Your association has a brand. That might be a surprising statement, especially if you’ve never actually spent budget or capital to build one. Still, it’s an important consideration as you look to grow your membership and build your revenue.
Active branding, in fact, can play a core role in growing your non-dues revenue. With the right strategy in place, you can maximize member engagement, and use brand-related opportunities specifically to raise funds.
To get to that point, though, you have to overcome a few challenges. The first one doubles as the start to this article: the sometimes difficult relationship between associations and the brands they either consciously or unconsciously build.
Associations and Brand – A Tenuous Relationship
Associations and professional organizations are very different from for-profit companies. They don’t seek to sell a product or service, but serve their members in anything from advancing careers to advancing the profession. As a result, marketing efforts aimed at branding don’t tend to be a natural fit.
Branding, according to conventional wisdom, is the process of positioning an organization to be more valuable in your audience’s eyes. That value is typically conveyed in terms of higher sales and customer retention. Because these goals don’t apply to associations, to many of them don’t actively brand themselves.
What is a Brand?
That attitude, however, is a mistake. That’s because, at its core, a brand is actually not what conventional wisdom suggests. The American Marketing Association, for example, defines a brand as “a customer experience.” In other words, your brand is not what you build; it’s what your audience thinks of you.
Once you shift the viewpoint, branding becomes a much more significant aspect even for associations. Member attitudes, after all, define whether or not they retain their membership, engage, and spread the word. You might not be able to build your brand, but you can shape it.
The Importance of Taking Brand Ownership
The first step is crucial: you have to take ownership of your association brand. Understand what is being said in the industry about your organization, and how close those perceptions are to the truth. Then, you can embark on a strategic journey to influence and shape these attitudes over time.
Doing so has several key advantages. Above all, you can drive membership engagement and grow both your dues and non-dues revenue. We’ll discuss each of these two key benefits in more detail below.
Brand Loyalty as a Key Engagement Driver
Marketers have long considered brand loyalty to be a key driver of engagement, and vice versa. The relationship tends to be circular. Customers who engage closely with social media accounts or promotional messages tend to become more loyal to the brand. And once they are more loyal, their engagement rates rise again, closing the loop in the process.
The same is true for associations. And again, it makes intuitive sense. When your members engage more with your organization, they become more loyal. Imagine, for example, a new member who visits your annual conference and listens to two webinars. Naturally, that member will become more likely to renew their membership in the future. When they do, they’ll become more likely to engage further having already discovered the benefits of doing so, once again closing the loop.
That’s one reason why branding is so important for associations and professional organizations. You get the chance to drive loyalty and engagement, which are mutually beneficial. As a result, you can leverage this newfound brand equity to build a better image of your brand, driving both membership growth and reducing churn in the process.
The Emergence of Branding as Revenue Generator
The result of the above is at least indirect revenue growth. Naturally, subscription and renewal rates will drive up your funds from dues. But as it turns out, that’s far from the only benefit you can count on when it comes to taking strategic ownership of your brand. Non-dues revenue, it turns out, will increase as well if you go about it the right way.
The most obvious example is already highlighted above. Registrations to webinars and conferences can cost money. Members who have bought into your brand will become more likely to attend them. Taking charge of your brand, in other words, directly results in raised non-dues revenue.
But don’t forget about other potential avenues. Some associations, for instance, have made selling branded collateral part of their effort to raise funds. From T-Shirt to industry-relevant snippets and ‘swag’, you can build a portfolio of items. But of course, your audience will only buy in if your association’s brand means something to them and establishes them as valuable.
Once you build a strong association brand, the opportunities increase drastically. Your members will begin to trust you as an industry expert, spread the word, and become more likely to purchase items associated with you. Branding, in other words, emerges as a key revenue generator.
Building Your Backend to Support Non-Dues Revenue
Branding, in short, can and should be a key part of making sure that you grow your association and build revenue that goes beyond membership dues. To get to that point, however, strategy is not the only important component. You also have to make sure that you get your backend structure just right.
That means finding an Association Management Software (AMS) designed to help in building your brand and growing non-dues revenue. Survey and other research tools should aid you in picking up key attributes and attitudes that define your brand. A comprehensive membership database and attached communication options can help you create a more consistent plan in communicating your brand. Meanwhile, payment processing options should be in place to maximize your opportunity in actively leveraging your brand, such as the above-mentioned selling of brand collateral.
We can help you get to that point. In fact, Engagifii has made its name building software that helps associations better manage their membership and business operations. Visit our website to learn more about our AMS solution, and to schedule a call in which we can discuss the details about your necessary next steps.