Money & Business

Changing Gears: Engineering Group Helps Members Embrace Change

By / Mar 17, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

When it came time to update its logo, the Society of Women Engineers turned to its history to help explain the need to move forward.

Here at Associationsnow.com, we’ve written a lot on rebranding.

Whether associations are updating their brands and logos to advance their advocacy efforts, better match their missions, or hold their own in a competitive market, they are frequently embarking on the art of reinvention.

And many of these groups make the process seem deceptively easy. But, as the Society of Women Engineers learned, change is often far from effortless, especially for members who are attached to the history of an organization’s brand.

When SWE broached the issue of changing its logo at a meeting in 1994, for example, there was such an uproar amongst some of the membership, that the topic was tabled for almost 20 years.

“The old guard, and newer members, were so opposed to the idea of change that they passed a motion in this meeting to force the board of directors at the time to cease and desist on any types of brand change,” said Ron Zywicki, vice president, creative services at the David James Group, SWE’s marketing arm.

SWE's logo before the refresh, which launched last summer.

SWE’s logo before the refresh, which launched last summer. (Handout photo)

But times change and so, too, do attitudes and needs. Fast forward to 2012. With a change in leadership and expanding global interests, the organization had matured to a point where there was a need to get serious about updating its image, Zywicki said. “The willingness to explore the idea became stronger and stronger.”

Eventually the group designed and implemented a new logo that incorporated new colors that resonate better online and downplayed the image of a gear so as to incorporate the expanding areas of engineering that women work in—chemical, environmental, biological, and so forth. “The gear, while iconic of engineering, still to some engineers didn’t represent or reflect their interests,” said Zywicki.

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The new logo launched last summer to overall excitement among SWE members, but the organization took measured steps to ensure that those members who felt a strong emotional attachment to the old logo did not feel abandoned.

“We wanted to communicate was that this logo served the society for 65 years, and that we understand and respect the passion and emotion behind it,” said Zywicki, who enlisted the help of SWE’s archivist to research the history of the organization’s logo and how it came to be.

That research helped tackle some of the urban legends around the logo, said Karen Horting, CAE, SWE’s executive director and CEO. It showed that a lot of the things that were associated with the logo were random or a sign of earlier times. “Things that people thought had really significant meaning, our archivist was able to go back to some of those founding documents and say, ‘Well, no not really,’” Horting said.

SWE also enlisted the help of some longtime leaders in the organization to talk about the importance of evolving to represent a 21st century organization. Those pioneer members helped spread the message that, “while we certainly don’t want to forget our rich history, that over time an organization does need to evolve in order to remain relevant,” Horting said.

SWE also collected and presented data—something engineers will respond to, Zywicki said—on trends related to women in engineering to further support the need for a change.

“We understood that emotional attachment, but going back to the research and to the data and saying, ‘Look we’re not going to be able to keep growing and do the things we want to do as a society and have the impact we want to have if we don’t take a hard look at our brand,’” helped demonstrate the need for change, Zywicki said.

How has your association helped its members embrace change? Please share in the comments.

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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