Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What can NSGC learn from TV?

Last fall as a guest blogger on this blog (see entry September 21, 2009 below) and recently as a contributor to Perspectives in Genetic Counseling ( I wrote about the importance of branding an association. When the NSGC Board decided several years ago to develop an NSGC “brand”, the first step was to select a specific audience, or “target customer”. To illustrate the selection of a target customer, I look to my favorite cable television station, tbs. A TV station has many similarities to an association, as it is service-based and depends heavily on support from external parties, namely advertisers. Attracting more advertisers means investment in the programming, which attracts more target viewers, which attracts more advertisers – a television version of the circle of life.

Some of you may remember, as I do, the TBS station from many years ago when it was the “TBS Superstation” and ran a hodge-podge of re-runs and movies typical for many cable channels. If you don’t remember, you are reinforcing the reasons why TBS needed to change! At that time, the channel was not clearly differentiated from other stations as the place to go for a specific type of programming. In other words, TBS was not very memorable and potential viewers couldn’t tell whether it was the station for them or not.

TBS underwent a re-branding effort beginning in 2005, and I was fortunate to hear the brand manager speak about the effort later that same year. The first step the management took was to analyze the different possible TV viewers and place them into categories. They considered many types of characteristics such as gender, age, employment status, household constitution (e.g. number and age of adults, children, etc), hobbies, etc. Next, they identified the customer group, or target, that they could serve better than anyone: the busy adult who wants “comfort TV” that is a reliable release from daily demands of work and household responsibilities. The benefit the station thought it could provide was an escape with familiar friends on funny programs. (Think about Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc.)

This process of identifying a target customer and what benefits an organization or product can bring to that customer better than anyone else is the basis for creating a brand. NSGC went through a similar process. Board members determined that the best way for NSGC to serve genetic counselors was to promote the profession itself, an activity that no other organization is likely to undertake. To do so, the NSGC Board chose to target physicians, who are key gatekeepers for patients’ access to genetic counselors and repeated beneficiaries of the value genetic counselors bring to their patients. After all, who will hear about the patient’s satisfaction with having received helpful, easy-to-understand translation of genetic information to facilitate decision-making? The physician who referred! And who could potentially discourage a patient who has heard about genetic counseling and asks whether it is appropriate for her? Again, the physician – at least one who hasn’t heard from NSGC’s brand campaign yet and therefore doesn’t know the value the patient and physician both receive from a genetic counseling consultation.

Once the target customer and key benefits to that customer are determined, the next stage of branding is tactical, meaning that all the creative development occurs, such as designing a new logo and choosing colors, developing key phrases about benefits, etc. If you aren’t among tbs’ viewers, you can see an example of its creative work on its website, The tbs logo, with its casual, lower-case letters, half-circle “smile”, and the phrase “very funny”, says it all! The result is that the target customer can consistently count on finding that welcome “release” in tuning to tbs.

Did it work? The station’s management faced some initial challenges with changing to advertisers seeking its new target customer. I recall seeing an advertisement in the fall of 2005 for “The Matrix” -- very funny? I don’t think so. However, a recent, quick review of its website demonstrates a line-up of character-filled, funny sitcoms as well as original programming that suggests success and the ability to invest in further development of its “very funny” brand. Also, its advertising likely appeals to the target viewer:’s humorous online “store”, a Pinesol queen with a handsome servant, and numerous time-saving products to manage the home like Turbotax, Select Harvest Light soup, and Bounty paper towels.
What does tbs’ branding success have to do with NSGC’s recently begun branding efforts?
Branding NSGC will increase visibility and credibility for genetic counselors. This means NSGC will attract more dollars through advertisers, collaborators, membership, etc. allowing NSGC to expand and enhance member services and increase investment in critical strategic initiatives like improving access to genetic counseling services. Physicians will recognize which patients will benefit the most and refer a larger number and/or more appropriate patients. Prospective students are more likely to learn about the genetic counseling profession to potentially increase the diversity of our field.

