It’s Time to Rethink What Networking Actually Means

Answer this question quickly, and in one word: What is the number one reason you believe people attend your event?

We would be astounded if your answer wasn’t networking.

We would be equally astounded if you agree with what we’re about to say next: Networking isn’t actually why people show up at events.

That’s right. It’s not about networking. Or at least, not about networking as you are defining it and creating messages around it.

Whether or not you agree with us about networking not being the top draw for events, it’s a bit of a moot point anyway, since we are living in the COVID-19 era, where events must be completely recast as virtual. So, if you’ve been counting on in-person networking as the draw, you have a problem.

But . . . did we mention networking was never actually the main draw? Before you insist loudly that we don’t know what we’re talking about, let us clarify something.

The anticipation of connecting with others definitely nudges members to register for events. But what really sells them and in particular attracts younger members is the notion of connecting with like-minded souls around a cause or movement.

The great news is that members can connect with one another around a common purpose without meeting in person. Is gathering in real time and space the ideal way to do it? Yes. But we’re all out of luck, because nobody of any real size can do in-person events right now. We are all starting from that same place of, Oh crap, what are we going to do?

What you are not going to be able to do is rely on your old messaging.
So, to recap before we move on:
  1. Your old messages about networking won’t work now.
  2. Your old messages about networking weren’t that great anyway, so don’t spend too much time bemoaning their fate.

If you can’t repurpose your old messaging, the only choice is to create new messaging. While we completely understand the level of stress this is causing, we are here to tell you it’s actually an amazing opportunity to be a leader and do things differently.

How will you show up for people?

Some people’s lives have been completely upended by COVID-19, devastated even. They have lost jobs, dreams, and perhaps even loved ones. In all of this tumult, people both need support and are eager to lend support to their peers.

Your members may have several places they go for professional support, but if your association isn’t the first stop, you are missing a big opportunity. While we may be starting to fatigue of messaging having to do with the coronavirus, your members still need that sense of connection to others, to know they are not in this alone.

This is the time to pull members in and ask basic things like: What do you need and how can we help? Working from a place of empathy isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. Because when the pandemic is over, people will remember who showed up for them.

That means that anything you were phoning in before, or, say, had a place on your website that performed this function but didn’t do it very well (i.e., job search, loan and grant resources, message boards, mentoring) should now be well-designed, easy to use, and highly robust.

Once you have re-established your association as a support system, not just a place to pay dues to, then you can start to ask bigger questions like: What do you care about in your work? What change do you want to make? Do you want to connect with other like-minded people and work toward that vision with us?

This may have been called networking in a previous generation, but the younger generation likens it more to joining a movement. They will be far more likely to join and to show up for you if you first show up for them.

You need a new playbook and new messaging

Traditionally, most associations come up with a few key messages around networking and simply repurpose them year after year. The same 30 percent of members show up, because they are probably going to show up no matter what.

But now, there is no more showing up in the traditional sense. Your event is no longer about a venue, a plane ticket, an app with keynote speakers and breakout presentations, and a nebulous promise of “networking opportunities.”

Your event can’t be what it was, but it also can’t simply be a series of Zoom presentations, interspersed with scavenger hunts and happy hours. We are already zoning out on Zoom. It’s not that the technology doesn’t work. But it’s not a 1:1 transfer. You can’t merely put in-person programming on a virtual platform and call it done.

You have to create a completely new playbook—a new way to do things, and new messaging that pulls people in and brings them together on a virtual platform.

So, how can you make people feel special, supported, and connected to something bigger? What can you create that reminds them of the purpose, the thing your association is collectively working toward?

Whatever was true before the pandemic about your association’s cause or purpose is still true, but what is the 2.0 version of it? Why is it more urgent, more important than ever, or more exciting than ever? Those things are where your key messages should flow from.

Purposeful gathering, rallying around a cause, making connections with others, learning and growing as a community, supporting each other’s careers and goals, and having fun together: These things are all essential right now. They don’t stop in times of crisis. They only grow more important.

As you rebuild your event and reframe the way you talk about your event, begin there.

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Member Retention Isn’t a Pricing Problem. It’s a Value Problem.


And 4 Things to Add to Attract, Retain, and Engage Members of All Ages

4 Things to Throw Out of Your Association’s Broken Business Model


3 Ways Associations Can Replace Lost Event Revenue


Member Retention Isn’t a Pricing Problem. It’s a Value Problem.

Associations that experience a drop in membership often believe it’s because of price. They think some people just aren’t willing to pay the high cost of dues, events, and products. But that’s not really true. Price isn’t the problem. Value is.

People will pay a lot for things that add value to their companies, careers, and lives. What they won’t do is shell out money year after year without getting something real and valuable as a return on their investment. If you think your association has a pricing problem, what you really have is a value problem. And a value problem is really a value proposition problem.

Movie theater vs Netflix

Imagine you run a movie theater (assuming the pandemic is over). You’re focused on delivering the best possible experience to your customers—comfortable seats, the biggest screen, the best sound, the tastiest popcorn. You are hands down the best movie theater in town. But there are always some empty seats. What’s the problem? You’ve failed to realize that many people prefer to stay home and watch Netflix.

Too often, associations lose sight of what their members actually want. They endlessly promote networking, education, and certification, not realizing that members might need something else. Or, maybe, that they need the same things but packaged in a different way. It’s no wonder associations struggle with membership acquisition and retention. They’re too busy trying to cram people into their outdated value proposition when they should be focused on how to best serve members today.

How to fix your value problem

If people aren’t leaving your association now, they soon will be. When the recession hits, people will cut whatever they think costs too much. They might not renew their membership in your association because money is tight. What they’re really saying is the value isn’t there for the price you’re charging.

Logically, dropping membership is a terrible idea. Especially in difficult times, your members need you for your advice, resources, and access to a community of helpful, empathetic peers. Somehow you need to communicate just how much value you can add to your members’ businesses, careers, and lives. You must prove yourself so vital that people can’t imagine getting by without you.

Before you can do that, you need to dig deep to uncover what matters most to your members and prospects. Whatever that is might be different than it was a year ago, and it will likely change a year from now. A survey won’t tell the whole story; it’s too limiting. Instead, you need ongoing conversations and focus groups (easily conducted via videoconferencing during COVID-19). You need to keep asking “Why?” until you get to the heart of their goals, roles, responsibilities, aspirations, pain points, and challenges.

Why ask why

On a multiple-choice survey, your members might select education as the No. 1 reason to join your association. In a focus group, you can go deeper. Pose the question: Why is education important?

Imagine what your members might say: “I want to…”
  • make informed decisions that save my company money
  • stand out from colleagues and get a promotion
  • work more efficiently to improve my work-life balance
  • help my company innovate and advance in our industry
  • make the most of our limited budget to help more customers
  • understand how new laws apply to my business

Depending on what your members say, you might discover that “education” really means efficiency, innovation, career development, compliance, or something else. The more you ask “Why?” the easier it will be to understand your base and their most pressing concerns. From there, you can match your value proposition and your offerings to their needs. You can innovate wisely to stay relevant. You can also eliminate anything that no longer adds value, saving you time and money and helping your audience to see only those things that matter most.

It’s not about you

Trying to be a movie theater when your members want Netflix is a losing battle. Associations exist to serve members, not the other way around. Focus on value and your membership and retention goals will take care of themselves.

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And 4 Things to Add to Attract, Retain, and Engage Members of All Ages

4 Things to Throw Out of Your Association’s Broken Business Model


3 Ways Associations Can Replace Lost Event Revenue


We Are In Crisis Mode, and It's Unclear When We Will Be Out of It.

On the other side of crisis: does your association have a plan?


And 4 Things to Add to Attract, Retain, and Engage Members of All Ages

4 Things to Throw Out of Your Association’s Broken Business Model

4 Things to Throw Out of Your Association’s Broken Business Model

In the past, associations thrived on in-person events, networking, education, and certifications—the more the merrier. But for years there has been a shift away from this old thinking to a modern approach where digital is king and people are less enticed by “stuff.” This shift was happening gradually until COVID-19 slammed on the accelerator. What began as a strategy to attract younger members is now essential to serving members of all ages. Your old business model is officially broken, and engagement is about to take a nosedive. It’s time to learn from your younger members so you can fix your business model, drive engagement, and thrive.

What We Know About Younger Members

  • Younger members grew up with Google and are used to instant gratification.
  • They’re careful with their money and slow to make a purchase.
  • They value community and purpose.
  • They trust people more than corporations.
  • They’re highly adaptable and can react quickly to any crisis or disruption.
  • They live online and are comfortable working and networking virtually.

A New Reality for Boomers and Millennials Alike

When COVID-19 hit, even the Boomers had to pivot and adapt. Here’s what the new reality looks like for members of all ages:
  • Google is the go-to resource (and your biggest competitor).
  • Money is an issue for everybody as the next recession looms.
  • Community means more now than ever.
  • We can get by with less stuff in our lives.
  • We don’t have to be there in person.
  • We can adapt to almost anything.
  • We can learn to use new technologies and work virtually.

Just like that, your association’s old business model centered on in-person events and endless offerings doesn’t work anymore. But the need for resources and support hasn’t changed. You have a golden opportunity to reinvent your association and serve members better than ever before.

What’s Out? What’s In?

Fixing your business model is a matter of removing clutter and adding value. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way forward.

OUT: In-person only resources
IN: Digital everything

Crisis or no crisis, your members don’t always have the time, money, or inclination to travel to your annual conference or even attend a local networking event. You need digital resources people can access quickly on their own terms. Templates, content downloads, virtual networking, job boards, webinars, and podcasts are just a few ideas. Break your event into time-conscious virtual tidbits, such as hour-long webinars, information packets, or online discussion panels.

OUT: Too much stuff
IN: Real resources that answer “What’s in it for me?”

Consider the cereal aisle at the grocery store. There are 16 different kinds of Cheerios that water down the brand and overwhelm the consumer. Your association faces a similar problem with your events, certifications, and education. Don’t be Cheerios. Focus instead on your core competencies. What do you offer that your members can’t get anywhere else? Which events deliver the biggest return for your members’ time and money? Don’t worry about revenue. Worry about delivering actual value and the revenue will take care of itself.

OUT: Sales pitches and corporate speak
IN: Meaningful, authentic human connections

The days of slick sales pitches and impersonal “professional” language are over. People are tired of being sold to, and they demand authenticity and transparency. The voice of your association should be human, conversational, and personal. Tell stories. Create online communities. Whenever possible, connect members and prospects with each other and get out of the way. Third-party endorsements are far more powerful than messaging straight from your organization.

OUT: Impersonal communications
IN: Behavior-based communications that are mindful of the customer journey

Nobody wants another impersonal eblast. Instead, use marketing automation to deliver timely, relevant content through marketing automation. Let each individual’s browsing, email, and social media behaviors dictate the next steps in your messaging.

If you can master how to attract, engage, and retain your younger members, you can do it for anyone. Start by throwing out old thinking and extraneous clutter. Then, add in a modern digital approach that delivers value through authentic human connections and a personalized customer journey.

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3 Ways Associations Can Replace Lost Event Revenue


We Are In Crisis Mode, and It's Unclear When We Will Be Out of It.

On the other side of crisis: does your association have a plan?


5 Ways Associations Can Help Their Members During COVID-19


3 Ways Associations Can Replace Lost Event Revenue

If you’re feeling the financial squeeze from cancelled or postponed events, buckle up. There’s more pain ahead as a recession looms large and fears abound. You need a proactive plan to replace lost event revenue so you can ride out the storm and ensure success into the future. Here are three essential steps to take right now.

1. Attract more members

There is power in numbers. The more people you can rally to your organization, the better off you will be financially in the long term. Invest in member acquisition now to ensure you have a solid base to sustain your association.

2. Focus on being a resource

Of course you need revenue to survive as an association, but focusing solely on money right now is insensitive and tone deaf. A phased approach to revenue generation is your best bet.

Start with empathy. Be a trusted resource for members in a time of crisis. Give things away for free if you have the means. Avoid overt sales pitches. Retaining your base and building a following now can ensure long-term loyalty that will turn into revenue later.

When things start to improve, you can be more aggressive with money-making initiatives, for example:

  • Simultaneous in-person and virtual events
  • Vendor-sponsored webinars or Twitter chats
  • Advertising (especially while webinar attendance is high)
  • Gated content for lead generation
  • Paid content or resources for direct revenue streams

3. Go virtual with your event

Transition your event to the virtual space so you can continually deliver value to your base, crisis or no crisis. Use these strategies to help you make the move:

Host smaller virtual events

Instead of transferring your entire multiday event online, consider breaking it into smaller sections, like webinars, livestream keynotes, and panel discussions. Many of your members simply don’t have time for a two- or three-day event. Smaller, bite-sized resources are more feasible, especially during a crisis.

Offer on-demand resources

On-demand webinars, information packets, resource libraries, or online portals can offer the same value as your in-person events with an added advantage: Each individual can choose when and how they want to engage with your association.

Build online communities

Your event gives like-minded people a place to belong. Foster meaningful online communities to maintain that camaraderie even when they can’t be together in person. Post open-ended questions to spark discussions. Share videos that showcase member success stories. Offer free downloads that solve pain points. Host virtual happy hours.

Be a conduit for connections

Your in-person event puts all your members, vendors, and industry leaders literally in the same room. While you can’t exactly do that virtually, your association can still connect the dots to help all your constituents get what they need. Job boards, Q&A forums, hotlines, virtual networking events, online marketplaces, and member portals can help people connect directly so they can learn, share, collaborate, and achieve their goals.

Offer insider deals

For many associations, the annual event is a place for special deals and discounts. Work with vendors and industry partners to make exclusive offers to your members and virtual event attendees. Offer free or discounted association membership to retain your base and ensure they will be around to make purchases from you down the road.

Replacing lost event revenue is a matter of identifying the high-value components of your association—the pieces that serve your members best—and repackaging them for easy, convenient consumption by the people who need them most. Focus on serving members and the revenue will follow.

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We Are In Crisis Mode, and It's Unclear When We Will Be Out of It.

On the other side of crisis: does your association have a plan?


5 Ways Associations Can Help Their Members During COVID-19


We Are In Crisis Mode, and It's Unclear When We Will Be Out of It.

On the other side of crisis: does your association have a plan?

On the other side of crisis: does your association have a plan?

We know how diligently associations are working to adapt during this pandemic and to engage members through virtual events. We commend associations for their resiliency and creativity!

But what’s next? It’s the question most of us are asking with a mix of trepidation and hope. We hope things will turn around, but we fear they won’t. We hope normal returns sooner rather than later, but we fear it won’t.

Hope and fear are necessary emotions for processing complicated feelings. They don’t help you come up with a good plan though. And what your association needs now is a good plan. Or put another way, a map that points the way to what comes after all of this.

We have some suggestions about who can lead you there, and what you can expect to find.

Young people are the bright spot

We hear all of the same things you hear about young people: they’re not joiners; they don’t want to pay for things; they can’t commit to one job or one organization; you can’t get their attention.

It’s not that we don’t believe these points. After all, we see the same data you see about Millennial job hopping. Rather, it’s that we know it isn’t the whole story.

When the coronavirus hit the U.S., there was an assumption for a few weeks that Millennials were defying the recommendations to stay home, especially as pictures of young people at parties and crowding Florida beaches started cropping up all over social media. Millennials were quick to point out the generational mistake: it was actually the oldest cohort of Generation Z that was partying it up. In fact, Millennials were growing increasingly frustrated with their Boomer parents who they felt weren’t taking the virus seriously enough (captured humorously in this “open letter” op-ed).

Even more interesting were the memes and Instagram graphics that Millennials and Generation X started posting to rally support and evoke the idea of duty. These posts said things like, “Your grandparents were asked to fight a world war. You are being asked to stay home,” or showed beleaguered healthcare workers on the front lines with captions like, “I stay home for them.”

There are, of course, individual and regional variations in how young professionals have responded (and continue to respond) to the COVID-19 situation, but the abiding response has been one of “We are in this together.”

Younger people may change jobs more often and be more reluctant to pay for a feature they can find for free, but they care deeply about being part of a movement. They care about identifying with a purpose greater than themselves.

And also this: they are adaptable, which is everything right now. For example, though young people deeply value face to face connection, they’ve embraced the virtual work arounds, eagerly participating in your Zoom happy hours, your webinars, and your cyber conferences.

This is the bright spot of this dark situation, because it means that younger people are ready to take up the mantle of your association. That is, if you give them something real and deep they can believe in—a true mission and purpose they can rally around.

Your plan for what’s next

Your engagement may be very high right now, because a crisis invites engagement and the desire to connect with one another.

What about when it passes? What will these younger members rally around next?

You can’t wait until the pandemic begins to lift to decide that rallying point—especially because it will likely leave a long, painful recession in its place. As hard as it is to think about what comes on the heels of this, you must start planning now.

FIRST, if you have an event scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2020, you must accept that it will be dramatically different than what you anticipated when you first planned the event—starting with the fact that it may not happen at all. Or if it does, some members still may not be comfortable traveling.

How will you replace that revenue stream? How can you still connect people around a message? Keep in mind that people will be fatigued from COVID-19 messaging by then. You need a NEW message—not a crisis message, and not the outdated value proposition you were using before the crisis hit.

What will that message be? How can it work either in-person or virtually? Be clear on that now, versus having to be reactionary and make decisions on-the-fly.

SECOND, what will you put in place now to ensure that your association is leading the way, rather than following or being reactive?

Our tendency when we see recession coming is to tighten our belts, to duck for cover and resort to a fear and scarcity mentality. Instead, how can you take this awesome engagement you have now and monetize and build on it? You can only do this successfully if you invest in true digital marketing tools right now.

We started our agency in 1999, which means we ran our business through two major recessions: 2001 and 2008. Both times, we saw it as an opportunity to pivot, to dive deeper into work that matters.

This is the same mindset we have now. We believe that a shifting economy is a chance to rethink everything. We know what this journey looks like, and we find ourselves once again staring down a path marked “before” and “after.”

Come with us to the “after.” You may not believe it, but it can be even better than the “before.”

Want a brainstorming call to talk about what’s next for your association? Schedule time to talk to us! We are sheltering in place, thinking hard, and creating some innovative and amazing campaigns for associations.

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5 Ways Associations Can Help Their Members During COVID-19


Learn From Others' Misconceptions so your Association can Thrive

5 Recession Myths that Hurt Your Association


Amid all the chaos and heartbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are truly inspiring stories of people coming together to help each other. Your association can be one of those stories. This is your opportunity to be a resource to your membership, to add value to their lives and businesses, and to help them through this difficult time.

Here are five ways you can help your members during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Provide COVID-19 information

Associations are reporting jampacked webinars with thousands of participants, a sure sign that your members are eager for information and guidance. Topics include CDC recommendations for hygiene and social distancing, how to apply for relief loans and grants, and how COVID-19 affects your industry specifically.

While busy webinars indicate increased engagement, you can do even more. Many members are focused on immediate business needs and don’t have an hour to spend on a virtual event. Use webinar content to create quick resources like checklists, flow charts, infographics, or tip sheets. Your busy members will be grateful for curated content that helps them navigate this situation.

To further drive engagement, include time for live Q&A or provide a post-event feedback forum. This will help you gauge what issues are most important to your members and assure them that you’re listening and responding to their concerns.

Offer teleworking resources

Many of your members find themselves working from home for the first time. Help them navigate this new frontier by providing resources on setting a schedule, using video conferencing, maintaining cybersecurity, setting teleworking expectations for employees, and more. Consider hosting a virtual networking event via videoconferencing to demonstrate best practices and answer any questions.

Discounted membership for next year

COVID-19 will no doubt leave financial damage in its wake for a lot of your members, causing many to rethink membership and event participation to save money. Stay ahead of what could be a mass exodus from your organization by offering free or discounted membership for next year. What you do now will determine the success of your organization in the months and years to come.

Host mini virtual events

Going virtual can help you serve members and recover some lost revenue from cancelled in-person events. But be mindful of people’s time right now. Avoid shifting your entire event to the virtual space. Instead, see what you can break into bite-sized content for smaller individual events, for example a livecast from your keynote, online panel discussion, virtual networking session, or pieces of helpful content in a digital resource bundle.

Give people a platform to help

People want to help, whether it’s by donating masks, offering free services, or mobilizing in their own unique ways. Your association can provide a platform to connect the dots. Consider creating a special website or communications channel, such as, to answer questions or match needs with resources.

Rise to the challenge

Instead of letting COVID-19 or some other crisis cripple your association, you can rise to the challenge and help your members get through it too. As a member-driven association, you’re already an expert at bringing people together and rallying around a cause. Right now, overcoming COVID-19 is the cause. The more you can serve as a resource for people or even a place for them to voice their fears, the more likely it is that members will stay loyal to your association now and long after this situation is over.

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5 Teleworking Best Practices for Associations


Learn From Others' Misconceptions so your Association can Thrive

5 Recession Myths that Hurt Your Association


4 Steps to Prepare Your Association for the Ripple Effects of the Coronavirus or Any Crisis


5 Teleworking Best Practices for Associations

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about with COVID-19, you suddenly find yourself working from home. That means carving out space for an office, troubleshooting Zoom meetings, and trying to stay connected with your team and your membership…not to mention actually getting some work done! For many, this new reality can be overwhelming.

If teleworking has you flustered, here are 5 best practices to help you preserve your sanity and improve productivity.

1. Rise and shine

Trading your commute for a brief jaunt down the hall might leave you feeling lost in the mornings. It’s a good idea to maintain your regular morning rituals, such as setting your alarm clock and getting out of your pajamas. Enjoy coffee or breakfast with your spouse, kids, or roommates for social interaction and to ease into your day. Without a drive, you might even have extra time for exercise, meditation or chores. Avoid heading directly from your bed to your computer, which can blur the lines between your personal and professional lives.

2. Get some space

If work is staring you in the face day and night, you’re likely to feel stressed and stretched thin. Create a dedicated office space that you can leave behind at the end of the day—even if it means closing your laptop and moving it off the kitchen table. Let your family know that they should respect your office space during the day. Put up a sign if necessary (ex: Shhh! Mary’s Working 8 a.m.-5 p.m.) To help you focus, avoid cluttering your home office with food, toys, laundry, or other distractions.

3. Keep a set schedule

The best way to be successful while working from home is to have a set schedule. Determine when you will start each morning, when to break for lunch, and when to call it a day in the evening. Begin each day by reviewing any upcoming meetings or project deadlines. Consider holding a daily morning huddle with your team to check in, stay connected, and help everyone stay on track.

4. Establish boundaries

When your work and home are one in the same, you might feel pressured to be available 24/7. That will lead to burnout in a hurry. Once you have a set schedule, share it with colleagues so they have realistic expectations about your availability and responsiveness. Don’t forget to keep your members and industry partners informed about your operating hours as well. At the end of the day, sign off any chat programs and silence your phone so notifications don’t intrude into your personal time. Avoid responding to communications after hours or on weekends.

5. Stay connected

The isolation of teleworking can take a toll on morale, and productivity can suffer as a result. Use technology tools, such as video conferencing, to maintain human connections. Try a phone call instead of an email for more in-depth conversations. Check in with members and industry partners. Consider launching a brief daily e-newsletter to share positive news. Your association is united by a common cause. Reminding everyone of that cause can lift spirits and rally your team to keep moving forward despite these difficult times.

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Learn From Others' Misconceptions so your Association can Thrive

5 Recession Myths that Hurt Your Association


4 Steps to Prepare Your Association for the Ripple Effects of the Coronavirus or Any Crisis


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 6: Grit


Learn From Others' Misconceptions so your Association can Thrive

5 Recession Myths that Hurt Your Association

5 Recession Myths that Hurt Your Association

Rumblings of the next global recession make headlines almost daily. If the predictions are true, associations could be headed for difficult times when it comes to member engagement and event attendance. To make matters worse, most association leaders use flawed logic when navigating an economic downturn. But not all the news is negative. An impending recession or other crisis is an opportunity to strengthen your association so you can thrive no matter what the future brings.

Here are five recession myths that hurt your association plus advice on how to shift your thinking to ensure resilience into the future.

MYTH 1: Your value proposition must change for a down market.

REALITY: Your association needs a strong value proposition always. “Things” like events, content, and thought leadership are easy for your audience to cut. However, it’s tougher to cut a cause and a community they are passionate about. That’s why you need a solid value proposition that answers the question: “What am I paying for?” Lead with your cause and prove you offer real, tangible value. Show you are a resource people can depend on. Emphasize the value of your network. Be so helpful that your base can’t imagine getting through a recession—or an average work week—without you.

MYTH 2: Associations should reduce programs that don’t produce revenues.

REALITY: Your members rely on your association for resources that enhance their careers and make their lives better. Some of these resources don’t generate measurable ROI for your association, yet they are invaluable to building trust with members, driving engagement, and creating loyal brand ambassadors. It’s a bad idea to cut programs based on revenues alone. It’s a great idea, on the other hand, to cut anything that doesn’t generate some sort of value for your members. A recession is an opportunity to examine your programs, services, publications, events, and other resources. Cut anything that could distract members from your core value.

MYTH 3: Low engagement is a red flag for a recession.

REALITY: Low engagement is a red flag that your value proposition is broken and your strategy is flawed. Many associations already see a drop in engagement, and a recession isn’t here yet. If one does arrive, engagement will get even worse and event attendance will decline along with it. Recession or not, now is the time to be proactive with modern digital marketing that differentiates your association, builds trust with members and prospects, and delivers value over time.

MYTH 4: It’s a good idea to decrease staff and marketing.

REALITY: Many associations think they need to lay off staff, eliminate outsourcing, decrease marketing funds, and review vendor contracts to cut potential excess from the budget. All of these are terrible ideas. Laying off staff means you will be less capable of serving your members’ needs. That can only lead to a drop in engagement and retention. Instead of decreasing marketing funds, you should increase them. Even if you see a lull in membership during the recession itself, you’ll be that much farther ahead when it’s over if you invest in marketing now. More people will know about you vs. competitors, and they’ll come to you first when they have money to spend.

MYTH 5: You should wait to see how bad things get.

REALITY: Don’t wait for disaster to strike before you take deliberate steps to strengthen your association. People don’t make the best choices amid chaos. Reactive mode is never as effective as being proactive. Right now is a great time to examine your value proposition, strategy, and prospecting efforts to make sure they all serve the needs of your current and future members.

The best way to survive a recession is to strengthen and improve your association before one hits. Know and articulate your solid value proposition, invest in marketing and prospecting—especially to find the next generation of leaders, and focus your efforts on resources that deliver real, tangible value. These are best practices for success regardless of current events.

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4 Steps to Prepare Your Association for the Ripple Effects of the Coronavirus or Any Crisis


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 6: Grit


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 5: Events and Programs


4 Steps to Prepare Your Association for the Ripple Effects of the Coronavirus or Any Crisis

What Does the Coronavirus Have to Do with Association Marketing?
Answer: It’s always a good idea to prepare for the worst.

Today’s major crisis is the coronavirus. Companies around the world are implementing travel restrictions. Events are being cancelled. Chaos and fear are driving decision-making. Maybe the next cause for panic will be an economic downturn. Or perhaps something else will impact your membership, events, and revenue. Maybe it’s the cultural and generational shift happening among your members and prospects.

Whether it’s a global pandemic or something else keeping people away from your association and events, now is the time to be proactive. You must adapt and act to ensure your organization can thrive no matter what the future brings. Here are four steps to help you prepare for the worst:

1. Fix your value proposition

If you can’t prove your value, people will find it easy to cut your membership and events in uncertain times. They need to understand what they’re paying for and why they should care—regardless of what’s happening in the world. A solid value proposition must be based on your association’s cause, not on “stuff” like products or programs. Use our Value Proposition Checklist below to help you articulate your real, tangible value.

