With the digital age boom, it’s important for association publishers to control their brand—here’s how and why.
By Eileen Wubbe
Association Media & Publishing’s latest New York Lunch & Learn, held on September 29, sponsored by Magellan Media, at the Commercial Finance Association (CFA), discussed the importance of branding—and taking control of the branding process. Led by Beau Fraser, managing director of The Gate Worldwide, attendees learned what branding is (and isn’t) and heard a case study of how The CFA Institute’s brand was revitalized.
"A brand is what you create when you add differentiating substance to a product or service,” Fraser explained. "A brand is more than a positioning statement. Brands give customers a clear vision of who you are and what you stand for, thereby giving them a reason to choose you over others.”
Fraser stressed the importance of branding versus brand identity versus brand communications. Branding is an intellectual exercise, whereas brand identity is a design exercise. This is where the importance of colors, logos, and taglines come in. Lastly, brand communications is an awareness-building exercise.
Associations have many different avenues they can explore when developing a brand. A brand helps create strong reputation, which in turn, leads to better recruitment and member retention. All of these equate to increased association revenue.
Fraser suggested associations look into the following areas to develop their brand:
· What you do (product focused).
· How long you’ve done it (heritage).
· How you do it (process).
· How well you do it (competitive superiority).
· Why you do it (reason for being).
· What you believe (values).
· What members get from you (the customer end, end benefit).
To demonstrate how these steps work, Fraser shared how The Gate Worldwide helped The CFA Institute overcome several hurdles with its brand.
"We had to distinguish the credential among the alphabet soup of accreditations and add value to the CFA credential so that companies could see the benefit of hiring a charterholder,” Fraser explained. "In the beginning, it was a lot of ‘Don’t you mean you’re a CPA?’Or, ‘MBAs, CPAs, and PhDs work for me…Tell me again why I should hire a CFA?’ and ‘Do I really want to put my life on hold for three years, just to add three little letters to my business card?’”
Creating a strong, universal reputation with a brand idea that encapsulated the unique benefits of a CFA credential for members, local societies, employers, and candidates was crucial. "The CFA exam’s difficulty was a major deterrent,” Fraser said. "The reality is you need four years of relevant experience, and you must pass three levels of rigorous exams over three years. Only one in five people successfully complete it.”
By turning the negative thoughts associated with the exam into positive ones, the exam evolved into something recognized as worth the effort. With a new tagline—"Three letters that speak volumes”—incorporated into print ads, The CFA Institute’s look was overhauled from dated, black-and-white graphics to a series of color ads with a personal touch: people sharing how becoming a chartered financial analyst was the most memorable day of their lives.
The branding efforts didn’t go without notice: The CFA Institute’s membership increased from 45,000 to 95,000 and annual exam-takers climbed to 140,000 from 74,000.
Parting advice from Fraser was for associations to update their logo or graphics at least once every ten years. With the digital age boom, it’s important to control your brand.
"Always own the brand. Don’t let the customers own your brand,” he stressed. "Know what your end-user wants, but keep in mind that customer experience tends to look backwards.”
Eileen Wubbe is senior editor of the Commercial Finance Association’s The Secured Lender/TSL Express. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this New York Lunch & Learn for those members who were unable to attend.