advice on how to build meaningful brands

October 18, 2019

69 | How the YMCA after, 175 years, stays relevant to each community they serve and as a global brand – with Ken Lima-Coelho

Why you’ve got to listen to this episode:

The YMCA brand is probably one of the most well-known brands around the world. This summer the brand celebrated its 175th anniversary. In 1844 George Williams started in London, the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). It was an only white man, faith-based organization.

Times have certainly changed since 1844 and so has the organization. Fast forward to today, the YMCA has 12,000 location in 119 countries. It is also no longer an only man and faith-based organization but a much more inclusive and diverse one.

The YMCA has survived Civil Wars, both World Wars and the great depression. It also had to transform itself many times over to remain relevant to its audience.

Part of the YMCA success is its ability to change, but how does a massive global organization master the art of being sensitive enough to understand the needs of its audiences, flexible enough to change and adapt to those needs while staying true to its brand essence?

How does the YMCA manage to have such diverse and tailored offerings for each community it is in, and still be consistent with the overall global brand?

How does it manage reputational risks when it deals with so many audiences, many of which kids, and with so many staff and volunteers?

Who can benefit from listening in:

The YMCA brand is a great example to look at as it has faced many challenges that brands, for profit or not, are still facing today. The ability to change and adapt to the times and be compelling to different audiences. The power to attract audiences and harness support. And the skill to allow for flexibility in each community while still remain consistent and strengthening the global brand.

In this episode, I speak with ken Lima-Coelho, Vice President of Community Engagement with the YMCA Calgary. Ken tells us why investing in the brand is so important for the YMCA and what exactly are they doing locally and globally to strengthen the brand.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Brands must morph and change with the times to remain relevant.
  • If you get lazy and stop telling your story, people will fill in the gaps, and it may not be with the story you want for your brand.
  • “Changing your perspective of who your competitors are, instead of the gym down the road to obesity or loneliness, clarifies your purpose and helps focus how you engage with your audiences, design your processes, or train your staff.” Ken Lima-Coelho
  • “Reputational risk is very real and as such brand is part of our risk management framework. Organizations need to understand that brands are much more than the visuals or the voice you use, they are about reputation.” Ken lima-Coelho

A brief history of the YMCA

Click here to download the Ascent document Ken refers to during the interview. It is a document the YMCA Calgary created to help guide staff on how to live the YMCA brand. The Ascent document focuses on the four main areas of impact or the value the YMCA strives to deliver.

Notice how the document does not refer to any particular program the Y offers or any asset the Y has (i.e. buildings, swimming pools, camps, etc.). Instead, the document highlights the main outcomes or true value the Y users receive from interacting with the YMCA. So you see statements such as “People are healthy and active…” or “People experience belonging and respect.”

This document is a good example of how to focus on the true value of your products and services. Your true value, the thing your audience is hoping to get, is never about the product itself. The YMCA understands this. Yes, they need to keep their facilities clean, have nice pools and have the right equipment at the gym, but that’s not what makes the difference. They would be selling themselves short if all they did was focus on that.


Links to resources mentioned in this episode




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