The Power Behind Proper Branding


Imagine this scenario. Three first-time guests show up at your next club meeting. Being the good Toastmaster that you are, you make conversation with each of them.

The first guest is Ming-Yen, who just moved from Taiwan to the United States for a job. She was a Toastmaster in Taiwan years ago and thought joining a club would help her make new friends in the U.S. So she sees Toastmasters primarily as a social club.

The next guest is George. He received a promotion at work and his new position requires him to give presentations. His boss recommended that he check out Toastmasters. Unfamiliar with the organization, George went online to learn more. He sees Toastmasters as a class for learning how to prepare speeches.

The third guest is Karin. Her sister is a Toastmasters district leader in another state and their grandfather was also a Toastmaster. Karin works at the U.S. Patent Office, which has several corporate clubs. In spite of her family and work connections, and though she has seen many fliers and marketing messages, she is still not quite sure what Toastmasters is. She’s just visiting a club at the urging of her family.

Before the meeting even starts, each of them has preconceptions about Toastmasters. These are formed from logos they’ve seen, from fliers they’ve read about an open house, from invitations they’ve received, from past Toastmasters and current members they talk to, and from any number of random sources. All of these add up to what they think of Toastmasters. And all three guests probably have a very different perception of what Toastmasters stands for. Have you ever thought about how you personally affect people’s perception of the brand?

It Takes Two to Make a Brand
Branding is one of the easiest concepts to understand, yet it’s one of the hardest to execute. A brand consists of two active parts: how it’s represented and how it’s experienced. The one presenting the brand controls how it looks, the messaging it delivers and the consistency of those two things. Consistency is the single most important factor in creating a strong and recognizable brand. It’s more important than the quality of the design or the eloquence of the tagline. It’s the most important thing there is, in fact. When there is consistency in the look of a brand—and in the message that it sends about the organization—people not only know what to expect, they expect what they know.

And then there is the one receiving the presentation of the brand. This relates to how the brand is experienced. The way people absorb the brand is how they feel about what they see, hear, touch and read. How they process those sensations and ideas is their experience. And from that experience they form a judgment, good or bad. Creating a positive experience is the most overlooked factor in creating a strong and recognizable brand.

The best way to represent the Toastmasters brand is to keep it consistent—in its look, feel and messaging. The power of consistency is not only good for the Toastmasters organization as a whole; it’s good for the district and the club. It’s even good for you as a member. The Toast-masters brand is interdependent: It needs you and you need it. Think about it. If the brand as a whole is strong, it makes your job easier when you introduce people to the organization. And when we maintain consistency in our clubs, it helps cultivate our worldwide brand.

Consistency in how clubs operate is the string that connects us to other members around the world. In psychological terms, it’s called group cohesiveness. We have a bond with others who share the same interest in Toastmasters as we do, regardless of anyone’s lifestyle or cultural background.

When I was in Australia speaking at the District 73 conference, I got the chance to visit several clubs. I even stayed in the homes of members and their families. I felt an instant and deep connection knowing that Toastmasters meetings in other countries far away from home operate in a similar way, with prepared speeches, Table Topics®, evaluations and everything being timed.

Remember Ming-Yen, the former Toastmaster from Taiwan who wanted to meet friends in her new American home? Her conception of what Toastmasters can do for her is directly affected by what her club did for her on the other side of the Pacific. If there is consistency, she’ll know exactly what to expect and she will get the most out of Toastmasters.

Club and district officers can carry out this desired consistency by using Toastmasters-branded materials.

Toastmasters’ Brand Refresh
In 2011 Toastmasters took on the daunting task of updating its brand. It was the first time in the organization’s history this had been done. When the branding was completed and launched, Toastmasters experienced what most organizations do when they go through a re-brand: divided opinions. Some people loved the inclusion of leadership as a main component in the messaging, and some didn’t. Some loved the new brand colors and the design elements; others disdained the new look.

When organizations re-brand, they typically see a burst of excitement, confusion and contempt. Then, as people get used to the updated brand, it’s hard for them to even remember the old one. The new brand becomes the new normal.

For Toastmasters, it has been four years now and the brand refresh is established and accepted. Now it’s up to all of us to make sure it thrives. Clubs from around the world have brought their Toastmasters passion to life through the organization’s Brand Video Contest. A good example of this collaboration is from The Leader Ship Club in Lodz, Poland. Watch their video.

Applying Consistency
So what can we do to work with the Toastmasters brand instead of against it? It’s simple. We can use the tools and elements that Toastmasters has already created for us. You can find them all in Leadership Central on the Toastmasters website.

There’s an entire section dedicated to brand elements, and a brand manual governs the application and uses of the logo, fonts, color palette and even style of photography. You can download the logo in various formats. There’s also club and district stationery, business cards and fliers. Just about anything you need has already been created for you. And, most important, there is a concise expression of the Toastmasters brand positioning to remind you of why Toastmasters exists.

There is no need to design your own materials. It’s not only a waste of time but it’s also counterproductive because when you do, you dilute the brand. You can, however, create your own materials if you use the Toastmasters brand elements and follow the guidelines in the brand manual. That supports consistency.

The Toastmasters Experience
Even though the brand experience—how it’s received—is going on in someone else’s head, this is the part you have the most control over. You can help strengthen the Toastmasters brand by creating and crafting the “Toastmasters Experience.”

It’s the experience we should be striving to create every time someone has an interaction with Toastmasters. Experiences are created by the conscious mind as it makes observations and instills them with meaning, order and emotional response. With the Toastmasters experience, the meaning, order and emotion should elicit confidence, camaraderie and a motivation to help people nurture their own self-development. This is the desired end, the purpose of the Toastmasters brand.

Think of a brand experience that you’ve been a part of. For instance, when you wear a pair of Nike shoes, you have a specific experience related to that interaction. How did you feel trying them on? Lacing them up? Did wearing the shoes make you feel like you could run faster? Did it do something for your self-confidence? Or your energy level? Each of us may react to a new pair of Nike shoes in a different way. But it’s all part of the Nike brand experience.

A person can even experience a brand by inference. If you hear stories about, or see results of, what other people have experienced with a brand, you tend to put yourself in their shoes. A few years ago, a young woman named Katie joined one of my clubs. She was very nervous at first, but about a year later, she gave her 10th speech in the Competent Communication manual. She invited her boss to come watch. I’ll never forget what he said: “I didn’t know anything about Toastmasters except what Katie told me. But I’ve seen her go from being overly shy to amazingly confident. Toastmasters has worked well for her. So well, in fact, we are losing Katie as she is being promoted to assistant manager of another branch.”

Whether or not her boss ever joins Toastmasters himself is beside the point; he was able to experience the brand and his opinion of Toastmasters has forever changed. It came from an inferred experience, but his opinion, which he will continue to share with others, is exactly what strengthens a brand.

Choose to Give
In every interaction, you make a conscious choice to give people the Toastmasters experience or rob them of it. There is no middle ground. How can you rob someone of their Toastmasters experience? Let me give you an example. When I served as an area governor, I visited one of the clubs in my area that had been having problems retaining members and meeting its Distinguished Club Program goals. One of the first things I noticed was that, although the members were giving speeches, they were not following the Toastmasters’ education guidelines. After the meeting, I spoke with the club president. He told me his club was doing fine because a few of the core club members already had their DTMs.

A first-time visitor would think that was how all clubs operate. That would be their brand experience. But that club is not typical of most.

The point is, don’t rob others of the Toastmasters experience. You can give them the experience in so many ways. The simple act of making genuine conversation with a guest when he or she visits your club does wonders. Avoid being judgmental when evaluating members; instead, give them only the information they need to further their skills. Even sharing anecdotes about your own experience can positively impact people’s perceptions of our brand. This, in fact, can do far more for the member, than providing a bulleted list of facts.

Keep This in Mind
If you remember nothing else, remember these two things: consistency and brand experience. They are vitally linked. To seed Toastmasters as a force for good in the world, you have to attend to how everyone experiences its brand. And to grow the Toast-masters brand and reputation from that seed, you need to apply all of its brand elements consistently. This includes its messaging.

Remember those three hypothetical characters who showed up at your club meeting? Ming-Yen, George and Karin? Each with their own widely different goals? Well, if their Toastmasters experience is consistent, they’ll each determine on their own how to apply that experience to their own personal needs. And the cycle will be complete.

By delivering the brand experience in a consistent way, you’ll not only enhance the Toastmasters mission, you won’t disappoint anyone who tries Toastmasters, because they’ll know what to expect. And they’ll bring more friends who will bring other friends, and so on...

A version of this article appeared in the August 2015 issue of the Toastmaster magazine.

About the Author

Cathey Armillas, DTM

has been a Toastmaster for 20 years. She is a Past District Director and three-time DTM. She is also a world-renowned speaker coach who runs a successful business coaching CEOs, business leaders, and TED speakers on delivering talks and sharing their stories. Find out more at