In a partnership starting over a decade ago, a healthcare association partnered with McKinley on brand research with the goal of refreshing its image to engage a wider audience. Ultimately, the findings inspired the organization to reposition its mission and vision, extending its focus beyond executives to serve developing leaders in the field. At the time, the board decided that a name change communicating this adjustment would be too significant of a change and could possibly cost the organization its credibility in the market and in advocacy efforts. For the next several years, the organization maintained its original acronym while setting its sights on engaging a wider membership base to include emerging leaders.
In 2014-2015, the organization started to see its new member rate drop from double to single digits annually. With membership growth as its main objective, staff and leaders decided to invest in research to identify the cause of the membership declines. They sought answers to such questions as:
- Are we offering the right programs for new members?
- What do professionals in the field seek when they join an organization?
- What do professionals think of our organization and our brand?
The McKinley team utilized several research methods to demonstrate the wide range of perspectives across various segments within the member and nonmember audiences. Interviews conducted during a member needs research study revealed:
- An aging membership: Over half of the respondents reported having been in the profession for 20+ years and a significant percentage planned to retire within the next few years.
- Brand misalignment: The organization’s name resonated with only 28% of respondents.
- Current memberships did not fully represent the organization’s offerings or target audiences.
Using a panel survey, the organization gained perspective from a wider audience of potential members in the profession beyond their current membership. This research effort revealed why various audiences were opting not to join and underscored areas requiring more attention.
of respondents didn’t know they were eligible to join the association, due to the narrow audience and exclusivity suggested by the organization’s name.
of respondents didn’t see the value in joining the association.
The organization’s name didn’t resonate with 42% of respondents, and only 28% agreed that the name resonated with them.
Respondents ranked continued education opportunities (67%) and learning best practices (66%) as high factors in deciding to join a membership organization.
The research also showed that new members and emerging leaders did not see a place for themselves in the organization, despite the programs designed specifically for that group. Others didn’t know they could participate in the organization and take advantage of programs the organization had to help secondary audiences. The findings confirmed suspicions that younger professionals and those in nontraditional roles felt disenfranchised. Ultimately, the organization realized that the disconnect wasn’t in its business strategy or offerings; it was in the perception of exclusivity that its name suggested.
Strategy and Solution
After reviewing the research findings and recommendations, the organization decided to change its name to be more inclusive to a wider audience and refresh its image to appeal to a younger and more diverse demographic. McKinley’s marketing experts transitioned from research support to marketing guidance, helping the association develop a rebranding strategy.
Before the design phase, an incoming director from a related organization replaced the original point of contact and took over the project. McKinley was instrumental in supporting this restructuring by tapping into the deep understanding of the members, products and services and the competitive landscape that they had gained over years of partnership with the association. Working with the new director, McKinley was able to supply the context needed for staff and leaders to make informed and confident decisions that seamlessly moved the project forward.
Overall, the research results shaped the rebrand and the communications strategy by revealing how respondents wanted to engage with the organization and what values they viewed as most important. The responses from the research surveys revealed three major values: innovation, inclusion and influence.
These values were incorporated into the brand, core messaging and strategy, as well as the visual logo. Working alongside the organization and a graphic designer, McKinley developed and tested messaging and taglines to ensure the brand resonated with target audiences.
Marketing and Communication Strategy
Rebranding to internal and external stakeholders was equally as important as the rebranding itself, as well as marketing it to a wider audience. McKinley developed an extensive communication and marketing strategy for the organization to execute. The plan outlined:
- Internal and external messaging
- Communication strategies to promote wider awareness
- An implementation timeline and plan
To effectively reach target audiences, the communications plan reflected the values and language expressed by respondents in the research survey. Throughout the rebranding launch, McKinley offered continuous support and guidance to ensure a successful rollout.
This multi-year partnership resulted in a complete brand refresh and name change, communicating the association’s commitment to membership inclusivity and more accurately reflecting the value the organization promised to deliver. The three redefined pillars of content and updated core messaging were integrated across each of the association’s campaigns and programs. The visually-updated brand has a modern look that connects with a wider audience, and a largely positive response from the member base has reflected an appreciation for the organization’s dedication to the future. In the years after the rebranding launch, membership has grown significantly as new members with a wider variety of position titles joined.