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Building Your Club's Brand: Who are We?

There is a lot of discussion today around personal branding. The blogosphere is full of advisers (myself included) discussing the need for a professional/personal brand. But what about organizational branding? Most commercial organizations, of course, represent themselves publicly with some kind of brand (a logo, style guide, socials, etc.). But does your rowing club have a brand? Beyond the club logo and oar colors, how would you describe your club’s brand? What is the first impression you want to convey, via an initial website and socials review, to someone looking to join your club? In this article I will discuss why your club needs a brand identity, how you can leverage one toward club growth, and how, if your club is new to branding, you can start to assemble a brand that will best represent your entire club.

A common first question is, “do we even really need a brand?” You may believe that your club identity already stands as a known quality. After all, rowing is a small community, and if you get to enough regattas you’ll begin to see the differences between CRI athletes, Marin athletes, and the Three Rivers athletes, for example. Your club brand may be recognizable to you or to others, but is that brand commonly discussed or agreed upon within the boathouse? When discussing branding with a club, I frequently find disagreement among members and even within the club’s leadership. Such disagreement tends to resolve, however, once all the constituents discover that their perspectives don’t exist in spite of the club’s brand but rather that they actually combine to enhance it.

Branding allows the public as well as potential members to easily and quickly understand what the club is all about and to recognize its purpose. Often, rowing clubs try to brand themselves under a “Rowing for All” slogan when, in fact, they are clubs that focus only on sculling, only on rowing, only on strictly open water, only on extremely competitive rowing, or only on extremely recreational rowing. Such qualities and differences are completely acceptable as long as a club is not branding itself inaccurately. Inaccurate branding is a problem for clubs and the rowing community in general; clubs struggle to attract new members that are actually good fits within their communities, and they unwittingly turn away newcomers who have certain goals or expectations that aren’t in line with the cultures of their clubs. In doing so, they may potentially even turn these individuals away from rowing altogether.

A perfect example of excellent club branding can be seen with Community Rowing, Inc. in Boston. While it is never explicitly stated anywhere on Community Rowing’s website or in its socials, the club’s “Rowing for All” brand is clearly recognizable. It is apparent across all public and internal communications and presentations. Yet while I hear many clubs herald CRI as the gold standard for branding and public presentation, in the same breath they also declare that this standard is an unattainable ideal.

Crafting your club’s brand is as simple as understanding what your club is trying to achieve. Any club or team that exists long enough promotes a sense of community and belonging. Much of this may come from the pre-existing geographic qualities of the community – from town or city pride, for example. Consider what symbols, values, and ideas your city, town, or county represents and how your club is branded in relationship to those things. From there, branding your club can be as simple as adding rowing to the mix: “We are Anytownsville Rowing! Bringing the Anytownsville Community onto the water for decades!” This is instant, simple branding. When there are multiple clubs in one community, established notions probably already exist about the differences between those clubs. The Schuylkill Navy is an excellent example of this. Everyone is at least peripherally aware of the differences between Vesper, Undine, Crescent, and Malta, for example. Branding occurs when a club emphasizes those differences and makes them its strengths.

Once your club has unanimously agreed upon a brand, what do you do next? That’s where the really fun part comes in. Once you know your club’s brand, you’ll be in an excellent position to consider how your club functions as a real team. You can create logos and style guides that reinforce team qualities, and your club socials will become an excellent platform for reinforcing your brand. All this will further enhance club growth, whether by adding new members or by simply improving the overall experience of current ones. Finally, don’t forget that membership will see a turnover and that club culture can change. Get in the habit of reassessing your club’s brand every four to five years to make sure your club is appropriately representing itself.

Madder Consulting can help you with establishing or defining your club's brand! Reach out to me at john@madderconsulting for a free assessment!

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