by Karen Murphy | January 01, 2016

New brands are bursting onto the scene nearly everywhere you turn these days. They often make their debut with a highly appealing look and touting a member experience that makes us run to our leadership saying, “This is how we need to be!”

The output of nimble, attractive new brands, combined with the influx of the millennial generation, cause many groups to question whether they are effectively competing in today’s marketplace. Increasingly, association leaders are asking this question (and rightly so): How do we use brand strategy to compete and remain relevant to a new generation of members?

Even in today’s competitive marketplace, associations can meet the needs and aspirations of key membership groups and achieve group goals by employing a user- or design-centered approach to brand strategy. While making your plans, keep the following points in mind.

1. Recognize that your association is facing stiff competition, and be prepared to admit weaknesses about your brand. Be able to identify and acknowledge the pain points your members or vendors experience in relation to your brand. By doing so, you’ll be better prepared to address those points with solutions and provide a better brand experience.

2. Know your competition and what is—or isn’t— working for them. Devote time to understanding potential or current competitors in order to identify your group’s own strengths and develop your unique value proposition within the industry you serve. Recognize that your value proposition may have changed or may need to change. Learn from other brands, and don’t be afraid to employ or imitate their more effective tactics.

3. Make a commitment to intelligently push the brand or rebrand only after creating a well-researched direction, one that is focused on the member. Often, organizations hold assumptions about membership groups that may or may not be backed by any real factual data. Because these assumptions may drive decision-making, it’s important to identify and question those assumptions and commit to research that will validate or invalidate your claims. Developing a user-centered strategy will demonstrate to board members or other executive leadership how research will help shape the outcome, thus convincing them to buy in. Because what you don’t know about your audience is likely hurting your ability to remain relevant.

4. Anticipate change and prepare staff members. Many times, a new brand strategy requires a change in the processes, which must be effected by staff members and embraced by stakeholders. Commit to getting everyone onboard and aligned. You might motivate staff by painting a picture of what success will look like and how it will benefit both them and the organization. Ask them to get behind the new brand vision, and inspire them to find ways to take part in the solution.

5. Identify your constituents and commit to creating unique programs for each group within the larger branding message. After you identify key membership groups, you can begin to identify their unique needs and aspirations and look for ways that your association’s mission and vision intersects with those needs and aspirations. Understanding this crucial overlap leads you to the sweet spot of intersecting needs, which will become the foundation that drives your messaging and content.

6. Create a product development, marketing and communications plan for each audience. Begin by tracking key groups through their member-engagement life cycle. In doing so, attempt to identify the gaps in your communications, platforms, products and services, and begin to address ways to improve their experiences. These points of engagement will help you conceive better direct marketing and product development plans.

Focusing on brand management may not necessarily be your forte. But when armed with research, an understanding of members’ needs, a willingness to make changes and support from all staff members, you can take your association into the future knowing that your members believe in the organization and its values.