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How to set your association apart from the rest

As an association, you want to be known as the best. You want everyone in your industry to think about you as the go-to source for information. You want to be different. To stand alone. To be great.

To successfully set your association above the rest, an understanding of your differentiators is key. Those differentiators can be found by defining your target market (which in many cases comes down to the specific industry you serve), competition, niche and position.

Getting noticed through all the other noise and resources available to your members (and potential members) can be daunting. Prioritizing your marketing efforts will help. To start, ask yourself a few questions:

Who’s your target audience, really?

Your target market is not “everyone” and it may not even be everyone in your industry. Think about who you struggle to reach and who you have an easy time reaching. For your association to be successful, who are the most important audiences? If you struggle with member retention but have no problem with new members, your focus should be on identifying how to communicate with those members who are leaving your organization. If you are full of Baby Boomers but struggle to engage younger generations, your focus needs to be on marketing your association in a way that is appealing to younger members.

Identify your top target and some secondary targets for your association and get to know who those people are. These are the people you’re going to need to engage and build relationships with.

Find out what they care about, what’s important to them regarding your industry and your organization, and what makes them tick in general. You need to understand who they are and why they would considering joining your association (or why they are a member already). Narrowing down and understanding your target markets will help you craft better messages that solve your audience’s specific problems and meets their specific needs. This is what will get you noticed.

Who’s your competition?

Before you can stand out, you need to know what you’re up against. Take some time to research your other associations and see how they compare. Think outside the box here. Don’t just look at associations that are in your industry, look to those that are doing is well and who you’d love to emulate.

What marketing tactics and tools they are using? How can you utilize similar concepts in your marketing strategy? Do some comprehensive research to figure out who your competition is and why they matter. Everyone has a competitor. Get to know them.

What is your niche?

Once you’ve researched your competition, get a solid understanding on what makes your association stand out. What can you offer that is unique? That no other association is offering? More than likely, you’re doing things differently already; identify what those things are and what sets you about. Then talk about it!

What’s your position?

Establish who your association is and what you want it to be known for; set your position. What are the essential qualities that set your association apart? Your position should distinguish you from other companies like yours. Your position will be reflected in your brand, but it’s a tool you should use internally.

For example: Home Depot’s position is that it’s the hardware department stores for the do-it-yourselfers. Their brand reflects this in their tagline “You can do it. We can help.” Home Depot has positioned themselves as the store for everyone, not just contractors and professionals. They’ve set themselves apart by being the place to go for DIY home improvement. The spirit of that position is clearly reflected in their brand’s tagline and the types of content they post online. This same exercise can be executed for your association as well.

Be consistent in your messaging

Once you have answered the above questions, spread a consistent message across all your marketing channels. Use your website, print media, social media, video to show your target market who you are. Repetition of a meaningful message will grab your market’s attention and help build your association’s brand awareness. Be consistent, but don’t be afraid to monitor and tweak the message based on what’s working for you and what’s not.

If you want your association to stand out, you need to start with what your members and potential members want and then establish who you are. Understanding your competition, your target market and what makes you unique are the first steps in getting noticed. Building your association’s brand based on market research and self-awareness will help you stand out in the marketplace. Now, go get ‘em!


This guest post was submitted by Melissa Harrison, founder and CEO of Allee Creative, LLC, a content marketing and branding firm in the Twin Cities. Melissa has more than a decade of experience in content management and strategy, branding and design, working with organizations to build strategic social media and online content strategies. Listed as one of the “Top 36 Content Marketers Who Rock” by TopRank and Content Marketing Institute, Melissa believes that organizations must adapt to what customers want, which includes using social media and creative online content to provide relevant, consistent information, in order to survive. 

Melissa is also a four-time recipient of the Hermes Creative Award and a regular speaker on the topics of branding, content strategy and social media. Melissa is also certified by Google Analytics Academy in Digital Analytics Fundamentals. Follow Melissa on Twitter

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /