Smart businesses know that recessions come bundled with
branding opportunities. Whether smart associations know the
same thing remains unclear. “Charitably speaking, most associations don’t approach branding in a disciplined, systematic
way, and those that try to do so tend to do it from a narrow
marketing perspective,” Oren Harari, a graduate professor of
management at the University of San Francisco, wrote in a recent
Association Management article. “They focus on logos, slogans,
color schemes, online sales tools, public relations campaigns,
ad rollouts and such.”
Although Harari’s observation is debatable, even if most
associations had moved beyond a “brand = logo” mentality, they
would still fall short in the long term. That’s because it’s no
longer enough to have a strong brand. To truly reap the benefits
of branding, associations must establish an emotional brand
that fosters connectivity and even stretches toward advocacy.
Smart businesses know
that recessions come
bundled with branding
The ‘Sweet 16’ of Emotional Branding
The benefits of emotional connectivity are both anecdotal and
empirical. For anecdotes, look no further than brands like
Apple and Amazon, which have strong emotional components
and could arguably launch a branded toothbrush that would
Consider a recent survey from McKinsey & Company: It
reported that brands offering both tangible and intangible —
both practical and emotional — benefits had a 10 percent
greater return on investment than those offering only tangible
While the benefits of emotional connectivity are easy to
see, an emotionally connected association brand is difficult to
build — but not impossible.
To create emotional connections with your members and
prospects, use these steps — the “Sweet 16” of emotional
branding — to build your brand from the ground up:
Ensure Baseline Understanding: Ensuring that staff and
board members have a solid understanding of “branding
101” creates a common vocabulary and lays the groundwork
for subsequent efforts.
Understand Emotional Triggers: Just as a survey that asks
members to rate current activities misses the opportunity to
uncover unmet needs, any methodology that does not identify key “triggers” of emotional connectivity misses brand-building opportunities, according to McKinsey, which noted
in its survey results that “the key to building distinctive
brand equity is to identify and deliver on the two or three
key triggers of the product/service experience that stand out”
in building a stakeholder’s overall impression.
Establish a Frame of Reference: Understanding what stakeholders think of when they think of you is essential, as your
realm of competition might be wider than initially thought.
Establish Points of Parity: Before you can claim your place in
the market, you must establish where you hold parity positions,
according to branding expert Kevin Keller of Dartmouth.
Establish Points of Difference: Being different isn’t enough.
Being different in a way that’s relevant to your members
isn’t enough, either. What is enough? You must build
long-term relevant differentiation without the millions of dollars
that Gatorade, Walmart and other leading brands bring to
Validate: Without some form of quantitative or qualitative
research, your positioning might be market-informed, but
not market-validated. Understanding where your brand is
today provides a rough guide to where your brand could go
Consistently Communicate: Although it’s sometimes thought
of as the end game, communication — a must-have for
functional attraction — does not immediately or necessarily
facilitate emotional connectivity.
Ensure Aligned Operations: Branding is everyone’s business.
For example, without the IT department’s buy-in that ease-of-use is a key brand attribute — and an essential emotional
trigger — your Web site will never deliver on the brand
Manage the Brand, Not the Brand Campaign: The brand
must be embraced throughout the association in order to
create emotional connectivity. Similarly, efforts will only be
successful over the long term if they are initially and consistently positioned as an ongoing activity, rather than as a
one-off re-branding “campaign.”
Balance Collective with Personal Benefits: One association
commentator noted recently that, “the good of the order
and members’ personal benefits are often competitive and
may be the source of considerable association tension.”
That tension presents an opportunity for emotional connectivity, as the chance to appeal to a higher calling is inherently emotional.
Be Industry-Appropriate: Some associations will have an
easier time creating emotional connectivity than others,
because some industries are inherently more emotional.
Compare the national Parent Teacher Association Web site
with that of the Healthcare Information and Management
Systems Society’s. Because both are industry-appropriate,
the PTA site looks and feels softer, more emotional. That
doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t an opportunity for
HIMSS and other associations like it to position themselves
Launch Your Brand Internally: From simple staff meetings
that educate employees about your branding initiative to
sophisticated branding campaigns that highlight over the
course of many months what individual staff members are
doing to build the brand, internal branding is an often overlooked — but utterly essential — component of creating