Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Great Marketing is NOT More Email

I am amazed daily at the number of emails that find their way into my inbox - reminders for events I never said I would attend, mock-personalized messages telling me what products/services/education I need though the sender has no clue who I am, 4-5 pages of single-space copy with a call to action that is near impossible to find - and that is just before 9am.  In the age of twitter and pinterest, of free video calls and meetings, marketing has to shift from full-frontal blast to dialogue.  Focusing on three core-areas for most associations, here are a few ways we could really start to connect value in not only what we say to our customers, but in what they can share with one another - let's call them the three C's:

1. Conferences

A call for sessions, a brief description in the program-at-a-glance, evaluations after each class - gargle, rinse, repeat.  There is so much more we can do for our speakers, for our attendees, for the association:

- Once we know what sessions a conference will have, ask each speaker to write a paragraph or two sharing an insight of what they will teach with a few open ended questions
- Create a messaging calendar so that each week a different one of these messages appears on the association's blog/website/social media page.  Utilize a format when professionals can respond to the questions, and then to one another.  Ask the speaker to check this page periodically to respond to follow up questions that come from readers.
- In the online session guide/program-at-a-glance, hyperlink each session to its individual conversation as an expansion of a description of what the attendee will learn.

This approach gives the speaker a venue to hear what questions attendees have on their given topic, allows attendees to start forming a knowledge community that will be able to largely meet in person at your conference - and most importantly gives the association dynamic marketing that encourages those participating in the conversation to attend.  The best part?  Every part of this is professional-created - the association simply has to create the conversation structure and connections.

2. Certifications

Most association approved certifications follow a format of covering a number of core competencies/domains that summarize the foundation of the industry.  Most professionals who choose to become certified enter into the process with expertise in some domains, some familiarity with others, and perhaps only the most basic of understanding of the rest.  Review courses, education, study groups - associations and their components often find ways to help those that want to become certified learn the information that they need.  Many will pair certification-takers with study buddy's who will support each other through the test taking process until that happy day when the letter comes in the mail - you are certified!  Here is your certificate!  Here is your pin!  You get a new ribbon at conference!

And that is about it.  Just to be clear - you have a professional that has spent time, often months, bringing their own expertise to the forefront, closely tied to your organization, and becoming a better student and teacher all at once.  And once they pass - then what?  How are we leveraging these new knowledge experts to have them share that fresh-experience with those who will follow?   For their own journey, how do we ask them which were the areas where, in spite of passing, they could use more information and experience - and then connect them with those opportunities?

In those we are certifying for our profession, we are not only creating better professionals - but also potential knowledge-based advocates on the importance of getting certified, the journey to get there, and how the association invests in their journey before, during and after certification.  Empowering our members to be lifelong learners means reinforcing their achievements as a student, serving as a guide for their ongoing education, and most importantly providing opportunities for them to give back.  You want marketing for your certification, the prep-courses and everything that goes with it?  Get a professional to stand up to say, "I did this, I am better at what I do because of, and you should too.  Let me show you how."  

3. Component Leaders

Geographic chapters, industry specific councils, professional local sections - call them what you will but for many of your members the smaller, sub-set group that they belong to within your association is often where they get top value.  Our volunteer leaders in these communities can be our grass roots welcome wagon - a portal of entry for new professionals/members, a key connection point to the goals of the organization as a whole, and a scouting team for diamond-in-the-rough future leaders.  The potential is there for all of it - but it takes proactive positioning to maximize the power of local leadership.

- We want our component's strategy to be intertwined with that of the overall organization.  How are we sharing the vision of the association with our local leaders?  How are we facilitating the translation of that global vision to what part the local community contributes, and how that contribution is a win-win?  The association's strategy is usually written in consultation with association professionals who bring a background and expertise in association visioning that is a unique skill set.  Most of our components are solely volunteer led - meaning we expect professionals in the field of their unique industry to be able to create similar association-structured visions without having the skilled experts to assist.  Whether it is training sessions, guides and worksheets, webinars or consultations - we have to do more.

- Most members join your association with a single point of entry that defines their awareness - be it a conference, a chapter, the certification, etc.  How do you orient them to the rest of your value proposition, and the opportunities that await if they would only take the next step?  You local leader is a key answer to this question.  If they are knowledge keepers on the association as a whole - on what you provide and the value it holds, then in every conversation, in every program they can personally recommend further involvement for any member.  A passionate, association-aware volunteer is potentially our strongest marketing tool - but we have to invest in their understanding of what we do and what it can in turn do for their colleagues if we want them to tell the story.

- Marketing is not only messaging for today - but also is creating the thoughts of tomorrow.  There is no better way to do this than to nurture the skill and commitment of your future leaders as soon as possible.  Those that have a passion or skill for volunteering will find a place to fulfill that need - there is no shortage of opportunities.  How are you structuring your component connections so that they see the possible paths of volunteer leadership that exist for their visionaries?  By getting these volunteers in early, they will become lifelong marketing superstars for your organization - literally living the narrative of how your association helps a professional to be better at what they do.  Every time they tell that story, you will see membership rise, products sell, and new volunteers raise their hand.  It is a long term investment - but a worthwhile one.


Emails are not going anywhere - neither are expectations that because we put it on our webpage or in a newsletter everyone should know about it.  That is where we were yesterday, and in some ways where we are today.  Tomorrow?  Marketing is about dialogue and relationship building.  It is less about choosing the right font and more about investing in the right spokespeople.  Our organizations are stronger because of those who vocally support and contribute to our mission and vision - if you have a professional screaming from the rooftops that your organization rocks - what better marketing could you desire?