How to Brand a Professional Association?

Back in the day, life was easier for professional associations: Whether you were a lawyer, or an accountant, or a doctor, you wanted to be a member of your professional association. Associations used to be the voice of their respective professions. They had unquestioned authority. Being a member was prestigious. Associations used to connect people through their popular networking events. They were training their members, helping them to keep up with the latest developments in their fields. Associations, also, provided the sense of belonging.

Well, unfortunately, those days are gone. First the Internet, then the social media drastically changed the playing field. Many associations went into an existential crisis. The ones who wanted to go back to their days of glory decided to rebrand, which they often treated as a cosmetic exercise. Not surprisingly most of their members shrugged, feigning indifference. Let’s find out why.

Before we go any further, let’s make something clear: A well-designed logo is a much needed improvement for any professional association. A holistic brand identity would improve the perceptions of an association. But remember! A brand is what others think of you. While visuals are important, the perception of your brand is formed less by what you say, and more by what you do. Most associations have a bigger issue with the latter.

“Psyche loves beauty and demands its images.” Depth psychology

“A logo is the entry point to the brand.” Brand strategy

Having worked on a couple of professional associations’ rebranding projects, I can say that the most pressing issues of an association are:

  1. Membership numbers are going down
  2. The old value proposition is not compelling anymore
  3. The association is losing its vital role as the “voice” of the profession
  4. Local chapters and the national office are not entirely on the same page
  5. Gen Y hopes for a more purposeful career trajectory, which challenges the old boys club mentality
  6. The association cannot catch up with the social era movement

If those are your issues, then, unfortunately, a yummy logo, or a sleek website, or cool marketing materials will not solve your problem. Luckily, there is something else that can help:

It is pivotal for an association to go back to its roots and “remember” who it is. Remembering the purpose (raison d’etre) of the “profession” and rediscovering the meaning of its existence often moves mountains. Having a shared understanding of its role would breathe life into an association. “Purpose” is the only meaningful conversation that would cease internal turf wars. It would help lower the fences, providing the necessary conditions for conversations to take place.

Margaret Wheatley once said: “Whatever the problem, community is the answer.” So, talk to everyone, both internally and externally. Find out who really cares about your association. Understand what they really care about and why. Be honest. Ask them “what the association can allow them to achieve in their lives.” And finally, make that happen.

“Rotary Phone in Ti Couz” by Clemson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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