Friday, December 10, 2010

Association Management - Branding Efforts Gone Wrong

Sweet little princess
Let me introduce his frogness
You alone can get him singing
He's all puffed up, wanna be your king
Oh you can do it
C'mon [x6]
Lady kiss that frog....Peter Gabriel

The Short of It
  • That frog may be a king
  • But he can't be a king 'til you kiss him
  • Same thing with your branding
  • If all you do is call it king
  • People will still see just a frog
  • There must be some kissing involved
The Long of It

The other day I was driving through the middle of a local run-of-the-mill suburb as I have done many times before.  One of our main traffic arteries runs right through it, so thousands of cars blow through there on a daily basis, busily running errands or heading off to work and school.  This particular area is known for being plucky, having insisted on it's own city-hood a decade or so ago and local residents bemusedly watch it's efforts to continue to aspire to greatness.

There is little to no evidence anything changed once the crown of city-hood was bestowed. Coming off the freeway, you can see the requisite McDonalds across from the In-and-Out across from the Carl's Jr., and the Shell Station across from the Chevron station.  There's a K-Mart up and to the left with an enormous parking lot and never more than ten cars in it at any given time of day.  Down a little way there is an IHOP on one side of the road and the typical strip mall with all brick facades across from it.

Except for the newly boarded up Hollywood Video, this stretch of road has been the same.  For what feels like forever.

Until yesterday.

While driving, I happened to look up and lo and behold, noticed something new.  Hanging from various streetlights was a banner softly waving in the wind.  There appeared to be words under some red, white and blue medallion looking thing apparently meant to evoke some sort of patriotic fervor from commuters.  I was struggling to make the words out.  Soft font.  Italics.  And then....

City Life. Reinvented.

What?! You're kidding me, right?!?  Tell me you're kidding.  Same McDonalds.  Same K-Mart.  Same freeway.  Same cars.  All the evidence in the world that we are continuing to evolve into the third mall from the sun (quip courtesy of Bill Hicks).

But, no!  Apparently, I am mistaken!  This is City Life.  Reinvented.

Ugh.  Every marketing/communications/branding bone in my body is screaming about the fakey poser graphic design firm baloney, a beautiful screen-printed, meaningless slogan.

If you are going to stake a claim on such a statement as "City Life.  Reinvented." you MUST actually do some reinventing to go along with it.  Your brand must mean something.  Perhaps they are working on a, "If we speak it, we can make it true," theory.  We can't change until we know what our vision is.  Well fine.  Then keep that to yourselves while you make it happen before you shout it to the world.

Because the world isn't buying it.

And neither are your members.

If the first step your association takes in a re-branding initiative is to call a graphic design firm, you are making a huge mistake.  It is not enough to have a fancy logo and nifty slogan.  If you use terms in your branding taglines like community, inclusion, social, strategic, visionary you better be able to demonstrate those attributes at every level of your organization.  This is a deep dive into who you are as an association.  If you want to adopt a new vision, do it.  I'm all for it.  I can even help your association frame one.  But you have to start making things happen on that vision before you can roll out the new logo and the catchy taglines.  You have to be able to clearly demonstrate you ARE the thing you SAY you are.

City Life.  Reinvented.

Sure.  I'll believe it when I see more than NOTHING change.

Here is the link for those of you who can't see the video by Peter Gabriel.


  1. Shelly,

    I like your analogy to kissing the frog wrt to branding.

    I've always found it helpful to think of branding as an organization's promise. This works for products too. A promise can be a commitment to an experience for a service firm or organization, or producing certain kids of results. For example, if "I join such-and-such organization I can expect to: a) stay abreast of changes in my profession; b) stay connected to leaders in my field; etc."

    The useful aspect of the "promise-thing" is that it clearly sets up a two-way transaction, like your kissing analogy -- at least in so far as kissing someone else is more satisfying than simply kissing yourself all the time... and haven't we run into plenty of folks who do that but think they're engaged in passionate lip-lock with someone else?

    The other thing that's useful about thinking of a brand as a promise is that those trying to promote the brand have a useful way to understand what they can do to delivery on the brand (promise). For example, if an organization's promise is to deliver top flight professional development, well that's not arbitrary. That can be measured and compared to other offerings. The brand is fulfilled, or at least fed, by selecting relevant topics and securing top presenters on those topics.

    In your example it appears as though your community leaders did nothing more than try to convince the residents that they had the power to change the actual meaning of "city living" to match life in your village. Good luck with that ;-)

    Thanks for your post...

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comment Michael. I agree with you - there is a promise involved. It is unfortunate that many believe the "appearance" of promise is enough....

    Thanks for being a reader, I appreciate each and every one...



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