Cartoonstock.comThere are nearly 100,000 trade associations operating in the U.S. today (per NPR), and in a marketplace as crowded as this one, it’s all too easy for your organization’s true purpose to get lost in a sea of acronyms. But groups like the American Physical Therapy Association, National Association of Broadcasters and National Restaurant Association prove how associations can use the principles of branding to bolster their relevance, nurture their relationships with members and other stakeholders, and reconnect with their central purpose.

Here are a few anecdotes:

Know Your Audience, Inside and Out

Before you can strengthen your association’s image, you must explore the issues and trends impacting your members, how those factors influence their perceptions and behaviors, and how they influence the perceptions and behaviors of their stakeholders. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) set a good example of this when it engaged PadillaCRT in the development of its “Move Forward” campaign.

Research among consumers, physicians, health care professionals, insurers and APTA members revealed that while physical therapists were viewed very positively, consumers had a narrow definition of their capabilities and were more likely to access a physical therapist if they knew it could be beneficial to improving their lifestyle. Informed by these findings, APTA re-articulated its purpose (“bringing motion to life”) and established a brand platform that continues to resonate both inside and outside the organization.

The more you know about your stakeholders, the better equipped you’ll be to engage with them in meaningful, productive ways.

Proper Care & Feeding of Strategies

The currency of any association is its relevance to the industry, so if you start to see your organization losing that connection, seize the opportunity to review your long-term strategy and goals. What was a solid approach several years ago may no longer make for the best path forward.

For example, when an industry tracking study conducted by the National Association of Broadcasters and the Radio Advertising Bureau found that the radio industry’s image had weakened in the eyes of advertising agencies, a key audience, PadillaCRT’s Kelly O’Keefe worked with the association to organize a strategy summit that tapped representatives from more than a dozen top-tier ad agencies. The insights that emerged from this session, combined with industry and consumer research led NAB and RAB to a) shift more resources toward b-to-b marketing and b) carefully hone a creative platform that resonated with this group.  The resulting campaign revitalized the industry’s communications and energized its members with a renewed sense of purpose.

Remember that strategies, like humans, are living, breathing things. Don’t forget to feed them from time to time.

Always Add Value

As an association executive, you represent companies of all shapes and sizes, with varied needs and interests. Because it is impossible to serve every member individually, the best way to help your organization live up to its purpose is to make sure it provides a product, service or value-add that your members find admirable, useful and relevant. Whether that means collecting cutting-edge consumer insights like the Food Marketing Institute, funding a national ad campaign like the Peanut Board, engaging a celebrity spokesperson like the Blueberry Council, or something else entirely, pool your resources into efforts that show your members they can accomplish together the things they cannot individually do.

Have a Mission

While you could easily spend 24 hours a day fielding calls from your members, it’s not enough just to be there responding to questions and concerns as they arise. Staying relevant and adding value means always being one step ahead of your members, bringing them novel programs that help them achieve their purpose. Plus, if you deliver initiatives that help them engage their customers, you will quickly better your rating on the relevance scale.

A prime example of this mindset can be seen in the National Restaurant Association (NRA)’s Kids Live Well Movement. The program, which encourages NRA members to improve the nutritional value of kids’ menu items, has grown to 42,000 participating locations in just three years. Its value to members is that it gives them the opportunity to participate in a credible, award-winning program showcasing their commitment to making “the healthful choice the easy choice.” It also gives them additional positive exposure to key stakeholders like consumers, public health leaders and government officials.

NRA’s Vice President for Food Policy Joan McGlockton sees the program as providing value to the industry as well. “Kids Live Well has provided an opportunity… to be seen as forward thinking, allowing restaurateurs to take action to help combat childhood obesity in a very tangible and positive way,” says McGlockton.

And the program’s success is evident in the growth and momentum it continues to experience. Having already reached millions of consumers, it will touch millions more as new restaurants join the movement and existing participants add more healthy options to their kids’ menus.

Now, what?

So, here’s the take-home lesson from these success stories:

If relevance is the lifeblood of an association, then having a clear purpose is what helps keep the relevance flowing.  Follow the examples described above and you’ll set your organization up for greater success in the long run.

Go get ‘em!