In a recently published article by two MKB associates titled “Re-Branding for Relevance”, several significant points were made during this telling of a great case study. And while the client and subject of the case study was an association, when it comes to brands, branding and brand relevance, the same rules apply whether you’re a NFP, professional services, retail, local, national or global. A few highlights and the article as it appeared recently.

Of note:
• Brand Promises stay consistent over time.
• Operational changes alone won’t always fix declining marketshare.
• Newly articulated brands reinvigorate employees and clients/customers/members alike.

The article:
What’s The Big Idea ?
Re-Branding for Relevance

A successful brand speaks in a timely and meaningful way to all its target markets. While a brand promise stays consistent over time, however, a brand’s relevance is constantly changing. Irrelevance, therefore, often is a sign that it’s time for an association to re-brand itself in pursuit of new, meaningful messaging.

Relevance Roadblocks
Relevance was at the heart of the problem for the Alliance for the American Dental Association. Made up of dentists’ spouses, the organization serves two purposes: to provide ongoing services in support of dental practices and families, and to deliver local, regional and national programs that help promote healthy teeth. Recently, AADA was experiencing a steady decrease in membership, which was jeopardizing the organization’s budget and future survival. There were two main drivers of this decline. First, despite the fact that nearly half of all practicing dentists today are women, the organization’s programming and communications focused predominantly on female spouses. For instance, one campaign used purple shoes as a symbol for active female dental spouses. The result: Very few men were participating in the organization. Second, AADA lacked direct access to spouses. Instead, its initial membership invitations were mailed to the dentist, who was asked to share them with his or her spouse. Unfortunately, dentists were not seeing the relevance of the association and were therefore not passing membership invitations to their spouses. The impact was a marked decline in membership, especially among young dental spouses.

Branding to the Rescue
AADA recognized that operational changes alone would not be enough to stem the tide of declining membership. Executives understood they needed to refresh the AADA brand and better articulate that organization’s value proposition. At the same time, however, the association did not want to lose its emphasis on member benefits, such as camaraderie among dental spouses, effective legislative advocacy and volunteerism. To address this challenge, AADA partnered with MKB, a Chicago-based branding, web and integrated communications firm with significant association experience. MKB initiated a re-branding process that included conducting individual interviews with membership and marketing executives; facilitating a face-to-face feedback session and online follow-up with AADA leaders and members; redefining the association’s brand essence, characteristics and benefits; drafting a new statement of brand positioning; and developing a new corporate identity.

To be effective, MKB knew the re-branding had to appeal to both dentists and their spouses — male as well as female — while attracting interest from both established and younger prospective members. It therefore pursued the following outcomes:
• A new brand promise: MKB determined that what AADA does best is “promote healthy dental practices” among dentists and their spouses, the profession as a whole and consumers.
• A new tagline: To reflect the brand essence, MKB created a tagline that immediately conveys a sense of relevance: “The Reason to Smile.” For members and prospects, supporting messages make clear that the reason to smile is the support and sharing they obtain from other dental spouses. For dentists, meanwhile, supporting messages suggest that the reason to smile is AADA’s effective grassroots legislative activity. And for consumers, they declare that the reason to smile is the association’s oral health outreach initiatives.
• A new corporate identity: AADA’s new identity incorporates a smiling emoticon along with a friendly typeface and soft colors to make the organization appear upbeat, positive and engaging — without being too feminine. The emoticon invokes the modern world of social media and networking, which is a new way for AADA to reach out to members and prospects. The positioning of the emoticon in relation to the tagline suggests that the design, like the association, is another “reason to smile,” which reinforces the brand promise.

AADA’s new corporate identity, brand and messaging have been consistently applied to its marketing communications, ranging from the AADA’s website and member newsletter to direct mail and community outreach collateral. Furthermore, AADA has retained its valued sense of camaraderie and fun while successfully engaging younger dental spouses and a broader cross-section of members — including more men.

There is still a long way to go before AADA will be completely secure. More must be done, for instance, to convince dentists of the organization’s value so that membership invitations reach dental spouses. Also, word-of-mouth membership outreach efforts — already underway — must be initiated to attract more male members. Still, its newly articulated brand has reinvigorated AADA’s staff, leadership and membership, all of which are using it as a relevant platform from which to move forward.


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