Branding: I Need Convincing

I need some help here. I know that there are a ton of very, very smart people who are involved in "branding," so I assume that branding must be a good thing. But when I hear it discussed, I'm not convinced. So please, branding people, can you answer some of my concerns?

For example, look at the post Scott Oser did on Acronym recently. He expressed some frustration at some of the negative characteristics the general public has about associations.

During my 15+ years in the association community I have been told time
and time again how slow associations are to act, how bureaucratic they
are, how they are almost on par with the government when it comes to
being on top of cutting edge technologies and practices, etc. Steam
would come out of my ears every time I would hear something like that,
but for some reason the light bulb never went off over my head that as
a group associations could definitely do something to change this
negative perception of associations.

In the comments to the post, people talked about uniformity of message and coming up with an "elevator speech" for associations.

So is it me, or does this seem less like a branding problem and more like an industry culture problem? Wouldn't we want to look at why associations ARE slow to act, and then change that? The same with bureaucratic or rolling with technology changes? I mean, if we are told these things time and time again, what are we doing about it? Coming up with an elevator speech?

My negative  reaction to "branding" is that it somehow puts the "problem" on the side of the people who simply have their experience. As if it's "you people" who have a problem here: you don't see associations the way I do. So I will create a branding campaign that will help you see the light.

But if I'm on the "people" side of that equation, here's my reaction: First, I don't feel like I have a problem in the first place, other than being bothered, occasionally, by slow associations. In fact, I'm a tad annoyed that you have showed up with your elevator pitch to tell me that you have the solution (a more positive view of associations) to the problem I did not know I had. "Thanks" for telling me that my experience is not valid, that associations are, in fact, agile early adopters.

My sarcasm notwithstanding–talk to me, branding people! What am I missing? I really am willing to be convinced.


  1. 12.01.2009 at 12:21 pm

    “In fact, I’m a tad annoyed that you have showed up with your elevator pitch to tell me that you have the solution (a more positive view of associations) to the problem I did not know I had.”
    “We deliver value by offering blah blah blah…and we’re an association, so you know we’re efficient!”

  2. 12.01.2009 at 2:51 pm

    Awesome post. A brand is created by those who perceive or use the product/service/organization, not by the organization itself (despite many dollars spent on brand management, brand design, etc.) Brand Tags shows this in action – It’s a site where you type in whatever term comes to mind when you see a logo – then you can see how hundreds of companies’ brands really appear to the consumer.
    Which is not to say a poor brand image can’t be turned around, but like you say it has to be from the inside out.

  3. 12.01.2009 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Jamie
    Brand is all about people, the emotional tie between customers and a product. Anyone proposing to cover up a problem with a new elevator speech is not a branding expert. The most polite term for is spinnning, an artform perfected by Karl Rove, aka lying.
    In marketing, if you have a problem that you can’t fix, you feature it as a benefit. So if an association’s mission is to protect the status quo, it’s reactionary and should be proud of it.
    What I don’t get is the whining that people don’t understand associations or care. Of course people don’t care! Associations are special interest groups looking out for their own, not the rest of us.
    Maybe that’s why social responsibility makes so many association execs twitch.
    Yours in brand strategy,
    Ann O

  4. 12.01.2009 at 4:23 pm

    The only way to change a brand is to change behavior in a way that transforms the culture of the organization. The words and visuals that organizations use to describe themselves are an important part of that equation–even for setting the stage for internal change–thus why branding is so often discussed in those terms.
    But you’re right. There’s so much more to it than that. You can’t just say we’re cutting edge and expect people to believe it.
    And be careful when you go to–you could seriously get sidetracked for the whole afternoon. 😉

  5. 13.01.2009 at 4:34 pm

    So is it me, or does this seem less like a branding problem and more like an industry culture problem?
    Branding is the culture of an organization, or in this case the industry. The problem is actually an experience design problem. If more organizations though about how the experience or being an association member was, and designed a better experience then the perception of them might change.
    Unfortunately achieving a positive experience for a single organization is an extremely hard thing to do, a whole industry seems almost impossible…
    I would highly suggest reading the book Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company I recently did and it perfectly explains how to solve this problem.
    Great post!

  6. 03.02.2009 at 12:41 am

    Too much to say here to fit into a comment. For starters, read Ries & Trout “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding”. I consider that required reading for anyone to understand how brands must establish themselves in the mental real estate of the consumer, what positioning, category leadership, brand equity, etc. etc. really mean.
    Next, I’d go with Wertime, “Building Brands and Believers”, to understand archetype branding and why it’s nearly the only form of branding that works consistently. If interested, I can give you a 20 minute run down of a presentation I did about this via GoToMeeting.
    Follow me on Twitter, and DM me: