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NEWS ANALYSIS: Trade bodies in makeover frenzy

Sometimes considered a typical first project for new management or a knee-jerk reaction to cure an organisation's ailing public image, rebranding can create the impression that an organisation doesn't know who it is. Nevertheless, a carefully planned rebrand can be quite the reverse and can graphically demonstrate deliberate and positive strategic changes.

For the Association of Business to Business Agencies (ABBA), rebranding first became probable with last year's election of new chairman John Stanton. He says it was apparent that the body's public image lagged behind the renewed dynamism of the B2B sector. “The objective is to facilitate building ABBA into a well known and respected body where members can see real benefits from their investment in time and money,” says Stanton.

ABBA's rebrand has two aims. The organisation wants to attract new members with different creative skills and from around the country. It also wants to emphasise the quality that client companies can expect from members' agencies, which ABBA assesses annually for competence and capability. John Mathers, CEO of brand agency Enterprise IG, comments, “There are competing demands for a discretionary budget and businesses must be made aware of and understand the tangible benefits of belonging to an association.”

All trade associations are anxious to state that their respective image overhaul fits into a concerted strategic development plan. The Marketing Communications Consultants Association (MCCA) says its rebrand continues a dynamic 2006, which has seen membership substantially increase and the body take a seat on the membership council of the Advertising Association. The Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP) is using its rebrand to reposition itself within its market in order to lay increasing stress on the importance of promotional marketing.

What's in a font?

ABBA, MCCA and ISP all chose lower case type for their new logos. Many observers accept that lower case is generally no longer startling in design terms, but the industry has tended to accept that trade associations are not cutting edge. The attitude is questionable as Fiona Stevens, director of marketing & strategy at B2B agency The Crocodile, explains, “There's no reason why trade associations as a whole shouldn't be just as intelligent as individual members about the way they work. They need to be taken seriously and their brand is an indication of how forward-thinking and worthwhile they are and what value they're giving to members and potential members.”

Even its most committed members and employees felt that the old ABBA identity was due for retirement. Until relatively recently business marketing had not been seen as a dynamic environment and ABBA had reflected this. As John Wilkinson, ABBA's press officer, comments, “The B2B marketing arena is now leading in creativity, so the onus is on ABBA to reflect and encapsulate that expanded role.”

In ABBA's case the organisation was virtually forced into using lower case to get away from associations with a certain Swedish band. The new ABBA logo is obviously a custom-designed font that makes it both distinctive and memorable. Stevens at The Crocodile, says, “The focus is on the shape rather than the font and is sleek and sharp. The logo might date but is distinctive enough not to matter.”

To achieve its new identity ABBA utilised its members' skills. Involving the membership makes sense at a number of levels. Not only do ABBA members have the necessary skills, they also have a vested interest in giving their trade organisation a professional and attractive identity which complements and enhances their own brands.

MCCA has also unveiled a new logo, colour scheme, mission statement and updated website as part of its rebranding. Stevens of The Crocodile comments: “MCCA's new identity is smart and fresh, it has a contemporary look and feel and is accompanied by a strong mission statement. As a whole it says the right things about the organisation.” MCCA chairman Graham Kemp, says, “the rebranding reflects the new strategy and makes a bold declaration of intent that in today's rapidly changing marketing landscape it is the MCCA members who are best positioned to provide integrated marketing solutions.”

Changing market

“The whole marketing communication landscape is changing,” says Mathers of Enterprise IG, “and good trade associations see the need to be proactive, promoting debate and leading the market.” One of the difficulties for potential members is the lack of clarity among some trade associations about what they stand for and who they represent.

Trade associations that rebrand walk a tightrope. Rebranding means facing the dilemma of presenting the organisation in a new, unusual and memorable way, yet retaining the reputation that underpinned old identity. Stevens at The Crocodile, says, “The launch of the new brand is not the end. Each organisation has to make their new branding work as part of a marketing campaign to influence their members, their potential members and their industry.” Mathers at Enterprise IG puts it in a nutshell, “A rebrand must signal a fundamental change in the entire association. Otherwise it's only surface prettifying and won't make a difference, like putting lipstick on a gorilla.”