I hope this example has helped demonstrate why NSGC is investing in creating a brand and how we will do so. I’m exhausted from writing this blog and just want to relax in front of television…I wonder what’s on tbs?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

As many of you have heard, the NSGC is undergoing a transformation around our branding and marketing efforts. This includes a new logo, color palette, website and marketing target for our profession. In recent years, the American Board of Genetic Counseling went through the same process. We thought it would be helpful to hear more about the process. Anne Greb who was a member of the ABGC board of directors during this time was gracious enough to be a guest blogger to provide some perspective to our membership. What follows is Anne’s account of the process. Thanks Anne,

Liz Kearney
NSGC President

I recently had the opportunity to serve on ABGC’s Board of Directors. At my very first board meeting, I remember much discussion among the board members about how as a group, genetic counselors just didn’t understand ABGC’s mission, much less how important it is. Besides confusion about ABGC’s role, the Board realized that the organization had an image problem. Some on the Board argued that ABGC’s role is to protect the public by recognizing genetic counselors who are competent to provide genetic counseling services. Others felt that ABGC needed to do a better job helping counselors promote their credential. After many discussions and much debate, the Board decided that ABGC needed a make-over.

Like many multi-talented and hardworking genetic counselors, we as board members thought we could figure out what to do about ABGC’s image problem and then do it. I had recently been involved in a marketing initiative at my own institution and knew that we were out of our league. If we were serious about changing ABGC’s image, we would need professional help. To this day, I’m still not sure how I was able to convince the Board to enlist the help of a marketing firm, but I did. Even though this involved a significant investment, in the end the Board understood how important promoting the value of the ABGC credential was in the continued evolution of the genetic counseling profession.

At this point the hard part was done (for the most part!). Working with our marketing firm to develop a plan was enlightening and a lot of fun. Nothing replaces the value of an outsider’s perception and insight. The firm identified the factors they felt contributed to the misperceptions about ABGC and a realistic strategy was outlined to address them. The really fun part for me (a wanna be graphic designer) was to work with them to develop what in the business is called the “trade dress,” or the look of an organization. The process was actually pretty interesting. Ground rules needed to be established since there would never be 100% agreement on the final look. Our marketing firm told us that no matter what we came up with, half of our group will like it and the other half won’t. So up front we decided who would be involved in making the decision about the new look and the others would just have to stay quiet – not easy for genetic counselors!

In the end, these marketing efforts helped ABGC move forward. The organization’s new look is more professional and sophisticated. ABGC has a different attitude about its relationships with its constituents and can more effectively meet their needs. The bottom line – marketing is necessary for the success and growth of any organization. It wasn’t enough for just the members of ABGC’s board of directors to believe in the organization and its mission, others needed to also.

Anne E. Greb, M.S., C.G.C.
Genetic Counseling Graduate Program DirectorWayne State University School of Medicine

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year, New President…New NSGC?

New Year’s is a time for both reflection and resolutions. For me, as I begin 2010 as NSGC’s new President, I can’t help but think back to the first time I served on the NSGC Board as the Region VI Representative from 2002-2004. NSGC was different then. We had 21 Board members and met as a full Board only twice per year apart from some intermittent email. The Committee Chairs, who were appointed by the President, served on the Board along with the Regional Representatives and Officers who were elected through the majority votes for one of two candidates.

Today, we have twelve Board Members selected by a Nominating Committee that reviews each applicant’s written application and interview, and the selected candidates are ratified by the membership. The Board meets monthly by conference call in addition to the twice per year in-person meetings and frequent, in-depth email discussions. Committee Chairs are selected by the President and create strategies to accomplish the overall organizational goals outlined in NSGC’s strategic plan. The intention of these changes is to create a more nimble, strategic organization; more work will be done going forward to be proactive and predict changes that affect the practice of genetic counseling in the era of genomic medicine.

Just as NSGC was different during my first term on the Board, I was different then, too. Looking back at that na├»ve region rep, I almost feel as if I’m reviewing someone else’s performance rather than my own. What did she know about running an association? She actually had to ask for help in manipulating the Excel file NSGC used for the annual budget. And the unfamiliarity of terms like “environmental scanning” and “strategic planning” made her sweat.
Since then, I’ve been to business school, worked in a corporate environment, and lost a parent. It’s hard to say which of these experiences has been more profound, but I know with certainty they have changed me permanently and shaped my vision for NSGC and for myself as one of its leaders.

As for transition from 2009 to 2010, there was of course no NSGC celebration at Times Square or even a virtual Times Square. And it would be a stretch to say we have a “new NSGC”. There are changes though. We have new Board and Committee Members and a new strategic plan ( Each of NSGC’s leaders has made a resolution to complete this plan. As a result, there will be more changes in 2010 including a new website, new legislation we hope to introduce to Congress, a new marketing plan, and a new focus on leadership.

So, what is my New Year’s Resolution as NSGC’s new President? It’s simple. To serve NSGC to the best of my ability with the hope that when I raise my glass at midnight on December 31, 2010, NSGC and its members will be just a little better off than they were the year before.

Happy New Year, NSGC.