At some point, just about every organization will ask if it’s time to rebrand entirely, or just refresh a brand that is largely working but needs some tweaks to evolve with changing times. Deciding which step to take is not easy, nor should it be done alone; but just like any other change management project, real progress can be made by working with knowledge leaders, focusing first internally to study which path makes the most sense, making the case for change, socializing it, and doing your homework to ensure its success once you hit ‘go.’

To help, the team at GRAPHEK put together a checklist of some common questions we help guide clients through when they’re considering whether to rebrand or refresh:

Signs to Refresh

A minor adjustment/facelift to your brand to keep up with current trends and make it more appealing to your current audience.

  • How consistent is your brand? Are the national/international association’s materials all over the place or cohesive? What about your local chapters – would someone be able to look at their materials and know that they’re part of the umbrella organization?
  • Is there a strong brand recognition with members? Is there brand equity in both the logo and the organization’s overall identity?
  • Do things look inconsistent, and/or have the logo and brand proven inflexible?
  • Do your brand guidelines have room to expand, or are they limited in scope?
  • Are you undertaking a major initiative with brand impacts, while remaining invested in your historic brand?
  • Does your brand stand up to the current trends?

Signs to Rebrand

A more complex overhaul intended to change the image of your association. It may even involve changing your name and targeting a new market, and in-depth research is imperative.

  • Brand recognition: Is your brand distinguishable from other, similar competitor brands, or are you getting lost in the crowd?
  • Look at your branding guidelines and ask yourself: Does it clearly define messaging, tone, and visuals, or is it just a logo guide with logo colors?
  • Does your branding reflect your voice, message, and values?
  • Is your logo the only thing that ties everything together? Are you struggling to extend the brand to collaterals?
  • Are you excluding sections of your target audience and/or wanting to expand your audience?
  • When you pull your marketing materials, do you see inconsistency amongst your collateral?

Bill Rowan, Director of Communications & Marketing with the National Asphalt Pavement Association, has helped lead several rebrands during his association career, including a total rename/rebrand at his previous association. One of his first observations is, perhaps unsurprisingly, that most people – both staff and members – often identify the brand as the logo.

“When staff or members cling only to your logo, that alone can be a ‘flag’ that your brand needs work. If people think a logo equals the brand, it’s a sign that you really do need to build out your brand portfolio to incorporate the entire experience. As consumers, we don’t just think about a company logo – we focus on experiences and culture, too, and associations should be doing the same. I liken it to food and the common phrase ‘we eat with our eyes first.’ If the brand starts with the menu, the brand experience comes to life when the food arrives. Does my order match the description? How does it look, taste, and smell? It’s the whole human reaction and involvement of our senses that matter when we think about a brand.”

~ Bill Rowan, Director, Communications & Marketing, National Asphalt Pavement Association

Next Steps on Your Brand Journey

  • Build your case: Pair with other strategic efforts: If you have planned an update on your mission or values statement, or perhaps a new DEI statement, that is a great opportunity to add in a rebrand or refresh effort and launch during the same fiscal year.
  • Break down your budget: Put together a budget for the upcoming FY, working with your accounting department if needed. Start with a budget that includes everything you want to do, followed by a menu of options and associated costs if creating and activating the brand will realistically need to be done in phases or across fiscal years.
  • Stress the value: Focus on the short- and long-term outcomes and what a cohesive and strong brand can do for an organization. Brand recognition can result in more revenue-generating opportunities and greater member loyalty – don’t be afraid to say it!

“As with any significant project like this, the longevity of a rebrand or refresh can’t be underestimated,” Rowan said. “After the initial rollout, the continued adoption is a marathon, not a sprint. In some organizations, important elements of a brand get lost over time because change management is hard. Flagging those transition points really becomes a keystone of a brand’s long-term success; how the marketing and communications team deploys it is one thing, but how volunteer leaders use it while in the field representing the association is another. It goes so far beyond the initial education at launch; it’s a constant process of illustrating and demonstrating how a brand can be used and showcased. And every time the team transitions – whether it’s a new staff member or a new Board of Directors, you’re faced with a whole new set of perspectives. Associations have to work to honor the brand through everything they do and through every transition.”

“The investment is worth it,” Rowan added, “because an effective brand absolutely guides and affects the member experience. Being a member is about far more than attending a meeting, and branding undergirds their experience. If you don’t recognize that, you’re going to miss opportunities to level up to members’ expectations.”

Before getting discouraged by what indeed is not an easy journey, take heart: Brand ownership and strategy is a team sport. It takes time and training, but it’s always worth pursuing – together!