The 3 most important elements of any organization.
It’s a constant battle for organizations to ensure they align strategy, identity, and capacity with vision, mission and values. More tension is added to that conflict as an organization grows during the good days, or shrinks during challenging times. There are three living elements that must reside in unity within an association or non-profit.
If these foundations don’t reside and work well together, there will be a disconnect in the eyes of the members. For example, if your strategic plan mentions being open and transparent to cultivate community, but you fail to express that at the conference, your members will see that and lose trust in you. All too often we see organizations stress the importance of “supporting” their members, yet they fail to apply (or, even read) the feedback gathered after the annual event. We also see strategic plans focus on reaching out to younger professionals, yet the association executives only listen to the highly engaged members.
The disconnect from goal to execution can easily be identified by members and it will turn them away faster than bad service or a nasty meal.
From the inside looking out
Over the past year, we’ve been conducting Conference Marketing Audits. This has given us great insight into how associations of various sizes operate, why they experience success and why they experience failure.
We’ve been promoting ways to increase conference attendance, but these audits have shown us that everyone (including us) needs to take a step back from day-to-day operations and look at the bigger picture.
Low attendance is simply a symptom of a larger problem – the disconnect between the strategic plan, brand and conference.
We’ve yet to come across an organization that is effectively connecting the values, mission and vision of the strategic plan to the brand, and then to the conference. What we’re proposing is that an organization must view these three elements as one. Although each is distinctly valuable all three are related and must work together to shape the organization as a whole. The strategic plan, brand guidelines and positioning statement for the conference should be bound together in the same notebook and placed at every desk in the office.
First off, the Strategic Plan (Go To Manual) is not just for the board members. It should be shared with every staff member – especially the marketing department. Seriously, how can any one develop a successful marketing plan, if they don’t know which way to drive the organization (or how fast)?
Tips for dusting off your strategic plan:
- Hold monthly or quarterly reviews of the strategic plan and how the organization is achieving the goals.
- Creatively display the mission, vision and values throughout the office. You could even make fun, engaging pieces that staff members would want to display at their desk.
- Explain to staff members what the strategic plan means, why it is important to their department and how their job is affected by it.
As the strategic plan grows to include everyone in the organization, it should also grow to include the brand and conference. Why are these important in relation to the values and mission? What goals need to be set for the conference? How will those goals be measured and reached?
It baffles us to no end that the largest live gathering, the heartbeat of the organization, is not mentioned in the strategic plan or embraced in your branding.
Your brand is a promise delivered.
A brand represents a set of values to the world through actions and words. It states what you stand for and lets members know they can count on you to meet those defined expectations.
The branding guidelines are what brings the brand to the office.
If you want to be successful at fulfilling your mission, your brand guidelines can’t be a list of marching orders and dos and don’ts on how to use the logo. Instead, it must be what the association stands for and the brand pillars that capture the gut feeling of your members. This is where it is important to have conversations with members and conduct surveys.
We understand how hard it can be to dig through feedback and be subjective after you’ve been in the association for several years. Eventually, you will have engaged with members long enough that you will develop a sense of what they need and want, which means you may think it would be a waste of time to read survey results. However, this step is so vital to understanding the members’ gut feeling that it warrants careful review and analysis of the feedback.
As you can see, the brand guidelines are connected to the conference, not just in how logos and fonts are used for the marketing, but also through measuring how members feel about the association. And, its not hard to see how that should play into the strategic plan as well.
The conference is the largest touchpoint of your brand.
Essentially, your conference should be the essence of your brand. A member’s experience at the conference will determine their gut feeling about the organization. Which is why you must gather feedback at the event, read it and apply it. Let it refine the strategic plan and the brand guidelines.
Also, the conference goals should be part of the strategic plan and shared with everyone in the organization. When a goal has been set, share it with everyone. Then provide feedback as they reach toward the goal.
How are you doing?
Dust off your organization’s strategic plan, create branding guidelines that define what you stand for, and remember to incorporate the conference into the strategic plan and brand.
- How does your organization’s marketing fulfill the essence of the plan?
- How are core values expressed in emails to members?
- How is the organization’s mission fulfilled through pre-conference marketing?
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