Rebranding: More Than Meets the Eye

By Lyle Fitzsimmons • November 5, 2012

By Lyle Fitzsimmons

As with all things, it largely depends on specifics.

Tasked with engineering a re-branding effort for their association, some leaders might consider the mission suitably accomplished with a new logo and color palette, perhaps augmented by a trendy visual upgrade to the organization’s website design.

  • Changing your association’s brand is essential to staying relevant with members and your industry—but the exercise will take time and shouldn’t be taken lightly
  • Your brand is more than just your logo—it represents what people say about your organization when you’re not in the room.
  • Your brand should reflect how you want people to perceive your organization and what promises you’re telling people that you need to live up to.

But according to Michael Berens, the director of research and knowledge resources for the Association of Interior Designers, that’s just the eye candy. And even at an outfit as appearance-conscious as the American Society of Interior Designers, there’s a little more to the process than rearranging the furniture and hanging new pictures.

“The brand isn’t just the organization’s graphic identity. It’s more than just changing up the logo,” said Berens, a now-happy survivor of the group’s most-recent rebranding effort—which took every bit of 12 months from end to end.

“The brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” he said. “And you have to ask yourself some hard questions. Who do we want people to say we are? What are the messages we’re telling people that we need to live up to? Once you figure that out, you take it and go from there.

“Ultimately, you create a visual identity to help reinforce all that. But changing a logo won’t really help if you have an organizational issue. Just telling someone that you’re different doesn’t make you different.”

Berens, who recently celebrated his 12th anniversary with ASID, has taken the re-branding trek before. In 2004-05 he took part in the organization’s 18-month rebranding exercise that was undertaken to enhance the group’s standing at a time when the public was first latching on to the idea that thoughtful design can “improve their quality of life.”

“Up to that point, the society’s communications material had a very formal, corporate look,” Berens said. “We wanted to emphasize design excellence, so we went through the process focusing on color, people and showing beautiful spaces rather than a formal presence.”

The latest effort, he said, was aimed at separating ASID professionals from industry rank and file, emphasizing their elite status and conveying that value to potential customers.

The national association created an online portal for its chapters, complete with predesigned materials to ensure a coordinated, comprehensive rollout of pertinent information.

A rebrand recap, called “The ASID Brand Story,” is on the association’s website––and describes the process by which ASID assessed its existing brand, identified ways to communicate the organization’s essence and chose specific messaging/design elements to “convey what we want our members to feel pride in or know about ASID, and how ASID can continue to be impactful and influential on behalf of the interior design community,” he said.

And according to Berens, it’s been “so far, so good” in terms of response.

“We’re designing for designers, and we have 20,000 members with 20,000 opinions,” he said. “So there is always going to be some disagreement, but overall the reaction has been very positive.

“The expectations here are very high, and to the people with the local chapters this can be an ordeal. So it’s important we have a purpose when we go and rebrand materials. It’s been a process of educating and working with folks.”

Still, in spite of the initial success, it’s OK with him if it’s awhile before the next one.

“I’ll be fine if we don’t do it every year,” Berens said. “People who do branding for a living usually work on a four- or five-year timeline. It’s always good to revisit periodically, but once you go through the process you don’t want to get to a point where you’re switching gears again that fast.

“Unless the field is moving so fast that it’s necessary more frequently, four or five years sounds right.”

Lyle Fitzsimmons is an editor at Naylor, LLC. Reach him at [email protected]. Portions of this article originally appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of Association Leadership – an official publication of the Texas Society of Association Executives.

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