Many trade and membership organizations face a unique branding challenge with no easy solution: How do you brand association products and events in order to effectively tie the name of the association together with the offering> It’s not an easy question, especially when the event – typically a large annual trade show – has a long history and generates an important source of revenue for the organization. It’s even more difficult when the association’s asset is a product as opposed to a conference, such as a valuable industry certification. In a competitive market, the further the event or product is from the association, the more that brand equity is being lost.
Marketing trade associations is never easy, especially considering that the competitive landscape has never been more crowded. Not only are there more organizations chasing new members, but there are also more for-profit companies offering competing services. As a result, whether you are with a trade association whose members include large corporations, or a membership association with thousands of individuals enjoying your services and offerings, it takes a strong brand strategy and a sophisticated outreach plan to efficiently and effectively attract new members, retain existing members, and drive attendees to your conferences and events.
Having to reconcile the association brand with the brand of its products and events is not uncommon. It can often happen when the organization itself rebrands and updates its name without progressing the brand of its assets. Even among some of the largest and most established trade groups, this brand reconciliation can be a significant challenge.
What’s now known as the Consumer Technology Association holds its annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January every year. CES is one of the largest and perhaps the most famous trade show in the U.S., primarily because electronics manufacturers annually launch their newest smart TVs, VR devices, and other cool technology at the show – guaranteeing media coverage from reports who want to showcase the future of innovation. For decades, the trade group was called the Consumer Electronics Association. So when it evolved to its new name in 2015, it had to decide what to do about its trade show CES. The answer was to leave it alone because its name had become much better known than the association that sponsors it every year. That wasn’t an easy decision, and the CES brand is prominently displayed on the Association website.
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But when the trade show or other product becomes much better known than association itself, that creates significant challenges. For one, it makes selling memberships to the association more difficult because the connection between the association and the product gets lost. In one example, a long-established membership association that was feeling the increased competition realized through market surveys that its brand awareness had been flat or declining over the past several years. It turned to Bluetext for help in overcoming this downturn.
With more competing organizations offering similar services, the client recognized one of the reasons for this decline: It had spent years branding its products and events separately from the association itself. This divide can present a significant challenge for organizations which offer a wide range of services which have each been branded individually. As new membership prospects are entering the market, they may know the products – in this case, the professional certifications – but they don’t know the association itself. Our solution was a multi-tiered, integrated approach that combined programmatic online media campaigns, fresh and compelling themes and creative, and a separate set of campaigns for the branded products themselves. We tied all of this together with new messaging and gave the campaign the simple yet measurable goal of increasing brand awareness and engagement with the association.
For another large association that has been around longer than any other competitor in its vertical, one of the challenges had been a result of its age – its brand was getting stale. Our approach was to develop a fresh look for its annual conference that brings in most of their annual revenue. For this client, our focus was on a bold new creative design that took the brand color palette and re-imagined it in dynamic, contrasting tones that pop from a distance, with 3-D shapes that both fit the brand and stand out at a large trade show environment.
For trade association marketing, there is no one solution when rethinking the brand. But having a strong brand strategy is a critical first step.