2. Amend your strategy

Crisis or no crisis, your audience is constantly bombarded with marketing and media noise. It’s totally unrealistic to assume people will find your association on their own. Even if you manage to get their attention, younger members and prospects generally mistrust companies and traditional advertising. They need time to do research and ask for advice before making a purchase. Your strategy has to include modern digital marketing based on delivering value, nurturing prospects through the customer journey, and building trust over time.

3. Ramp up your prospecting

Fight uncertainty with sheer numbers. When a crisis blows over, the associations who already invested in marketing and prospecting will come out ahead. When people aren’t scared anymore and they have more money to spend on travel and professional development, they’ll be back in force. And they’ll knock on your door instead of a competitor’s if you invest in prospecting now. Plus, with so many in-person events being cancelled, now is an especially good time to find and engage people digitally.

4. Be the solution to the crisis

In the case of the coronavirus, your members are probably suffering too. Travel restrictions and uncertainty affect their businesses as well. How can your association help? What resources can you provide to ensure they weather the storm? If in-person events are no longer feasible, consider hosting virtual events. If any sort of event isn’t serving your membership, find out what is. Be a resource to your members during difficult times so they’ll trust you to serve their best interests all the time.

Don’t hunker down

You might think it’s a good idea to hunker down in the face of uncertainty, to cut spending to the bare essentials. In fact, the opposite is true. Taking action now can assure your success for years to come. Fail to act, and you’ll face even more uncertainty ahead.

Complete the Value Proposition Checklist

Would you like your association to be resilient in the face of whatever the future brings? The first step is to articulate a solid value proposition based on your cause. Complete this Value Proposition Checklist to help you think through this process.

  1. What is your cause, the reason your association exists?
  2. Whom do you serve?
  3. What is your audience trying to achieve in their careers and businesses?
  4. What are their pain points, obstacles, or challenges?
  5. How do you help them overcome obstacles or achieve their goals?
  6. What are people paying for when they join your association?
  7. If your association didn’t have a face-to-face event, what’s the most valuable thing you offer? (Hint: It’s not content or thought leadership.)
  8. What does your association offer that can’t be found on Google?

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 6: Grit


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 5: Events and Programs


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 4: Prospecting


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 6: Grit

Part 6: Grit

This is the final installment in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. Once you have a cause, a plan, assets, prospects, and engagement, you’re ready for Part 6: Grit.

Why your Association Needs More Grit (And How to Get it)

It turns out, the one thing that separates truly successful people from the rest of the pack isn’t money or intelligence or access to resources. It’s grit, says the Harvard Business Review. A culture of grit at your association could be the difference-maker that helps you reach your goals for membership, engagement and non-dues revenue.

What is grit?

Grit is passion to throw yourself behind a cause you believe in and the perseverance to see it through no matter the obstacles. Employees with grit roll up their sleeves, put in extra hours, and refuse to give up even when things get hard. They tirelessly pursue new ideas and explore possibilities that will improve your association and make your members’ lives better.

Why does your association need grit?

Your budget, time, and resources are limited, but grit is not. A gritty association can accomplish more than a lackluster or disinterested one regardless of available resources. Grit helps you get more out of what you’re already doing—your cause, marketing efforts, prospecting, and engagement. It makes your association more effective at fulfilling your mission, more appealing to members, and more sustainable in the long run.

Need more grit?

You can create a culture of grit to become a more successful organization by fueling passion and perseverance within your team. If your association already shows a good amount of grit, you can build on that to generate even greater outcomes.

To fuel passion, take a step back and reconnect with the “why” behind your organization. What is your purpose for existing? Why was your association created? Make sure your team understands the greater purpose behind what you’re doing. Next, check in with individuals to determine if they have what they need to be successful. Empowered employees who feel valued are more likely to show grit, voice their ideas, and go the extra mile.

When it comes to improving perseverance, simply stay the course. Don’t give up when a few marketing campaigns perform poorly. Learn from the past and make adjustments to improve in the future. It could take months or even years to get real results. While that might sound daunting, consider the lifetime value of an engaged member. How much will they pay in dues over 10 or 20 years? How many events will they attend? How many other members might they recruit? Be in for the long haul and reap the rewards.

CASE STUDY: Association of Corporate Council

Our client the Association of Corporate Counsel wanted to increase membership around the globe. However, their prospect list was out of date and not converting well. To increase the prospect pool, we used ACC’s existing brand resources—reports, surveys, and infographics—along with lead generation forms on social media. At first, the results were not especially impressive. However, we made some changes based on performance analytics, and we stuck to the plan. It paid off. Over 18 months, we generated 2,000 prospects and 1,100 new members.

Got grit?

When your association shows internal grit, your members will take notice. Because of your passion and perseverance, they’ll be inspired to go beyond as well—to attend your events, renew their dues, purchase additional products, and do whatever they can to support your cause.

Take the assessment to find out how much grit you have. Your results will determine how much passion and perseverance you might need to ignite within your association to achieve long-term success and sustainability.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 5: Events and Programs


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 4: Prospecting


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 3: Marketing Assets


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 5: Events and Programs

Part 5: Events and Programs

This is the fifth post in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. To get started, establish your cause, sketch out a marketing plan, find or create marketing assets, and build a list of high-quality prospects. Then you’re ready for Part 5: Engagement.

How to Drive Engagement with your Events and Programs

So your marketing efforts paid off and you have a list of high-quality prospects. Now what? How can you turn all that potential into actual outcomes for your association? You need to take deliberate steps to fuel engagement.

What is engagement and why do you need it?

Engagement is an emotional state that leads to a physical action. It’s when people care about your association so much that they feel compelled to attend your events and participate in your programs. But engagement is easier said than done. It’s a noisy world out there and people are busy and distracted. Your association must be so compelling and so valuable that people seek out your resources regardless of whatever else they’re dealing with.

As with prospecting, engagement doesn’t happen overnight. You must first build trust by nurturing your prospects over time with value-added content that solves their problems. An effective workflow might include a digital ad that leads to a landing page where visitors can download a piece of content. Once you capture an email address, you can follow up with an email drip campaign.

Start with free, ungated content

Giving away useful content is a powerful way to establish trust with your prospects. To drive event attendance, consider using one of these proven formats:

  • Behind-the-scenes video of your event setup
  • An interview with a past attendee
  • Case stories that show the ROI of your event
  • Photo collage of last year’s conference
  • FAQ sheet to address common inquiries
  • Article published by one of your speakers
  • Event ROI toolkit

Capture leads with gated content

Eventually you will need to capture an email address so you can follow up with a nurturing email drip campaign. Here too, you should lead with helpful content, not your event or programs. For example, you can offer a tip sheet with key takeaways from your event. At the end of the tip sheet, you can include a call to action. For example: Interested in gaining more insights like these? Attend our annual conference.

Don’t be a time suck

There is a perception across industries that trade associations take up too much time. People believe they must read lengthy content, volunteer for committees, travel, and invest time and money to get the most value from membership. And busy professionals, especially senior executives, just don’t have time for all that.

Because of this perceived burden, many will not even consider engaging with your organization. To combat this, you need to show that your association isn’t a time suck. In fact, you must prove that you can save people time through your resources, connections, events, and other opportunities.

Keep it short and sweet

The first step in saving people time is to keep your communications brief. Here are a few strategies to get you started:
  • Craft emails with two or three yes-or-no questions and a clear call to action button.
  • Create infographics with few words and lots of visuals.
  • Summarize report findings with concise bullet points.
  • Write whitepapers and articles with clear subheadings to help readers skim for key details.
  • Consider checklists and tip sheets instead of lengthier content.
  • Keep videos to 30 seconds or less.

Case Study: Plant tour promotion

Our client, the Manufacturing Leadership Council, offers exclusive plant tours as a member benefit. When traditional emails to promote the tours didn’t perform as well as expected, we switched our strategy. Instead of making a hard sell to sign up for a tour, we offered a useful download on how to improve company culture, which was one of the themes of an upcoming tour. The idea was that once the user downloaded the content, they would see firsthand the value of a plant tour and be inspired to sign up. As a result, the Council’s plant tour emails had the highest open and clickthrough rates of any campaign sent to members this year.

Ready to turn your prospect list into engaged event attendees and program participants? Download this free engagement workflow to get started. It will show you how to get attention, nurture your prospects, and generate actions using digital ads, landing pages, content, and emails.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 4: Prospecting


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 3: Marketing Assets


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 2: The Plan


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 4: Prospecting

Part 4: Prospecting

This is the fourth post in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. Before launching your prospecting campaigns, first establish your cause, sketch out a marketing plan, and find or create marketing assets. Then you’re ready for Part 4: Prospecting.

8 Best Practices to Find More Association Members

It’s time to find your people and move them to act.

Prospecting is the process of building an audience and nurturing them toward taking an action, such as attending your events, joining your association, or purchasing products. While it takes time to raise awareness and build trust with your base, good prospecting pays off. Follow these eight best practices to get a list of high-quality leads who are ready and eager to engage with your organization.

1. Establish goals.

Before you begin prospecting, determine realistic goals based on your budget and available resources. Keep in mind that it takes time to build a high-quality prospect list—maybe years. Prospecting also requires follow-up, so consider your available personnel when setting goals.

2. Determine your most likely prospects.

Prospects can include known or unknown audience segments. Your known audience might be lapsed members, nonmember event attendees, or people who purchased your products. Chances are they’re already somewhat familiar with your organization, so these could be warm leads that are easier to convert.

Your unknown audience is totally new. You won’t know much about them, and you can’t assume they know about you. Digital marketing tools can help narrow audience criteria, for example by job title, SIC or NAICS code, company revenue, and/or specific zip codes. Targeting an unknown audience might take more time and effort, but it’s a great way to get fresh blood into your organization.

3. Stay focused.

You don’t need to run digital ads on five social media platforms at once. Greater reach isn’t necessarily better. Try to narrow your audience to begin with to make the most of available resources. Two or three audience segments can help you target your efforts, but more can become too complex to manage. Help your audience stay focused by promoting only one thing at a time.

4. Use a proven workflow.

Prospecting is rarely a one-and-done endeavor. Here’s an example of a proven workflow to reach people over time: First, launch a social ad with an offer, such as a free whitepaper. When users click to claim the offer, send them to a landing page (never your homepage or a generic webpage). On the landing page, you can give away the content for free or in exchange for an email address. Once you capture the email address, follow up with an email drip campaign to nurture your leads.

5. Match the marketing asset to the customer journey.

Assume that unknown users have never heard of your organization before. Articles, toolkits, and e-books are good choices for this group. For those further along on the customer journey, member stories, infographics on member benefits, or an ROI calculator will move them toward a decision.

6. Fish where the fish are.

Choose a platform based on where your audience is likely to spend time. For example, Facebook is the most popular social media platform overall in terms of sheer numbers. However, younger demographics tend to prefer Snapchat and Instagram. LinkedIn has comparatively fewer users but offers purely professional interactions that could be more likely to achieve your desired outcomes.

7. Deliver on your promises.

Make sure your sales team is aware of your prospecting efforts and prepared to follow up and field questions. If you promise a free trial, consultation, or other giveaway, give people what they asked for. If you’re seeing low engagement or a high number of unsubscribes, this could mean people aren’t getting the value they had hoped for.

8. Stay nimble.

Not every great marketing promotion yields great results. Track performance and be prepared to make changes based on your audience’s actual behaviors.

Don’t wait for membership to fall off before you start prospecting. Continuous prospecting can ensure the sustainability of your organization while fueling engagement and non-dues revenue. To get started, download the sample prospecting workflow below.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 3: Marketing Assets


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 2: The Plan


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 3: Marketing Assets

PART 3: Marketing Assets

This is the third post in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. If you missed our earlier posts, you can read about your cause and your marketing plan to catch up.

How to Attract Prospects and Members with Marketing Assets

People are more likely to engage with your brand in exchange for something tangible and beneficial. That’s why a good content-based digital marketing plan requires supporting assets to maximize outcomes.

What is a marketing asset?

A marketing asset, often referred to generally as “content,” can be almost anything from your association that offers value to your audience. Traditional marketing assets include whitepapers, infographics, how-to guides, e-books, webinars, videos, checklists, podcasts, survey results, industry reports, and many more. Thanks to new technology, marketing assets also include interactive content, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, chatbots, apps, and others.

What’s the right asset?

With so many types of marketing assets to choose from, how do you know which ones will work for your audience? The answer: the ones that give people what they need when they need it. Personalization is key to a successful content-based digital marketing campaign.

Here are a few considerations when determining your marketing assets:
  • Where are individuals in the customer journey? New prospects need different information than long-term members.
  • What’s going on in your industry? Tailor assets around current trends, technology, and industry events.
  • What are their goals? Offer tools that enable goals, help them develop professionally, or assist in planning for future growth and success.
  • What are their pain points? Provide information that will save them time and money, make their lives easier, or help them overcome obstacles.

How to personalize marketing assets

To effectively personalize your campaign, you may need to segment your list into two or three meaningful groups. For example, members, nonmembers, and sales reps. You can also use marketing automation to determine who gets what. For example, a workflow based on a series of if-then statements could trigger various marketing assets and follow-up communications depending on user behavior.

While personalization requires a little more work and forethought, the results are well worth your time. One research study from Experian showed that personalized email campaigns receive 29% higher open rates and 41% higher clickthrough rates than generic emails. Personalized marketing improves customer experience, which ultimately drives membership, non-dues revenue, and member engagement.

When in doubt, go visual and be quick

While your audience will have its own preferences, the current trend in marketing assets is to lean heavily on visual components. Additionally, keep in mind that time is always a concern for your members. Resources that save people time and are quick to digest are the most likely to generate outcomes.

Gated or ungated?

Gated marketing assets are those you give away in exchange for an action, such as providing an email address or starting an account. Gated content is a great way to build your prospect list. However, people won’t hand over their email address to just anyone. First, they need to trust that you offer value and that you won’t just spam them with more time-consuming emails.

When you give away your marketing assets with no strings attached, that’s known as ungated content. Ungated marketing assets demonstrate to your audience that you’re here to help, that you offer credible resources, and that you’re worthy of their trust. A good strategy to is to give away ungated content initially and eventually gate content to capture contact info.

How to get started

To get started using marketing assets to attract prospects and members, take a look at your existing materials. You might already have a stash of articles, interviews, infographics, podcasts, and more that can be used as-is or repurposed to support your cause and your marketing plan. If you need to create new materials, be sure they’re aligned with your existing brand’s look and feel for consistency.

Need more ideas for marketing assets? Download the checklist for 50+ ideas.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 2: The Plan


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 1: The Cause


How to Implement Omnichannel Marketing


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 2: The Plan

Part 2: The Plan

This is the second post in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. We’re covering six key marketing elements to help you reach your goals. If you missed our last edition, check out Part 1: The Cause.

How to Create a Digital Marketing Plan

Save time and money while boosting your marketing results with a quick and painless plan

So you know your cause, and you want to tell the world about it. You’ve got resources to share plus events to promote and products to sell. It’s tempting to blast your members and prospects with all these valuable things at once. But hold on a second…

Why you need a marketing plan

Getting attention and moving people to act involves a balance of timing, frequency, relevancy, and format. You need to meet your audience where they are or they won’t engage. Even a simple marketing plan can help you achieve better results while saving you time, money, and effort. Before you launch another promotion, stop and sketch out a plan.

Why your plan needs digital

You can’t improve results if you keep doing the same old thing. Now is a great time to embrace digital tools. Digital advertising and email automation enable precise audience targeting and follow-up based on actual user behaviors. With digital, you can customize each user’s experience with your brand to improve outcomes.

How to create a digital marketing plan

Planning a year of marketing might seem daunting, but it takes just seven steps.

1. Establish goals.

Set specific goals. If you want more members or event attendees, how many? What is your non-dues revenue target? Other goals might include web visitors or social media followers, email performance metrics, or improved member satisfaction. As much as possible, express your goals in hard numbers and concrete terms.

2. Get to know your audience better.

Dig deeper into your audience to improve your marketing like never before.

Consider three categories of data:
  • Demographics: age, gender, household income/company revenues, geography, years in business or profession, political affiliation, hobbies or special interests, etc.
  • History with your association: past purchase history, events attended, years as a member, volunteer positions, etc.
  • Data gleaned from online behaviors: web pages visited, articles or e-books downloaded, email opens, clicks etc.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a ton of data. With digital marketing, you will gain data as your campaigns progress. You can use what you learn to solidify and improve your efforts going forward.

3. Focus on value.

Go beyond networking, education, and certifications to focus on value. How will your association make people’s lives easier, save them money, or advance their careers? Brainstorm tangible benefits of your membership, events, products, and certifications. Calculate ROI whenever possible to prove you’re worth people’s time, money, and effort to engage.

4. Choose an engaging format.

Choose a format, platform, or channel based on your audience, goals, and budget. Some of the most effective strategies are email drip and nurture campaigns, social ads paired with helpful content (ex: whitepapers, e-books), and web retargeting. But you’ll need to test and track to see what works for your audience.

5. Create a marketing calendar.

Timing matters. Consider what else might be going on in your audience’s lives: holidays, industry events, competitor messages, other comms from your organization, etc. Schedule your promotions when they will have the least competition from other sources. Then make sure your team is aware of launches and prepared to field responses.

6. Execute.

Don’t fall victim to analysis paralysis. At some point you have to put your best foot forward and launch your initiatives into the world.

7. Track performance.

You must track performance and analyze results to know if your plan is working. From there, you can make adjustments on the fly or learn from past efforts to improve in the future.

Your cause is the driving force behind your organization, but without a plan you can’t reach your full potential. Adding digital marketing to your plan can further improve your results while saving you time and money. Ready to get started on your marketing plan? Download the free Sample Marketing Plan below to guide your efforts.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 1: The Cause


How to Implement Omnichannel Marketing


What is Omnichannel Marketing and Why do You Need It?


6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 1: The Cause

Part 1: The Cause

So you need more members. And more non-dues revenues. And you’d like to boost engagement while you’re at it. To reach your goals and truly thrive, you’ll need more than a nice website or a great social campaign. You’ll need six key elements working in harmony: a cause, a plan, marketing assets, prospects, engagement, and non-dues revenues. In this six-part series, we’ll cover all these essential elements so you can get maximum results for your association. Part 1: The Cause.

How a Cause Helps your Association Thrive

Get attention in a world of endless spam, robocalls, and popup ads

Do you ever wish you received more email spam, robocalls, or popup ads? Of course not. And your members don’t either. We all get too many emails and phone calls. We’re sick of slick sales pitches and impersonal advertising. By now your audience is hardwired to ignore most marketing messages—even the ones that could benefit them.

Considering all this, how can you get attention and compel people to join, attend, renew, and engage?

You need a cause. Give people a reason to care. Help them feel like they’re making a difference. If you can engage people emotionally in your cause, there’s almost nothing they won’t do to support it. If they feel needed and valued within your community, they will stick around year after year to work for your cause and sustain your organization. They will look forward to your communications and tell others about your important work.

Before you even consider your next marketing message, campaign, or platform, you need to determine your cause.

What a cause is and isn’t

Your cause must be a simple, powerful idea your audience can relate to and rally around. It’s more than a marketing theme, campaign, or tagline. It’s more precise and tangible than your mission or vision statement.

A cause is not simply donating a portion of your proceeds to charity or organizing a food drive. These might be worthy undertakings that contribute to your cause, but they’re details and they’re short lived. A cause is a big-picture, long-term value proposition that explains why you do what you do, what drives your organization, and what you’re passionately willing to work hard and even fight for.

Examples of great causes
  • REI: Get more people outside.
  • ServiceMaster: Because your customers and employees deserve a clean, safe and healthy environment.
  • American Heart Association: Save and improve lives by fighting heart disease and stroke.
  • Apple: Enhance lives through innovative technology.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness: Build better lives for Americans affected by mental illness.
  • National Association of Manufacturers: Support the more than 12.8 million men and women who make things in America.

How to determine your association’s cause

Determining your association’s cause boils down to just two considerations: who you help and how you help them. Explore specifically who your audience is—job titles, location, age, gender, years in the profession, company size, etc. Then think about their biggest pain points and ultimate goals. Brainstorm how you solve these pain points and how you enable those goals. What is the most powerful resource you can offer people? How do you make a difference in their lives? Don’t get too wrapped up in minutiae. Think about the big picture, the 10,000-foot view of your industry.

For help on this process, download our free guide: How to Determine Your Association’s Cause. By answering just five questions you’ll pin down your purpose and articulate your cause.

Do you really need a cause?

The other day at the grocery store, I walked down the cookie aisle looking for a snack. Thinking of maintaining my healthy diet, I left without purchasing anything. Then I got to the exit, where a group of adorable young ladies were selling Girl Scout Cookies. I bought five boxes to support their troop. That’s the power of a cause. It transcends logic and taps into emotions to compel people to act. Only when you know your cause can you craft an effective plan for the rest of your marketing. More on that next time.

Need help determining your association’s cause so you can get attention and rally people to action? Download this guide and answer just five questions to get started.

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How to Implement Omnichannel Marketing


What is Omnichannel Marketing and Why do You Need It?


Best Practices for Digital Marketing that Boosts Engagement


How to Implement Omnichannel Marketing

I recently attended a fantastic retirement party for my old friend Ben. Every detail was perfect—the beautiful venue, gourmet food, live entertainment, and fun atmosphere. We almost didn’t notice the staff running around behind the scenes to make sure everything went off without a hitch. At the end of the evening, each guest received a special gift basket. We left feeling happy for Ben and lucky to know him.

Omnichannel marketing makes your audience feel like honored guests at a great party. When every interaction they have with your brand is positive and seamless, they’re more likely to join, attend, and engage.

Here are seven steps to help you execute omnichannel marketing that makes people feel great about your organization.

Get your entire team on board

You can’t have a seamless customer experience unless your company is unified internally. Make sure everyone knows your mission, vision, and purpose in addition to your current promotional offers and communications calendar. If a prospect calls to take advantage of an offer, your sales team should be prepared to deliver.

Know your audience

Take time to dig deep into what your members and prospects really want. What are their pain points? What can you offer that will help them save time and money, advance in their careers, or further their mission? If you’re not sure, conduct surveys, focus groups, or interviews to gain insights. Analyze data from past campaigns or consider having a data service enhance your list to go deeper.

Segment your list

It’s impossible to serve your entire base with the same approach. Segment your list by meaningful characteristics so you can tailor your messages and offers. Which segments you choose will depend on your organization and your audience. Company type or size, job title, geographic location, and member/nonmember are just a few possibilities.

Integrate channels and the customer journey

Consider all the potential ways your base might interact with your brand—in-person events, products, webinars, sales calls, direct mail, social media, and more. Then align your efforts to the customer journey. For example, prospects who aren’t familiar with your organization might need more industry reports, whitepapers, or webinars to believe in your credibility. Warm leads might benefit from a phone call or meet-and-greet event.

Put the customer first

To truly serve your base, you must put their needs and interests before your own. Give away information at first to build trust. Offer a free trial to prove you stand behind your products. These activities won’t instantly generate revenues, but they will build trust. And people need to trust you before they’re willing to join your organization, purchase your products, and tell others about your important work.

Use compelling formats and design

What you say matters, and how you say it is just as important. Choose formats and designs that grab attention and invite people to engage with your brand. Use clean fonts that clearly communicate. Choose bright, modern photographs and images with people. Select online platforms with built-in tools, such as lead gen forms, that make it easy for people to engage and raise their hands. Whatever you choose, keep it consistent and unified with your core brand.

Case Study: Omnichannel product launch

The National Association of Manufacturers asked us to raise awareness and drive engagement with a new suite of products. To help us determine the best channels, resources, and messaging for the campaign, we created six personas. Each persona provided details on personality traits, career aspirations, use of technology, and pain points for a key audience segment.

Guided by the personas, we developed an omnichannel strategy that included fresh graphic design, paid ads on Facebook and LinkedIn, automated email drip campaigns, and infographics and videos. We analyzed results as the campaign progressed and tailored our efforts based on user behaviors. As a result, leads for one product increased by 600% and traffic to the product’s webpage doubled.

Make good on your promises

High-caliber marketing and polished sales pitches amount to nothing if your members are ultimately unsatisfied. Omnichannel marketing means you follow through on your promises and then go above expectations. Provide connections, products, and events that your members actually want. Prove ROI whenever possible. Take every opportunity to make members and prospects feel like honored guests at a fantastic party.

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What is Omnichannel Marketing and Why do You Need It?


Best Practices for Digital Marketing that Boosts Engagement


9 Content Marketing Problems and How to Fix Them


What is Omnichannel Marketing and Why do You Need It?

My car died last month. I went online to see what my local dealer had available. I filled out a form with my desired make, model, and year along with my contact info. For several weeks I received social media ads for available vehicles that met my criteria. The dealership mailed me a Car Buyers Tip Sheet to help me make a decision. One day, I got a phone call inviting me into the dealership. When I went, they had three cars that met my specs ready for me to test drive. The salesperson was friendly and knowledgeable but not pushy. They offered competitive financing options, so I drove my new car off the lot the same day.

My car-buying experience is a great example of omnichannel marketing. The dealership made it easy for me to see my options, educate myself, and connect with an expert. They had resources for me at every step of my decision-making process. The result is that I’m satisfied with my purchase. I would buy from the same dealer again, and I would recommend them to friends.

What is omnichannel marketing?

While “omnichannel” might sound like just another bit of marketing jargon, it’s actually a very simple concept: seamless customer experience. “Omni” means all. Omnichannel means you look at all the possible ways your audience interacts with your brand and you make sure everything works well together. It goes beyond your marketing department to include your sales team, customer service, and in-person events. The result of well-executed omnichannel marketing is long-term member loyalty and increased engagement with your association.

How is omnichannel different from multichannel marketing?

“Channel” is just another word for format or platform. Are you reaching people via email, social media, direct mail, or cold calling? These are potential channels for your marketing efforts. “Multichannel” means you’re using multiple formats and platforms to connect with your audience. Most associations today use multichannel marketing. What’s often missing, however, is a holistic approach that considers all the touchpoints along the entire customer journey—from awareness to consideration to decision and, eventually, long-term loyalty and deep engagement. That’s where omnichannel marketing comes in.

Two keys to omnichannel marketing

1. Give the people what they want.

The idea of a traditional sales funnel doesn’t quite apply to omnichannel marketing. “A” does not necessarily lead directly to “B” and then “C.” Omnichannel marketing recognizes that some people move from awareness to decision quickly because of an urgent need. Others might need extra information and support during a long consideration phase. Some people might visit the same channel more than once or skip others entirely. Omnichannel meets people where they are and helps them in whatever way they need.

2. Be consistent in everything you do.

To ensure a seamless experience along this winding omnichannel journey, you will need to ensure brand consistency at every turn. Your collateral should maintain visual continuity in your logo, colors, fonts, look, and feel. Your voice should be clear and consistent, whether in social media, email, or direct mail. Your sales team should be knowledgeable about your association, products, and current promotions. Additionally, your in-person events should include everything your marketing promises.

Case Study: American Specialty Toy Retailing Association

To help the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association promote their annual conference and tradeshow, we used a variety of formats, including direct mail, social media, digital ads, and email. To maximize these channels, we segmented ASTRA’s list into meaningful categories—nonmembers, sales reps, and store owners. Next we considered available brand assets and crafted additional infographics and videos to fill in the gaps. From there, we developed digital workflows based on segments, the assets, and ASTRA’s goals. Users determined next steps based on the actions they took.

Our efforts nearly doubled the number of first-time conference attendees. The last piece of the omnichannel puzzle was that ASTRA’s event delivered on all the promises we made in the marketing materials, which is sure to fuel repeat attendance next year.

Why do you need omnichannel marketing?

It’s all too easy to turn people off. If my car dealer called me in but didn’t have any cars in stock that met my specs, I might never have returned. If the salesperson was slick and impersonal, I might not have made a purchase. Even if I had an okay experience, I might not recommend the dealership to others or become a repeat customer. Omnichannel marketing is a way to continually engage and satisfy your base even if they’re not quite ready to join, attend, or make a purchase. It takes time, but the results are quality prospects and satisfied members with a high lifetime value.

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Best Practices for Digital Marketing that Boosts Engagement


9 Content Marketing Problems and How to Fix Them


(And 20+ Format Ideas)

5 Ways to Generate Enough Marketing Content


Best Practices for Digital Marketing that Boosts Engagement

I’m terrible at golf. A few years back, I bought a set of really nice golf clubs. They’re top of the line, with high-quality craftsmanship and the best materials. I was totally convinced they would enhance my performance. I’m still terrible at golf. Without knowing the proper techniques or how to fine tune my swing, I can’t get the most out of my clubs.

When it comes to digital marketing, you can pay a lot of money for platforms and tools in the hope that you’ll automatically see improved performance on your campaigns and increased engagement among your base. The trouble is, digital marketing is a little bit like my golf game. Having the right tools is a good start. But using proven best practices and fine-tuning your efforts are the only ways to achieve your full potential.

Follow these best practices to execute an effective digital marketing workflow that generates results and strengthens engagement.

What is a workflow?

A workflow is a defined communication strategy based on your goals, your audience’s needs, and the resources you have available for marketing. It’s an automated process defined by if/then statements. Workflows are effective at building engagement because they help you deliver timely, relevant messaging and useful information to build trust with your audience over time. They can include any combination of tools—email automation, digital ads, lead generation forms, landing pages, content, and more.

Best practices for digital ads

Before you ever craft a digital ad, you’ll first need to establish your campaign goals. Do you want to increase event attendance? Find program participants? Boost web traffic or social media interactions? From there, you’ll need to look at your audience. What are their pain points and how will your programs or events solve them? No matter which platform you use—Facebook, LinkedIn, web retargeting, etc.—a good digital ad has an engaging headline and an eye-catching image. Its look and feel match the rest of your branding. It contains a clear, relevant offer and a simple call to action.

Some platforms offer ads with lead generation forms. These are automatically populated with a user’s name and email address. All the user needs to do is click “Submit” to receive your offer and opt-in to your list. To get the most out of your lead gen forms, keep them short and to the point. Don’t use too many form fields—first and last name, email address, and one additional qualifier are enough.

For either type of digital ad, you should determine what a good cost per lead is before you launch. That way, you can gauge performance and make adjustments along the way.

Best practices for landing pages

The number one best practice for landing pages is to use them. Never send traffic from your digital ads to your homepage. Make sure your landing page relates directly to what your ad is promoting. Use the same headline as your ad if possible, to avoid any confusion. The landing page’s look and feel should also match your ad and the rest of your branding. Keep the messaging short and simple, using bullet points to simplify your copy. Include a real testimonial to add authenticity to your offer. Don’t forget a clear call to action so people know what to do.

Best practices for email drip campaigns

Similar to digital ads, you should establish your campaign goals before you begin to craft an email. Keep your message short and simple here as well, and stick to one main idea to avoid confusing your audience. Engagement campaigns should focus on how your audience will benefit from interacting with your organization. Personalize the message using any available data, such as purchase history or past behaviors. Don’t forget to make an offer and include a clear call to action. Take time to craft a specific subject line that piques curiosity, promises a benefit, or excites your audience. Consider A/B testing your subject lines to see what resonates best.

Best practices for digital marketing overall

  • Be eye catching.
  • Keep your message clear and simple.
  • Personalize and humanize your message.
  • Include an offer and call to action.
  • Align look and feel with the rest of your branding.
  • Track performance and make changes if needed.

Case Study: Ending the Silence

The National Alliance on Mental Illness works to end the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. As part of this mission, NAMI created Ending the Silence, a program in which young people share their mental health stories with other youth. NAMI asked us to help find a steady supply of presenters for the program. We created a workflow that included a combination of digital ads, landing pages, and emails to tell human-focused stories and inspire young people to sign up to participate. Our efforts generated 500 leads, exceeding NAMI’s goal of 150.

Free Engagement Workflow

Throwing lots of money at your digital marketing might get you broader reach or access to more tools. But if you don’t follow proven best practices, chances are you’re missing out on leads and conversions. While you’re fine-tuning your digital marketing golf swing, download this free Engagement Workflow Template to get started on the path to better engagement and better ROI.

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9 Content Marketing Problems and How to Fix Them


10 Best Practices for Content Marketing that Converts


(And 20+ Format Ideas)

5 Ways to Generate Enough Marketing Content


9 Content Marketing Problems and How to Fix Them

Angelo is a bus driver for a small tour company in Ecuador. Quite often the tourists’ breakfast comes with a side of papaya. Many of the tourists don’t like papaya, so they give it to Angelo, who says “thank you” and eats it. This goes on for years. More tourists, more papaya for Angelo. One day, someone says: “Wow, Angelo, you must really like papaya!” He finally confesses that he hates papaya. He only eats it to be polite to all the tourists who give him their fruit.

Your marketing content is a little bit like papaya. Too often there’s a disconnect between what your association provides and the resources your audience members actually want. If your content marketing isn’t performing the way you’d like, you may need to fix one or more of these common problems.

1. You don’t have a strategy.

If you’re pumping out lots of content without a plan, chances are some of your efforts are going to waste. Take time to craft a strategy based on your goals, resources, and budget in addition to your audience’s needs and wants.

2. Your content isn’t relevant.

No one wants their time wasted. Make sure you’re giving your audience content they can actually put to use. Segmenting your list into two or three groups and tailoring content accordingly can help you increase relevancy and results.

3. You need to adjust your frequency.

You can’t just bombard people. Chances are your members and prospects get too many emails and too many digital ads. Look at your association’s communications calendar, and schedule your promotions when they have the least competition from other messages.

4. People don’t trust you.

You have to earn people’s attention and trust. Consider giving away content with no strings attached initially. Eventually you can ask for an email address for follow-up communications. If your ad or landing page promises a solution, your content better deliver.

5. You don’t have a cause.

People need to know why they should care about your content, your mission, your organization, and your offerings. They need a cause to rally around. Ask yourself why your organization exists. Then make sure it’s clearly communicated in your marketing messages.

6. You forgot to include emotions.

Even if your members are technical experts or high-level professionals, they still need to be emotionally compelled to take action. Ensure your content contains a balance of logic, credibility, and—above all—emotion.

7. You need to adjust your format.

Don’t forget there are dozens of potential formats for content—from podcasts to infographic, reports, quizzes, checklists, and memes. Track engagement with your campaigns to learn which formats resonate best. Experiment with long vs. short formats, visual vs. text, etc.

8. Your audience is confused.

If people are opening your emails or clicking on your ads but not converting, it could be a sign that they’re getting lost along the way. Make it easy for them to claim your content by including clear call to action buttons or using prepopulated lead gen forms on your digital ads.

9. Your voice is impersonal.

People connect with other people better than with organizations. Communicate in a human, conversational tone to get the most out of your content marketing.

Case Study:

The National Association of Manufacturers asked us to help promote their Manufacturers Marketplace product. The challenge was that their target audience already received too many emails each day. We created a content strategy that included videos, infographics, and e-books. To personalize the content and increase relevancy, we created personas for key audience segments. Landing pages and prepopulated lead gen forms made it easy for people to take action. Our efforts increased leads for Manufacturers Marketplace by 600% and doubled the amount of traffic to the product’s web page.

Before you feed your audience more papaya, take some time to tune up your content marketing. Fixing even one or two of these common problems can dramatically improve your results.

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(And 20+ Format Ideas)

5 Ways to Generate Enough Marketing Content


10 Best Practices for Content Marketing that Converts


3-Pronged Approach to Association Marketing


5 Ways to Generate Enough Marketing Content

I recently made the mistake of feeding a stray cat at the office. Now it comes back every day expecting more food. Yesterday, there were two cats outside my door. I may have created a monster…

Finding enough content for your marketing might feel like feeding hungry cats. Once you set things in motion, you need a steady stream of content to keep everyone satisfied. How can you possibly keep up? Here are 5 ideas to help you find, repurpose, or create content to feed your need.

1. Develop a strategy.

To accurately assess your content needs, you’ll first need a strategy. Who is your audience? What are their pain points? How can you help them? How often do they need to hear from you? Also consider your organization’s goals. Are you promoting a product or event? Do you need more members? What resources and budget can you dedicate to content marketing? The answers to all these questions will determine how much content you need and what types of content will yield the best results.

2. Mine your existing materials.

The easiest type of content to use is content that already exists. Take a look at your stash of marketing collateral, industry reports, whitepapers, images, infographics, audio or video recordings, and more to see what you might be able to use as-is. Keep in mind, however, that just because it exists doesn’t mean it’s relevant to your target audience. Only choose pieces that are actually useful to your base.

3. Repurpose existing content.

Repurposing content can save you time and effort compared to creating new pieces. Be creative. An infographic can become a video. An interview with an expert can become a podcast. An industry event can become a best practices checklist. We once created a series of short videos for a client using interesting facts from their annual report. Each video contained just one fact that we animated to add interest.

4. Beg or borrow content.

Look to partner organizations as potential sources of content. Their industry reports, infographics, PowerPoint presentations, webinars, or other current information might be relevant to your audience. And don’t be afraid to ask your contacts to be guest contributors to your blog or other publications.

5. Create fresh content.

If you want to maintain your place as an industry influencer, you will need to produce fresh original content at some point. You will likely need a combination of formats to maintain audience interest. Ideas for fresh content: Interview highly engaged members to discuss benefits of your association. Collect testimonials for use on social media posts or videos. Write how-to articles about your products. The possibilities are endless.

Here are just a few additional ideas:
  • Case study
  • E-book
  • Cartoon or illustration
  • FAQ sheet
  • Webinar
  • List
  • Quiz
  • Original research
  • Summary of original research
  • Annual report
  • Whitepaper
  • Survey
  • Timeline
  • Podcast
  • Email newsletter
  • Product review
  • Chart or graph
  • “Day in the Life” article
  • Resources list
  • Photo collage
  • Opinion piece
  • Template

Case study:

To help the National Association of Manufacturers promote their product NAM Energy, we developed a content marketing strategy that included a combination of new and existing materials. The NAM already had an energy-related fact sheet we were able to use by adding the NAM Energy branding elements to the document. We also developed an original infographic and three curated member stories that were featured on individual microsites. The result was a 1688% increase in total revenue for the product.

Content marketing works because it builds trust with your audience by offering something they need. It helps you fulfill an unspoken promise that your association is worth their time. With that relationship solidly in place, your audience is much more receptive to your hard sales pitches for products, events, and membership renewals. Find a way to feed the cats in your neighborhood and your association will see serious ROI from your efforts.

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10 Best Practices for Content Marketing that Converts


3-Pronged Approach to Association Marketing


3 Essential Elements of Effective Marketing


10 Best Practices for Content Marketing that Converts

When my daughter was in fifth grade, she made a model solar system for the science fair. So did 15 other kids. Many of the entries looked sloppy or hastily put together. Some of the kids couldn’t explain their models very well. My daughter took home the blue ribbon. Her project stood out from the others because it was more detailed, had vibrant colors, and included an in-depth report.

Content marketing is a little bit like bringing a solar system to the science fair. Everyone is doing it. Not everyone is doing it well. Follow these 10 best practices to ensure your content marketing stands out from the crowd and actually converts.

1. Expand your definition of “content”

Go beyond whitepapers and blogs. Content can include podcasts, video, artificial intelligence, FAQs, memes, quizzes, photos, infographics, and more in addition to traditional formats like whitepapers, blogs, and reports. Anything that offers useful information to help your audience can be used in content marketing.

2. Choose the right format

Let your audience determine your format. If podcasts are your most popular offering, for example, do more podcasts. If your audience prefers substantive whitepapers and reports, focus your efforts there. If you don’t have much data on audience preferences, a good bet is to keep it brief. Start with short videos (less than a minute), infographics, checklists, Q&As, or memes.

3. Focus on the customer

Know your audience. What are their pain points? What keeps them up at night? What are their goals and aspirations? You can’t provide useful information if you don’t know what people want. Consider segmenting your list so you can tailor content to audience needs.

4. Offer something valuable

Once you’ve thoroughly considered #3 above, mine your existing brand assets for things people need. Do you have reports, articles, e-books, podcasts, whitepapers, or other helpful tools that will make people’s lives easier? Repurpose relevant materials, but generate original content if your existing stash doesn’t serve your base.

5. Use available data

Whenever possible, make decisions based on data. Look at past performance of emails, ads, and other promotions to see which topics and offers best resonate with your audience. Choose a marketing channel based on demographics or other insights you have about your prospects and members.

6. Schedule your content

Don’t just look at the content you’re launching. Look at what else your audience receives from your association. What other industry events are going on? Time your content when it will have the least amount of competition for attention.

7. Optimize for mobile

There’s a good chance most people read your communications on a mobile device. That means if your content is not mobile optimized, you are wasting your efforts.

8. Speak like a human

Avoid technical terms and industry jargon in favor of conversational, human speech. Your job is to get attention and engage people. You can always follow up later with more in-depth information.

9. Stay true to your brand

Your content marketing should be consistent, unified, and aligned with your existing brand. Consistency helps people recognize you and trust you, two key things that must happen before people will take action.

10. Include a call to action and make it easy to act

Clearly communicate what you want people to do—listen now, download this report, visit this site, etc. Make it easy for them to take action. Try prepopulated lead generation forms so all they have to do is click a button.

Case study:

We helped the Association of Corporate Council build a prospect pool and grow their membership with content marketing. To get attention and build trust, we used the ACC’s existing reports, surveys, and infographics combined with lead generation forms on Facebook and LinkedIn. As a result, we grew the prospect pool by 1400 new email addresses and gained over 600 new members new members.

There’s a lot of poorly executed content marketing out there. Unfortunately, it’s competing for your audience’s attention alongside your efforts. The good news is that it’s still possible to make content work for you—to get attention, nurture your leads into high-quality prospects, and convert them into members and loyal advocates. But if you want to take home the blue ribbon, you’ll have to be better than anyone else.

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3-Pronged Approach to Association Marketing


3 Essential Elements of Effective Marketing


6 Steps to Content-Based Lead Generation


Conversations that Drive Connections

I was about to leave a dull party when I overheard the couple next to me talking about camping. “Where’s your favorite spot?” I couldn’t help asking. This sparked an hours-long conversation about parks, outdoor adventures, and the best gear. I ended up being one of the last people to leave the party, but not before I connected with my new friends on Facebook.

Conversation is a powerful way to engage people and build relationships, whether you’re at a dinner party or a sales meeting. But conversation alone is not especially beneficial to your association unless it results in action. You need to move from conversation to conversion.

Here are six strategies to help you converse and convert to attract prospects, acquire and retain members, and drive non-dues revenues.

1. Consider how people prefer to communicate.

Your audience spends a lot of time browsing social media and sending text messages. They’re chatting, snapping photos, and sharing links. Take your cues from your audience: Join them where they already spend time, and speak in human, personable language they understand. Use compelling visuals to complement your conversations.

2. Be brief.

Along the lines of #1 above, keep your messages short and sweet. If you can’t hook people quickly with something compelling, they won’t stick around to read any length of content. Be brief, especially when prospecting. Your job is to generate interest and get people to raise their hands. You’ll have plenty of time to provide more information once you’ve successfully snagged a new member or prospect.

3. Ask yes/no questions.

Do you need to grow your prospect list? Would you like to increase member acquisition this year? These are pointed yes/no questions that pique interest and spark conversation. Lead off your website content, sales letters, and social media posts with yes/no questions to generate dialogue. It will cause people to linger longer on your website, at your events, or on your social media feeds.

4. Encourage conversation among your internal team.

When your internal team is united and aligned with your mission, your members and prospects will have a better experience with your brand. Consider an in-house messaging platform to facilitate discussions and sharing among your team.

5. Go beyond content marketing.

Your content—such as whitepapers, webinars, articles, and e-books—is the professional face of your organization. But don’t forget the three-pronged approach to association marketing. You also need human and personal approaches to maximize your ROI. Stories, automated workflows, and quiz-style assessments can help humanize and personalize your marketing.

6. Ask people to join the movement.

Once you’ve engaged your audience in meaningful dialogue, encourage them to continue the conversation by joining your cause or movement. You can ask people to take a pledge, add their name to a list of supporters, or provide their email for further updates on progress toward your mission. Make people feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

Conversation Case Study

We used this conversational approach to help the National Alliance for Mental Illness drive participation for their Ending the Silence program. In just 150 words each, we told stories of young people who went from struggling with mental illness to recovery and eventually becoming presenters who share their stories with others. We featured these brief, human-focused stories on social media to engage other young people in a dialog. We captured email addresses so we could follow up with additional communication that included yes/no questions, such as, “Ready to share your story of recovery?”

The age of information overload

On the surface, this conversational approach might seem too informal for a professional association. Your audience could include industry veterans or senior executives with advanced degrees. Don’t these people demand all the facts and figures before making a decision?

The truth is, people don’t need more information. Your members and prospects are already overwhelmed with ads, webinars, whitepapers, PowerPoints, and data of all forms. If they want more information, they can access it all at their fingertips, in seconds, without any help from you. What they really need is connection, a partner who can curate the most important information and offer specific resources based on their needs and wants.

And what’s the best way to know their needs and wants? You guessed it: meaningful conversation. But don’t stop there. Go for the conversion. Think about my dinner party, and don’t leave until you’ve established a way to stay in touch.

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3-Pronged Approach to Association Marketing


3 Essential Elements of Effective Marketing


6 Steps to Content-Based Lead Generation


3-Pronged Approach to Association Marketing

When I interviewed for my first job out of college, I had a strong resume and a few good references. But so did many other candidates. During the conversation, the interviewer and I discovered we were from the same small town. We spent the rest of the hour sharing stories about growing up there. The next day, he called to say I got the job.

I believe my success was due to three factors. I had a professional resume and a reference list of other humans willing to vouch for me. But what sealed the deal was my personal connection with the interviewer.

The same professional, human, and personal touches that got me my job can help your organization achieve your goals too. Apply this three-pronged approach to your marketing to get attention, engage your audience, and generate outcomes.

Prong 1: Professionalize

Professional marketing content includes whitepapers, surveys, reports, industry publications, and webinars. These pieces focus on facts and information. They contribute to your credibility while educating and assisting your target audience.

Professional content is a great tool for prospecting. For example, one of our clients, the Association of Corporate Council, has a collection of high-quality surveys and benchmarking reports. We use these pieces as lead magnets for ACC’s social media ad campaigns. Users can download the reports once they provide an email address. Our efforts so far have increased ACC’s prospect pool by 600 email addresses, gained 400 new members, and grown award nominations by 66%.

While this professional content has been an effective marketing tool for ACC, neuroscience tells us not to stop there. Aside from professional, logical information, people need an emotional reason to engage with your brand. For this, you’ll need stories.

Prong 2: Humanize

Stories humanize your brand by putting real names and faces to your association. They take your organization beyond facts and figures to show actual member benefits and ROI.

Our work with the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association is a great example of humanized marketing. To promote ASTRA’s annual conference, Marketplace & Academy, we crafted attendee stories and promoted them through digital marketing, email automation, landing pages, and other collateral materials. The result was a 23% boost in attendance each year for three years.

Professional, human marketing is effective. But if you want to go for the gold, you’ll need to personalize your efforts for each individual you’re trying to engage.

Prong 3: Personalize

Personalized marketing goes beyond “Dear <>” variable data and includes tailoring your messaging and offers based on what you know about your audience.

One way to achieve personalization is to create several defined communication strategies, called workflows, with if/then statements. Once you set workflows in motion, your audience behaviors trigger next steps. For example, if a user enters their email address to download your whitepaper, the action will trigger a series of follow-up emails with related content and offers.

In addition to the workflows we used to promote ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy, we added further personalization by creating a quiz-style assessment called “What Kind of Specialty Toy Are You?” After each user answered a series of multiple-choice questions, they received a toy-themed personality profile based on their answers. The assessment encouraged interaction with ASTRA’s brand and reassured interested prospects that they had found a group of like-minded peers.

How to use all 3 prongs

Lots of associations offer plenty of professional, logical reasons why people should join their organization. Their communications are filled with facts and figures about member benefits. But if they don’t take steps to humanize and personalize their marketing, they could be missing out on new members, event attendees, and non-dues revenues. Much like my job prospects, you can’t reach your full potential without a human touch and a personal, emotionally engaging connection to your audience.

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3 Essential Elements of Effective Marketing


6 Steps to Content-Based Lead Generation


4 Steps to Inbound Lead Generation

Why Inbound Marketing is the Best Way to Generate Leads


Does your campaign include all 3 essential elements to engage your audience?

Marketing Essentials Self-Checklist

Marketing Self-Checklist

When I got my first manual camera, all my pictures came out blurry or dark. It took me a while to learn the balance between the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. These three elements come together in different ratios to create a nice picture. Now when I shoot, I change the ratios depending on how I want to portray my subject. Similarly, Aristotle tells us we need three components for a successful campaign: ethos, logos, and pathos. Much like in my photographs, you can use these three elements in different ratios to achieve a desired outcome.

When to use more ethos

Ethos speaks to the character and credibility of your message. Prospecting, for example, often requires a heavy dose of ethos to build trust with people who are unfamiliar with your organization. Prospects want to know how long you’ve been in business, how many members you have, and the breadth of your offerings.

When to use more logos

Logos includes facts and information to help your audience make a decision. Launching a new product or promoting a high-priced event often requires a lot of logos. For example, your event participants want to know ROI of attending vs the cost of registration and travel. People purchasing your products want to know features, costs, and benefits.

When to use more pathos

Pathos is the emotional appeal of your campaign. It gives people a reason to care. No matter what you’re promoting, your campaign must have pathos. An emotional appeal is an obvious choice for fundraising campaigns, but it’s also important for things like member acquisition. Consider that you’re giving people a place to belong, to collaborate, and to improve their businesses and their lives.

Case Study: National Alliance on Mental Illness

The National Alliance on Mental Illness asked us to help promote a new website for their Cure Stigma program. They wanted to raise awareness about their cause by generating 10,000 unique webpage views. We created Facebook ads using single images and PSA videos featuring NAMI ambassadors.

Ethos: NAMI is a nationally known organization with a long history and a good reputation. The NAMI name established the campaign’s ethos. We aligned the look and feel of the ads with the rest of the NAMI brand.

Logos: The PSA videos contained hard facts, such as that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. are affected by mental illness. The call to action was to take a quiz to determine whether users have stigma about mental illness.

Pathos: The images and videos provided a human touch to engage prospects emotionally. The dialogue was lighthearted and humorous.

This campaign is a great example of how to use a mix of ethos, logos, and pathos to raise awareness, engage prospects, and incite action. If even one element was missing, the campaign would not have been as successful. The result: We surpassed NAMI’s goal by attracting 13,600 unique webpage views in just one month.

Marketing Essentials Self-checklist

Use the checklist below to gauge whether your campaigns contain sufficient amounts of ethos, logos, and pathos to reach your audience and compel them to take action. You should be able to answer “yes” to at least one question in each section, more depending on your campaign and goals.

  • Is the campaign’s look and feel aligned with the rest of your branding?
  • Is the information in your message reasonable, true, and accurate?
  • Does it contain verifiable information or testimonials?
  • Do you mention a keynote speaker or other expert affiliated with your organization?
  • If prospecting to an unknown audience, do you provide enough details to start building trust? (ex: years in business, number of members, breadth of your offerings)
  • Can you deliver on your promises?

  • Does your campaign include important dates, costs, facts, and figures?
  • Do you provide details on your event’s schedule or your product’s features?
  • Do you explain how to use your product or service?
  • Do you show return on investment for your events or products?
  • Is it clear how your audience can take action to claim your offer?

  • Is your message written in an approachable, human tone with words a lay person would understand?
  • Does your message contain emotional words? (ex: vivid descriptions, sounds, or colors)
  • Does your message prove you understand and empathize with your audience pain points?
  • Does it include a story?
  • Does it excite your audience or tug at the heart strings?
  • Does it inspire possibilities?
  • Does it get people fired up so they want to take action?

Did you answer “yes” to at least one question in each section? If not, consider how you can fill in any gaps to build trust with your audience, appeal to their logical side, and engage them emotionally. You’ll need all three elements to create a compelling picture of your organization, product, or cause.

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3 Essential Elements of Effective Marketing


6 Steps to Content-Based Lead Generation


3-Pronged Approach to Association Marketing


3 Essential Elements of Effective Marketing

When my daughter was 10 years old, she came home from school one day with a sad, skinny puppy in her arms. All I could think of was how expensive, dirty, and difficult it would be to have a pet. Logically, adopting this stray made little sense. Plus, we’d never had a pet before. How could we possibly know how to care for it? But one look at my daughter’s face and I knew we would keep the dog.

The Art of Persuasion

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who lived more than 2000 years ago. Among the wealth of wisdom he gave to the world was the art of persuasion. He reasoned that every good argument includes three essential components: ethos, logos, and pathos—that is, credibility, logic, and emotion. These are often referred to as the Aristotelian appeals, and they still matter today.

When you launch a marketing campaign, you’re basically making an argument in favor of your organization, event, or product. If you present the right amounts of credibility, logic, and emotion, your audience will not be able to resist your offer.

What is ethos?

Ethos refers to the credibility and trustworthiness of your campaign. It goes beyond the message itself and includes the ethics and character of the sender as well as the “packaging” in which it’s delivered.

The sender

Your audience asks, perhaps subconsciously, if the message is coming from a reputable source, such as a well-known company or an influential individual. They might also care about the way you do business, for example with integrity, social responsibility, or eco-friendliness. Choosing a well-known keynote speaker for your annual conference is an example of the ethos of your event and your organization. Donating a portion of your profits to charity is another.

The message itself

Communicating accurate, verifiable information is a great start to building trust with your audience. Go one step further and deliver valuable, useful content that can make people’s lives easier. Testimonials, citations from experts, and helpful information all contribute to your message’s ethos.

The packaging

Have you ever bought a certain type of wine simply because it came in an attractive bottle? Similarly, your audience is influenced by the way your campaigns look and feel. They will notice if your images are professional, your content is error-free, your printing is high quality, and your branding is consistent across channels.

What is logos?

Logos refers to the logical aspects of a campaign. It includes facts, figures, information, and product features. If I’m shopping for a car, for example, the miles per gallon and the maintenance record can help me make a sound decision. If I’m considering joining an organization, I might want to know about continuing education credits and networking opportunities. Costs, terms and conditions, and how-to information are all examples of logical appeals.

What is pathos?

Pathos refers to the emotional appeal of your campaign. Your goal should be to excite people, tug at their heart strings, or fire them up to take action. You must prove that your organization understands audience pain points and is ready with solutions. Storytelling is perhaps the best way to reach your audience emotionally. It’s proven by neuroscience to engage the brain better than logic.

If you think your organization isn’t emotional, consider how you connect people, improve their careers, save them time, and make their lives better. Interview members and event participants to mine for emotionally engaging details about your association.

How to use all three appeals

Any effective marketing campaign will use all three Aristotelian appeals in varying proportions. Your audience and the product or service you are promoting will determine exactly what those proportions are. Prospects, for example, might require more ethos in your messages than current members. New product launches might need more logos to help people understand their value.

A good amount of pathos is mandatory in any campaign. Often, organizations get stuck on the logical side of their membership and products. They focus on the “what,” like features, facts, and figures. In reality, logos is often not as important as pathos. If all decisions were made purely based on logic, no one would own a sports car—and I wouldn’t have adopted a puppy.

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6 Steps to Content-Based Lead Generation


4 Steps to Inbound Lead Generation

Why Inbound Marketing is the Best Way to Generate Leads


4 Steps to Heal your Brand Breaks to Drive Membership and Non-Dues Revenues

Why you need a consistent brand story


How to Reshape Your Marketing to Reach Your Goals

When I was growing up, the only telephone in our house was a large rotary phone in the living room. It took forever to make a call by rotating the dial one digit at a time—especially when the phone number had lots of 7s, 8s, and 9s. But it got the job done and connected me to the people I needed to talk to. Today with my smartphone, I can check in with my family, order a pizza, and resupply my groceries in about the same time it would take to dial that old rotary phone.

Adding digital tools to your marketing mix is a bit like upgrading to a smartphone. If your goals include increasing membership, engagement, and non-dues revenues, it might be time to reshape your marketing with digital tactics. Innovative tools and technology can help you reach your objectives, often with a better ROI and less effort than traditional marketing methods.

Here are three tactics to consider.

Digital marketing

Digital marketing offers infinite possibilities for precise audience targeting based on your marketing objectives as well as a range of audience characteristics—from job titles to special interests, demographics, user behaviors, and more.

Ads for brand goals: Facebook, for example, allows you to create ads for specific goals, including brand awareness, reach, traffic, engagement, conversions, and more. You can upload your existing email list to target your known audience or to create a lookalike audience with similar characteristics.

Lead ads: Some social media platforms, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, offer lead generation forms for easy lead captures. When a user clicks on your ad, for example to download a whitepaper you’re offering, they see a form that is automatically populated with their name and email address. They click “Submit” to receive your offer, and you receive their contact info.

Pixel code: Digital advertising also enables precise retargeting. By placing a snippet of code on your website, you can display your messages and offers in users’ social media feeds based on what they viewed on your site.

Email automation

Once you’ve captured contact info through digital marketing, you can nurture your leads with automated email drip campaigns. Email automation is commonly used to welcome new customers or subscribers with a series of background information about your company. Other uses for email automation include event promotion, membership renewal reminders, or lapsed member campaigns.

Email automation helps you reach more people in a more personalized way than traditional one-off campaigns. It also takes some items off your to-do list by automatically generating messages based on user behaviors. Advanced analytics and reporting show you opens, clicks, and conversions so you can refine your messaging based on what resonates best with your base.

If your email list isn’t producing the results you need, or its performance has declined over time, your list might be out of date. Sending to an outdated email list can hurt your deliverability, return on investment, and online reputation. Consider having a professional service scrub it for nonexistent accounts and spam traps. If too much of your list is unusable, you might need to invest in prospecting efforts to build it back up.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation software is an efficient way to manage your contacts, leads, social media, email communications, and the customer journey. It can help you segment your list, personalize messaging, schedule ongoing campaigns, and track results with real-time reporting. A recent study suggests that using marketing automation to nurture your prospects could result in a 451% increase in qualified leads. It works because it lets your members and prospects tell you what they need, when they need it.

Another benefit of marketing automation is that it offers detailed analytics and reporting capabilities. You can track your campaign performance over time to determine what works and what doesn’t. These valuable insights can help you improve performance going forward.

Efficient, personalized marketing

Reshaping your marketing doesn’t mean throwing out everything you’ve done in the past. A traditional marketing method such as direct mail might still have a place in your marketing mix. However, if you’re looking for an efficient way to provide personalized marketing that raises awareness, builds trust with your base, and drives conversions, you should seriously consider one or more of these digital solutions. A rotary phone still makes and receives calls to help you communicate, but a smart phone can do so much more.

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Does your campaign include all 3 essential elements to engage your audience?

Marketing Essentials Self-Checklist


How to Create a Lead Gen Funnel


Is Your Association Putting Off Creating a Lead Gen Funnel?


How to Create a Lead Gen Funnel

My neighborhood is crawling with door-to-door salespeople. They come selling everything from television and internet services to home security systems. They have a knack for ringing the doorbell during the last five minutes of my favorite show. I’ve never bought anything from these people. Even if I needed the products they peddle, these invasive tactics are not the best way to earn my trust or my business.

A lead generation funnel can help you avoid bothering your target audience in a similar fashion as my door-to-door salespeople. And it will likely lead to better results because it meets people where they are. Learn the five stages of the lead generation funnel and how you can use this model to generate warm leads for your organization.

What is a lead gen funnel?

An inbound marketing lead generation funnel helps you move prospects through the customer journey from awareness to consideration to decision. Thanks to digital marketing and marketing automation, you can offer each prospect a personalized journey through the funnel depending on their goals, needs, and pain points. Compared to outbound marketing or purchasing leads, this approach generates a list of people who actually want to hear from you. It creates better results than a traditional sales funnel while saving you time, money, and effort.

A lead generation funnel has five stages:
  • Raise awareness
  • Capture contact info
  • Nurture
  • Convert
  • Give the VIP treatment

Raise awareness

In digital marketing, the lead generation process starts with raising awareness. People typically learn about your organization from one of these three sources:

  • Your content (blog, social media feeds, website, landing pages, product trials)
  • Paid advertising (Facebook and LinkedIn ads, pay per click, web retargeting)
  • Earned exposure (shares, third-party reviews, referrals, word of mouth)

When outlining your goals, keep in mind that the funnel is always larger at the top. Only a fraction of your leads will convert to members, attendees, and product purchasers. It is important to build a large enough prospect pool to meet your goals. You might need to increase your awareness efforts at the top of the funnel to meet your campaign goals.

Capture contact info

The next step in your lead generation funnel involves turning awareness into leads. For this you’ll need lead magnets and a way to capture contact info, such as lead generation forms or landing pages.

Here’s an example scenario: A Facebook user clicks on your ad with a special offer for a whitepaper. The link takes them to a landing page, where a lead generation form already contains their contact info. All the user needs to do is click the “Submit” button to download the content. At this point, the Facebook user is now a warm lead that you can nurture and convert.


Before you can effectively nurture your leads, you’ll need to score them. Try to determine where they are on the customer journey. How much do they know about your organization? How urgent are their needs? What are their pain points?

Assign a numerical value to your leads based on established criteria. You should seek input from your sales team to help you determine meaningful criteria. For example, a lead score of 1 might be an unknown user who downloaded an information product. A 5 might be someone with urgent needs who filled out a complete contact form. Next, define follow-up processes for each lead score. For example, the 5s might go directly to your sales team, while the 1s go to an automated email drip campaign.


At some point, you will need to make a hard offer to convert your prospects into members, event attendees, and product purchasers. Consider offering a free trial or discount code to entice people to take action.

Timing will depend on your organization and your offer. Joining your organization or purchasing your products and services involve a significant investment of time, money, and effort on the part of your prospect. They need time to get to know you, trust you, and understand your value before making a decision. This process could take months or even years.

Give the VIP treatment

Your job isn’t over when you’ve converted a prospect. To fuel your retention, engagement, and non-dues revenues, you will need to continually satisfy your base over time. Plan to use your marketing automation tools to provide relevant offers and useful content on an ongoing basis to make your members feel valued.

Lead gen tools

The best way to manage your lead generation efforts is with a marketing automation platform or CRM software. These tools help you to provide relevant, timely communications that are personalized to the individual depending on where they are in the customer journey. They also save you time and effort.

Why you need a lead gen funnel

An inbound marketing lead gen funnel puts control in the hands of the customer, who decides what they need from you and when. This is the foundation for a lasting relationship built on trust and value, not on sales tactics, one-off promos, or intrusive doorbell dings.

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How to Reshape Your Marketing to Reach Your Goals


Is Your Association Putting Off Creating a Lead Gen Funnel?


Things Not From the 1990s: Marketing Your Association in 2023


6 Steps to Content-Based Lead Generation

On the weekends, you can find me at the beach with my standup paddleboard. I love everything about the sport. When I see a Facebook ad for the latest SUP equipment, I pay attention. I click. I submit my email address. I welcome the content, special offers, and other marketing messages I get in return. Thanks to all that communication, I’m up to speed on the best the marketplace has to offer. When I make a purchase, I’m willing to pay more for high-quality products, and I feel great about my transactions.

Imagine if your target audience was this eager to hear from you. Getting people to join, attend, and engage would be easy. But too often, people are tired of being “sold” to. They are generally skeptical that a brand will deliver on its promises. They hesitate to provide an email address in fear of receiving endless spam in return. But they still need products, services, and the support of associations.

So how can you get prospects’ attention, earn their trust, and entice them to engage with your organization—and feel great about it? You need a fresh approach to lead generation that includes creating valuable content and using it to convert visitors into prospects.

Here are six steps to increasing leads and conversions using a content-based lead generation strategy.

1. Capture leads

About half of your website visitors will never return if you don’t give them a reason to do so. You need to capture at least an email address to be able to communicate with potential prospects and move them through your sales funnel. Given inbox fatigue and data privacy concerns, your prospects won’t give you their email address on a whim. They need to trust you first.

2. Entice prospects with a lead magnet

To start building trust with prospects, you should offer them something of value in exchange for their email address—or offer it totally free if necessary. Provide content that speaks to audience pain points and solves their challenges.

Examples of lead magnets:
  • Infographics
  • Whitepapers
  • Surveys
  • Reports
  • Webinars
  • Free trials
  • Any other useful information

3. Use lead generation forms

In addition to offering this content on your website, you can take advantage of lead generation forms built into social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. Lead generation forms automatically populate with a prospect’s contact information. All the user needs to do is to click “Download.” They instantly receive your content and you gain their email address. Lead generation forms are easy for prospects and highly effective for marketers.

4. Harness the power of landing pages

Customized landing pages are a great tool for lead generation for two reasons: They allow you to capture contact information, and they help you upsell to visitors. Once you have a prospect’s attention using a lead magnet, you can encourage them to join your association, purchase your products, or sign up for your newsletter by clicking through from the landing page.

5. Score your leads

Lead scoring is the practice ranking your leads to sort out the serious buyers from the tire kickers and everyone in between. Marketing automation software makes lead scoring an easy process based on actual user behaviors.

Once your leads are scored, you can determine how best to follow up. Serious prospects with urgent needs might go directly to your sales team. The tire kickers might convert over time, so they can go into a sales funnel, where they will receive automated email drip campaigns to move them along the customer journey.

6. Be patient

This approach to lead generation is a proven winner. But don’t expect it to work in a month or two. People need time to get to know your organization and your value before they trust you enough to join, attend, or purchase. Building a high-quality prospect list and then converting prospects to members could take six months to two years. But the results are undeniable. According to HubSpot, businesses who use a content-driven lead generation strategy see 67% more leads per month than those who do not use content.

How You’ll Benefit

This approach to lead generation is good for your prospects and good for your business. It helps you meet people where they are and it saves you from spending too much time and money on less interested prospects. With enough time and effort, your prospects will be as happy and engaged as I am when I buy a new SUP.

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4 Steps to Inbound Lead Generation

Why Inbound Marketing is the Best Way to Generate Leads


4 Steps to Heal your Brand Breaks to Drive Membership and Non-Dues Revenues

Why you need a consistent brand story


Engage your Audience with Holistic Digital Marketing

6 Ways to Reach Your Marketing Goals in Uncertain Times


4 Steps to Inbound Lead Generation

Why Inbound Marketing is the Best Way to Generate Leads


My dishwasher died recently, and I had no idea where to begin shopping for a new one. I found a tip sheet online that ranked popular models, so I provided my email address and downloaded it. I received additional info in my inbox and, eventually, a discount offer. By then, I knew exactly which dishwasher to buy and how much I should pay. I’m happy with the purchase I made. If I ever need another home appliance I know where to go.

My dishwasher experience is a great example of inbound marketing. They caught my attention, captured my email, and moved me along the customer journey until I made a purchase. If your association needs to build a prospect pool for your marketing and sales efforts, inbound marketing beats “spray and pray” outbound marketing any day.

Here are the four essential steps to inbound lead generation so you can attract prospects and convert them into members and brand ambassadors.

Step 1: Attract visitors

You must be deeply familiar with your target audience if you hope to attract their attention. Ask yourself the following questions:

What does your audience value most? For example, affiliation, exclusivity, cutting-edge information, cutting costs, philanthropy etc.
What are their personal and professional goals?
What are their pain points? How can you solve them?
What are the current hot topics in your prospect’s industry?
Where do prospects currently get information or services like the ones you provide?

Once you know what your audience needs and wants, you can craft valuable content that meets them where they are and compels them to interact with your organization.

Step 2: Turn visitors into prospects

When you offer valuable content such as infographics, surveys, reports, e-books, webinars, and whitepapers, a few important things happen:
  • People are willing to give you their email address in exchange for something that will help them. You can capture contact info using landing pages or lead generation forms on Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Your prospect is automatically a more educated buyer. They learn meaningful criteria to use when shopping around, and they shop based on value instead of the lowest price.
  • They see your organization as a thought leader who has their best interest in mind. They start to trust you. They are more receptive to your messaging, and they might even seek out additional content from you.

When one or more of these things happen, you have successfully converted your visitor into a prospect or even a warm lead.

Step 3: Convert prospects to members and attendees

Over time, you can move your prospects from consideration to decision by regularly delivering valuable information. People will gradually see your organization as a source of help and benefits, rather than another marketer trying to sell them something. Eventually, they will be receptive to sales messages because they trust that you have their best interest in mind. Make your prospects an offer they can’t refuse to convert them to members and event attendees.

Be aware that this process could take some time. Multiyear investments into your inbound marketing yield the greatest rewards because you can build on what you’ve learned each year to fine-tune your efforts.

Step 4: Give the VIP treatment

Your job isn’t over once you’ve gained a new member. To ensure long-term loyalty, continue to learn about your members’ pain points and communicate the ways you can solve them. With help from a marketing automation platform, you can make each member feel like a VIP by offering personalized offers and information. Members who feel valued and who continually benefit from your organization are more likely to engage and renew.

Why inbound works

Inbound marketing is a good strategy whether you’re promoting membership or a specific product—like my dishwasher. It works because you’re paying attention to what people need, delivering useful content, and providing valuable offers to build trust over time. This is not just a recipe for gaining prospects and members. It’s a strategy for creating loyal brand ambassadors who will sustain your organization into the future.

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4 Steps to Heal your Brand Breaks to Drive Membership and Non-Dues Revenues

Why you need a consistent brand story


Engage your Audience with Holistic Digital Marketing

6 Ways to Reach Your Marketing Goals in Uncertain Times


Learn How This Connection Influences you Marketing Strategy

How Brand and Culture are Connected


4 Steps to Heal your Brand Breaks to Drive Membership and Non-Dues Revenues

Why you need a consistent brand story

Why you need a consistent brand story

Several years ago, in a brief fit of madness, I asked my barber to give me a different haircut and change my hair color while he was at it. I wanted to try something daring and edgy. The result was laughable. I looked like an Elvis Presley impersonator. It was unnatural. People I knew didn’t recognize me. My wife thought I was having a midlife crisis.

Your brand is a little bit like a tried-and-true haircut. Sure, you need an updated look every once in a while, but a major departure from your established style confuses people, turns them off, and makes them question your judgement.

How to Find and Fix Brand Breaks

Ideally, every aspect of your brand—your messaging and visuals as well as your mission and culture—fit seamlessly into the bigger picture of your organization. In reality, however, a brand often has breaks. Brand breaks are areas where misalignment happens. Some are minor inconsistencies in font or color choice. Others are more significant, for example if your sales team makes a promise that your organization can’t deliver on.

Eliminating brand breaks and maintaining a consist brand story helps people recognize you, trust you, pay your dues, attend your events, purchase your products, and rally behind your causes. Follow these four steps to solidify and articulate your brand, fix any brand breaks, and maintain a unified presence that engages your base.

1. Investigate your brand.

Establish a baseline so you can recognize any deviations from the norm. Examine your marketing collateral, event branding, product offerings, sales tactics, and any other unique aspects of your organization. Consider your internal culture, procedures, and communication practices. Look at your marketing channels and platforms—your event, social media, ads, direct mail, website, and more.

Also consider these questions:
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Who do you serve?
  • What value do you offer your base?
  • How do you solve their challenges?
  • What is your mission, vision, position, and brand promise?

2. Articulate your brand.

The easiest way to ensure consistency over time and across channels is to create a brand guide. This is a way to document every aspect of your brand, from your mission and vision to your fonts and colors. A typical brand guide might include the following:

  • Mission statement
  • Vision statement
  • Brand positioning statement
  • Brand promise
  • Fonts and colors
  • Voice and sample messaging
  • Sample graphics and images
  • Proper use of your logo
  • Product descriptions

3. Close gaps.

As you create your brand guide, look for anything that doesn’t quite fit with the big picture or any item that’s missing altogether. Check for outdated images, messaging, or offers. Is your logo clear and simple? Are your fonts and colors consistent? Has your mission or positioning changed since you were established? Can you fulfill your brand promise?

At this stage you can eliminate anomalies, revamp your look and feel, tweak or overhaul your messaging, add or subtract product offerings, or launch initiatives to bolster your internal culture.

4. Get your team on board.

Brand consistency includes rallying your team behind your purpose and aligning your internal culture with your outward-facing materials. Once your brand guide is complete, distribute it to your entire team and make sure everyone understands how to use it and why it’s important.

Make a plan to revisit your brand guide periodically and make updates as necessary. Being consistent doesn’t mean being stagnant. It’s a good idea to entice people with fresh messaging, visuals, offers and products as long as you stay true to your core brand.

Why all this matters
Establishing a strong, consistent brand is worth your time and effort because it’s worth money. A study from McKinsey & Company suggests that companies with a strong brand are 20 percent more profitable than companies with a weak or inconsistent brand.

If you can’t clearly and consistently articulate your mission, for example, chances are your sales team won’t be able to convey your value to members and prospects. When people don’t see your value, they don’t pay your dues, attend your events, purchase products, or tell others about your organization. If people don’t recognize your organization, they won’t engage. If your brand is different every place people encounter you, they can’t trust you. Without trust, it’s nearly impossible to turn prospects into attendees, members, and long-term brand ambassadors.

The good news is a bad haircut or dye job isn’t permanent. With a little time, effort, and your trusty style guide, you’ll be looking fabulous in no time.

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Engage your Audience with Holistic Digital Marketing

6 Ways to Reach Your Marketing Goals in Uncertain Times


Learn How This Connection Influences you Marketing Strategy

How Brand and Culture are Connected


How to Convert Casual Web Visitors into Loyal Followers


Engage your Audience with Holistic Digital Marketing

6 Ways to Reach Your Marketing Goals in Uncertain Times

6 Ways to Reach Your Marketing Goals in Uncertain Times

When I was a kid, Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite days of the year. I would spend hours decorating my little brown paper bag before taping it to my desk at school on the big day. There was always nervous excitement and uncertainty. Would I get lots of cards from my friends? Would I get the good candy? Or would I get a bunch of rocks?

Marketing to your members and prospects in today’s uncertain times is a lot like my Valentine’s Day bag. You make plans, put in effort, and anticipate good results. But sometimes you get more rocks than chocolates.

The Effects of Uncertainty

Even if your organization isn’t directly involved in political or economic discussions, your members and prospects are affected by uncertainty. As a result, they might hesitate to attend your events, join your organization, engage with your offerings, or purchase your products.

What’s more, heightened privacy concerns mean people are less likely to give you their email addresses. They’re also generally fed up with all the marketing noise that bombards them daily. You simply can’t continue the same old tactics if you want to reach your goals. It’s time to reshape your marketing to best serve your base.

A better strategy is holistic digital marketing that combines high-value content with drip and nurture campaigns. This approach builds trust with your audience over time and moves them along a customer journey from awareness to consideration to decision.

Follow these six steps to mitigate uncertainty and drive conversions with holistic digital marketing.

1. Craft your brand stories

People relate to other people better than to organizations. They value third-party endorsements over marketing messages any day. A great way to get attention and engage your base is to showcase other humans who benefit from your work.

Interview your most enthusiastic members. Ask them pointed questions:
  • Why join now?
  • What is the ROI of joining?
  • What is the biggest takeaway of being a member?

Craft these stories with simple, conversational language. Broadcast them through paid and organic social media, landing pages, and email campaigns to build trust and reinforce the value of your organization.

2. Consider the customer journey

Even the best message can be unsuccessful if people aren’t ready to hear it. Consider where your prospects are in the customer journey BEFORE you sketch out your marketing plan. Ask yourself:

  • Have they ever heard of your organization?
  • Are they familiar with your products and services?
  • What are their pain points?
  • How urgent are their needs?

Prospects who are not very familiar with your organization will likely need some high-level introductory communications at first. Others who are ready to purchase might need more in-depth content to help them make a decision.

3. Identify brand breaks

A brand break is when some part of your culture or marketing doesn’t align with your core brand. Do your emails have a similar look and feel as your website? Is your social media voice the same as your direct mail voice? Is your internal culture aligned with your external communications? Aim for continuity across channels. If you have too many brand breaks, you’ll lose people along the customer journey.

4. Prove the ROI of your offerings

People often need hard numbers to justify paying your dues and attending your events. Look for any opportunity to quantify the value of your products and services to prove they are a worthy investment.

  • Do your products save members money? How much?
  • Does your organization offer discounts on other products and services? How much?
  • Do you facilitate connections that lead to new business or new revenue streams? What is the potential revenue? Do you have a case story to cite as a concrete example?

5. Test and monitor

Digital marketing makes it especially easy to test and track the success of your efforts. You can measure web visitors, engagement with your content, form submissions, likes, shares, and lots more. Determine which metrics are most important to your campaign goals before you launch a promotion. For example, website visitors might be more important in raising brand awareness. Form submissions might matter more if you’re building a prospect list.

6. Fix areas with low conversions

Digital marketing also makes it easy to adjust campaigns on the fly, for example, by changing the offer, messaging, image, or platform. If your landing page receives a lot of traffic but few people fill out the form, this could be an indication of a brand break or poor alignment with the customer journey. For the most scientific testing, fix only one variable at a time.

Holistic marketing means you look at all the parts together, including your organization, story, products and offerings as well as your members and prospects, where they are, and what they need. The more you can align your communications with the customer journey, the more successful your holistic marketing will be even in times of uncertainty. Keep doing the same old thing, and you’ll miss out on members, prospects, and engagement—and the good chocolate on February 14th.

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Learn How This Connection Influences you Marketing Strategy

How Brand and Culture are Connected


How to Convert Casual Web Visitors into Loyal Followers


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Learn How This Connection Influences you Marketing Strategy

How Brand and Culture are Connected

How Brand and Culture are Connected
Do you have a solid marketing strategy? That’s a great start. But is your strategy aligned with a strong internal culture?

Your organization’s culture has a direct impact on the success of your marketing and your company as a whole. To serve others well, your team must be aligned with your purpose and unified in their actions. Your members and prospects must trust that you’re the same in front of an audience as behind the scenes. Trust is the foundation of lasting loyalty and long-term sustainability.

While the idea of culture might seem like an abstract concept that’s hard to pin down, it is a knowable thing that can be shaped and enhanced to fuel your success as an organization.

What is culture?

Culture includes your organization’s values, character, practices, and worldview. It guides employee behaviors and attitudes. Your organization’s culture should be unique, a differentiator that draws your base to you. It should reflect your purpose, why you do what you do beyond making a profit. To define your purpose, ask yourself: What is our reason for existing?

Your culture starts with your internal team, but it doesn’t stay there. When your leaders, sales team, marketing, and HR are all aligned with your purpose, your prospects and members can see and experience your culture too. Your culture becomes your brand. It’s how you make an emotional connection with your audience and start to build that all-important trust.

What is a brand?

Your brand is the outward manifestation of your culture. It includes your logo, images, messaging, and marketing collateral, but it’s more than that. It’s your authentic self you show to the world. It compels people to interact with your company and helps them get to know you, your purpose, and your culture. It inspires possibilities in your audience and incites action.

How to Start your Culture to Enhance your Brand (and your Marketing ROI)

1. Articulate your purpose.

Culture starts with purpose. Craft a short statement that illustrates your organization’s purpose. Distribute it to your team. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Apple improves lives through excellence and innovation.
  • United Way exists to help those in need.
  • Walmart improves lives by providing low prices.
  • Ben & Jerry’s thrives on being socially and environmentally conscious.
2. Define your long-view vision.

Before you outline this year’s marketing strategy, you need to know what you’re working towards over the long term. Identify goals for the next five to 10 years to get everyone on board the same train.

3. Align strategy with vision and culture.

Focus on your core competencies and key differentiators when planning your strategy. Keep your long-view vision in mind as you plan current marketing initiatives. Make sure you can deliver on your promises to foster trust with your base.

4. Engage your team.

When your employees are engaged, they go the extra mile for your organization. They put time and energy into innovative solutions that help you grow and thrive. By default, your prospects and members have a better experience with your brand.

5. Identify strengths and gaps in culture.

It’s okay if you discover that your culture and brand are not fully aligned or perhaps that your employees are not deeply engaged. Take some time to examine your internal culture for brand breaks, any place where your brand and culture don’t align. Also note when something is working well so you can do more of it.

6. Outline steps to close gaps and improve culture.

Once you know your strengths and opportunities, make a plan to close gaps going forward. This might involve creating new rules, metrics, and incentives to shape your culture. Change can be challenging for your team, so take a gradual, step-by-step approach.

7. Monitor progress and celebrate milestones.

Lasting cultural change can take some time, but the payoff is huge. It could mean the difference between success and failure for your organization. When you notice an improvement, celebrate it. Let your team know that they’re doing great things and it’s making a difference for your organization.

There is no difference between a brand and a culture. When your entire organization lives and breathes your culture, your members and prospects will feel it. They’ll be able to trust you, which is the first step to getting them to rally behind your causes and support your organization with long-term loyalty.

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How to Convert Casual Web Visitors into Loyal Followers


How to Use Social Advertising at Each Stage of the Customer Journey


How to Create a Customer Journey Map


How to Convert Casual Web Visitors into Loyal Followers

Houston, we have a conversion problem.

In the current climate of data breaches and over communication, people are more protective of their email addresses than ever. Online forms are seeing a 10 to 20 percent drop in conversion rates across industries.

While people may not readily provide their email address, they still seek information about your organization. They’re out there kicking your tires and poking around your website—even though they’re not exactly raising their hands to be contacted. How can you engage these potential prospects when you don’t know who they are?

Marketing automation to the rescue.

Using a combination of digital ads, landing pages, and email automation, you can move these prospects from awareness to consideration to decision. You can build trust by offering value at each stage of the customer journey. Over time, your efforts will compel them to act by filling out a lead form, attending your event, or joining your organization.

Try one of these three strategies to engage your unknown prospects:

1. Nurture your website visitors.

Using pixel codes, you can track where people spend time on your website. Sometimes you can match the user’s cookies with an email address to send targeted messages and offers. Even if you can’t make an exact match, you’ll gain valuable intel on what your audience is most interested in.

2. Retarget users where they spend time online.

Retargeting means you show digital ads to your website visitors elsewhere on the web. To be effective, you should tailor your retargeted ads based on the type of content your user views, such as pricing information or a specific offering.

3. Follow up on high-quality leads.

Savvy marketing automation includes tracking and scoring your leads to determine next steps for each individual. High-quality leads may warrant extra email communication, a special offer, or even a phone call to convert.

It’s about trust.

Marketing automation is more effective than one-off campaigns because it’s based on delivering value and building trust. Sure it takes more time, but the payoff is worth it: You get a group of passionate, loyal followers who are eager to hear from you and compelled to act, rather than hitting the delete button and moving on. Ultimately, it means people engage with your organization and spread the word about your important work.

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How to Use Social Advertising at Each Stage of the Customer Journey


How to Create a Customer Journey Map


How to Reach Millennials with Your Cause


How to Use Social Advertising at Each Stage of the Customer Journey

Effective social media marketing involves tactics that cover each stage of the customer journey. During the awareness phase, your efforts will focus on generating traffic and expanding your prospect pool. For the consideration phase, you need tactics to educate customers and help you qualify leads. The decision phase requires specific offers and calls to action. Thankfully, there are a wealth of social media tools to help you precisely target your efforts based on your sales funnel and your goals.


Social media can help you raise awareness and expand your prospect pool based on specific criteria, such as geography, demographics, online behaviors, past history with your organization, lookalike audiences, or other categories.

