New leadership can be a pivotal moment for an association. The initial focus of a new leader sets a precedent for the era ahead and can be a great opportunity to add new life to anything that has become stagnant, including the association’s brand.
One of the reasons the Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC) Board of Directors selected me as the Executive Director, was because they were interested in evolving the association into a different organization than it had been in the past. Being a leader outside of the promotional products industry allowed me the opportunity to make critical observations about the existing brand and how it was hindering the desired growth of the association. In questioning why the association needed a rebrand, we concluded that the branding at the time, was tied to the prior challenges of the association, had not evolved with the promotional products industry and was unattractive to young professionals, stakeholders and partners with whom we wanted to engage in the future. Additionally, we found that our members had outgrown the branding. In order to cultivate growth for the association, it was necessary to pivot and start telling a story of evolution and future-focused direction through our branding and messaging.
In order to remain relevant in the fast-changing industry climate, we first needed to begin making a statement about who we were becoming, instead of who we were. Our presentation and message to the public had to be modernized. The logo had not change since the organization was created in the early seventies. Initially, the organization started with a partial rebrand by updating its logo and refreshing its website. To help gain member buy-in, I put together a diverse focus group of members at different stages of their career to advise on the design. This was a great first step because I expected a logo redesign to initiate some membership backlash. Focus group members were able to advocate for the redesign and partial rebrand on behalf of the association. When we unveiled our new logo, we had a positive reaction. However, during our strategic planning meeting, it was obvious that a full rebrand was inevitable in addressing our gradual slip in relevance, attracting young professionals and the new direction of the association.
The Action Plan
The implementation phase began with a full inventory of the association’s branding needs; from association letterhead to the signage printing for the upcoming annual convention & expo. Afterwards, I prioritized the inventory based on its importance and urgency. For example, member-facing materials were more urgent than internal-facing materials.
We also did market research by gathering data that included stakeholder surveys and information from other associations and for-profit corporations. In gathering data about other organizations, we noted various aspects such as the consistency between logos, taglines and mission, what and how were they communicating, and frequency of communication.
Creating an inventory and completing the market research, equipped me with necessary information for drafting a realistic budget for a full rebrand. Luckily, my Board members were advocates of the rebrand, so it wasn’t a matter of whether or not we should do a full rebrand, but providing them with a clear picture of what the comprehensive rebrand would cost the association. Once we discussed the details of the budget, the Board made a strategic investment in the rebrand using funds from the Association’s healthy reserves.
Two and a half years later, our rebranding is still a work in progress. So much of its success comes down to consistency and repetitive communication. After a rebrand, there will still be old narratives that you will have to counter and a new reputation that you have to build. Staying aware of your new branding’s fragility is key. Be patient with your members and your stakeholders who need time to absorb the rebrand. As the leader you have to become great at telling stories about the rebrand, in order to helps others connect and tell the story for you.
Looking ahead, the SAAC Board understands the necessity of constantly monitoring the alignment of the association’s branding with the environment and industry, to avoid realizing in 20-30 years that another rebrand is needed. I’ve enjoyed leading my association through this rebranding process because it’s been a catalyst for our growth and raised our profile within the promotional products industry.
Donte spoke in the “Rebranding Revelations” session during SURGE Spring, an interactive virtual summit hosted by AssociationSuccess.org on May 2nd-4th. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.