How Strategy Drove a Pandemic-Era Membership Surge

Transformation and a year full of challenges galvanized the Consumer Brands Association after a high-profile rebrand. A sharpened focus and a new strategic direction led to increased membership, despite adversity.

Since the Consumer Brands Association rebranded from the Grocery Manufacturers Association in fall 2019, it has achieved a marked growth in membership. The catalyst for the 30 percent increase, which happened in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, was less about rebranding and more about creating a new organization, said Geoff Freeman, CBA’s president and CEO.

GMA served the industry for more than 100 years, but the environment changed, Freeman said, and so it was time to open a new organization that united all segments of the consumer packaged-goods industry, which is responsible for $2 trillion in economic activity.

“The combination of a strong mission and demonstrable results” was instrumental in driving the increase in membership, he said.

Freeman points to three factors that led to CBA’s success during a pivotal year:

  • A clear agenda. With multiple associations representing industries in grocery store aisles, the key was finding an opening in the marketplace for an entity that looked at the shared interests among a wide swath of companies and finding a common cause among them.
  • A preference for playing offense. “I like to say playing defense is a way to lose slowly,” Freeman said. A proactive approach to addressing challenges and advocating for members’ interests gets the C-suite excited and motivates the team, giving them “a great sense of purpose,” he said.
  • A focus on C-suite priorities. Countless issues confront a regulated industry like CBA’s, but with a limited amount of money, the association chose to prioritize the issues most important to C-suite executives in its member companies.

Rather than impeding its progress, the pandemic allowed CBA to show its value. “It gave us the opportunity to prove what we could do to benefit the totality of the packaged-goods industry,” Freeman said. CBA focused on the united interests of its members by helping to keep the supply chain open, increasing hours for truck drivers, addressing price gouging from unregulated entities, and more. A strong policy focus was critical. “In the absence of focus you have confusion,” he said.

One area CBA leaned into during the crisis was connecting members so they could learn from one another. Freeman’s team launched an exchange for CEOs so they could get together virtually for an hour every six to eight weeks, in a way they never had before, to talk about topics like back-to-work plans, changes in e-commerce, and retail relations.

“From CEOs to HR professionals, to the supply chain, we’re giving people the opportunity to learn from one another and share information,” he said. “It’s a tremendous value-add.”

Freeman sees a lasting benefit from all the collaboration that has occurred over the past year. Previously, people in the industry were not as inclined to share information, but now there is more awareness that access to vaccines and keeping facilities up and running are not competitive issues—they are in everyone’s best interest, he said.

“Leaning into a newfound industry collaboration is one of our greatest opportunities going forward,” Freeman said.

(Olivier/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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