Build the Brand, Not the Product

By • November 5, 2012

By Charles Popper

As I travel around the country meeting with association
leaders and their staffs, I hear many of the same questions: “Should we be
adapting our communications to be iPad-friendly?” or “What is your take on
mobile communications?” or “What do you think is next?” These are all good questions, but the real
question they should be asking is: “How do we keep up with it all?”

Have you seen the Best Buy commercial on television that
touts their program enabling consumers to keep up with the latest technology
‘round the clock'? Pretty clever. It’s
designed to allay the all-too-common consumer nightmare of arriving home with the
latest and greatest TV, Apple product, or gaming device only to learn that
Version 2.0 will be released at the same price next week.

Unfortunately, there is no “technology or communication insurance” that we can
purchase to ensure we are adapting to change, nor can anyone outline the
correct media mix of communication vehicles one, two or three years from
Despite this, value can still be
created, maintained and modified for your association to respond to change,
without constantly having to rebuild value or relevance in the
marketplace. The focus needs to shift
away from product and instead focus on the brand. In today’s issue, Hank
shares some interesting stats about how associations with integrated
communications programs are outperforming their peers.

  • Your mix of member communication vehicles is
    likely to change, but a strong brand will carry you through the next wave of
    media evolution.
  • Even if you are still clarifying the products
    you’ll be using to communicate to your members in the near future, now is the
    time to carve out the space you’ll be defending as the No.1 voice in your
  • The more complex member communication becomes,
    the more powerful simplicity will be. A strong brand is essential to this

“Build the product, not the brand” is a concept that Jeanne LaBella, senior
vice president of publishing at the American Public Power Association (APPA)
adopted with her organization’s media products. Naylor works with Jeanne to publish APPA’s print and digital magazine,
print directory, online suppliers guide, daily and weekly e-newsletters,
webinars, online advertising and more.
While this media mix addresses APPA’s market well today, how do they
best prepare for tomorrow’s needs?

Leading up to 2011, APPA decided to consolidate its
individual communication products under the “Public Power Media” brand. Instead of taking a confusing and
multi-layered message to advertisers, the message was simplified, and value was
established and built around the APPA brand versus a single communication
product or combination of products. Now,
when the frequency or media mix is changed, or a new communication product or
delivery method is to be introduced, it will be done under an established brand
that yields better trust with the
advertiser and the readers. Public Power
Media is becoming known as “The Official Voice of the American Public Power
Association.” Building upon this
concept, this brand has extended to the Web, www.publicpowermedia.org, becoming
both a launching point and an aggregation point for all components of their
communication program.

APPA’s savvy approach to communication is not unique,
however. My colleague Chris Caldwell often
refers to the brand of ESPN to illustrate this concept. We learned about and were introduced to ESPN
on television, and over time that brand has remained present and prominent in
all their broadcasting ventures: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com and more, with the strength of their
brand remaining strong across all media channels. Contrast this to Sports Illustrated, a brand that has had
a very challenging time migrating content to online and television.

In this challenging world of communications, the practices
of cutting through the clutter, battling the new and traditional forms of
competition and adapting to communication change are ever-present and will
continue to evolve at an exponential rate.
Consider a shift of focus to the brand.
Even if you are still in the development stages of your communications
plan or clarifying the products that you will be using to communicate with your
members, now is the time to carve out the space that you will need to better
position your organization to be the No. 1 source of information in your

I will be speaking about breaking
down silos and building association brands later this month at the ASAE
Membership & Communications Conference
in Washington, D.C.

Charles Popper is Naylor’s vice president of
association relations. He has more than 15 years of business-to-business and
consumer publishing experience.

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