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The word “brand” gets thrown around a lot these days. Whether you’re discussing a company’s brand, your favorite brand, your personal brand – the buzz around branding seems never-ending.
Chambers is no exception to this rule. We drive home the importance of branding because it is an essential component for club prosperity and plays a surprisingly large part in planning for a club’s future. After all, a well-defined brand provides a guiding light for every decision you and your Board will make. Even more importantly, it allows you to develop a reason for your members to continue returning to the club year after year.
This two-part series will dive into the fundamentals of successfully recognizing and executing your club’s brand. In part one, we will explore the numerous ways to pinpoint what your club does best. Though many clubs have already established a kind of “brand” that is deeply rooted in their storied histories, further defining this brand provides a distinct guideline for future decisions. It can also reveal when a club should consider revamping an outdated brand and adapt to an ever-changing market.
Defining a club brand is a tricky process, partly because many clubs can’t establish their brands in the same way that businesses do. “A club brand is usually loftier than a company brand because they don’t have a lot of external communications or advertising in the traditional sense. It is more about how the club is viewed by the marketplace and prospective members,” says John Snellinger, Chambers’ Vice President and Director of Planning. When it comes to clubs, brand, culture, and perceptions intertwine so seamlessly that it can be difficult to tell them apart.
So if perception is brand for clubs, how can clubs begin to understand how both current and prospective members perceive them? They can start by engaging strategic planners, who utilize a wide variety of methods to gauge perceptions within the membership and around the community. And none of a strategic planner’s tools are more powerful than focus groups and surveys.
Focus groups often mark the initial stage of the planning process for clubs with larger memberships. The group is asked a variety of questions, including who the local competition is and how the community regards the club. Sometimes strategic planners will create a focus group of prospective members and will even suggest contacting former prospective members to ask why they passed on joining the club. This gives planners an idea of whether the club is more golf centric, family centric, dining centric, etc., while also offering club stakeholders a peek into what people love (and don’t love) about their establishment.
Surveys accomplish a similar goal, but on a much larger scale. After gathering the focus group, the strategic planners distribute surveys to all members so that everyone can be involved in the conversation. Surveys typically discuss a number of subjects identified by the focus group, such as the quality of the club experience and the club’s position in the marketplace at large. “Ultimately, surveys help clubs identify their niche and confront any issues that they may face in the eyes of the membership or the community,” Snellinger points out.
Of course, there are other ways to pinpoint what makes your club special without even setting foot off club property. “Managers should seek out people in places of club leadership, both past and present, to gain a better understanding of the club’s culture, traditions, and policies,” advises Skip Avery, Chambers’ Executive Vice President and former President of CMAA. Past Board Members and Presidents can explain some of the reasons behind past policy decisions, giving managers an opportunity to understand the club’s history from a governing standpoint and steer away from past mistakes. They can also help managers dissect the true meaning behind the club’s mission and vision. If your club doesn’t have a mission and vision statement, then it should! It not only serves as the perfect guiding light for all club decisions, but also the perfect jumping off point for the club’s brand.
And as always, simply getting your feet on the ground and talking to members is crucial. “As a General Manager, quality face time with your members is extremely important. Host morning coffee, lunch, or an afternoon sit-down with your members to talk one-one-one about their experience at the club,” says Avery. These conversations allow General Managers to see the role the club plays in their members’ lives and what qualities would improve membership value.
All of these qualities – core values, club specialties, community perceptions, member experiences, etc. – are what form the foundation of a club’s brand. Once clubs pinpoint these fundamental traits, it comes time to combine them and actually execute the brand.
But we’ll save that for next time. Explore the next issue of Club Road for part two in our series about implementing club brand!