In today’s budget obsessed environment, membership organisations need to communicate value. Do you? Our Abel Monitor considers whether your brand is ‘in the club’, whether your members and stakeholders are likely to feel part of it, as well as what to do if it isn’t and they don’t.
This website captures a review of the brands and, as far as it can be ascertained without access to a comprehensive range of material, the communications of 56 different professional membership organisations, and how well they perform across a given range of criteria. As far as we are aware, no other similar brand monitor exists.
In today’s newly post recessionary landscape, professional membership organisations are in the spotlight. Many sectors are reviewing their direction; so many membership organisations are reviewing the focus of their purpose. Many businesses and individuals are reconsidering how they expend their budgets; so many membership organisations are reviewing the value they add. And for many, the need to ‘belong’ is stronger than ever. Therefore how all of this is communicated through the brand is perhaps more important today than ever before.
We defined a group of 56 organisations. These were drawn predominantly from the group of professional bodies that offer professional qualifications and set standards, where membership is voluntary. So our choice of emphasis was driven by the perceived importance of effective branding and communications to this category of organisation. We augmented our list with some ‘licence to practise’ organisations that regulate entry into professions, as well as groups with a common interest.
We defined our measurement criteria as follows:
Messaging – is there a clear articulation of ‘who we are and what we’re for’? Is there more emotive messaging encompassing ‘how we do things and why we exist’? Is the organisation’s differentiation apparent? Is it all well written and easy to find?
Visual brand – are there discernible and coherent visual basic elements? Is there sufficient breadth in those defined visual basic elements? Are they appropriate to the stature of the organisation and true to message?
Consistency – is the visual system consistently applied? Does it translate effectively across different applications? If applied consistently does this play out flexibly or relentlessly?
Quality – is the overall brand and communications execution of a high standard and quality?
Saliency – is the overall impression appropriate for the organisation’s key audiences and core purpose?
Each organisation was scored between 0-20 on their perceived success against these criteria. The scores were decided upon by a panel encompassing our own strategy and design teams, together with a respected professional membership organisation leader. To arrive at the scores we reviewed each organisation’s website, as well as at least one printed document or key downloadable PDF. This focus was driven not only by what was available to us, but also took account of the disproportionate importance that websites have today in terms of making the right impact.
Shape of the landscape – the professional membership organisation landscape is not quite like any other and falls into three main areas:
Licence to practise organisation – in professions such as the law and accountancy, which regulate entry into those professions. These are regulated by statute and these bodies tend to be monopolies, although in the accounting profession, a variety of accounting qualifications means that there is competition for members at the start of their career.
Professional bodies which offer professional qualifications and set standards – where membership is voluntary.
Emerging interest groups around a profession or sector – these often represent members in relatively new professions, such as facilities management, or where there is a common interest such as the Portman Group.
All these bodies aim to provide members with very similar services and in practice the extent to which they achieve this is dependent on size – both of the organisation and of the profession that it is representing – elements that are intrinsically linked. Organisations’ services usually span standards, regulation, training, voice, influence, community, knowledge and best practice.
Each body varies in the extent that it pursues any of these aims, and this is often reflected in their brand. With such a wide agenda, it is often the services that are offered that dominate the organisations content and communication as opposed to the purpose of the organisation. The danger of this is that the organisation becomes known for what it provides rather than why it exists.
State of the nation – a membership organisation’s perspective and focus on brand can be as inconsistent as its balance of operational focus. Driven by providing services to members, and to increasing profile and influence, it is often very easy to forget the overall corporate purpose. Many organisations can define what they are providing – but most are less good at why.
Thinking clearly about the organisation’s brand can help crystallise that corporate purpose – and the fact that a brand has to work internally as well as externally. It also highlights the plethora of other brand drivers that matter: