How associations can grow their impact and their membership base

Almost all associations have one thing in common—an aspirational mission. But many association leaders find they don’t have what they most desire—achievable results.

If you’ve been thinking about how to grow your membership base, there are two important things to consider: your association’s name and its position in the marketplace.

First, could your association’s name be getting in the way of its growth? Two associations we worked with had this exact issue.

The Guilford Merchant’s Association (GMA), a business membership organization focused on supporting member companies with educational programming, lead generation and marketing activities and overall enrichment, had several issues with their name. To begin with, some stakeholders knew the association only by its acronym: GMA. And the members who did know what the name stood for couldn’t relate to it at all. The problem was two-fold: One, GMA’s membership base had expanded beyond Guilford county, so the “Guilford” part of the name was geographically limiting. And two, the word “Merchant” came from a time in the early 1900s when the association’s membership was a collection of store owners in town. Today, most of GMA’s members are not retailers. Instead, most members are part of small to medium sized businesses like insurance agencies and law firms. And some members are part of large corporations.

It was clear that a name change would help grow the organization and serve as a smart marketing asset. After embarking on our naming and research process, the right new name for the Guilford Merchant’s Association emerged: Triad Business Advantage. This name opened up the association geographically and spoke to the association’s benefit—it truly gave their members a business advantage.

Sometimes a new name is also part of a broader rebranding project. Our renaming and repositioning of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) is one example of this.

AADE had embarked on a new vision: to drive optimal outcomes for people with diabetes through the integration of clinical management, education, prevention and support. Thanks to input from many stakeholders that the current specialty name, “diabetes educator,” was limiting and not inclusive of everything that a specialist did for people with diabetes, we embarked on an extensive research process that ultimately determined there was a need for a new title that reflected the increased relevance of the diabetes educator role.

We then used another rigorous research process to help determine that the specialty title that resonated most was “diabetes care and educator specialist.” Today, this member-affirmed specialty title allows the association and its members to stand as leaders in diabetes care because it more accurately describes all that they do for people with diabetes. The association’s name changed to reflect the specialty as well. The American Association of Diabetes Educators became the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES).

While a name change alone can help drive new membership and growth, an updated brand positioning that aligns with the strategic direction of the new name can drive outcomes to an even greater extent.

ADCES truly wanted to make the greatest impact in the healthcare environment and marketplace that they could. So we also worked with them to reposition their brand.

A brand can help an association differentiate themselves and create an experience that is meaningful to their members and other key stakeholders. Ultimately, an association’s brand is reflected in how they position their value to members. It can retain and grow current members and open doors for new members.

By partnering with ADCES to rebrand the association, we helped give them the additional leverage they needed to launch their specialty into the future and gain the recognition they needed to further demonstrate their importance to providers, payers and other decision makers.

Today, the organization has a shared purpose and a singular focus. It’s accelerating excellence, optimizing outcomes and building community. By renaming and repositioning, its members feel listened to and energized, and the association proves every day that’s it’s on the forefront for better care.

While a name change was the right strategic decision for GMA and ADCES, it’s important to note that many associations don’t need (or want) to change their name. In most cases, a refreshed brand positioning is all an association needs to attract new members and member segments without alienating their core, ensure strong engagement with current members, and make decisions about how to allocate their limited resources—in the ways that matter most.

In summary, successful associations have one thing in common: strategic focus. Brands with focus know who they are, what they stand for, and where they’re going. Your association’s brand—in other words—its reputation—is a lever you can use to increase membership and create the results you desire to take your association successfully into the future.

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