These days, there’s nothing “usual” about business, just ask Max Entman, head of the Association practice at Yes&.
As information becomes more distributed and readily available, yesterday’s business models become increasingly less effective and authentic brand storytelling that communicates the value of a product or service has become a necessity. “Product or service-based marketing by associations has often been descriptive in nature and assumes that you know why a given offering is valuable. With the proliferation of alternative sources for professional advancement, networking, and training in the marketplace, that’s becoming less and less true.” says Max.
So, what is a brand story?
A brand story encompasses everything you want your brand to evoke. It’s more than what you say or how you say it, it’s how you make people feel and what they believe about you. You are virtually building a persona that people intuitively respond to as they would a friend or trusted authority. A compelling story will establish value quickly and initiate engagement that inspires action. Associations can foster relationships based on trust and mutual benefit through this type of storytelling.
Associations can no longer rest on their laurels, and assume that the membership base they’ve always had will continue to sustain and invest in stagnant offerings and benefits. “It’s imperative that we be more direct and concise than ever before about the value of association membership. We can and have used narratives and storytelling to underscore these values. Members need to understand exactly what they’re going to get when they invest their hard-earned money in the experience of being an association member.”states Max.
If this sounds like a fairly difficult and delicate task it’s because it is. Any association knows that a tremendous amount of work goes into the services and offerings provided to its members so, it’s only fitting that the building and conveyance of that association's story would require an equal amount of work, effort and expertise. A creative force like Yes& can work out the details, construct a story arc, and figure out the most effective way to establish relationships that drive membership, solidify brand persona and create loyalty.
For example Yes& recently re-branded the supply chain conference for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, in order to attract a wider swath of top retailers, as well as broader cohorts from attending companies. LINK2019 captured the essence of the conference roots, but also encapsulated an increase in innovation with a focus on the future. The conference steering committee took this to heart in developing content for the event and made the experience truly different than past years. This underscores that effective brand stories in isolation are not enough. Members need to feel the veracity of the story through their experience. “It’s not just about changing the language, you have to actually change what you’re offering." urges Max. Storytelling has time and time again proven to be an invaluable way to connect, but brand stories are only effective when they’re both relevant and accurate.
Employing a thoughtful brand storytelling approach, informed by the audience you want to try to grow, can help garner renewed interest and new members. In order to see results we must look to the future of association membership. Max maintains that “Associations must re-contextualize who they are in the context of what millennial's and gen-z-ers care about in a way that’s authentic.” Once you’ve identified the wants and needs of these younger generations, you can both re-frame and transform your member experience to meet these needs. Max says “Associations need to start asking the right questions like, ‘Why aren’t these generations joining? What member touch-points do they want that we don’t currently have?’ The preferences and concerns of these generations are huge opportunities for association marketers to engage.” The answers to those questions can establish the foundation for new brand stories. If we apply a method of storytelling that fosters impactful relationships, associations will connect with future members in a way that is both easily understood and enduring.