The association formerly known as the National Speakers Association recently announced a re-branding effort. The ranks of members and stakeholders contain both advocates and opponents I’m on the side of the community, so what follows is neither praise nor rant. It’s not that I don’t care. I just know that although I’m a member, I have no control over the outcome.
The announcement generated an immediate firestorm of criticism. It didn’t have to happen. If you are considering a re-branding effort within your organization, even if it’s nothing more than adding or retiring a product line, consider this a cautionary tale.
Arrogance and Ignorance
Whether you are piloting a supertanker or a 41-year-old non-profit, changing direction requires planning and an equal measure of both time and space. The former association finds itself embroiled in a controversy because the campaign was poorly executed If you’re planning either a personal or business wide re-branding, make sure you avoid committing the twin sins of arrogance and ignorance.
Organizations will always own their brands, but in the age of the Internet and social networking, control of a brand has shifted. Your brand is in the hands of your fans.
Proceeding with a position that “management knows best” is a fool’s game. It didn’t work for the British during the American Revolution, for Coca-Cola at the introduction New Coke and it didn’t work for the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. It’s uncertain whether the association’s new look will prevail. What is certain is that it will take longer to accomplish and at a great cost, to the stakeholders, litigants and ultimately to the brand itself.
Association management responded both slowly and ineffectively to the surge of protest. An email address was created in an effort to give members a channel to voice their concerns. This only after the 48 hours of social networking commentary. The image that comes to mind is of an open-bottomed suggestion box, mounted directly above a trashcan.
There was a time when organizations could control the conversation, but no longer. Your community now controls where, when and how the debate will play out. Organizations who fail to understand this invitation will never make it to the really cool parties.
In an age of instant communication, total transparency and a pre-requisite of trust, every action taken during a re-branding is important. There’s more to a successful re-branding than developing a new logo, but it is the first visual clue to defining your new direction. A key component to the current debate is the eerie similarity to a member’s existing brand. I’m not saying it was copy/paste. It’s more like photoshopped from my observation.
Before You Re-brand
Engage Your Community in Advance – You’ll receive valuable information from those who know your brand the best. At worst, you’ll be able to share the blame if it goes horribly wrong. You’re going to have a conversation anyway. Better it happen as a supportive dialog than in front of an angry mob carrying pitchforks.
Unique is Tough – It takes very little creativity, money or effort to copy. Stealing is a sin and besides, it’s downright lazy.
Meet Them Where They Are – For years the members tell me that the best knowledge transfer happens not in the meeting rooms, but in the halls between sessions. Attempting to force your community into meeting room box then demanding they fill the empty seats near the front leaves you with a room full of empty chairs.
Measured Pace – If change were easy, there wouldn’t so many books written on the subject. If you’re considering a change in direction, start the turn early and make it as gradual as possible.
Wisdom From Our Founder
While researching NSA founder Cavett Robert’s famous “Bigger Pie” quotation last week for a separate publication, I learned that Cavett’s vision for a National Speakers Association failed the first time out. At the time he optimistically said, “It’s going to take a little more salesmanship”.
Those words are still true four decades after first spoken. As you embark on your own re-branding effort remember who your customer is and who is responsible for making the perfect pitch.