have a sense of the promise you can make to your members and prospects in products and experience, you need to aggressively take it onto the street, test it, adjust it, and frequently communicate it.

Ultimately it is not your brand that funds your mission. It is the dues and member purchases that allow you to fulfill your purpose.

What do you think?


Jeff Cobb said...

Tony--I, too, liked Turkel's characterization of a brand as "the promise of a relationship." I have to wonder, though, if it is not more correct to say that the brand *is* the relationship (not unlike McLuhan's "The Medium is the Message"). Given the increasing transparency of organizations (whether they like it or not), it's not too much of an overstatement to say that every action, every day, by every representative of the organization is a part of the brand. --Jeff

ljunker said...

Tony, I'm so glad to hear you liked the article! I thought Bruce did a good job of clearly presenting his thoughts on branding--and I appreciate his use of the National Speakers Association as an example of a powerful brand he's familiar with. It's nice to see an article discussing an association's brand right along with more familiar examples like Starbucks and Apple ...

Tony Rossell said...

I agree that using the brand example of the National Speakers Association was very helpful. Some branding presentations focus only on corporate entities, so you are left with the question, "how does this apply to me?"