Try asking the almighty Google, “How do I brand an association?” You’ll get loads of articles about brand association — what a customer considers when they think about your brand. You know, the mental connections between a brand and a concept. Heady stuff (pun intended), but not quite what you were looking for.

Okay, now try another experiment. What happens when you type in “How do I brand a company?” or “How do I brand a product?” or even “How do I brand a non-profit?” No problem there. You will find literally billions of links in less than a second. A veritable how-to guide to help you grow your branding chops. 

So, is it okay not to find information on how to brand an association? Is branding an association not important? Can you afford to ignore how essential it is to build and manage a brand if you are an association? 

The answer is a resounding NO. 

There are more than 92,000 trade and professional associations in the United States alone. Most are vying for a share of mind to gain and keep members. Many have outreach programs to help their members connect with consumers, suppliers, policymakers, and other target audiences. Almost all serve a vital role of advocating for their members on a host of different social, professional, and economic issues. 

It’s way easier to do all of this if you have a strong brand for your association.

Membership Branding vs. Association Branding

Let’s be clear. It’s not that associations don’t understand branding. Some have vigorous membership branding efforts focused on recruiting new members. They do the steps required to gain new members. Defining and profiling potential targets. Defining key benefits of membership. Explaining how their association is different than similar organizations. 

That’s a good start. But, membership branding differs in two very important ways from branding a product, company, nonprofit, and in this case, an association. 

First, when you brand an association you need to look at multiple targets and develop personas for each. What does a typical member look like? How about the consumer? What about important influencers? What makes each of them tick? Associations exist because of what they can do for multiple stakeholders. They all must be part of the branding equation.

Second, most of the time, membership branding is very pragmatic. The major theme is what you get as a member. But being part of an association and acting as its voice and advocate – a key role of members – requires engaging the emotions of whom you need to reach. An association must touch the heart and the mind. Great branding tells a story, and that is very important for associations to thrive and achieve their mission. 

Two Examples of When It Works

At 29, one of our primary focuses is cultivating and growing food and ag brands. As you probably know, associations play a large role in agriculture on the state, regional, national, and even international levels. They bring farmers together to share strategies about how to succeed in an often challenging profession and are fierce advocates of their constituents on economic and policy matters. Additionally, reaching consumers with the right messages to promote different crops is an increasingly important part of agricultural associations.
We have the honor of working with the New York Corn and Soybean Growers Association. They are a grassroots organization representing corn and soybean producers’ interests.

We help them bring growers and consumers together online to learn more about corn and soybeans. Last year we created a cross-channel Harvest Season campaign to raise awareness. Our method? Humor. We created the “Soy Corny” comedy club and turned corn and soybeans into the stand-up comedians. We even had a harvest meter that tracked the 2020 corn and soybean harvest and shared jokes that were submitted by followers. 

And those joke submissions? The NY Corn & Soybean Growers Association received 28,136 entries into a regionally-focused contest and they realized a 58% increase in Facebook followers. Now that’s what we call raising awareness. Oh, by the way, we also earned the association and us the Best of NAMA (National Agri-Marketing Association) 2020, First Place in the Social Media Campaign Directed to Consumers for the Northeast part of the US (Region 6). 

Fortunately for the New York Apple Association, apples may be a bit better understood on the consumer side than corn and soybeans. NYAA focuses on helping consumers find and use apples from New York. 

Their brand message is simple – New York State apples are worth loving.

We helped NYAA get this brand message across by linking it to the day that represents love in consumers’ minds: Valentine’s Day. Our cross-channel Valentine’s Day Sweepstakes collected more than 47,000 entries in three weeks as we engaged New York apple lovers with “A Bushel and a Peck” social media campaign.

Both of these associations go far beyond membership branding and marketing. They creatively engage consumers to make it easier for members to sell their products by building a strong association brand. We are proud to be part of their efforts.

If you would like help branding and marketing your association, whether it is in the food, beverage, and agriculture space or one of the other 92,000 trade and professional associations, let us know. We know exactly how to do it, and truly love working in this important area. Just let us know how we can help.