Associations: Creating a Positive Brand Image to Increase Market Share

Can anyone really tell the difference between a brand-name jersey (without the brand on it, of course) and a similar, non-branded jersey sold at a local department store?  If you possess that skill, you may wish to consider a career as chief buyer for a clothing store.  As for the rest of us who wonder in amazement how two relatively similar products can command such vastly different selling prices, the answer is simple.  It’s all in the brand image.

Particularly in today’s market, consumers tend to view a brand’s image as an integral part of the product or service they are purchasing.  They are not only buying the actual product or service, but the status, prestige and perceived benefits associated with the organization that is doing the selling – intangible qualities that differentiate the item of choice from all other similar offerings in the marketplace.  Consider this: the majority of foods we purchase have brand images associated with particular items that make consumers perceive the products in a more favorable light (e.g., Lean Cuisine).  Similarly, this applies to the vehicles we drive (Mercedes Benz), our credit cards (American Express), the clothes we wear (Tommy Hilfiger) and even the statement we can make with a particular brand of pen (Mont Blanc).  If branding has worked so well for these products and services, why not use a similar brand strategy for associations?

In the United States alone, there are literally thousands of associations; some with just a few members and some with membership ranging in the millions.  Some are open to the general public allowing anyone with similar interests to join, while others are exclusive to select individuals.  And, as with most organizations, associations face competition in the marketplace.  For example, as a lawyer, should you join an association, and if you do, should you join the American Bar Association, the National Lawyers Association or your state’s Bar Association?  What differentiates one from the other? Or do they basically offer the same services?

Members usually pay dues and purchase products or services offered by their association.  If they are satisfied with the products and services offered, they will often tell others, performing the best-known form of advertising – word of mouth.  So, creating a brand identity that sets an association apart from others offering similar services is a key factor in retaining and expanding one’s share of the market.

How do you create a positive brand image?

Rockbridge is a proven leader in developing research solutions for brand equity and awareness and brand image issues that companies often face.  The first step in creating a positive brand image is finding out specifically how members currently perceive the association.

  • Are members satisfied with the products and services offered by their association?  Do they meet, exceed or fall below members’ expectations?
  • Do members think that they can get the same or better service elsewhere?
  • Exactly what does their association provide that members feel they would not get from another association?  What is unique about this association?
  • How important is it to belong to this particular association?
  • Does the association have a strong, clear image?  What is it?  Is the association following through on its mission statement?

An association, like any other organization, exists to fill a particular need within society and to accomplish particular goals or objectives.  The association must be sure what its mission is in order to succeed.  The leaders of the association must ask themselves: “What is our business?  Who are our primary customers?  What does the association mean to the industry or the profession?  What do our customers want and value?  Are we accomplishing our goals?”  Any successful organization must continuously ask these questions and answer them truthfully so that it is kept on a clear path to fulfilling its objectives.  A market-oriented mission statement is helpful in defining an organization in terms of satisfying its customers.

Once an association knows how it is perceived in its members’ eyes, it then has a basis for internal evaluations (how can it improve services to better serve the members) and external evaluations (how is it performing in comparison to the competition).  The answers to these questions can help associations discover their brand image with members and then implement plans or programs to create, enhance – or, in certain situations, change or reposition – the current image.

Using the right mix of qualitative and quantitative research techniques, Rockbridge can design a creative approach for obtaining members’ perceptions, after which the data will be analyzed and interpreted.  Rockbridge will then offer innovative, strategic recommendations, and work alongside the client to create a brand image or brand repositioning strategy that will add value and a competitive edge to the organization.

In a marketplace cluttered by clones and homogeneous products and services, it is important to create a brand image that differentiates itself from competitors and suggests integrity, dependability, and high quality with an emphasis on excellent service. This is the key to ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, which in turn translates into a larger market share for the company concerned.