Recognizing and Defining Your Club’s Brand

Private Club Branding

Oh, the confusion over the word “brand.” Say it, and some conjure logos or packaging or even merely the ubiquity of a particular company, its product or service.  Dispensing with the business school diatribe (or of pointing out that the Disney brand experience is about more than getting to meet Snow White), author and “marketing guru” Seth Godin defines brand as

“The set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

“If the consumer doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer,” says Godin.

And just what does brand have to do with private clubs?


As member demographics shift, competition evolves (from all sources, not merely other clubs) and member expectations for service and value increase, clubs’ most important investments are in creating a strong and consistent emotional connection and value in the minds of their members and communities.  That connection is what makes existing members stay and new ones come. It’s also what makes recruiting and retention about setting and meeting expectations, versus competing on dollars, alone.

“A club’s brand is its reputation and its credibility,” says Al Antonez, CCM, during his time as general manager/chief operating officer at The Country Club of Rochester, NY. Antonez, now GM at The Club at Las Campanas in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an enthusiastic advocate of clubs as brands. Long focused on an extremely high level of service and the notion of creating a “community” within and between club staff and members, Antonez is confident in the strength of a club’s brand. “This is the best way to outwork and outconnect other clubs by a wide margin,” he says.

For long established clubs like Charlotte Country Club in North Carolina or Mountain Brook Club in Birmingham, says Chambers President & CEO Rick Snellinger, “The brands are already well established, focused on tradition, legacy and high levels of service.” Rochester’s brand was a “little dormant” when Antonez arrived at the Club in 2001— “it was there,” he acknowledges, “we just had to fan the flames.”

But what of the club in transition, the club facing greater competition or one that has or is considering change that has the potential to positively affect its member experience — if only they can redefine the brand in the minds of its “consumers?”

“Brand begins by defining, knowing and understanding who you are as a club,” says Snellinger. “From establishing an honest mission statement for your club, to every programming, building, food service and staff decision you make, everything you do should support who you are as a club…a brand,” he says.  In fact, Antonez focuses his branding efforts largely on ensuring he has the right staff, rightly trained.

The steps to creating a distinctive and resonant brand are, by definition, relatively simple.  The path to getting there requires leadership, persistence and insistence — top down, inside out.  The steps:

  • Define the brand.  And define what’s uniquely yours.  A nice golf course, state of the art fitness center and great service may not, in fact, distinguish you from your cross-town competition.  But golf programs for every age group or highly personalized services that add distinct value for every member…those points of differentiation, you can hang your hat on.
  • Be the brand.  Once defined, says Antonez, simply and myopically “focus on being that brand — and never take your eyes off of it.”  Determine every touchpoint of your brand experience and insist on strong and consistent delivery every day, in every conceivable way.
  • Spread the love.  One of the biggest challenges in changing brand perception is getting past often long-held notions in the community about what your club was, versus is.  Take part in the community in ways that showcase your brand values.  Service? Give. Programming? Teach. Community experience? Include. A strong brand will make ambassadors of your members, as they understand and exude the essence of who you are.

The Palmetto Club is another strong example of harnessing a club’s brand in every aspect of its physical environment. This project merged two successful downtown business clubs, The Palmetto Club & The Summit Club, infusing the physical structures, memberships and brand experiences to become a new and unique identity. Click here to read more about this marriage of equals.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in Spring 2013, Club Road Issue 8, and has been updated for accuracy. 

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