Branding Works for Association Magazines, Too
By Christopher Bonner
ASAE AMC Connection from February 2002
have adopted virtually every proven technique of contemporary marketing
used by for-profit companies, including integrated marketing
communications, market segmentation, focus-group research, market
testing, e-commerce, and branding. None is more popular today than
branding, the subject of countless articles and seminars aimed at
association marketing and communications professionals.
There are various definitions of branding. The one I use for associations? Branding systematically leverages reputation for competitive advantage over the long term. It projects a strong image and casts a halo effect on products and services.
of scale apply to many sophisticated marketing techniques used in an
association context. A perfect example is market segmentation--messages
tailored to demographic slices of a target audience. An association,
for example, may wish to approach a similar subject with long-standing
and new members. Scaling down doesn't work as well with branding
initiatives because successful branding is dependent on recall over
time, recall is dependent on the number of impressions, and the number
of impressions is dependent on the size of your budget.
an association may fill its own Web site, publications, and other
channels with a stream of branding messages, having those messages
resonate convincingly requires external media, and that usually comes
at a price. Branding is a marathon that starts as a sprint. Getting off
to a fast start; pulling events together to draw attention and build
momentum; and coordinating advertising, news media, and Internet
exposure is a juggling act. The hard part is sustaining momentum for
the brand across an 18- to 24-month horizon.
without sustaining investment over the long term is not branding--it's
a promotion. In the case of an association magazine, branding may be a
veneer covering a makeover.
Options for association magazines
Perform perception analysis of key stakeholders to identify strengths
and opportunities. Engage focus-group research at key stages of brand
launch to fine-tune messages and reflect market developments.
Commission telephone and Internet surveys monitoring the impact of the
campaign, and make adjustments, if necessary.
The best branding scheme sets the
association as the hub and products and services as the spokes. The
branding plan takes into account options for applying brand attributes
universally throughout the association. Association planners must
decide if it is better to have uniform brand identity simultaneously,
which often means delay, or release branded components as they are
It is important to remember that you
can't brand what isn't there. If your association isn't known for
outstanding member service, branding won't change that. The only way to
correct reputation is by correcting performance. The grandiose dot-com
media buy at the 2000 Super Bowl was a branding exercise with a fatal
flaw. Branding is about track record. You can't brand aspirations that
you don't live up to. Credibility is at least as important as having an
Branding pays dividends over time. Once
established, each of the association's branded products or services
will reinforce the others. In the minds of members, transactions are
based on the confidence that the association will deliver one service
as well as it does another.
association magazine may be branded as a standalone if it has a strong
identity independent of the parent. Branding works best for healthy
associations with strong publications and is a poor choice for a
magazine searching for a quick fix. A makeover or a promotion, or both,
may produce results faster than a full-blown branding initiative.
the branding campaign is centered on the magazine or spans
associationwide, planning must be integrated across departmental lines.
Cross-selling from other areas of the association--for example, the Web
site or meetings--is instrumental to getting magazine branding off to a
fast start. Public relations is key to generating buzz about the new
magazine and creating the sense that the publication is right for its
audience--and right for the times.
Christopher Bonner is founder and president, Bonner Consultants, Inc., McLean, Virginia.