• Feature

    A Mission-First Brand in the Making

    APTA will officially roll out its new brand in 2020. Here's what to expect.


    I learned about the power of branding at a young age.

    Like most pre-teens, I didn't think consciously about it, but I was willing to take extra babysitting jobs to pay for jeans with a Guess label. Wearing these jeans helped me feel part of my middle school tribe, fitting in while also standing out. The Guess logo—that unmistakable inverted triangle with the bold "GUESS" and iconic question mark—was the most visible part of the brand on the jeans, but it was the surrounding brand narrative that made Guess so compelling to my teenage sensibilities. Ads commonly featured beautiful models in black-and-white photos that contrasted with a bright red Guess logo.

    Without ever saying the words, the brand communicated effortless cool with a dash of edginess. I didn't want to wear anything else.

    While the practice of branding continues to evolve, the basic principles remain true to its roots. Branding is a centuries-old practice created by cattle herders marking their livestock to identify and claim their property. Organizations use this practice today by creating logos to mark their products and services. But branding isn't just about company ownership anymore. Organizations large and small, for-profit and nonprofit, use branding to define and deliver on the unique value they provide their customers. Brands don't just mark what an organization has created; they shape what organizations create.

    Branding is a complex process in the 21st century. Previously, marketing departments did the majority of the talking on behalf of their company's offerings, as consumers encountered brands through limited access points. Then, 2 major shifts occurred. First, the internet boom made it easy for consumers to research and evaluate different brands, creating a flatter, more level playing field for organizations to reach an audience. Second, smartphones and social media created not only new engagement points but also new behaviors. A teenage girl today isn't limited to buying or not buying a certain brand of jeans. She now can shape a brand's reputation, positively or negatively, by liking, commenting, or sharing via social media. Consumers don't just "consume" anymore.

    Living the Vision and Mission

    In a world in which consumers are a more active part of the brand experience, individual-member associations such as APTA have an advantage that many organizations don't. APTA's very existence is the result of people forming a community to support one another and pursue shared aspirations—and community is what brands strive for. Without shared values and a common passion for progress, an organization may change its logo and update its messages, but it will struggle to inspire unbridled brand loyalty.

    Thus, APTA's brand must work in concert with the association's vision statement for the physical therapy profession, "Transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience," and its mission statement, "Building a community that advances the profession of physical therapy to improve the health of society." If the vision, mission, and brand are aligned, the brand experience will be authentic and relevant to its audience. If not, even the most cutting-edge designs won't create a feeling of belonging.

    Building a Unified Brand

    The vision and mission provided a solid foundation for development of APTA's new brand. But the branding initiative was built on something else, as well: data.

    As APTA's Board of Directors (Board) developed the 2019-2021 strategic plan, the association conducted extensive quantitative and qualitative research on existing and potential members to take the pulse of their needs and learn where the association needed to improve its value. One theme that emerged is that APTA is seen as a highly trusted but overly complex organization.

    Data showed that the physical therapy community sometimes consumes APTA products, services, and events without realizing that APTA has provided them. They trust that APTA can support them in their careers, but they often don't know where to get the information they need. They see value at the national, chapter, and section levels, but they find the connection among those elements confusing. (Data also drove APTA's decision to reconsider the brand of the association's consumer-facing website, MoveForwardPT.com, and to adopt ChoosePT.com for the site. See "A Refreshed Consumer Brand" on page 46 for more about the decision and the tie-in between ChoosePT.com and the new APTA brand.)

    The reasons for this complexity were not difficult to diagnose. At the national level, APTA has maintained a "house of brands" approach, with dozens of individually branded products, services, and events. This approach extended to APTA's chapters and sections, which used their own distinct names and often abbreviated them. The result was branding gumbo and alphabet soup, with no meaningful connections between brands. Some components even unintentionally shared brand names: For example, 2 chapters use OPTA and 3 chapters use IPTA as their primary brand.

    "To look at our vast landscape of uniquely branded products, events, services, and even components is to behold an association that is fragmented and complex," said APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, in her address to the House of Delegates in June. "It suggests to our community," she quipped, "that association membership should come with a tour guide and a translator."

    The solution was to develop a connected and coordinated brand—a "branded house" approach—that would make it easier for the physical therapy community to engage with the association, and vice versa. A unified brand would strengthen APTA's role as the leading voice for the physical therapy profession and enhance the association's ability to live its mission of building one community while pursuing a transformative vision. (Read more about these 2 approaches in "Branded House Versus House of Brands" on the facing page.)

    The APTA Board prioritized implementation of an integrated brand strategy across the association by making it an objective in the association's updated strategic plan for 2019-2021. To achieve that goal, APTA wouldn't just rename various national products, services, and events. We'd also create opportunities for APTA chapters and sections to align within the brand—a process that is expected to take several years to implement.

    "Aligning our dozens of brands won't be easy," Dunn said, "but the result will be a more accessible association. A unified brand strategy makes it easier for our community to engage, and it strengthens our collective voice. It's yet another chance for us to be better together."

    Her message, to be clear, was one of evolution—not revolution. Rebranding was not about reinventing ourselves. It was about maturing as an organization and maximizing our potential. APTA had been producing meaningful results for decades. A new brand would strengthen APTA's reputation as the trusted leader of the profession while making the association more inclusive to empower members to thrive.


    APTA's Future Logo

    In April 2018, the brand team leveraged member data and insights to begin developing the association's brand platform—a guiding document that outlines APTA's brand promise, personality traits, and impact. The platform would be the foundation of the brand—helping to define the way the world sees us and serving as a blueprint for aligning our products, services, events, and components.

    With the brand platform finalized in November 2018, APTA began collaborating with Tenet Partners, a nationally respected brand agency, to develop the unified brand. Our work did not start with logo development. Instead, it focused on our brand architecture—how products, services, events, and components would connect with one another in a cohesive system. This process included constant engagement with chapter and section leaders.

    By February 2019, blueprints of the brand were done, and it was time to move to design. Over the course of this phase, APTA explored more than 2 dozen logo concepts before selecting the concept that—after multiple thoughtful revisions—was selected to be the association's new national mark.

    While an entity's logo is only part of its brand, it is an essential cornerstone of any brand platform and arguably is the most visible element. APTA's new logo evokes our brand attributes in a number of ways. First, the design of the logo symbol honors APTA's rich history by carrying forward a triangle shape that has been consistent throughout a century of APTA logos. Second, it retains the color teal, which traditionally has been tied to APTA and enables us to build on our brand equity. Third, the new logo successfully captures the progressive spirit of our organization and the essential role movement plays in our profession.

    Visually, the symbol helps communicate a sense of forward movement—changing, lifting, aspiring, and reflecting APTA's continuous journey toward improvement. The clean and simple design helps make the logo clearly recognizable while holding the same professional stature as those of other highly regarded medical associations. (See "Anatomy of APTA's New Logo" on the facing page.)

    "The brand project is about ensuring that our collective value is greater than the sum of our parts," APTA Chief Executive Officer Justin Moore, PT, DPT, said when he announced the new logo in June. "It's also about committing to a higher level of excellence across all of our programs, products, and member experiences." The new logo helps APTA tell this story.

    But the logo is just 1 of many brand assets developed to help more clearly communicate what APTA is and the value we provide. In addition to the logo, we will communicate our brand through consistent use of typography, color, imagery, graphics, and messaging. We will rename our national products and services to align with our branded house strategy. While some of APTA's offerings already lead with APTA—such as the APTA Learning Center—many do not. One example is this magazine (spoiler alert: PT in Motion will be renamed next year to make it more easily identifiable as an APTA publication). We are evaluating APTA's 40-plus brands to determine whether we will keep, update, or sunset each one depending on how it fits within the new brand strategy. We then will rewrite and redesign our marketing and communications accordingly.

    Over the next 6 to 12 months, we will begin to roll out the brand through our communications channels, officially launching the first round of rebranding with the debut of the new APTA.org website in summer 2020. APTA's website will be one of the main representations of the new brand. It will have a new, modern interface that will be easier to navigate. It will reflect the work being done over the next 6 months to bring our disparate brands into a branded house concept, and will help elevate our brand story and member benefits.

    Chapters aligning with the unified brand will eliminate confusing abbreviations and move to an APTA-leading name—for example, APTA North Dakota, APTA Mississippi, and APTA Virginia. Chapters will share the same arc symbol as APTA and a slightly darker shade of blue that complements the APTA teal. Through the APTA-leading naming convention, color, typography, and messaging, the new brand elements will help to strongly connect yet still effectively distinguish APTA national from its chapters.

    While chapter membership and APTA membership go hand-in-hand, section membership is optional—creating a business need for sections to have more flexibility in developing their brands. Sections will use an APTA-leading name—such as APTA Academy of Clinical Electrophysiology & Wound Management—but will have the option of either sharing the APTA arc symbol or creating a unique section symbol that helps communicate their story and unique value proposition. Each section can choose their primary color to help distinguish their brands from one another.

    Better Together

    So, what does a new brand strategy mean for APTA members and their experience with the association?

    A unified brand symbolizes our ability to work together by providing a platform that connects our national products and services, specialty sections, and chapters while still recognizing and respecting the uniqueness of each entity. We're making improvements that will help us communicate more clearly nationwide and at the local level, so that all of APTA can do a better job of representing and empowering members.

    While chapters and sections will continue to operate autonomously to support the specialized needs and interests of their members, across our component organizations members already have started to experience the new brand. APTA chapters and sections are in full swing toward adopting the unified brand, with several already launching the new look and new names as these innovations work best for them. APTA is helping components make the transition to the new unified brand by providing resources through a component support program that was approved by the Board earlier this year.

    These changes are not just about new graphics and product names. The new brand is designed to prepare APTA for its centennial by celebrating our accomplishments and embracing our progressive spirit. Much like the association's mission and vision, over time the brand will help inform the opportunities APTA provides members and shape the impression members have of the association.

    When APTA's new brand launches nationally in 2020, it will better reflect our accomplishments, the dynamic nature of the organization, and our leadership in the health care industry. We will never stop evolving. We will ensure that our brand helps us deliver on our mission and reach toward our vision to transform society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.

    Alicia Hosmer is APTA's senior director of brand strategy.

    Branded House vs House of Brands

    Organizations employ different brand strategies depending on their product offerings, audiences, and overall business goals. Two popular methods of branding are a branded house and a house of brands.

    A branded house strategy makes the organization the brand. All sublevel brands support the main brand by consistently incorporating verbal and visual elements from the parent organization. This approach helps build strong brand recognition and makes the brand easily recognizable and memorable. Amazon is one example of a branded house. Amazon Prime, Amazon Music, and Amazon Fresh all are examples of Amazon's sublevel brands. Each brand extension clearly puts Amazon first, as demonstrated by their logos. Amazon always is in the same font, with the sublevel brand following it.

    In a branded house strategy, all resources are committed to the same brand, rather than split between multiple teams for multiple brands. This helps create strong brand recognition and makes it easier to go to market with new offerings. A branded house strategy requires significant buy-in and willingness from everyone within the organization to embrace 1 brand.

    A house of brands, meanwhile, uses the opposite concept: Each product line is branded and marketed independently. Each brand works on its own terms and serves different customers, creating numerous independent brands. Procter & Gamble is an example of a house of brands: From Crest toothpaste to Charmin toilet paper to Tide laundry detergent, the parents company's offerings vary, and serve customers in different ways. In addition to catering to diverse constituents, this approach requires significantly more resources than does a branded house.

    Anatomy of APTA's New Logo

    The APTA logo comprises the arc symbol, the APTA American Physical Therapy Association wordmark, and the SM mark, as shown. The arc symbol is inspired by a triangle shape that has been used consistently throughout a century of APTA logos. The teal color is uniquely APTA and is being carried forward from the old to the new brand to help build on its brand equity. The clean typography of the "APTA" acronym, along with its neutral grey, pairs it easily with the sublevel brands within APTA's branded house model.

    A Refreshed Consumer Brand

    In 2016, APTA launched its national opioid awareness campaign by encouraging consumers to "choose physical therapy" for the management of most chronic pain, consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Since then, the #ChoosePT campaign has won multiple national awards and has inspired unprecedented involvement with APTA's public awareness efforts. APTA members have brought the "choose physical therapy" message to Capitol Hill, community health fairs, minor league baseball games, and even license plates.

    That engagement is a top reason that APTA recently retired its "Move Forward" brand, which launched in 2009, and made "ChoosePT" its overarching consumer brand message. As part of that transition, APTA switched its official consumer information website URL from "MoveForwardPT.com" to "ChoosePT.com," transitioned related social media accounts, and released a new ChoosePT logo that is consistent with the new APTA brand architecture and visual identity.

    "When we launched our opioid awareness campaign we knew that our #ChoosePT message was dynamic enough to extend beyond the safe management of chronic pain," says Jason Bellamy, APTA's executive vice president of strategic communications. "With the association's centennial approaching in 2021, and the public awareness opportunities that will provide, this was the perfect time to make "ChoosePT" our primary call to action."

    Additionally, APTA launched an enhanced Find a PT directory at ChoosePT.com that makes it easier for consumers and health care providers to filter results by practice focus or specialization. Profiles in Find a PT are an exclusive benefit of physical therapist (PT) APTA membership that PTs should maximize.

    "More than 4 million people will have visited ChoosePT.com this year," Bellamy says. "One of their most common destinations is Find a PT. I encourage APTA members to ensure that their profiles are up-to-date, and to add a headshot to make their profile more appealing. Do everything you can to help consumers choose you."


    Congratulations on the new logo! I feel it is a step forward in our profession’s maturation process. I whole heartedly agree that we need to come together in our association so that we appear more as a unified body in our branding and eliminate the fragmentation and separateness that we have long seen (and been). I feel that this is a major step in helping clarify who we are as a profession and that we are a collective and unified body of states/components with separate clinical sections representing our clinical specialties. The public, whether they be current or future patients, medical personnel or physical therapists will have a better foundation for understanding our relationships and interconnectedness. I believe this is a momentous clarification, and a unification of our components and specialties for the welfare of our patients and the benefit and future of our profession. Kudos to all who were a part of this tremendous effort! Dr. Nancy Roberge, a very proud member of the APTA
    Posted by Nancy Roberge on 11/1/2019 11:15:47 AM
    Congratulations to the APTA. This is a positive and meaningful step forward. While it may seem minor to the masses, establishing Brand Equity is built from quality relationships with all stakeholders across all platforms in the physical and virtual worlds. Balancing the needs of all whom interface with the APTA (providers, staff, partners, patients, legislators etc) is no small task. Well done. Matt Calendrillo PT BOCOP Co-Founder LIVE EVERY DAY A Physical Therapy Co. Simsbury, Avon, Suffield CT Springfield MA.
    Posted by Matt Calendrillo on 11/5/2019 8:13:54 AM
    The secret of success is to work harder than others every day
    Posted by Timothy.Vivian on 5/22/2020 9:25:51 AM

    Leave a comment: