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Managing Your Club Identity

A private club’s brand is not the same as a chain of hotels or other hospitality business. It’s more personal, more emotional. And when it comes to the set of services, programs and events it offers, they should reflect this emotionally charged identity. GGA Partner, Henry DeLozier, explains how to manage a private club brand and realize what a powerful an asset it can be.

Your brand is in everything you do…and fail to do.

In the Old West days of the open range, where livestock roamed freely across the land, brands were burned into the hides of cattle to identify the ownership. For them, “branding” was a formalized approach of asset demarcation.

Unfortunately, even today, many private club leaders still think that a brand is simply an iconic mark, like that on the rump of a cow, indicating ownership. In the book Principles of Marketing, authors Philip Kotler and Gary Armstrong show that a brand is defined as a “name, term, sign symbol (or a combination of these) that identifies the maker or seller of the product.” However, the concept of brand has advanced significantly from the notion that a trademark could serve as a brand.

Today, brands are stories. They are an intentional assortment of identifying characteristics of goods and services. And leading brands are carefully developed and aimed at pre-identified market segments whose wants, needs, and expectations align with the intended benefits of the product.

Many private club leaders mistakenly believe that their club is a brand similar to Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, or other businesses that promise superior hospitality services and amenities. A club’s brand – like a private club itself – is highly emotional, and the way the brand is managed must align with that.

In a private club, the brand establishes a promise of services, programs, and events which – together – constitute a promise of emotional reward. The manager will know and use your name, servers will know your preferences, other members will know you to be a person of accomplishment and social standing – thus, the club’s brand is in every interaction and memorable moment.

Following are three disciplines that every club leader should exercise in recognizing and managing their club’s brand:

1. Become knowledgeable about the power of brand.

This requires that club managers and leaders understand the market segments being served by their clubs. Careful market analysis identifies the psychographic motivations that make one club more attractive to members than another. The emotional context of private clubs requires that club leaders understand the human side of what motivated their members to join the club. Status, aspiration and recognition is far more important to club members than price. Club membership is not a transactional relationship.

2. Remain alert to proper brand management methods.

Use the club’s brand to establish and maintain a position of authority for the lifestyle promise made by the club.

Brand management is a full-time job. Seth Godin, the brand and marketing guru who has written some 18 books on related topics, says, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”

Given that most private club markets in North America and Europe are significantly over-supplied, the successful clubs are those able to stand out from the crowd and achieve genuine market differentiation. “The easiest thing is to react. The second easiest is to respond. But the hardest thing is to initiate,” Godin adds.

Three keys to managing your club’s brand are (1) leveraging your unique selling position to promote your strengths, (2) use marketing and communications to increase brand awareness, and (3) develop your brand internally so your members can attract their friends.

3. Use your brand to develop relationships.

Empower members to promote the club’s brand through the stories you tell about your club.

When it comes to private clubs, people are attracted by two key elements: brand factors (the key distinguishable traits of your brand), and buyer relationships and stories (how members came to be members, what influenced their decision and how the club now plays a significant role in their day to day lives).

Understand that your club brand is not a trademarked transaction – it is the stuff of imagination and achievement. Godin summarizes this truth observing, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make but about the stories you tell.”

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier.

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