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Fresh, New & True: The MSAE Rebrand Story

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The Midwest Society of Association Executives (MSAE) is the association for associations with over 1,200 association members from over 300 associations in the Midwest. For nearly 60 years, they have led the charge in the advancement of associations and association professionals. The 60-year milestone served as an impetus for their organization to hit the pause button and explore the possibility of a brand refresh. The idea was explored internally and the decision was made to proceed with the refresh.

Simply put, a rebrand is:

A sharpening of the focus on what your brand stands for, and for whom.

Time for a Brand Refresh

Looking for a branding partner, MSAE reached out to five professional branding firms with a Request for Proposal (RFP). The board selected the experts at Mercury Creative Group. As MSAE realized, the guidance of an outside team is a crucial component in a successful refresh. Working internally is challenging because of the constant threat of distraction (the responsibilities of your real job may keep taking priority), and the myopic view that we all inherently develop for our own businesses and organizations.

The Process

Building a strong brand identity that resonates with the right audience is not easy. Selecting the right branding partner is one of the most important steps in this process. It should be someone that will hold you accountable, but will not dictate what your brand should be. They need to act as a guide to help you reveal your real brand.

Even before the pros get involved, there are a several things you can do internally to prepare:

Identify pain points.

In the case of MSAE, they lacked consistency in their marketing communication vehicles, and a had a logo that needed updating. Turning 60 offered them the opportunity to position their organization for the next 60 years by bringing a new energy and relevancy to their brand that speaks to both current and future members.

MSAE created a rebrand task force to engage in the process. The task force consisted of three board members, three staff members, three general members and the two branding experts from Mercury Creative Group. Having the right mix of people committed to this endeavor is essential. A rebrand is all encompassing and all staff and leadership play an important role in the process. The right people may differ for every situation, but one thing remains the same – executive leadership needs to be involved.

“Embarking on this thorough and complete rebrand process has been in a word, amazing. In an ever-changing and unpredictable association environment, we feel that updating our name and brand identify leaves us poised to move professionals forward and advance the industry in an important and meaningful way.”

– MSAE President Kathy Johnson, CAE

Getting to Work

Before beginning any brand identity, naming or messaging work, MSAE engaged in the following key branding steps:

Identify your Audience

The MSAE audience had changed from primarily association executives to all association professionals. They decided to focus on the advancement of the individual thereby leading to the advancement of their associations as a whole.

Formulate your Story

Once the audience is defined, learn to speak their language. If MSAE is indeed serving the individual and not just the executives, what is their story to them?

What are they providing for them that is of value and will entice them to join and engage with MSAE?

Recognize your Position in the Marketplace

In order to put your stake in the ground, you need to identify what you bring to the marketplace in relation to others offering similar goods or services. MSAE clearly defined how they are different and how they deliver on their promise.

Establish your Brand Value

What do you truly provide to your members/customers? MSAE identified this to be Advancement. Advancement of individual members, associations and the industry as a whole.

Determine your Need for a Name Change

A brand refresh does not equal a new name and logo. After numerous strategy sessions exploring questions such as: Where can we grow? How can we better serve our members? Whatís our message?, the MSAE task force decided to pursue a name change. They wanted to adopt something that more succinctly captured who they are and what they do.

Develop a Name

All of the prior strategic steps inform this significant one. The work done up to this point provides direction and inspiration for naming. Since MSAE identified Advancement as their main purpose, it was important that their name and identity reflect that. They also wanted to avoid any acronyms or lengthy names.

After contemplating numerous options, Associations North was chosen. The new name is simple, memorable, fits their audience and adds a measure of aspiration.

Establish your Communication Goals/Objectives Around the Rebrand

With MSAE, their goal is 100% adoption in collateral material and verbal communications by the end of the year. Goals arenít very effective without measurement. MSAE will measure their success through conversations and comments around the brand change. Success to them means that almost all responses are positive ones.

Develop your Roll-Out Plan

This is the nuts and bolts of what goes to market when. There are two things to consider here. When and how to promote the change, and to whom? When will all brand elements reflect the new identity? For MSAE, a launch plan was developed to roll out the new name and identity at their 2016 Annual Meeting & Expo. A teaser tagline was developed: Fresh, New & True to lend a glimpse of what is coming.

Monitor + Modify

In the days following their roll-out, Associations North had regularly scheduled check-ins with their creative partner Mercury Creative Group, as well as leadership and staff to gauge the reactions to the new brand.

A rebrand is the opportunity to reinvigorate your organization and generate excitement amongst your members or customers. With their Advancement mentality permeating all that they do, Associations North is confident that the new mindset will attract new members and opportunities to increase engagement.

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