Organic tactics are a good place to start. You might try Facebook Live, social media contests, links to free content, YouTube videos, or regular posts on your LinkedIn or Facebook feeds. However, some platforms only show your organic posts to a small segment of your audience. You will likely need to include paid tactics in your awareness efforts also.

Effective paid tactics include sponsored content on LinkedIn as well as Facebook and Instagram ads. Note, however, that paid content doesn’t have to include a sales pitch. In the awareness phase, you should provide free resources and ungated content to spread the word about your organization and build trust with your potential audience.


During the consideration stage, give your audience increasingly in-depth information to help them move toward a decision. Qualify and score your leads based on their interaction with your messages.

Organic social media tactics for consideration include
  • Sharing positive reviews on your Facebook page
  • Posting photos of your organization on Instagram
  • Participating in Ask Me Anything sessions on Reddit
  • Creating video testimonials from members and sharing across platforms
  • Making educational or how-to videos for use on YouTube
  • Conducting quizzes or contests to encourage interaction

Paid tactics include Facebook remarketing ads with details about your events and offerings. You can also use sponsored Facebook or LinkedIn posts with customer reviews or third-party blog posts.

In this stage, third-party content such as reviews, testimonials, articles, and photos can have a powerful effect on your target audience. By some estimates, user-generated content can lead to twice as many conversions as messages directly from your organization. Tap into the power of peer influence by recruiting and incentivizing social influencers who are willing to talk about your organization and your offerings online.


Leverage your social media efforts to nudge your prospects into action with specific offers and direct calls to action.

Organic tactics for the decision phase include
  • Inviting your social traffic to sign up for your email list
  • Hosting social media contests with promotions and purchase incentives
  • Running Facebook and Instagram ads with limited-time discounts or special offers
  • Linking to landing pages with gated content

You can boost many of the above organic tactics by paying for additional exposure on your existing social media platforms. You might also try Facebook messenger ads or Pinterest buy buttons.

Invest in your entire funnel

Don’t make the mistake of investing in only one or two stages of the customer journey, perhaps to save money or time. This could leave you short on prospects, qualified leads, and/or conversions. A better strategy is to map out your customer journey, including social media tactics for each stage. From there, use an automation platform to ensure customers receive what they need when they need it based on their actual behaviors. The efficiency and precise targeting will save you time and money while boosting your ROI.

Integrating with your overall marketing strategy

Not only is social media effective in moving people through your sales funnel, It can also enhance your other marketing efforts. For example, according to a study by Salesforce, your email openers are 22% more likely to purchase if they’ve also been reached with Facebook ads. Another study found that web visitors who have been exposed to your messages previously are three to five times more likely to convert than cold traffic.

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How to Create a Customer Journey Map


How to Reach Millennials with Your Cause


People Need a More Powerful reason to Engage. They Need a Cause.

Why Your Association Needs a Cause


How to Create a Customer Journey Map

One-off campaigns or clever sales pitches just don’t work anymore to convert prospects into attendees, members, and loyal brand ambassadors. People need time to get to know you, explore your offerings, understand your value, and come to trust that you will deliver on your promises. They undergo a journey from awareness to consideration to decision. Creating a customer journey map can help you take a more precise, strategic approach to guiding prospects along that journey.

What is a customer journey map?

A customer journey map is a diagram of all the steps prospects go through when engaging with your organization. It includes how they first learned about you, the research and education they undergo in their decision-making process, and the action steps they take along the way—from signing up for your email list to attending your events.

At the heart of a customer journey map is the customer. To most effectively move prospects along their journeys, you must become very familiar with their wants, needs, and pain points. What are their goals? What keeps them up at night? Get to know your customer so you know how to help them.

What are the stages of the customer journey?

The initial stages of the customer journey are awareness, consideration, and decision. If you’re successful in these three phases, some members will continue on to become loyal brand ambassadors.


This is where a customer first learns about your brand. They might have read one of your blog posts, seen a testimonial, viewed a Facebook ad, or heard about you from a colleague.

For most organizations, increasing brand awareness is an active pursuit. It might include the following tactics:
  • Publish free educational content
  • Create blog posts, webinars, tools, templates, or guides
  • Use video to inform while showcasing your authentic brand persona
  • Publish a free email newsletter
  • Promote content via social media posts and paid ads

Avoid making a sales pitch in the initial stages of the customer journey. This is your chance to engage prospects and build trust by providing valuable resources with no strings attached.


Once a prospect is aware of your organization, they will likely undergo a period of consideration. In this stage, they’re not quite ready to take action, but they are interested in learning more.

Move people toward a decision by providing content that will help them see whether your organization can solve their pain points. Be aware that it could take a while—perhaps 10 or more touch points. This is still not the time for a sales pitch. Focus instead on your value proposition and what’s in it for the customer.

Useful tactics for the consideration stage:
  • Case studies, reviews, and testimonials
  • How-to content that showcases your events, products, and offerings
  • Demo videos, product descriptions, and data sheets
  • Social media ads that lead to free downloadable content

At the same time your prospects evaluate your organization, you should also evaluate your prospects. Qualify your leads in this stage so you know where to focus your time, effort, and budget.


How long the customer journey lasts depends on many factors, including the cost of your product, length of the engagement, complexity of the offer, and more. Regardless, at some point, you will need to make a pitch and ask for a decision so you and your prospect can move forward.

Useful tactics for the decision stage:
  • Ask your social media followers to sign up for your email list
  • Make limited-time offers that create urgency
  • Run Facebook ads that lead to landing pages with gated content
  • Send direct mail promotions
  • Call high-quality leads to make a personal connection

The tactics you choose may depend on the lead score of your prospects. For example, actively engaged prospects might receive additional communications and special promotions. High-quality leads might warrant a phone call or premium direct mail piece. Less active prospects might be moved to an automated email list.

Your guide to relationship marketing

Mapping the entirety of your customer journey may seem daunting, but don’t worry. You’re really just creating a simple guide for efficient relationship marketing. Start with the three broad categories: awareness, consideration, and decision. Then fill in each with details on goals, tactics, specific content, KPIs, and metrics for measurement.

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How to Reach Millennials with Your Cause


People Need a More Powerful reason to Engage. They Need a Cause.

Why Your Association Needs a Cause


The shift is here.


How to Reach Millennials with Your Cause

Despite what you might have heard about the “selfie generation,” millennials are a powerful force eager to throw their passion and energy behind causes they care about. A recent report found that 85% of millennials donate to charity and 70% actually roll up their sleeves and volunteer their time. Millennials are also incredibly adept at raising awareness and rallying support via their social networks and digital influence.

You can harness these tendencies to benefit your association in untold ways, from gaining and retaining younger members to achieving more outcomes and long-term sustainability.

The first step in engaging millennials is to give them a cause to care about. Millennials (and many of your other members) are more likely to support a cause than an organization. Once you solidify your cause, there are a number of approaches you can use to reach this influential group of young people.

Embrace technology

Millennials are the first generation that grew up with technology at their fingertips. They get their news from social media, not newspapers. They sleep near their phones. They are accustomed to fresh, new information instantly—most often on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

The presentation and delivery of your messages are more important than content (at least initially). For starters, ensure all your content is mobile friendly. Video is a must. Include memes and engaging images as part of your strategy. Share links to useful information. Use microsites and interactive messaging. Be brief. Can you say something meaningful and inspiring about your cause in 10 seconds or less? That’s the length of a Snapchat video.

Deliver value

Millennials mistrust traditional advertising methods. A better approach is to focus on delivering value. Use content marketing to educate, inform, and entertain your millennial audience. Provide resources and tools that help them do their jobs better and change more lives. Prove your association offers value, and millennials will come to trust you, attend your events, and pay your dues.

How can you know what millennials value? Hire some. Put one on your board. Chat with them online. Assemble focus groups or conduct surveys to determine what their core concerns are. Find out as much as you can about which causes they support, how they get their information, and what’s on the horizon.

Leverage social media

Social media is powerful vehicle for promoting your cause and targeting specific audiences using paid ads. But it’s more than that. Millennials are highly influenced by the actions and opinions of their peers. They value third-party reviews and recommendations more than the content coming directly from your organization. Create a culture of social influencers by providing free resources and encouraging or incentivizing your members to talk about your cause online.

Offer a seamless user experience

Make it simple and intuitive to support your cause and your association. Include buttons along with your calls to action. Publish sharable content. Make it easy to leave comments and reviews. Enhance in-person events with digital content members can access at home. When millennials have a positive experience with your cause, they will continue to work hard to support it.

Keep it fresh

Live streaming capabilities are an indication of just how fast millennials like their information—as it is happening and not a moment later. How can you keep up with this need for speed? Publishing engines and artificial intelligence can generate content or answer questions automatically. You will also need to invest time and personnel to ensure a steady stream of personalized, meaningful messaging and resources to rally millennials to your cause.

For many associations, reaching millennials is a new frontier that requires significant time and effort. While this might seem daunting, it’s well worth the investment. Your organization will be rewarded with passion and energy for years to come.

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People Need a More Powerful reason to Engage. They Need a Cause.

Why Your Association Needs a Cause


The shift is here.


6 Email Performance Issues and How You Can Solve Them


Is Your Association Putting Off Creating a Lead Gen Funnel?

If you’ve ever procrastinated on giving the-birds-and-the-bees talk to your kid or having an uncomfortable conversation with a friend, you know that we tend to put off difficult things.

We avoid difficult things in business, too. Often, we do the easy-to-understand thing over and over again, even if it produces poor results. The hard-to-understand thing promises better results . . . but it can feel so complicated!

We run into this thinking with associations when we talk about lead generation funnels and customer journeys. While no association executive has ever held their ears closed and said, “La la la, I can’t hear you!” when we talk about lead gen, we can tell from their frightened looks and body language it’s what they want to do.

If you’re afraid of a lead generation funnel, you’re afraid of the wrong thing. A lead gen funnel is the only thing standing in the way of your association becoming obsolete in the next five years. Tactics like random fishing on LinkedIn and buying lists to import into your database may have been effective once, but they no longer work.

You have to be smarter.

The good news is, we make it easy for you because we’ve done the hard work of engineering smart funnels that guide prospects along the journey they choose, so they wind up at your landing page, clicking “Join Now.”

Download the Lead Generation Customer Journey to view larger >

What is a Lead Generation Funnel?

Lead generation funnels solve a big problem for member organizations: They help you increase membership and event attendance. They do this by expanding your prospect pool, turning your prospects into qualified leads, and then turning your qualified leads into members.

A lead generation funnel is essentially a holistic, digital map that guides your prospects along a journey. It’s fully automated and built out using an “if/then” system.

For example:
  • IF a prospect clicks to watch a Facebook video, THEN they are taken to a landing page with a simple call-to-action to stay connected.
  • IF they enter their email on that page, THEN they go into a drip/nuture email campaign with its own set of “if/thens.”
  • IF they don’t enter their email, THEN they are re-targeted on Facebook, or perhaps another platform, and the process repeats.

A good lead generation funnel engages with multiple social media platforms and uses responsive list management software that ushers prospects through the journey.

Because it’s automated, after you create your funnel, all you have to do is hit “go.”

Know Your Numbers: Prospect Pools, Qualified Leads, and Conversion Ratios

A lead generation funnel helps you get clear on your numbers.

For example, do you have any idea how large your prospect pool is?

This is often the first stumbling block for associations. They have no idea what number they are starting with. Is it 500? 5,000? 50,0000?

This math matters, because you need to know how many people you’re starting with so you can keep track of the percentage of those people who become qualified leads, and then the percentage of qualified leads who become members.

These are your conversion ratios.

If you don’t know these ratios, you’re just guessing. And while guessing is a legitimate strategy on a standardized test when you don’t know the right answer, it doesn’t tend to hold up as a sustainable marketing strategy.

Your funnel will help to determine your ratios. You’ll be able to track how many people you are talking to each step of the way, so you know your numbers.

Conversion Assets: High Quality Content That Inspires

Your automation has to be spot-on, but your funnel is only as good as the content that feeds it.

You always need high-quality, sticky content, including captivating videos, well-written stories, and compelling graphics.

Though your prospect pool is large, you still need to think carefully about what will catch a prospect’s eye and hit their pain points. At each point along the way, you need strong conversion assets. These assets include landing pages, emails, videos, blog posts, social media posts, newsletters, webinars, and direct mail pieces.

Just because you’re introducing math into the mix, it doesn’t mean you can stop focusing on inspiring people. In fact, you need to focus even more strongly on inspiring people.

More than anything, you need to shift your thinking from one-off campaigns to a holistic approach that blends extraordinary storytelling with the best that marketing automation can offer.

Why put it off when it can make all the difference for the future of your association?

Instead of spinning around in overwhelm, let us walk you through what a lead gen funnel could look like for your organization. Contact Us Today >

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Things Not From the 1990s: Marketing Your Association in 2023


How to Create a Lead Gen Funnel


How to Reshape Your Marketing to Reach Your Goals


People Need a More Powerful reason to Engage. They Need a Cause.

Why Your Association Needs a Cause

Why Your Association Needs a Cause

Your members want to feel part of something bigger than themselves. They want to make a difference in the lives of others. Sure, your organization has offerings to help them make a difference—education, conferences, certifications, and networking. But, increasingly, these are not compelling enough reasons to pay dues, travel to your events, sign up for workshops, or spend time on your networks.

People need a more powerful reason to engage. They need a cause.

When people care about a cause, they are willing to throw their passion, energy, time, and money behind it. There is almost nothing they won’t do if they think it will make a difference. This is a powerful force your association can tap into to drive outcomes, build long-term loyalty, and ensure sustainability.

What defines a cause

A cause is a simple, easily understandable, highly relevant idea that members can embrace, rally around, and spread. It’s more than a short-lived marketing campaign or slogan. And it’s more powerful than any event, product, or certification you can offer.

A cause must be something your members truly care about, and it must have movement behind it. The goal is to unite people and incite action to change more lives. Your members, especially the millennials, are more likely to support a cause than a particular organization.

Great examples of current cause marketing include REI’s #OptOutside campaign and Walgreens’ Red Nose Day. Even Apple taps into this idea with its focus on innovation and lifestyle versus actual products.

How you can use cause marketing

Cause marketing starts with values, not a sales pitch. People are naturally drawn to individuals and entities that share their values. To identify your association’s underlying values, consider why you do the work you do. Next, match your values to audience values, goals, and pain points. From there, you’ll need to incorporate these ideas into your messages and offers.

Here are four ways to let values drive your cause marketing:
1. Use “because”

The word “because” can help you connect the dots between your association’s values and those of your audience. Consider the difference between the sentences below. The first one merely states a feature, while the second one inspires possibilities.

  • Attend our conference for exclusive networking opportunities.
  • Attend our conference because you’ll connect with industry veterans who are eager to help you.

2. Include compelling visuals

Really show people what it’s like to support your cause by including dynamic, original visuals in your campaigns. Images with emotion move people while they tell your story. Be sure to choose visuals that are in line with the rest of your brand’s look and feel for continuity.

3. Don’t make it about you

Keep the focus on the audience and the cause, not on your organization. It doesn’t matter if your association is the biggest or oldest or if your offerings are the best. People really only care about the benefits that result from your efforts. Answer these questions: How will your association, conference, or offerings change lives? Who would be affected if your organization didn’t exist?

4. Prove your value

If you can’t prove that your cause is making a difference, people won’t support it. Track progress toward goals and celebrate major milestones. Publish your successes on social media and in your marketing campaigns. Show people their efforts generate real results and they’ll keep up the good work.

It’s time for new tactics

Many marketing tactics that worked in the past just aren’t resonating these days. No matter how great your message or offer is, people are tired of yet another sales pitch. They also have too many alternatives at their fingertips when it comes to information, training, and thought leadership. It’s often hard to justify an expense, like attending a conference. But it’s much easier to justify supporting a cause you believe in. It’s for the good of the world, after all.

Cause marketing is especially effective when it comes to reaching millennials. This generation values social responsibility. They want to make a difference. Millennials are passionate, energetic, and dedicated, but only if they really care. Give them a reason to care. Give them a cause they can rally around. (More on how to reach this key group next time.)

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The shift is here.


6 Email Performance Issues and How You Can Solve Them


3 Components of Holistic Email Marketing


Things Not From the 1990s: Marketing Your Association in 2018

In fashion, everything old becomes new again. Thin ties were out, and then back in. Glasses were oversized, then small, and then large again. Right now, the 1990s are having their renaissance, with rompers and high-waisted jeans all the rage.

The idea that everything becomes new again works beautifully for the runway.

It does not, however, work so well for associations and membership organizations.

The 1990s are definitely not back in again when it comes to thinking about why people join and engage with your association. However, a lot of associations are stuck there.

What do we mean by stuck in the 1990s?

We mean focusing all marketing and outreach efforts around education and networking. We mean laying out everything you offer in a direct mail piece or an email that essentially says, “We’re the only ones who have this! Come and get it!”

A few decades ago, when there wasn’t as much to compete with, people simply joined the association their mentor, boss, colleague, or previous person in their job joined. People followed the path set before them. Join this association. Here are the benefits. This is what you do.

This mindset was fairly standard, and it worked pretty well. For a while.

It doesn’t work anymore though. The most obvious reason it stopped working is that there are far more channels to compete with now. Professionals can get education through webinars. They can hear thought leadership by watching TED talks, reading blogs, or listening to podcasts. They can network through social media.

Essentially, your association is competing with what they can access on their phones.

The second reason, and the one that associations struggle even more to understand, is that the marketing tactics that worked on Baby Boomers do not connect nearly as well with Millennials, or even the younger side of GenXers.

These populations are looking for something else.

What are they looking for? This is one of the questions keeping leaders of membership associations up at night.

Luckily, we have the answer.

Cause Marketing for Membership Organizations

We’ll get right to the point: Your association needs a cause.

By cause, we mean a simple, easily understandable, highly relevant idea that members can embrace, rally around, and spread.

A cause is not the same thing as a marketing campaign. A campaign is short lived, and usually has a clear beginning and ending. A cause, by contrast, is about the long view.

The right cause inspires people and spurs action. Unlike education and networking, which are plentiful outside of your association, your cause is unique to who your association is and why it exists.

A cause is an idea, which you articulate in a succinct phrase. It’s more than a slogan. A cause must have movement behind it. It must direct what your association focuses on, how you allocate your resources, and how you bring new members into the fold.

Millennials are not a shallow, entitled group, despite how much other generations like to pick on them. They are incredibly savvy and unapologetically passionate—but only about things they truly care about.

To get them to care about you, you need a cause that speaks to them.

But first, you have to get their attention.

Reaching a Millennial Audience

Can you communicate something valuable and inspiring related to your cause in 10 seconds or less? That’s the length of a Snapchat video. We call it the “Snapchat test.” It doesn’t mean you only ever have 10 seconds, but it’s a good idea to start thinking along those lines.

In fact, you most likely need to rethink your communication approach altogether, if you are still using tactics from the 1990s (or even from the 2000s or early 2010s).

In 2023, effective marketing is about using one channel to lead, and another to follow up. Just like a smart phone can “hand off” to a computer, or a tablet can “hand off” to a television, you need a strategy for “handing off” content between platforms.

The key is that you need to tweak your communication plan based on how your audience is behaving. Their next moves after engaging with your content determine your next moves.

That might look like . . .
  • Leading with a Facebook video, and remarketing on Facebook again to people who have shown interest.
  • Leading with a LinkedIn post and then retargeting on Facebook to those people who showed interest.
  • Leading with a Snapchat video, and then retargeting on Facebook.
  • Leading with digital and then following up with marketing automation.

All of your association’s thoughtful and strategic work in articulating your cause will be lost if you go back to a 1990s way of trying to reach an audience. Today’s audience simply isn’t in the same place as your audience used to be, and they are not behaving in the same way.

Your association has to LEAD if you want to attract Millennials, and then—just as important—you need to FOLLOW them where they go and keep the conversation going.

In other words, you need long-view thinking (a strong cause to rally around) with shorter-view action (using the latest tools and content platforms).

Wear all the high-waisted jeans you want, but 1990s marketing best practices are not coming back. It’s time for your association to embrace the NOW.

If you are the leader of a membership organization, your single most important priority right now is to develop and articulate the cause that your members and perspective members can rally around.

Do you know it? Can you write it on a cocktail napkin? Can you get it across in 10 seconds?

Need help? Borrow our brain, and let’s see if we can come up with it together.

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Is Your Association Putting Off Creating a Lead Gen Funnel?


How to Create a Lead Gen Funnel


How to Reshape Your Marketing to Reach Your Goals


The shift is here.

If you’re like most professional organizations, you put on your professional hat when you get to the office every day. You’re in the trenches, focused on finding new members, boosting attendance numbers, growing your prospect list, and analyzing the data. You’re up to your elbows in opens, clicks, and conversions.

When the numbers aren’t what you want, you try new messages and offers—you send more and more emails. Despite all your efforts, your numbers still disappoint.

So what’s the deal? There is a disconnect.

Talking to your members and prospects as if they are data points or retention numbers is cold and creates detachment. Communications that are purely professional don’t inspire people. They don’t empathize with pain points or let people get to know you. What’s missing is the human element. You must cross over—shift from professional to personable to engage people and build lasting loyalty.

“Forward movement is not helpful if what is needed is a change of direction.”

This shift is more than just the way you talk to people. It involves being mindful of your members—even when you don’t immediately profit from doing so. It means taking a holistic approach that considers the bigger picture and meets people where they are.

The great news is that once you make this shift, all your numbers will dramatically improve. People will feel valued. They will feel accountable to you, another human. As a result, they will join, renew, attend, volunteer, and engage. They will bring others into your fold. They’ll roll up their sleeves and rally around your initiatives.

You must be real and transparent if you want people to engage on a meaningful level. If you can’t shift your thinking to forge authentic human relationships— nothing else you do will matter.

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6 Email Performance Issues and How You Can Solve Them


3 Components of Holistic Email Marketing


How to Maximize your Outcomes and Budget

Holistic Digital Marketing Part 1: Strategy


6 Email Performance Issues and How You Can Solve Them

Once you establish your holistic email marketing strategy and set your campaigns in motion, you will need to monitor performance to see if all your hard work pays off. Common email metrics such as deliverability, opens, clicks, and unsubscribe rates are good starting points to measure performance. But these metrics only tell part of the story. Also consider your specific goals, such as growing your subscriber list, increasing event attendance, or converting prospects into members. If your email campaigns aren’t performing to expectations, examine individual metrics as well as the big picture to see where you can improve.

Here are six common email issues and what you can do to boost your results using a holistic approach.

Poor Deliverability

If your deliverability rates are low, chances are your list is outdated or it was purchased from a less-than-reputable source. The highest quality list is one you create organically by asking people to opt-in—through in-person events, digital advertising, or other marketing efforts. It’s virtually impossible to have successful holistic email marketing without a clean list of interested members and prospects.

Too Few Clicks to Landing Page

If your landing page didn’t get as many views as you would like, you may need to work harder to drive more traffic there. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to send more emails. Research from Informz suggests relevancy, rather than frequency, has a greater impact on click rates. Examine your message to make sure it resonates with your audience and aligns with the customer journey.

Other factors such as time of day and day of the week also affect open and click rates. Experiment or A/B test to maximize your results once you have your messaging dialed in. Some marketing automation platforms have an optimization tool that automatically sends emails based on a subscriber’s past behavior.

High Unsubscribe Rate

Generally speaking, your unsubscribe rate for each campaign should be less than 1%. Any more than that could indicate that the people on your list did not formally subscribe—or that they subscribed with certain expectations that aren’t being met. Revisit the criteria for placing someone on your list. Set clearer expectations by revising any communications that encourage people to opt-in.

Low Conversions

If people were moved to click on your email but didn’t convert on your landing page, it could mean your offer was not compelling enough. Ask yourself: Is this offer relevant to the target segment? Does it enable their goals or solve a pain point? Is it aligned with the buying cycle? Is the timing right? Keep in mind your offers might vary depending on the segment. Determine what matters most to each segment, and tailor your offers accordingly. Feature only one call to action in each email to avoid confusing your audience or losing people along the way.

Few New Leads

If your email campaign didn’t generate as many new leads as you would like, give people a reason to share your content. Consider providing a link to a free download that’s worth forwarding on. You might also incentivize your message. For example, offer a two-for-one registration special if a member attends your event with a colleague.

Disappointing Membership or Attendance Numbers

If your email campaign didn’t generate enough members or event attendees, you may need to revise your automated workflows. Consider adjusting your offers, timing, frequency, or other factors. Examine lead scores and segments to help you optimize your message and formats.

Keep in mind that email is only part of your overall holistic marketing strategy. The success of your email campaigns is linked to the rest of your branding efforts—including your digital advertising, collateral, direct mail pieces, and in-person events. You might need to tweak your other efforts to maximize results from your email campaigns.

The Big Picture

Analyzing individual metrics is essential to optimizing your email marketing performance. But don’t forget to look at the big picture as well. Segmentation, personalization, and automation improve email results across the board but only when they’re well informed and well executed. Spend some time getting to know your audience and their behaviors. Based on the data, ask yourself if your segments are meaningful categories that help you focus your efforts. Verify that your campaign themes are relevant and inspiring. Consider whether you communicate the measurable ROI of your events and offers. Determine your timing in light of the customer journey as well as other industry events.

Examining these global considerations—and making adjustments based on your analysis—will not only improve your holistic email marketing. It will improve all your marketing and engagement efforts. When all your initiatives are integrated to present a seamless brand experience, it’s easier to rally your base into action—to attend your events, volunteer for committees, or achieve breakthroughs in your industry. Your goal with email and other channels should always be thoughtful communications that show your value while enabling your audience’s goals.

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3 Components of Holistic Email Marketing


Holistic Digital Marketing Part 2: Platforms and tools


How to Maximize your Outcomes and Budget

Holistic Digital Marketing Part 1: Strategy


3 Components of Holistic Email Marketing

In a perfect world, every marketing email you send would be a personalized, one-to-one communication based on everything you know about your recipient. It would provide meaningful information and just the right offer to meet their current needs. While it’s not practical to send everyone on your list a personal email at every step of their customer journey, holistic email marketing is the next best thing.

Holistic email marketing puts the customer first. It lets the member or prospect tell you what they need when they need it so you can deliver a seamless brand experience. This customer-first approach also benefits your organization and your industry. It can dramatically improve your email campaign results while fueling engagement, event attendance, membership, and retention. Getting started with holistic email marketing requires three components: segmentation, personalization, and automation.

Segmented Audience Targeting

To provide the most relevant, timely email messages and offers, you will first need to look at your audience and group them into meaningful categories, called segments. Research shows that segmented email campaigns achieve better results than mass emails.

Consider dividing your list based on a contact’s defining characteristics, such as industry, job title, geographic location, or lead score. You can also segment based on an existing list, such as past event attendees. Another approach would be to segment by actions taken, for example, a form submission or purchase made. You will also need to determine where individuals are in their customer journey: Are they new to your organization? Are they first timers or veteran event attendees? Has their membership lapsed? Is it time to renew?

6 Types of Personalized Communications

Once you establish your audience segments, the next step is to personalize messages for each group. Personalized emails are immediately more relevant to your audience. They reduce perceived information overload, and they boost engagement. Depending on your audience segments, you might send one of these six emails tailored to the customer journey.

  1. Welcome emails—provide background information for those new to your organization; include offers that reassure their intent and encourage them to engage
  2. Lead nurturing—help people move through the buying cycle by sending regular messages that show your organization’s value and promote year-round engagement
  3. Event promotion—send registration emails, special promotions, and post-event follow-up to drive attendance and encourage repeat attendance
  4. Inactive subscriber campaigns—target individuals on your list who haven’t opened or clicked in a while with messages and offers that compel them to re-engage
  5. Membership renewal messages—send emails based on when individual memberships expire to fuel your retention efforts
  6. Lapsed member campaigns—schedule a drip campaign to invite lapsed members to rejoin your organization, attend an event, and engage with peers again

To achieve the greatest results, you should pair each email with a custom landing page that has the same look and feel, messaging, and offer as your email. The landing page should also present an easy way for your audience to take action. For example, include an obvious button to click or form to fill out. Make only one offer to avoid overwhelming people or losing them along the way. Also ensure that your landing page is mobile optimized for efficient navigation.

Marketing Automation

The third component in holistic email marketing is automation. Holistic email marketing takes cues from your audience members’ actual behaviors to determine next steps—such as a phone call, direct mail piece, or another email message. To streamline this process without draining your staff resources and budget, you can use a marketing automation platform, such as Informz.

Using marketing automation, you can set up custom workflows, schedule emails, and score leads as they come in. Once you establish the workflows, the platform takes care of the next steps automatically. You monitor performance as you go and make adjustments to headlines, copy, offers, and visuals as needed.

Why Holistic Email Marketing?

Simply put, people are more likely to engage in issues that matter to them personally. Before you launch another email campaign, ask yourself, “How can we help our members and prospects achieve their objectives?” Quite often, the answer to this question will vary based on your individual audience members. Some need to become aware of your organization and its benefits. Others seek specific tools to advance their careers. Perhaps others need a little nudge to re-engage with your organization.

Holistic email marketing helps you reach all these individuals with relevant, personalized messages no matter where they are in their customer journey. The result is eager, engaged members and attendees that work hard for your organization year after year.

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Holistic Digital Marketing Part 2: Platforms and tools


How to Maximize your Outcomes and Budget

Holistic Digital Marketing Part 1: Strategy


Why You Should Market Holistically for Long-Term Sustainability

What is Holistic Marketing?


Holistic Digital Marketing Part 2: Platforms and tools

Once you’ve outlined your holistic digital marketing strategy, it’s time to choose the platforms and tools that will propel your organization toward your goals. A combination of retargeting, email marketing, segmentation, and automation is effective for reaching members and finding new prospects.

Retargeting and Prospecting

Depending on your goals, you can use retargeting to reach existing members (a.k.a. known users) or lookalike audiences based on your current member profile (a.k.a. unknown users). You can focus your efforts on a single platform, such as Facebook, or use web retargeting for a potentially broader reach.

To achieve results for web retargeting, you will likely need to enlist the help of a partner, such as AdRoll, for sufficient purchasing power. For many associations, Facebook offers more affordable solutions and better results.

Facebook Retargeting

Facebook is the most popular social media platform (with nearly 2 billion users!) and it offers great potential to reach your target audiences and convert users to members and attendees. With Facebook’s custom audiences and lookalike audiences, you can segment ads, measure conversions, and optimize campaigns. New features, such as audience insights, offline events, analytic reports, and product catalogs offer additional opportunities.


Before you launch any campaigns, consider segmenting your list into broad categories. Segmentation contributes to holistic marketing because you can use it to tailor your messaging based on what the individuals in your audience need to hear.

For your retargeting efforts, segmenting increases the relevancy of your message and boosts response as a result. For email marketing, segmentation leads to higher opens, clicks, and conversions. How much higher? MailChimp estimates that segmented email campaigns see a 14.31% higher open rate and a 100.95% higher click rate than non-segmented campaigns.

To take advantage of the benefits of segmentation, first define your segments. Consider categories such as first-time and repeat attendees, members and prospects, stage of the buying cycle, age, demographics, or location. Aim for no more than three audience segments (any more than three can be too complex to manage). Then, on a per message basis, determine whether each promotion goes to a specific segment or your entire audience.

Holistic SEO

Another component of holistic digital marketing is your search engine optimization. While SEO of the past was centered around keywords and backlinks, today’s SEO is all about relevancy to the user. It is increasingly content-driven. For best results, your content should be integrated with your other digital marketing efforts, such as your social media marketing, web retargeting, and email campaigns.

Marketing Automation

Integrated marketing is made infinitely easier with a marketing automation platform, such as Informz. Marketing automation can help you segment your list, personalize messaging, schedule ongoing campaigns, and track results with real-time reporting. Holistic marketing is customer-focused, and marketing automation provides insights and tools to personalize your efforts based on customer needs.

Measure for Success

As a best practice, you should continually evaluate performance and make adjustments based on actual campaign metrics to ensure your desired outcomes are being met. Below are three digital marketing KPIs that are especially relevant to associations.

  • Conversions—new members, subscriptions, class enrollment, etc.
  • Expanded brand awareness—number of ad impressions, site visitors
  • Engagement—clicks, email addresses submitted, inbound inquiries

Your specific KPIs should be based on your organization’s goals and objectives. Click here for the full list of 12 KPIs every association should measure.

Digital marketing offers a wealth of possibilities that support holistic marketing. With the right tools in place, you can segment your list and customize your message based on deep audience insights. You can track campaigns, messages, and offers as well as where each individual is in the buying cycle. Most importantly, you can access advanced data and analytics to guide your efforts today and next year. As a result, your audience enjoys a seamless customer experience—they get what they need when they need it. At the same time, you gain loyal followers who rally around your cause and sustain your organization into the future.

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How to Maximize your Outcomes and Budget

Holistic Digital Marketing Part 1: Strategy


Why You Should Market Holistically for Long-Term Sustainability

What is Holistic Marketing?


What do associations need to do to inspire members?


How to Maximize your Outcomes and Budget

Holistic Digital Marketing Part 1: Strategy

Holistic Digital Marketing Part 1: Strategy

Digital marketing offers endless possibilities to get your messages in front of members and prospects. It’s tempting to jump on the latest trend, platform, or technique to cast a wide net. The result, however, can be a hodgepodge of offers and images that don’t support your core value proposition and don’t speak to individual customer journeys. Poor ROI and low engagement are the inevitable outcomes with this approach.

A better idea is to take a holistic approach to your digital marketing. Holistic marketing looks at the big picture of your brand and how all the pieces work together. It inspires and engages your audience through consistent, unified messaging that meets people where they are in the buying cycle. Holistic digital marketing will tell you where to focus your online efforts to maximize your resources, budget, and outcomes. Here’s how to get started.

Take inventory of your brand ecosystem

Before you can take a holistic approach to any marketing—digital or otherwise—you must take inventory of all aspects of your brand. Consider your digital platforms, such as your website and social media feeds. Add in your organization’s assets, like your events and membership. You will also need to consider your audience and segments as well as your budget and the timing of your initiatives.

Establish Objectives and KPIs

Before you ever brainstorm a campaign, establish objectives and KPIs to measure progress. These will help you know where to focus your energy and budget. In addition to your attendance, membership, and retention goals, your digital marketing objectives might include click-though rates, reach, impressions, and conversions (ex: downloads, purchases, form submissions).

Analyze Past Performance

Take a look at your past digital marketing initiatives and try to extract key insights. Was there a particular offer or message that resonated with your audience? Did a specific platform gain more traffic than others? Which information piece was downloaded most? Were there any flops? Knowing where you’ve been can help you determine where to go next. Quantify results whenever possible (ex: cost per click, lead, or conversion).

Examine Your Audience

Next, take an in-depth look at your audience. Besides the standard audience analysis (who are they, what do they care about?), holistic digital marketing requires a few additional questions.

  • How do people access your content and messages?
    (ex: mobile vs. social, Explorer vs. Chrome)
  • Which social media platforms do they prefer?
  • What communication formats do they prefer?
    (ex: email, social, SMS, direct mail)
  • What are they actually reading?
    (ex: blogs, whitepapers, microsites, event info)
  • What insights can you gain from available data?
    (ex: age, geography, demographics, member/non-member, etc.)

Give the People What They Want

Tailor your efforts based on the answers to these questions. If your audience prefers a mobile experience, your website design must be responsive and optimized for mobile users. If they spend more time on Facebook than Twitter, don’t worry about advertising on Twitter. If they convert more often over email, allocate additional resources to email.

Optimize Your Budget and Timing

Choose digital strategies based on how you can best move people along their customer journeys within your available budget. Time your initiatives with the buying cycle as well as your organization’s calendar and other industry events (ex: conferences, course offerings, changing regulations, membership renewal deadlines).

Maintain Consistency

Whichever strategies you settle on, keep in mind that holistic marketing is a 360-degree approach to reaching your audience. Its success depends on consistency online and off. To build trust and recognition among your base, your digital assets should match your real-world assets—not only in look and feel but in voice and personality as well.

Monitor Performance

Track KPIs over time to gauge the success of your digital initiatives and timing. Did you meet your goals and objectives? Make adjustments as needed—in real time if possible, or use your findings as benchmarks for next year.

Holistic digital marketing makes it possible to reach your audience with the right content on the right channel at the right time. It helps you get the most out of your budget while minimizing staff time and resources. What does that look like in practical terms? Tune in next week for Holistic Digital Marketing Part 2: Platforms and Tools.

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Holistic Digital Marketing Part 2: Platforms and tools


Why You Should Market Holistically for Long-Term Sustainability

What is Holistic Marketing?


What do associations need to do to inspire members?


Why You Should Market Holistically for Long-Term Sustainability

What is Holistic Marketing?


“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

— Aristotle

Imagine how effective your marketing would be if all your channels worked seamlessly together—reinforcing your core brand message and promoting key campaigns to engage and inspire your audience. A holistic marketing strategy can achieve this precision. It thinks through each aspect of your marketing and figures out how all the pieces work together. As a result, you’ll provide a meaningful, consistent member experience that rallies people to your organization, drives engagement, and ensures a loyal long-term following.

4 Components of Holistic Marketing

Effective holistic marketing includes four essential components to help you see the big picture of your brand: relationships, integration of all brand touch points, your internal team, and marketing performance.

Relationship marketing

Given the overwhelming amount of marketing noise your members and prospects face every day, you need more than a slick website or a great offer to win their trust and loyalty. Relationship marketing helps you build meaningful engagement with current members and establish rapport with prospects. It requires you to reach people where they are and provide relevant info, connections, and tools that will meet their individual goals and challenges. Sure, this takes time and effort, but the payoff can be huge.

Cultivate relationships and people will join, attend, and engage because they’re internally compelled and inspired to do so—not because you’ve pushed them or “sold” them on anything. Connect with people on multiple levels: as individuals, based on what they do, continuously over time, directed towards an outcome, everywhere they are (marketing mix). Do this and you will have a steady supply of brand ambassadors who roll up their sleeves to further your industry and organization.

Integrated marketing

Most people aren’t ready to join your association the first time they hear about you. They need time to get to know you, explore your offerings, and understand your value. Individuals undergo a journey from awareness, to attending your events, to joining as a member. Eventually, they might also become loyal long-term followers.

Integrated marketing means giving members and prospects what they need when they need it to continue on their customer journey. Integrated marketing is about more than just splashing the same slogan, identity, and colors on every marketing channel. It weaves a coherent story through everything the brand does. No matter where someone encounters your organization or where they are in their customer journey, they should get the same seamless brand experience and the same authentic brand story.

To achieve integrated marketing, align your message, communication, and brand images across all marketing channels—online and off. Use marketing automation technology to facilitate this process and to create a cohesive marketing plan instead of silos.

Internal marketing

Internal marketing means all departments within your organization are aware of the marketing plan, work to support it, and have access to spreadsheets, calendars, communications, timelines, and budget. Everyone on your internal team must understand your overall vision as well as your individual promotions, standard messages, and current offers. Your team should be deeply familiar with the full range of your offerings and how members benefit from each one.

When your whole team knows the big picture and works toward a common goal, everyone wins. Your members and prospects get a consistent brand experience that meets their needs, and you save time and money by streamlining your efforts.

Performance marketing

To know what’s working you must track marketing performance and measure progress toward your goals. Key performance indicators are measurable values that show you how effectively your association is achieving key objectives. Establish KPIs and measure campaign performance to inform next steps, make better decisions, overcome challenges, and achieve your overall mission. KPIs maximize your budget and staff resources while generating better results. They help you use real-time data to make smart decisions for your marketing and your long-term sustainability.

Establish your goals first. Then assign objectives and KPIs. Once you define these parameters, you can begin brainstorming the individual strategies and campaigns that will propel your organization forward.

Why do you need holistic marketing?

With holistic marketing, you can go beyond simply promoting your organization and your offerings. You can rally your base to join together, form a movement, and further your mission. Holistic marketing is a surefire way to inspire and compel people—rather than push them or convince them. While it takes a little more work up front, over the long haul you’ll have a much easier time meeting registration, membership, and retention goals. As an added benefit, you’ll save time and money by integrating your efforts and streamlining your internal processes.

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How to Maximize your Outcomes and Budget

Holistic Digital Marketing Part 1: Strategy


Holistic Digital Marketing Part 2: Platforms and tools


3 Components of Holistic Email Marketing


What do associations need to do to inspire members?

“People don’t do anything unless they’re inspired. But once they are inspired there is almost nothing they will not do.”

Are you struggling to attract millennials? Are you stuck on the membership acquisition and retention roller coaster? Are you unable to get out of “reaction” mode when the latest marketing tool or social media platform comes along?

If you answered yes to any of these questions it comes from the failure to spark inspiration in your members. Inspiration is what helps associations grow, thrive, and changes lives.

From the very beginning we have said that people need to be inspired to act. Surely though, there was more to this than a gut feeling. Could there be a science behind inspiration? Data? A meaningful and agreed-upon way to define this seemingly unknowable abstraction? We took a step back and realized that we needed a deeper understanding of what moves people. We set out to understand it—not just at the level of the heart, but scientifically.

Inspiration is a concept that floats around in space, finds its way into lines of poetry, buddies around with muses and supernatural beings, and is plastered all over social media. But what does it truly mean to inspire, or to be inspired? What do associations need to do to inspire members? And what do inspired members do that non-inspired members don’t do?

We took on these questions with purpose and focus. And we found answers.

Inspiration is not unknowable. It is quite knowable. It’s replicable. It’s scalable. And it is science. In our findings, we discovered that there are certain things that MUST be in place for inspiration to occur, and there are certain ways that inspiration actually moves people toward things. We understand why those millennials aren’t interested, why associations can’t get themselves off the rollercoaster, and why they spin their wheels with their marketing efforts.

When people are inspired, they take action, they get things done, they connect and come together—not because you convince them or push them or pull them, but because they just can’t help themselves. They’re internally compelled to make things happen. This is the “almost nothing they will not do” stage. And it’s far more powerful than any ho hum marketing piece or sales pitch can achieve for your organization. Inspired members are unstoppable. They go out of their way to help your organization achieve goals and pursue new horizons. They spread the word about the great work you do. They feel fulfilled while they actively work to fulfill your mission. Spark the fires of inspiration and the possibilities are endless. Fail to inspire your base, and your organization can not thrive.

We realize these things, and this is the crux of what you need to understand: Your marketing has a big job to do. It must harness the specific things research shows are needed for inspiration to happen. It must rally your base and connect people—to make a greater impact for long-term sustainability. INSPIRATION is how you get off the roller coaster. INSPIRATION is how you bring in the next generation and continue to change lives.

If we were fierce in our pursuit of inspiration before, now we are positively ferocious. Our rallying cry is, “Hell Yeah!” Let’s go find out what your members and your organization are capable of.

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So you Can Make Smart Decisions to Reach your Goals

12 Marketing KPIs Every Association Should Measure


How to Track Ket Metrics to Make Better Strategic Decisions

Key Performance Indicators for Event Marketers


5 Strategies to Increase Engagement All Year Long


So you Can Make Smart Decisions to Reach your Goals

12 Marketing KPIs Every Association Should Measure

12 Marketing KPIs Every Association Should Measure

KPIs, or key performance indicators, can help you track the success of your event, marketing, and organization so you can make smart decisions to reach your goals. They can also help you identify gaps and make improvements as you go. The trouble is, there are lots of potential metrics to track, and not all of them are truly meaningful indicators of performance. Tracking the wrong metrics can lead to you to make uniformed decisions or worse—misinformed decisions. How do you know where to focus your attention?

Here are a dozen examples of KPIs especially suited for associations that hold events.

Use these as inspiration, but keep in mind your KPIs must be aligned with the specific goals of your event and your organization.

1. ROI:

Revenue from registrations, revenue from sponsors, total costs and cost per attendee

Why it matters: At the end of the day, your event and organization must be financially sustainable if your mission is to continue.

2. Event satisfaction:

Feedback from after-event surveys, repeat guests, how many signed up vs. actually showed up, first-time attendees

Why it matters: If the KPIs show that your attendees are overwhelmingly satisfied with your event, perhaps you need to focus your efforts on raising awareness through marketing. If your attendees were dissatisfied, you might focus on improving your event experience before turning to promotion.

3. Engagement:

Attendance numbers; number of people who registered but didn’t show; social media mentions, comments, and clicks

Why it matters: Engagement is often viewed as a subjective concept. These KPIs provide an objective way to measure member and attendee engagement using quantifiable data points.

4. Web traffic:

Number of visitors, which channels they came from, search queries

Why it matters: Monitoring web traffic provides baseline information about the size of your audience, where they spend time online, and what they care about. This can help you decide what content to feature on your site and where to promote it.

5. New leads:

Number of new leads (not just new contacts) and each lead’s source

Why it matters: See where your leads come from so you know where to invest more of your time, effort, and budget (and where not to).

6. Visitor-to-lead ratio:

Compare number of site visitors to number of new leads

Why it matters: If you get lots of visitors but they don’t take any action, that’s a sign that your visitors didn’t find what they’re looking for. It could mean your Facebook ads are targeting the wrong audience, for example. It could also mean your website isn’t compelling enough, doesn’t provide key information, or is difficult to navigate.

7. Landing page conversion rate:

Percentage of people who come to a landing page that complete a form

Why it matters: People who arrived at your landing page were compelled to click on something to get there. If too many leave without taking further action, it could be a sign your offer isn’t strong enough or isn’t aligned with their customer journey (or you don’t have an offer at all). It could also indicate a lack of trust—they might be worried about how you will use their contact info.

8. Lead-to-member/registration ratio:

How many leads you generate compared to how many join your organization/register for your event

Why it matters: If you generate lots of leads but acquire very few members, it could be an indication that your marketing offer was too general (ex: a free promotional item vs. a free whitepaper). For events, this could be a sign that you haven’t proven the ROI of attending.

9. Email metrics:

Delivery, open, click, and unsubscribe rates; number of subscribers

Why it matters: Email metrics help you to gauge whether your messaging and offers resonate with your targets.

10. Blog metrics:

Number of visitors to your blog, click-through rate, number of subscribers to your blog

Why it matters: If your blog traffic is light, your content isn’t resonating with your audience. Click-throughs can tell you what people were interested in to guide future content and offers.

11. Search engine optimization:

Backlinks, keyword ranking

Why it matters: SEO is especially important to find new prospects. The higher your keywords rank, the more likely you are to get organic traffic.

12. Diversity:

Age, gender, ethnicity, bilingual

Why it matters: If you want more millennials, for example, you need to monitor your audience makeup today and as you launch new campaigns and event offerings. Explore the relationship between attendee diversity and your campaigns to see what resonates with people of various backgrounds.

While you might not monitor all 12 of these KPIs, you will need to track more than just one or two. KPIs are most meaningful when considered in combination with one another and as part of your larger brand strategy. For example, you can look at attendance numbers in light of your web traffic, landing page conversions, and email performance to find where people are dropping out of your sales funnel.

Without well-defined goals and corresponding KPIs, you can only guess at the success of your marketing campaigns, your events, and your organization’s progress toward your mission. With KPIs, you can use quantifiable data to make informed decisions that fuel attendance, engagement, and long-term sustainability.

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How to Track Ket Metrics to Make Better Strategic Decisions

Key Performance Indicators for Event Marketers


5 Strategies to Increase Engagement All Year Long


Strategic Event Marketing is About Inspiring and Connecting Potential Attendees

4 Pillars of Event Marketing to Fuel Attendance and Engagement


How to Track Ket Metrics to Make Better Strategic Decisions

Key Performance Indicators for Event Marketers

Key Performance Indicators for Event Marketers

Do you know if your event marketing is working?
Which promotions were the most successful?
Is your association reaching attendance, member acquisition, and retention goals?
Are you making real, quantifiable progress toward your mission?

Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are measurable values that show you how effectively your association is achieving key objectives. They can help you gauge what’s working and what’s not so you can make adjustments along the way. Tracking KPIs allows you to use real-time data to make smart decisions for your marketing and your long-term sustainability.

How to Use KPIs

KPIs can help your association focus on common goals and ensure those goals stay aligned within your association. The first step is to determine what your goals are. Next, choose KPIs for each one so you can measure progress. For example, associations who hold events often focus on improving lead generation, event registration, brand awareness, and member engagement. If we match each of these goals with KPIs, it might look something like this:

Best Practices for KPIs

How do you determine which metrics are meaningful for your organization? Effective KPIs align with the long-term mission of your organization, not just this year’s event. They should be measurable and have easily obtainable data that is reliable and accurate. Mostly importantly, they should be actionable, allowing you to make changes to your event, marketing, member offerings, and operations based on the actual needs and behaviors of your audience.

Be realistic when choosing your KPIs. If it’s expensive or difficult to monitor a KPI, then you likely won’t be able to track it over the long term. If your KPI is not clearly defined, you also won’t be able to extract meaningful data. If you can’t act on the information, there is little point in tracking it.

KPIs for Events

Effective KPIs for your event marketing and your event itself might include member acquisition and attendance numbers, social media traffic, or the number of people who requested follow-up information. The most insightful KPIs are dynamic. They consider multiple metrics within the context of your larger brand ecosystem. For example, you already measure event attendance. However, comparing the number of people who registered to the number of people who actually attended might identify a gap in your marketing. Looking at when all these individuals registered could lead to additional insights. (We’ll cover 12 common KPIs for event marketers in our next blog post.)

Track Your KPIs

Once you’ve established your goals and corresponding KPIs, you will need a way to track these with a real-time reporting tool. A software platform can help you manage KPIs from a simple dashboard. It can also help you track campaign performance, create reports, and make adjustments to your marketing to ensure your reach your goals. Plan to review KPIs with stakeholders on a weekly basis. Stay nimble, and be prepared to make changes based on what you learn.

Without established KPIs you can only guess at the effectiveness of your marketing and overall organizational strategy. With KPIs you can know definitively what’s working and what’s not based on quantifiable data. You’ll know exactly where to invest in your event and your organization to ensure long-term sustainability.

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5 Strategies to Increase Engagement All Year Long


Strategic Event Marketing is About Inspiring and Connecting Potential Attendees

4 Pillars of Event Marketing to Fuel Attendance and Engagement


How to Move People from Prospects to Attendees, Members, and Ambassadors

Member journeys in the digital marketing world


5 Strategies to Increase Engagement All Year Long

So your event had great attendance and you saw a surge in membership. Feedback was positive and you feel triumphant. Great! Now what? What happens next is sometimes…well, not much.

After the excitement of your event, it’s easy for people go back to their regular routines and forget about your organization. The crickets start to chirp on your social media feeds. Email opens and click-through rates drop. People just aren’t engaging like they did in person.

If you can keep the momentum going, people will continue to engage, connect, and work toward your mission over the long haul. Even better, it will be easier to get them to register for your event next year. How can you do all this? You need a comprehensive engagement plan.

Here are Five strategies to maintain the community, camaraderie, inspiration, and engagement of your event all year long.

Use marketing automation

The Association Engagement Survey with Access Intelligence suggests that your event attendees are the most engaged people in your organization. These individuals are already convinced of your value and will need less attention throughout the year. New prospects, by contrast, will need to be informed, inspired, and reassured before they take action. To communicate effectively with all your audience segments, you’ll need to personalize your campaigns and align them with the buying cycle. A marketing automation platform, such as Informz, can help. Informz lets you create, schedule, personalize, and track your campaigns to ensure timely, relevant communications before, during, and after your event.

Get more face time

Supplement annual national events with smaller regional affairs throughout the year. This might mean you host mini conferences or workshops in a few centrally located cities. It could also be much simpler. Consider sponsoring a team for a 5k or organizing a neighborhood cleanup day. These simple events can facilitate powerful connections among members by bringing them together for a common cause. If all else fails, organize regional happy hours for some liquid inspiration. More face time equals more opportunities to connect and engage.

Build online communities

It’s not enough to have a social media presence. People need to interact—with each other and with your organization. Post a mix of original content, quizzes, motion graphics, videos, live streaming, affiliate articles and information, and promotional ads. But don’t stop there. Pose open-ended questions to encourage conversation, and be sure to respond when people ask you questions. In addition to social media, consider other year-round networking opportunities using your event’s mobile app, a LISTSERVE, Basecamp, or other platforms that facilitate connection and idea-sharing.

Recruit brand ambassadors

Gather your pilgrims, your most devoted members and attendees. Ask them to promote your event and your year-round offerings in their own circles, online and off. Give them an opportunity to share their experiences through member-curated stories and testimonials. Create a referral program with incentives to attract likeminded colleagues. For example, you could craft an email that’s meant to be forwarded to a friend. Offer a free online workshop for joining as a new member and give one to the member who made the referral. Your brand ambassadors put their reputation on the line by promoting your organization. Reward their loyalty with recognition and the occasional goody.

Encourage audience participation

People feel more engaged in your organization and your event if they have a say in the decision-making process. Ask for input on anything from the event theme to the food you serve and the music you play. Take a poll on which speakers to invite. Ask for volunteers to serve on committees or teach sessions. The more deeply people get involved, the more likely they are to become brand ambassadors and repeat attendees.

For year-round engagement, people need to hear from you on a regular basis. But that’s just the first step. They need personalized communications and face-to-face opportunities that offer value, reinforce connections, maintain the momentum of your event, and enable their goals. Go beyond an event marketing strategy. Sustain your organization 365 days a year with a comprehensive engagement plan.

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Strategic Event Marketing is About Inspiring and Connecting Potential Attendees

4 Pillars of Event Marketing to Fuel Attendance and Engagement


How to Move People from Prospects to Attendees, Members, and Ambassadors

Member journeys in the digital marketing world


It's Time to Try New Tactics

How to enhance your marketing with motion graphics


How to Move People from Prospects to Attendees, Members, and Ambassadors

Member journeys in the digital marketing world

Member journeys in the digital marketing world

According to the Email Statistics Report, the average person received 90 emails per day in 2016. That’s a lot of clutter to cut through if you’re a marketer. To get attention and to maximize your ROI, you need to go beyond impersonal e-blasts and one-size-fits-all marketing. A better strategy is to take cues from your audience and your data to craft purposeful content for a range of digital touch points. Then optimize your efforts through automation and a CRM platform. When all the elements of your digital marketing environment come together, that’s when the magic happens. You’ll increase engagement and move more of your base along their journey toward event attendance and membership.

The member journey

Most people aren’t ready to attend your event or join your organization the first time they hear about you. They need time to get to know you, explore your offerings, and understand your value. Individuals will undergo a journey from awareness, to attending your events, to joining as a member. Eventually, they might also become loyal long-term followers and brand ambassadors. But how much time do they need? What exactly do they need to know? And when do they need to know it? Answering these questions requires a solid grasp of the entire digital marketing environment. This includes in-depth audience knowledge as well as integrated brand touch points.

Meet them where they are

A solid digital marketing strategy begins by knowing your audience—not just their demographics or purchase history but characteristics and behaviors that help you speak to them. Start by assigning archetypes, or personas, to your audience segments. Archetypes are defined categories centered around value and purpose. You can also segment your audience based on known behaviors, such as members, non-members, veteran attendees, or new attendees. Also consider where individuals are in the buying cycle and how much they already know about your association. All this information helps you tailor your messaging and tactics so you can provide timely, relevant marketing communication that engages your base.

Bring all brand touch points together

Digital brand touch points include stories, videos, retargeting, emails, ebooks, white papers, landing pages, and more. Your audience might encounter any or all of these items depending on where they are in their journey. It’s important to present a unified look and feel in all your branding as well as complementary messaging. It’s also critical to include a mix of content types to cater to various communication preferences. But how do you know which tactics to launch, to whom, and when?

Why you need marketing automation

Marketing automation allows your audience to tell you what they need. To get started, you create several defined communication strategies, called workflows, based on your archetypes, audience segments, and any data you’ve gathered. Once you set your workflows in motion, your audience behaviors trigger the next steps. One example would be an individual who sees your Facebook ad then clicks to download your white paper on business finances. This behavior then triggers an email promoting the finance track at your annual conference. If this person decides to register for your event, they will receive information about other offerings at the conference. If they don’t register within a week of your first email, they automatically receive a discount code in a follow-up email. The more that people interact with your brand touch points, the more you learn, and the more likely it is that you can continually deliver communications they find valuable. The result? A recent study suggests that using marketing automation to nurture your prospects could result in a 451% increase in qualified leads.

Tracking success

It’s important to track campaign results, examine key performance indicators, and understand your data. By leveraging real-time pre-event marketing data, you can use relevant member or prospect behaviors to trigger lead scoring and follow-up activities for cross-selling and upselling. Combining data-driven insights with automation technology will help you personalize their journey toward attendance and membership—and you’ll see increases in both as a result. Use a customer relationship management program to monitor your data and effectively track and score leads. If you can’t monitor results, you won’t be able to calculate campaign ROI and you won’t know what’s working (and what’s not). Marketing automation isn’t something you can set and forget. You must keep an eye on the data and adjust your workflows based on actual behaviors.

Up your marketing game

In today’s world of flooded inboxes and information overload, you need to up your marketing game if you want sustainable membership and event attendance. Improve your marketing using automation and integrated brand touch points to guide more people through their customer journeys. Rottman Creative can help you cut through the clutter and drive event attendance with purposeful digital marketing. Contact us today to learn more about marketing automation.

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Strategic Event Marketing is About Inspiring and Connecting Potential Attendees

4 Pillars of Event Marketing to Fuel Attendance and Engagement

Strategic event marketing is about inspiring and connecting potential attendees. It goes beyond facts and “stuff”—all that networking, education, and certification you offer. People need to understand your event’s value on an emotional level. They must see a measurable return on the time, money, and effort they invest to attend. This is all within your grasp if you have a solid marketing strategy.

Use these four pillars as the foundation of a purposeful marketing strategy that drives event attendance and member engagement.

Product (your event)

Your event is a product, and it should be marketed as such. There is a buying cycle, and your marketing must support it. You need to inform the unaware, inspire the interested, and reassure the intent to guide prospects along a journey toward registration and membership.

Like any good product marketing, your messaging should focus not on the features (sessions, experts, certifications) but on the benefits your attendees will realize.

  • How will their lives be better or easier by attending your event?
  • What goals do they have that your event will enable?
  • What pain points will it take away?
  • What’s the ROI they can expect from attending?

These are emotional issues for your audience, so to be effective you need to have empathy for their situation—no matter where they are in the buying cycle. For example, someone who is brand new to the industry might be feeling in over their head. They lack experience and expertise. They’re hungry for resources and connections. To effectively reach this individual, you must first raise awareness that you exist. Next, demonstrate your offerings and value through compelling storytelling. Lastly, reassure them that they’ve come to the right place—a place where like-minded people collaborate to solve their most pressing issues.

If you host an annual event, it’s easy to keep churning out the same marketing year after year. To really inspire and connect people, you must take a fresh approach. Every year is a new product launch. Every year you must ask yourself how you can align your marketing with the buying cycle to address current audience needs and emotions.


Neuroscience tells us that stories have the power to inspire and connect your attendees. Storytelling goes beyond facts and logic to engage the limbic brain, where most of our decisions are made. To truly resonate with prospects, branded attendee stories must show new possibilities and enable goals. They must address pain points, challenges, and questions attendees might have. To find juicy story content, identify a handful of people willing to give you an hour or two of their time. Choose a mix of new members, veteran attendees, and maybe even a curmudgeon who wasn’t so quick to see your value. Come prepared with questions, but don’t be afraid to venture off the map. Sometimes your best stories come from unscripted conversations.

Once you have enough information, craft the entire story. You can always use shorter excerpts depending on your platform. For effective stories that inherently increase connection among readers, follow the universal story structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. (Read more about The Anatomy of a Story and see an example.) The best stories create a sense of urgency with the reader to incite the desired action.


For your event—and your organization itself—to be sustainable, you need to create pilgrims, not tourists. Pilgrims engage. They attend your event year after year because they are internally compelled to be there. Tourists, by contrast, come to look. They leave without contributing and do not return. Again thinking of your event as a product, it’s much easier to up-sell, cross sell, or get repeat business from an existing customer. If you can continually inspire your members and attendees, you’ll have a much easier time filling seats year after year. As a bonus, your devoted pilgrims will be more likely to engage.

Strategies for driving sustainability:
  • Craft timely, emotionally engaging marketing communications aligned with the buying cycle. Use marketing automation to ensure you are most responsive to prospect/attendee needs based on actual behaviors.
  • Provide exclusive event offerings people can’t get anywhere else (ex: face time with experts, hands-on learning, exclusive products, event-only specials).
  • Create meaningful event activities that allow inspiration and creativity through in-person connection and collaboration (ex: social outings, informal networking spaces, roundtable discussions, business incubators).
  • Provide unique promotional items with an engagement component (ex: Encourage attendees to share an image on social media wearing your association’s branded clothing).


Besides the cost to attend, fear is why people do not register for your event. Pre-event stressors and on-site stressors prevent people from registering altogether, or they prevent people from fully engaging while there. You must prove that the benefits of your event are greater than people’s fears. According to the Attendee Research Report, 1 in 4 attendees thought their last event was stressful. To address stressors and encourage people to overcome them, you need to be empathic in your communication efforts. To do that, you must first understand their fears.

Pre-event stressors include time away from work and family, cost and hassle of travel, and even what to wear. On-site stressors might be the crowds, not knowing anyone, or selecting which sessions to attend. General fear of the unknown can put a serious dent in your attendance numbers.

Focus on the fears most relevant to your audience, and take steps to address them.

A few suggestions for overcoming fears and proving value:
  • First-time attendee breakfast or mentor program
  • Early bird discounts, giveaways, or special drawings to offset costs
  • Clear communications about how to get to the event and where to stay, including any travel promotions
  • Detailed event schedule and layout to help attendees navigate your event and take full advantage of all offerings
  • Online forum for people to connect ahead of time
  • Pre-event social media conversations or webinars to break the ice between attendees and your organization
  • Suggested dress code (ex: “Our attendees typically wear business casual attire.”)
  • A mix of structured and informal networking events to cater to introverts and extroverts
  • ROI toolkit to help attendees weigh the costs versus the benefits

It’s not enough to host a great event.

You need a comprehensive strategy to inspire and drive people to attend. Plus, you need them to come back next year. Use these four pillars as a guide to identify and close the gaps in your current marketing strategy.

No strategy? Now’s the time.

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3 Digital Marketing Tactics for Event Marketers


3 Ways Associations Can Replace Lost Event Revenue


How to enhance your marketing with motion graphics
In a world of content overload, motion graphics cut through the clutter with bite-sized content that grabs attention, evokes emotions, and incites action.

So why aren’t you using them? The Association Audience and Member Engagement Study indicated 84% of associations don’t use motion graphics. If you want to improve attendance, membership, and engagement—as well as SEO, web traffic, and social media reach—it’s time to try new tactics. Motion graphics are proven to generate outcomes without draining all your time and resources.

What are motion graphics?

Motion graphics are animations or static images brought to life through design to create the illusion of motion. They’re often paired with audio to form engaging multimedia clips.

Compared to static text or standard presentations, motion graphics give your audience a better understanding of your association and your brand. They’re inherently more engaging than other formats because they “show” instead of “tell.” Motion graphics allow you to present complex information in a short, simple way. An added advantage is that they’re easily sharable, not just on the web and social media but at your events and in apps.

Cost effective

“It’s hard to recruit new audiences with a very limited budget,” noted one association director in the engagement survey. With motion graphics you don’t need expensive equipment and camera crews. You just need a motion graphics designer, who can use your existing brand images and collateral to craft original animations. Because the ideal length of a motion graphic is just a few seconds, these projects are less complex and time-consuming to execute than videos. As a result, they tend to be more affordable than video.

Broad appeal

“One of our pain points is creating content that attracts a wide variety of audiences,” noted another survey respondent. A robust marketing plan must include a range of tactics to engage your audience segments and inspire them to take action. Adding a motion graphics component to your plan is a great way to mix up your content delivery and reinforce brand touch points.

Best practices

Given viewers’ short attention spans, it’s essential to capture attention and deliver your message as fast as possible. Just how fast? According to Facebook, only 65% of people who watch the first three seconds of a video will continue watching for at least 10 seconds. Only 45% continue watching for 30 seconds. A study from Locowise determined viewers watch videos for about 18 seconds on average, even though the average video length is nearly a minute. It’s vital to include the most important information within the first three seconds of your motion graphic if you want to keep your audience captivated.

Expand your efforts

Nearly 90% of associations surveyed in the Association Audience and Member Engagement Study indicated some interest in using more video in their marketing. However, many stated they lack the resources to expand their efforts. Motion graphics can be an simple, effective solution at a fraction of the effort and time of video.

Ready to engage your audience with motion graphics? Contact Rottman Creative today to add this compelling tactic to your marketing plan.

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How to get members to comprehend the value of your organization?

If you struggle with event attendance and membership acquisition, chances are the problem isn’t your organization, your member benefits, or your event itself. The issue is that not enough people know your VALUE. They need to fully comprehend what’s in it for them, or they won’t be moved to act. While there are lots of ways to communicate value to your target audience, there is only one that’s proven effective through brain research: STORYTELLING.

Why storytelling?

Humans make decisions in the limbic system. That’s the emotional part of the brain, not the logical one. That means if you want people to register for your event or join you as a member, you need to appeal to their emotions. Facts and logic won’t cut it. Storytelling that includes rich, sensory details actively engages the limbic system and inspires people to take action because they feel compelled to do so.

The proven effectiveness of storytelling should make it a no-brainer when it comes to event marketing. But, most organizations aren’t taking advantage of this format. According to the Association Audience and Member Engagement Study, only 33 percent of associations use storytelling to promote events.

Not coincidentally, the study participants cited numerous challenges related to demonstrating event value and retaining members. “We struggle with conveying a clear value of networking,” said one. “We need to create a distinct reason for our attendees to join once they agree to attend,” said another. Answers ranged from communicating value to capturing attention and encouraging engagement—all things storytelling can help with.

How to start telling stories

Your members are a gold mine of stories. You just need to do a little digging. First, identify a handful of people who might be willing to give you an hour or two of their time. Choose a mix of new members, veteran attendees, cheerleaders, and maybe even a curmudgeon who wasn’t so quick to see your value. Next, come prepared with questions, but don’t be afraid to venture off the map. Sometimes your best stories come from unscripted conversations. It’s a good idea to record the interview so you don’t miss any juicy details.

10 questions for better member stories

Here are 10 questions to get you started telling curated member stories. Be sure to tailor questions slightly depending on whom you’re interviewing. For example, a veteran attendee may need slightly different prompts than a first-timer.

  1. What’s your situation? Tell me about yourself and your business.
  2. What are your biggest challenges and concerns?
  3. How long have you been a member, and how did you first hear about the association?
  4. Why do you go to the event? Variations: Why are you going for the first time? Why do you go to this event on a regular basis?
  5. What do you do to prepare for the event?
  6. How do you justify time away from your business? Variation: How do you describe the benefits vs. the cost of attending?
  7. Who do you meet there and how do you meet them?
  8. Do you have any advice for other attendees? For first-time attendees? For veteran attendees?
  9. How do you benefit from the event? Variations: What do you take away from the event—literally and figuratively? What’s your biggest takeaway?
  10. Is there anything else you would like to share?

How to structure your story

Once you have a repository of information, write out the entire story. (You can always shorten it to fit your marketing needs later.) A good story follows a traditional structure. It has characters, a setting, rising action and conflict, a climax, falling action, and an ending. Within this framework, your stories should show members you understand their pain points and that you have solutions and resources to resolve their challenges.

Marketing tactics

Authentic stories from real people resonate in a world of information overload. Stories inspire and connect your base. But storytelling itself isn’t a marketing tactic. It must be aligned with digital media to help you reach membership and attendance goals. Just a few ideas for incorporating storytelling into your marketing mix: blogs, automated emails, micro sites, videos, Facebook Canvas, and Facebook Ads.

Einstein defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Chances are you’ve been using the same strategies over and over again while membership and attendance stay flat or, worse, decline. If you’re among the majority of event marketers not using storytelling, now is the time to start. If you already use storytelling, perhaps it’s time to infuse some life into it with richer sensory details, more colorful characters, and a complementary digital strategy.

Don’t let another year go by with ho hum marketing results. Contact Rottman Creative to curate your member stories and turn them into dynamic digital marketing that drives membership, attendance, and engagement.

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Increase Attendance and Find New Prospects with Personalized Marketing that Aligns with your Buying Cycle

How to Promote Your Event on Facebook (in just 5 simple steps)

How to Promote Your Event on Facebook

Facebook is the ideal platform for event marketers. You can use it to find new prospects and drive attendance among existing members. You can build excitement around your conference and inform attendees of speakers, special events, and exclusive offerings. In short, promoting your event on Facebook will get more people in your door AND those people will be primed and ready to engage. Thanks to smart customizations and audience targeting, you can deliver personalized marketing messages aligned with your buying cycle. Even if you’ve never tried online advertising before, these five steps will have you running effective campaigns in short order.

Step 1: Use Facebook Ads to retarget known users and find new prospects

Facebook Ads are a great way to reach your audience outside of email and direct mail. They offer efficient personalization not possible with these other channels. To get started, use the Power Editor. Consult Facebook’s library of tutorials, including videos, to help you take full advantage of all the platform’s features.

Once you get the hang of things, you can use Facebook Ads to align your communications with your buying cycle. For example, people who already registered for your event don’t need to see ads that ask them to register. Instead, you could show them an ad about your keynote speaker. You can introduce your organization and event people who don’t know who you are. You can also retarget visitors to your website or Facebook page, to reassure their interest and encourage them to register.

Step 2: Install the Facebook pixel on your website, create custom audiences

The Facebook pixel is a piece of code that helps you track and target visitors to your website. Don’t skip this step! The pixel makes laser-focused ad campaigns possible.

To install the Facebook pixel, log on to your Facebook page and navigate to the Ads Manager tab. Click the button that says “create pixel.” Once your pixel is generated, paste that snippet of code in the

tags on each page of your website—including any “thank you” pages that appear upon form submission.

Create custom audiences
Four types of custom audiences help you reach the people most likely to attend your event:
  1. Customer file—upload your existing email list, which Facebook will match to user profiles
  2. Website traffic—target people who have visited your website or specific pages (based on insights from the pixel)
  3. App activity—reach out to people who have taken specific actions on your app
  4. Engagement on Facebook—connect with people who have already interacted with you on FB

Use these audiences to craft highly personalized ads based on your buying cycle. You can also create lookalike audiences from your custom audiences. That means you can ask Facebook to find people with similar interests and behaviors who might be interested in your event. Lookalike audiences are a quick, easy, and cost-effective way to grow your base and drive attendance.

Custom conversions

A feature called “custom conversions” helps you target prospects who have already taken some action. That might be someone who signed up for your newsletter and was redirected to a “thank you” page (i.e. a conversion). You can optimize your ads for this conversion, so Facebook will show your ad to people most likely to convert again.

Step 3: Make a Facebook page for your event, or create an event through your main page

A special event page ensures that members and prospects focus directly on your event and its offerings—instead of getting distracted by other content. You can also create an official Facebook event from your main page for easy promotion.

For either option, follow these best practices:
  • Choose a high-quality photo in line with the rest of your branding
  • Use a clear, descriptive but short event name
  • Add specifics on location, date, and time
  • Include the ability to register (Facebook calls this “Buy Tickets”)
  • Add any FB page you manage as a co-host to expand who sees your event details. You can also add vendor and speaker pages so your event will appear on their calendars also.
  • Include keywords to help people find you
  • Write a brief description that explains the value of your event

Step 4: Create a content calendar

Plan your Facebook content to help you stay focused. Include a mix of blogs, images, videos, status updates, opinion polls, and a few outright promotional messages. Craft posts about individual speakers , workshops, or special events to get your fans excited. Ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue and feedback. Post regularly for best results. Don’t forget that your Facebook presence is an extension of your brand, so your messaging, images, and offers should be consistent with the rest of your branding and marketing.

Step 5: Monitor and evaluate your efforts

Facebook offers infinite possibilities for customizing your messaging, images, offers, and formats. But none of that matters if you don’t track what works and what doesn’t. Use the platform’s reporting features to see how many people saw your ads, how many took action, and what actions they took. Edit or turn off ads that aren’t performing to your expectations. Consider increasing your budget on ads doing exceptionally well. Use what you learn about your audience’s likes and dislikes to adjust images, messaging, and offers going forward.

Don’t miss out on attendees and new members

If you’re not marketing your event on Facebook, quite simply, you’re missing out. Your members and prospects are already there, hanging out and hungry for engaging content and offers. Leverage this smart platform to reach your base, find new prospects, and drive event attendance.

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Engage more attendees and prospects with Facebook Canvas

Facebook Canvas is an immersive storytelling platform you can use to communicate with your base, drive event attendance, and build brand loyalty. It’s more than an ad; it’s an interactive marketing experience. Canvas is simple to set up, but before you start placing buttons and adding images you need a plan. It’s a good idea to outline your key points and basic story line first.

The look and feel of your Canvas should be in line with the rest of your branding. This is especially important if you’re also running Facebook ads. All your online branding should match so users recognize you no matter where they encounter your brand.

Customize your story

The possibilities for customizing your Canvas are endless. You can select a range of styles and colors using easy drag-and-drop tools. Available components include button, photo, text block, video, and header. These can all be used more than once throughout your Canvas. A good strategy is to include a mix of content, high-quality images, and video to engage your users. As with any effective marketing piece, don’t forget clear calls to action. Keep things short and to the point so you don’t lose your audience. A general rule is to include only one or two key points in each Canvas. You can always create more than one for your event.

Create a custom audience

Once your Canvas is complete, you should create a custom audience in Facebook for people who have opened and/or clicked on any links in your Canvas. This allows for precisely targeting these individuals based on their interests and behaviors later on. Canvas is exclusively a mobile platform. That means when you set up your Canvas you will need to select “mobile only” in the ad set process.

Ideas for associations

This exciting new medium has endless potential for marketers. It is especially well suited for associations. Consider using Canvas to promote the following:

  • Curated member stories, to inspire attendees
  • ROI Toolkit, to prove the value of your event
  • Membership, with a sign-up form at the end
  • Overall conference, with a call to register at the end

Canvas allows you to go beyond traditional advertising formats to truly engage your base with compelling stories and relevant offers. It also helps you track user behavior so you can more precisely focus your marketing efforts going forward.

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5 Steps to Facebook Marketing Success

Navigating digital advertising platforms can be confusing and expensive. You might end up spending a lot of money and getting very few results in return. But online advertising also offers a huge opportunity to reach a specific audience with relevant messages and offers. For member organizations, that means discovering more potential members and event attendees. We recommend Facebook as the place to start for affordable online advertising that gets results.

Follow these five steps to ensure you see ROI on your Facebook marketing dollars.

1. You need a strategy.

Launching an ad and hoping you get overwhelmed with responses sounds great, but it’s unlikely to happen without a comprehensive marketing strategy. As with any good campaign, start by establishing the objective. What do you want to happen as a result of your efforts?

When it comes to digital advertising, consider one of these outcomes:
  • event attendance or membership
  • clicks to website or video views
  • conversions on your site
  • page post engagement
  • likes
  • app installs
  • brand awareness
  • local awareness
  • offers claimed
  • product sales
  • lead generation

Be specific and quantify your objective. How many more clicks do you want? How many new members do you need to sign up?

The next stage of your strategy is to select your ad set. We recommend using Facebook’s Power Editor over its Ads Manger for this step as well as the rest of your campaign. Here you’ll decide whom to target, how much you will spend, the timing of your campaign, where the ads will appear, and how they will be optimized. You can always make adjustments to these settings later on based on campaign performance.

Only after you’ve established your strategy, objective, and ad set should you proceed with creating visuals and messaging for the ads people will see.

2. Use segmented custom audiences

An especially useful feature of Facebook advertising is the ability to target individuals who are already on your contact list in addition to new prospects. To take advantage of this option, you will first need to install the Facebook Pixel on your website and upload your segmented email lists. This allows you to retarget ads to your site visitors as well as the people on your email lists. You can even create a custom audience for every page of your website.

Throughout the entire process you have the ability to customize ad sets based on budget, placement, timing, and optimization. You can also tailor your ad images and messaging based on your audience segments. All this adds up to precisely targeting known users and prospects with highly relevant content based on their actual interests and online behaviors.

3. Use custom conversions.

Facebook’s custom conversions help you target visitors to your website who ended up converting (filling out a form, registering for your event, making an inbound inquiry or purchase, etc). To use custom conversions, it is best to have a landing page directly on your site. Here’s an example:

If a user wants to sign up for your newsletter, they visit Once they submit their email address, they are redirected to another landing page saying, “Thanks for signing up.” That might be Because Facebook Pixel is already on your site, Facebook can optimize for this conversion when running your ads. It will target these users who have already interacted with your brand (and who we know are more likely to convert again in the future).

4. Don’t forget to test.

One of the great advantages of digital advertising is that you can make changes instantly based on performance. A good strategy is to A/B test images, video, and copy to dial in a winning combination. You can pause or revise ads that are underperforming or increase your budget on ads doing especially well.

Facebook has a range of features, such as image carousel or Canvas, that you can test to optimize your campaigns. For the best results, test only one item at a time. For example, use the same copy with two different images to see which image performs better. After a week, turn off the ad with less activity.

5. Review your stats.

Facebook advertising is not a “set it and forget it” tactic. It’s important to monitor your campaign statistics from BOTH Ads Manger and Power Editor. Ads Manager allows you to see key insights on performance, demographics, and placement. Power Editor provides more specific info on your click-though rates, or CTR, and the average cost per thousand impressions, or CPM. Once you evaluate campaigns using multiple data sets, you can make informed adjustments to boost performance going forward.

Why Facebook?

Compared to web retargeting, Facebook offers more affordable solutions and better results for associations to reach their audiences and convert users to members and attendees. Contact Rottman Creative today to get started using this platform.

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How to Transition Members from a Non-Engaged to an Engaged State

Lots of associations focus on the numbers. How many members do we have? How many people attended our event? While a strong base of members and attendees is essential to your long-term sustainability, don’t overlook an even more important element: engagement.

If you’re rolling your eyes at what sounds like just another corporate buzz word, give us a moment. Engagement is a knowable, measurable component that can directly improve your event and your organization overall.

What is engagement?

True engagement includes two parts, involvement and commitment. When people are engaged at your event, it means they’re both mentally and physically present. They set aside their phones and their work to listen, connect, participate, and share ideas. Some will even volunteer, join committees, publish papers, present sessions, and host webinars. Engaged members further the life-changing work of your organization by getting involved and committing to your mission.

Chances are not all your members are fully engaged, and that’s okay. There are various defined levels of engagement, as you’ll see in the Engagement Path below. All levels are important to your event and your organization.

At the bottom of the Engagement Path are the Outliers, people who are aware of your organization and are following or observing your activities and communications. Reaching Outliers relies heavily on technology—web, email, and social media—which allows you to reach a broad base with a light touch. Little interaction or engagement take place at this level, but you are beginning the important work of raising awareness and reassuring interest.

At the top of the pyramid are the Agents, individuals whose personal and professional mission are aligned with your organization’s mission. Agents are compelled to connect and contribute to achieve breakthroughs and change lives. Proceeding up the pyramid requires more intense effort on your part, too. Communications take the form of personal connections, face-to-face interactions, and top-notch events. You reach a smaller group but forge higher-quality connections here. The farther up the pyramid you go, the more likely it is that you’re engaging members, driving brand loyalty, and creating Agents.

If you’re like most associations, the majority of your members fall somewhere in the middle, in the Tribe level. Tribe members might comment on your social media posts or attend an event or two. They follow your organization’s activities and communications, but they aren’t yet the loyal Agents you need to thrive. This middle ground is prime territory for increasing engagement.

How to fuel the transition with engagement marketing

You can transition members from the bottom or middle to the top of the Engagement Path by following the Engagement Marketing Cycle. This journey has three stages: elements of build awareness, manifestation of inspiration and transition to reassurance

Elements of build awareness: Identify your mission by focusing on the one thing of most value you need your audience to know. Develop a strategy that clearly communicates your value proposition. Spark inspiration and engagement by creating a unified brand experience.

Manifestation of inspiration: Launch segmented campaigns using storytelling and compelling triggers and targets to drive membership, attendance, and engagement. Focus on the buying cycle to decide who needs to hear from you and when. Deliver on your brand promise with relevant offers, a killer event, and year-round opportunities for members to connect and engage (ex: online forums, regional events). Follow up on member case stories and publish your successes to reinforce your value proposition.

Transition to Reassurance: Evaluate your initial campaigns and the level of engagement of your base. Be nimble and ready to make changes if necessary. You must reassure your audience that your organization and event will enable their goals and open them to new possibilities. After your event, identify what worked and what could be improved for next year.

When we combine the Engagement Path with the Engagement Marketing Cycle, it looks like this:

Increasing engagement doesn’t happen overnight. Each step is equally important and takes time to achieve. You’ll likely have a constant flow of members moving through all the levels at any given time. You’ll also find yourself starting the Engagement Marketing Cycle over again each year to drive membership and event attendance. The important thing is to keep working on moving individuals to an engaged state. That way you’ll always have a solid core of committed, involved individuals to sustain your organization.

Where to start? Take the Engagement Assessment to find out how your organization rates on the Engagement Scale. You’ll learn your Engagement Gang profile and next steps to transition your members from non-engaged to engaged. Click here to take the assessment now.

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Engagement Marketing Powered by Neuroscience

How can you increase membership and attendance? How can you fuel engagement at your events and throughout the year? When it comes to marketing, what really grabs attention and compels people to take action? Rottman Creative exists to answer these questions and more for member associations. We provide marketing solutions that drive attendance and customer engagement by increasing brand loyalty. Our strategies are based on research and neuroscience, and they generate measurable outcomes for our clients.

Our codified methodology is successful because it’s based on how the human brain works, not on the latest marketing fads. To add more firepower to your marketing, we also focus on the buying cycle to deliver the right messaging to the right audience segment at the right time. All our insights add up to increased attendance and as much as 23% increased engagement for member organizations.

Why engagement?

We know engagement is more than just “showing up.” It’s about more than attendees. You need members to set aside their phones and their everyday tasks so they can focus on your event and the value they can give to it and get from it. You need individuals who are compelled from within to take action, work together, and tackle the hard stuff that leads to success in your field. And you need everyone to come back next year and do it all over again. The sustainability of your organization depends on engagement.

Why neuroscience?

The way to achieve engagement isn’t by adding more programming, speakers, certifications, and other “stuff.” It turns out humans are hardwired to connect, and we feel engaged when we make high-quality connections. We also feel engaged through storytelling, not primarily through straightforward facts and information. The research tells us that human beings make decisions in the emotional center of the brain, not the logical one. By tapping into human nature and the latest neuroscience, Rottman Creative can more effectively target and engage your base.

TNT, triggers and targets

To move interested parties through your buying cycle—from being aware or interested to actually taking action—you need compelling triggers and targets in your marketing communications. Triggers might be your products, events, and special offers. Targets include whatever you want your members to do, like register for an event or make a purchase. We’ve mastered triggers and targets to drive acquisition, retention, attendance, and ultimately engagement.

Not another Cheerios!

We’re careful not to overwhelm your audience with too many triggers/targets and too much stuff. Our approach is to focus on the one thing of most value your members need to know. Consider for example Cheerios. At one time the Cheerios brand included 16 different varieties of basically the same cereal. Rather than increasing sales and brand loyalty, Cheerios experienced a decline in both areas. Their brand became watered down with too many choices, and their customers got lost in the clutter. Cheerios is now moving toward a less complex brand with fewer options. We believe associations should take a lesson from Cheerios, to simplify and focus on one core value proposition.

Why Rottman Creative?

Choose Rottman Creative as your engagement marketing firm if you want measurable outcomes—like increased attendance and engagement—based on neuroscience and a proven, codified methodology. We guarantee our discovery & strategy work, so if you’re not satisfied, you get your money back. Contact us to get started with your engagement marketing plan today.

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3 Digital Marketing Tactics for Event Marketers

Nowadays you can’t have a conversation about event marketing without mentioning digital. As part of the Engagement Assessment Survey, we asked association executives how they’re using digital tactics to enhance their membership, attendance, and engagement marketing. The results show that while tactics such as email are widely adopted, other digital marketing opportunities are underused.

Take a look at the survey findings below. Then consider how you might enhance your existing digital efforts or add a new channel to drive attendance and engagement.

Importance of Email Marketing Automation

Survey Question: How important is email marketing automation?

Email marketing automation is extremely or very important to a total of 71% of associations, according to the survey respondents. The remainder, over one-quarter, say it is somewhat or not very important. An additional survey question revealed that nine out of ten associations use an email service provider to execute their email automation.

Use of Video or Motion Graphics

Survey Question: Do you use video or motion graphics in any of your online membership or event attendance marketing?

Video in particular has emerged rapidly over the past few years as a key medium for communications and marketing, and today over half of associations are using video in some form in their membership and attendance marketing. The use of motion graphics is more limited. According to the findings, only 16% of associations use motion graphics currently.

Interest in Using More Video or Motion Graphics

Survey Question: What is your level of interest in using, or starting to use, more video and motion graphics in your marketing?

The level of interest in using more video and motion graphics in marketing is somewhat mixed. The survey found 47% of associations have a high or extremely high level of interest, although 40% say their interest level is moderate or somewhat moderate.

The main perceived challenges to using more video and motion graphics are by far budget and other resources.

How Video and Motion Graphics are Used in Marketing

Survey Question: In which areas do you use video and motion graphics related to marketing?

Video and motion graphics are mainly used on association or event websites; although 61% use some in social media posts. The findings show video and motion graphics are more often used as part of attendance marketing than membership development communications.

Your digital strategy

First things first. If you’re among the 29% of associations who are not using email automation, it’s time to get on the bandwagon. Email offers a relatively low-cost way to stay in touch with customers and prospects, build loyalty, and drive event attendance and engagement. Automating your email with help from an email service provider further streamlines the process without costing you significant time and resources.

If your email program is humming a long, you might consider adding video or motion graphics to your marketing mix. We know users engage more with visuals than with text, and they respond better to videos than static images. If you’re already using these tactics on your website, consider incorporating them into your social media posts, marketing emails, or event app. Get even more mileage by including videos and motion graphics in presentations or at your event itself.

Yes, budget is a concern when it comes to digital marketing. But video and motion graphics don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Consider setting up a story booth or appointing a roving reporter at your next event. For many member organizations, short, authentic video testimonials from attendees can be more powerful than expensive promotional segments produced and polished in a studio. Motion graphics are an affordable way to bring your existing library of photos and images to life with a little help from a motion graphics designer.

Next-level digital marketing

Once you have a solid foundation of messaging, videos, and motion graphics, you can put this collateral to use in social media marketing. Facebook’s latest advertising platform, Facebook Pixel, helps you use data-driven, personalized messaging to raise brand awareness, attract new audiences, and convert browsers into attendees.

It’s easy for associations, or any business really, to get lost in all the trendy, newfangled digital marketing opportunities. Don’t be daunted. Start with just three tactics—email, video, and motion graphics—then build on this foundation as your budget and resources allow. Digital isn’t going away. The sooner you embrace it, the sooner you’ll attract more members and attendees and build engagement throughout the year.

Need help navigating the brave new world of digital event marketing? Contact us today to get started.

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Remove Common Barriers to Event Attendance and Engagement

How to overcome event marketing challenges

How to overcome event marketing challenges

Attract younger members. Encourage repeat event attendance. Build passion and engagement among members. Change more lives. Every member organization faces these challenges and more when it comes to marketing for membership, attendance, and engagement. According to the Association Engagement Survey, most associations expect these challenges to continue. (A whopping 58% are pessimistic about the future of their events.)

Take a look at the survey results below that address common marketing challenges and the overall outlook for events. While it’s true these can seem like pretty daunting obstacles, everything’s not all doom and gloom. A fresh engagement marketing strategy can help you conquer these hurdles and keep your event growing and thriving.

Biggest Membership Marketing Challenges – Association Executive Quotes

Survey Question: What is your biggest membership marketing challenge?

Select responses from association executives:
  • “Attracting younger and more ethnically diverse members.”
  • “Continually demonstrating the value of an intangible product to potential buyers.”
  • “Conveying value of networking.”
  • “Engagement.”
  • “Finding prospects outside core membership.”
  • “Getting leadership to understand there are more pockets of potential members that represent different areas of the profession that have been overlooked in the past.”
  • “Knowing why people attend our meetings and figuring out how to attract new attendees.”
  • “Marketing to the youth.”
  • “Reaching members who are disengaged/transactional.”
  • “Redefining and persuasively communicating a robust membership value proposition.”
  • “Relevance and value proposition.”
  • “Retaining new/younger members and getting first time members to commit for more than just one year (those that join just to attend the annual meeting).”
  • “Retention after year two.”
  • “The right design to grab attention enough that a prospect is enticed enough to call about membership and review our programs.”
  • “Thinking of membership marketing as its own program.”

Biggest Audience Development and Attendance Marketing Challenges – Association Executive Quotes

Survey Question: What is your biggest event audience development and attendance marketing challenge?

Select responses from association executives:
  • “Convincing leadership to market/advertise outside of our in-house efforts.”
  • “Creating content that attracts a wide variety of attendees.”
  • “Engaging younger members to participate/attend.”
  • “Find out what their needs are and how we can improve our event.”
  • “Getting awareness of our events to people outside our membership.”
  • “Growing the audience and engagement.”
  • “Having so much for so many audiences and not being able to properly segment and target communications.”
  • “Having the time to implement a targeted marketing effort.”
  • “Helping people make the business case to attend.”
  • “Keeping them after the join as a result of attending a meeting. Engaging them with a local chapter and getting them to purchase other products/services.”
  • “Proper messaging — to register vs. once registered.”
  • “Reaching new audiences.”
  • “Understanding why people attend and figuring out how to get new attendees.”

The Growth Outlook is Mixed for Associations’ Largest Events

Survey Question: What do you see as the trend and outlook for large, leading association conventions, exhibitions, conferences, and other events in terms of growth and relevance?

Association executives disagree on the outlook for their largest events in terms of growth and relevance to their markets, although the majority are pessimistic. Consider that 39% say large association events are experiencing flat growth and have a stagnant outlook, and 19% say large events are getting smaller and are less relevant. On the other side, 28% have a positive outlook and say their largest events are growing. Lastly, 15% of the survey respondents are unsure about the outlook for growth and continued relevance.

How to conquer challenges

You might assume from these survey findings that events are losing relevance and fading away. But this is far from the truth. The real issue is that organizations aren’t proving the ROI of attending their events—and attendance and engagement suffer as a result.

Additional findings from the Association Engagement Survey indicate that many associations lack a clear acquisition and attendance marketing strategy—or they have a tired, worn-out strategy. Many ignore storytelling as a powerful engagement platform—even though it’s a proven winner. Other organizations know their value but lack a clear value proposition. These findings suggest that associations have plenty of opportunities to improve outcomes.

So what can you do? Let’s focus on that 28% of association executives who say their events are growing and thriving. These individuals prove that events can be successful. For your events to thrive, too, you need an effective engagement marketing strategy that demonstrates the value of your event. It starts with a clear value proposition. It also includes regular and relevant contact using compelling triggers and targets, curated member stories, and an authentic, human voice.

Overcoming challenges to improve attendance and engagement is well within your grasp. Contact us to get started crafting an engagement marketing strategy today.

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Drive Attendance and Engagement Using a Time-Testing Technique

Why event marketers need more storytelling

Why event marketers need more storytelling

Storytelling is a proven technique for sharing information, bringing people together, inspiring action, and exploring possibilities. Recently, neuroscientists have shed new light on this ancient platform. It turns out our brains engage more fully with stories than with information alone. We feel what the characters in the story feel—in both a tactile and emotional sense. This deep connection actually influences our behavior.

It only makes sense, then, that if you want to attract people to your event and encourage them to engage while they’re there, you should use storytelling. But, it turns out that many event marketers ignore this powerful marketing tool. The recent Association Engagement Survey reveals that only one-third of associations use storytelling in their event marketing. That means many are missing out on countless potential attendees as well as the contributions these individuals could make to their event and their mission.

Here’s the Storytelling Survey Questions and it’s Findings:

One-Third of Associations Use Storytelling as Part of Their Membership Marketing Approach

Survey Question: Does storytelling play a significant role in either your membership or event attendance marketing?

Thirty-three percent of associations say storytelling plays a significant role in their membership marketing, and 30% say they use this approach in their event attendance communications. Thirty-nine percent say they do not use any storytelling techniques currently.

Now, let’s switch gears slightly for a minute and consider this engagement question and its findings:

Event Attendees are Somewhat More Engaged than Many Association Members

Survey Questions: How would you rate your members’ engagement with your association overall on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 equal to the highest level of engagement? (And) How would you rate your attendees’ engagement with your association event on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 equal to the highest level of engagement?

The survey asked association executives to rate the level of their members’ and event attendees’ engagement on a 10-point scale. As the table shows, event attendees are considered to be more engaged. This makes sense as events often attract the most active members and important association management meetings are held in conjunction with the main programs.

How Storytelling and Engagement Work Together

Given the relatively low number of associations who use storytelling (about one-third), it’s not surprising that member engagement tends to be moderate to low and is only somewhat higher among event attendees. There’s room for improvement here! People need to be inspired to act, and one of the best ways to do that is through storytelling. Below is a sample story structure to get you started, along with some examples of where to use stories in your marketing.

Start Telling Stories

You likely won’t have any trouble getting those 8s, 9s, and 10s from the survey to attend your event and be engaged. However, most of your members and prospects will need some nudging to be inspired to attend and to be engaged while there. Your event marketing must prove that the value gained by attending is greater than the money, effort, and time it takes to get there. How can you do that? As the neuroscientists tell us, you can’t simply present a logical cost-benefit analysis. The numbers alone are just not inspiring or compelling enough to win over all those people rated a 5 and below. You need storytelling as part of a fresh engagement marketing strategy.

Begin with a compelling value proposition that proves the ROI of your event. Then collect curated member and attendee stories that demonstrate this value. Once you have stories, you can distribute them on the web, in email, on micro-sites, via digital marketing, and through direct mail to inspire and engage your base.

Need to increase attendance and engagement? Contact us today to add strategic storytelling to your marketing plan.

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Insights to Help you Bridge the Gap Between What you Want and What you Have

How Organizations Drive Membership and Attendance

How Organizations Drive Membership and Attendance

You’re probably investing significant time and resources to increase event attendance. Great! But are you also leveraging your event to increase overall membership? Do you know which areas of your conference and your marketing to enhance in order to drive attendance and member acquisition?

Rottman Creative recently partnered with Access Intelligence to find out how associations drive membership, event attendance, and engagement. The findings reveal a disconnect between what associations know about their attendees and how they use these insights to drive membership and attendance. Here’s a look at a few key findings we discovered:

Less than Half of Associations have a Clear Membership Acquisition Strategy

Survey Question: Do you feel your association has a clear membership acquisition and growth strategy?

Only 44% of association executives surveyed say their organization has a clear membership acquisition and growth strategy. And a similar percentage – 43% – say they do not have a strategy. The rest of the respondents are unsure if they have a clear strategy or not. The survey found similar segments of associations saying the same about their event attendance marketing approach: 46% say they have a clear event attendance marketing and growth strategy, 42% say they don’t have one at all, and 12% are unsure. These findings show many associations need to revisit their strategic plans. Many simply have their membership acquisition process on autopilot, following the same script year-after-year.

Most Associations are Missing Opportunities Tied to their Events to Increase Membership

Survey Question: Do you feel that your organization misses opportunities to increase membership related to your event attendance marketing and engagement? If Yes, please explain what’s missing:

Fifty-eight percent of association executives say their organization is missing opportunities to increase membership related to their event attendance marketing and engagement process. This is particularly an issue because one of the main goals of hosting events is to increase membership. Essentially over half of associations are saying a key aspect of their events is not effective, or at least would benefit from new strategies and approaches.

What’s missing? Here are select responses from association executives:
  • “Connection to membership value.”
  • “Focus is on attendance, not membership value.”
  • “Missed opportunity to promote association via social media, targeting a younger audience.”
  • “More targeted messaging to different demographics and groups.”
  • “No strategic plan. Staff resources limited.”
  • “We don’t have a complete marketing strategy.”
  • “We don’t use the most effective tool ‘word of mouth’ effectively.”
  • “We need to expand to a broader audience.”

Nearly 80% of Associations with Events Have a Good Understanding of Why Their Attendees Attend And What they Value

Survey Question: Does your organization have a good understanding of why attendees attend your events and what they most value?

Seventy-nine percent of associations with events say they understand their attendees’ motivations to participate in their events. This compares to 21% that do not have a good understanding of these motivations or say they are unsure.

Besides Growing Total Attendance, Associations use Events to Increase Membership

Survey Question: Which of the following best describe your overall attendance marketing goals for your largest, most important event?

It’s no surprise that most association events have a goal to increase attendance, but the other top goal is to use events to increase total association membership. Following these top two attendance marketing goals is to drive total exhibit-floor traffic and attendance numbers for exhibitors.

Enhance Educational Sessions is the Main Tactic to Achieve Attendance Marketing Goals

Survey Question: What has your organization been doing more recently specifically to reach event attendance goals?

To reach their attendance marketing goals, associations are mainly enhancing their educational sessions and providing more networking opportunities. The top three attendance marketing tactics found in the survey are: (1.) adding educational sessions, 57%; (2.) reviewing attendance marketing tactics and processes, 53%; (3.) adding networking opportunities, 51%.

What’s Next?

You likely have a good understanding of your audience and what they need and want. But if you find your organization among those without a clear strategy—or perhaps with a tired one on autopilot—it’s time to take action. It is tempting to add more educational sessions, different speakers, or more exhibitors. But first, let’s take a step back.

Members and prospects don’t want more stuff. They want measurable value. A savvy engagement marketing plan begins with an irresistible value proposition that proves the ROI of joining your organization and attending your event. Once you have a clear value proposition, you can build on it to drive membership and attendance with compelling engagement marketing.

Looking to increase event attendance and member acquisition? Contact us to help you develop a value proposition and a complete engagement marketing strategy.

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You Know your Event has Value, But Can you Prove It?

How to fuel attendance and engagement with an ROI Toolkit

How to fuel attendance and engagement with an ROI Toolkit

Attendees don’t buy products (a.k.a your event). They buy outcomes. They don’t really care what you have to offer. They care what’s in it for them. If you can’t prove the outcomes of attending your event, your marketing will have to work much harder to drive attendance. It will cost you more time and money to get people to register. You will also have a difficult time getting people to engage during your event—no matter how many great things you offer.

When you promote your event you’re asking people to spend their M.E.T. (Money, Effort, and Time) to attend. In exchange for these three valuable resources, your attendees expect another M.E.T. in return, something Meaningful, Eventful, and Thought-provoking. But you need to go further. You need to quantify these ideas to show an actual return on investment.

Imagine if you could tell prospects, “Attendees on average see a $3000 increase in sales after they put our ideas to work.” Or maybe it’s, “Attendees save an average of $5000 on products and freight thanks to show-only discounts.” These real outcomes would be powerful reasons to register for your event—and to be engaged while there. An Attendee ROI Toolkit can help you craft a strong value proposition like these that proves the value of your conference and encourages attendance and engagement.

How much ROI is enough?

On average, your attendees should realize a return on investment between 3:1 and 5:1. That means if they spend $1000 in travel, lodging, and registration, they should see $3000 to $5000 in return.

Depending on your organization and your event, ROI might take one or more of these forms:

  • increased customer acquisition
  • boost in sales
  • efficiencies gained
  • costly mistakes avoided
  • deals closed
  • product or freight discounts
  • connections created or nurtured
  • free or discounted coaching, tools, or information products
  • free or discounted continuing education credits and certifications

While there will always be immeasurable benefits of attending your event, many of the items above are quantifiable. A little research will tell you how much consulting and seminars cost compared to your event offerings. Check in with vendors to see what show-only discounts they’re offering. Find out how much continuing education credits cost from other sources. Add up the monetary value of free tools and resources. All these data points will help you create a no-brainer value proposition to include in your toolkit: Attending our event will make/save you X in money, effort, and time.

How to assemble the ROI toolkit

You can further demonstrate your event’s value by asking prospects a series of questions that get to the heart of their unique situations. Start by walking them through their event-related expenses, from registration to travel, lodging, and food. Create a simple worksheet with a grand total at the bottom. This is your number to beat.

Demonstrating value is the more difficult portion of the toolkit. In fact, many conferences that already have an ROI toolkit fall short of showing actual value based on real data. You need to be so convincing that only a fool would say no. Stick to hard numbers whenever possible. And avoid silly or trivial items, such as “Free cocktail reception, $50 value.” Employers don’t send attendees to conferences for free booze.

Here are a few value-based questions to get your prospects thinking:

  • Who will you meet with at the conference?
  • Are there relationships you can initiate or cultivate?
  • Is there business you can close?

  • What challenges are you trying to solve?
  • What resources does this event provide that will solve these challenges?
  • How much would you spend on these solutions (trainings, consultation, info products etc.) from other sources?

  • Does the conference offer discounts you plan to take advantage of? List the approximate savings if known.
  • Are there other opportunities in the conference city that you can leverage while you’re there (ex: site visits, client meetings, etc.)?
  • What resources does this event offer that you can’t get anywhere else?

These questions will help prospects (and their employers) see the tangible and intangible benefits of attending your event. To encourage repeat attendance, you might consider surveying past attendees to show actual ROI. Here are a few example queries:

  • How much did you save thanks to product discounts at the conference?
  • How much did you save on freight at the conference?
  • Did you receive any free tools or resources? What is their approximate value?
  • Did you notice an increase in sales after you implemented ideas from the event? How much?
  • Did the connections you made save you from making costly mistakes? How much did you save?
  • ex: switching service providers based on the recommendation of a colleague saved me $100/month.

Have attendees or prospects fill out the toolkit online. That way, you’ll not only convince them to attend in a convenient survey-style format; you’ll also gain a huge amount of information. From there you can craft strategic engagement marketing that will prove the measurable ROI of your event and its Meaningful, Eventful, and Thought-provoking value.

Benefits this year and next

As an added bonus, an ROI toolkit helps attendees come to your event primed and ready to engage. Since they’ve already anticipated what your event offers and how they will benefit, attendees are more likely to connect, learn, and engage. As a result, they are more likely to see maximum value from your conference AND register again next year.

Need an Attendee ROI Toolkit? We can help! Contact us to learn how you can ask the right questions to create an ROI toolkit that drives attendance and engagement.

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Prove the ROI of Attending your Event to Drive Attendance and Engagement over the Long Term

Why Your Event Needs a Value Proposition

Why Your Event Needs a Value Proposition

Let’s face it. Attending your event is expensive. There’s travel, lodging, and registration costs plus time away from the office. Even if your event is really great, people might not attend because the costs are just too high.

You know your event offers so much value—so much education, career-advancing certifications, connection, and inspiration—that people would be foolish not to attend. Yet your numbers aren’t what they should be, and the people who do attend aren’t fully engaged. There’s a disconnect between the value you offer and the attendance and engagement you see.

So what’s an organization to do? You need to prove that the ROI of attending your event is higher than the cost. You need a value proposition to close the attendance and engagement gaps.

What a value proposition is

A good value proposition solves problems for your members and prospects. It overcomes impositions. It clearly illustrates the benefits of your event. A thoughtful value proposition that speaks to audience pain points sets you apart from competitors. It doesn’t “tell” why you’re better. It “shows” why you’re better using concrete data points.

What a value proposition is NOT

Don’t confuse a value proposition with a tagline, slogan, brand mark or conference theme. While these feel-good items can help you brand and market your event, they don’t show value or ROI. Similarly, a “Why Attend” letter that summarizes benefits and conference offerings is not a value proposition. This piece might come close to addressing your value, but chances are it lists too many “things” like sessions and networking opportunities. These things are not compelling enough to offset the costs of attending. You need more value.

Elements of a value proposition

If all this sounds a bit daunting it’s because you’re starting to see just how important a value proposition is to the success of your event—and to the sustainability of your organization. But don’t worry.

There are only three main elements to a good value proposition:
  1. Advantage statement. Concisely state how people will benefit from attending your event. Be specific. If you have hard data, such as improved sales, money saved, and customers gained after attending, your value prop will be that much more compelling.
  2. Substance claim. Tell people what you have to offer, to whom, and why. This will reinforce your value to members and quality prospects. At the same time it will weed out people who aren’t a good fit.
  3. Hero image. The human brain processes images better than text. Create a unique visualization of your advantage statement to grab attention and encourage action.

Thought-provoking questions

To cover all the elements above, you have to ask the right questions. There is no substitute for knowing your target audience.

Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
  • What are attendees trying to get done at their jobs?
  • What obstacles keep them from getting it done?
  • What do you offer that will remove their obstacles or alleviate pain points?
  • What gains or benefits will they achieve by attending your event?

The answers to these questions will not only improve the way you market your event. They will also help you provide a valuable event experience that meets audience needs, solves their problems, and removes obstacles to their success. In other words, they will help you deliver on the promises in your marketing and fuel engagement at your event.

Have you M.E.T. me?

Your members and prospects spend Money, Time, and Effort to attend your conference, and they expect to see real value in return.

As you begin to craft your value proposition, consider these three questions your audience might have:
  1. Money: Does the value I gain exceed my out-of-pocket costs of attending?
  2. Effort: Is it worth the effort of leaving the office and traveling cross-country?
  3. Time: If I show up and be present, will I be rewarded for my time?

If your conference value proposition does not answer these three questions with a resounding YES, then who will attend your event and engage with your organization? If you can’t demonstrate in your marketing that your event has measurable ROI, then people won’t come. If they do come, they won’t be present and engaged.

How to gauge engagement: The phone check

Your event attendance and member engagement are directly related to your ability to demonstrate your event’s value. Look around the conference floor at your next event. If you see too many people on their phones, it means they’re not engaged with you. Instead, they’re engaged with their technology. They are not present, and they won’t retain any of the information your events provides.

People engaged with their phones can’t see the value in your event (even though they were compelled to register and attend). You’ll have a hard time convincing these people to give up their money, effort, and time to attend next year. Your event—and your organization itself—will not be sustainable if people aren’t engaged. Your value proposition is the place to begin remedying this situation.

Need a value prop? We can help!

Rottman Creative has developed a series of questions to identify your audience needs and how your event will meet them. Once you answer the questions, we can help you develop a value proposition to prove the ROI of attending. Contact us today to get started.

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7 Strategies for Improved Engagement and 7 Bonus Tips

How to Use Engagement Marketing in Your Emails to Drive Event Attendance

How to Use Engagement Marketing in Your Emails to Drive Event Attendance

Email marketing represents a big opportunity to drive event attendance and encourage engagement. As a platform for communication, it remains king across all generations. The recent Association Audience & Member Engagement Study shows that 56% or more of Millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers, and Matures prefer email over any other channel. If you’re getting just ho hum results from your email, you’re missing out. Here are seven proven strategies to improve your email marketing to get attention, drive event attendance, and build lasting engagement.

1. Relevant Messaging

Effective messaging has only one specific trigger and one target per email. Triggers include your products, events, and special offers. Targets are whatever you want your members to do, like register for an event or make a purchase. Choose triggers and targets based on what you know about your audience and where they are in the buying cycle. Avoid blasting your audience with too many offers at once because people will get lost in the clutter and won’t take any action. Mastering triggers and targets drives acquisition, retention, attendance, and engagement.

2. Distinct Brand Voice

Developing a distinct and unique brand voice is essential to effective engagement marketing, in your emails and across all your platforms. Try a conversational, human tone to best reach members. It should be authentic and approachable. From there, neuroscience tell us that stories inspire more than facts. Consider adding curated attendee stories to your engagement marketing mix.

3. Free Resources

A little extra insight goes a long way when it comes to email marketing. We use to test the effectiveness of email subject lines before hitting send. We also use World Data’s B2B and B2C Email Marketing Calendar to identify top performing dates as well as the poor performing ones to avoid. For instance, the calendar suggests you should avoid sending promotional emails on Mondays and Fridays, when readership tends to be low.

4. Email Marketing Automation and Email Service Provider (ESP)

The Association Audience & Member Engagement Study shows that 72% of event marketers see email marketing automation as either extremely important or very important. However, many fall short in using automation to its full potential to generate, track, and score leads. Seize this huge opportunity by investing in improved email automation. (We’ll show you how!) Additionally, if you aren’t already using an email service provider—start today. An ESP can help you create, schedule, personalize, and track your campaigns more effectively than your in-house email system. It can also send a larger volume.

5. High-Quality List

Without a high-quality list, even the best marketers will see poor email results. Take a look at the date contacts were added to your list, the size of your list, and the number of opens and clicks. You could be experiencing poor deliverability if your email addresses are very old or if contacts haven’t opened one of your messages in six months or more.

If your list is too small, you might also be falling short of your full potential. To increase your email list, consider purchasing a list from a trusted provider. The best lists, however, are those you create yourself using one of these methods:

  • create lookalike audiences within Facebook and target ads to them
  • encourage current subscribers to share with friends and colleagues
  • offer freebies such as an e-book, whitepaper and webinars on your website in exchange for email addresses

When building your list, keep in mind that it is always easier to engage someone who already knows about you or is interested in what your organization offers. Think about it: It’s easier to sell salad dressing to someone who already eats salad!

6. Segmentation

Creating smaller, specific lists from your larger database is a proven best practice for more effective marketing. Segmentation allows you to send relevant messages to different audience members depending on their unique situations. You could segment based on any number of factors, but here are a few ideas relevant to event marketers:

  • last year’s attendees
  • members who have never attended
  • lapsed attendees (members who attended in years past but haven’t attended recently)

Once you establish your segments, you should tailor the language of your message to appeal to each segment.

7. Optimal Structure

Images, graphics, and a responsive layout can affect open and click-through rates—which are directly related to member engagement, brand loyalty, and event attendance. It’s a good strategy to start with a white background and a one-column format for your content area. Add compelling images to draw attention, and embed videos for increased engagement. Consider creating a standard masthead for your event to connect the dots among messages. For a more effective call to action, use graphics instead of hyperlinks.

No matter the content, it is absolutely essential that you create an adaptive and responsive email for a range of technology outlets. This will ensure that your message is powerful and professional whether a prospect views it on a desktop, phone, or tablet.

When done well, engagement marketing means connecting in relevant, meaningful, interesting ways with audiences who want to hear from you. If you can pull this off (and you can!) everything changes.* Not only will attendance and membership increase but members will be more engaged. People will put down their phones, they’ll be truly present, they’ll connect meaningfully with like-minded colleagues, and together they’ll dig in to make things happen for your organization. Your email marketing is a key component in driving this deep engagement before and during your event and all year long.

“Engagement Marketing 101 (Redux)”, Marketing Daily, April 18, 2012

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A Plan for Starting or Overhauling Event Marketing that Drives Attendance and Engagement

Engagement 101

Engagement 101

Meet Engagement Alice. She’s one of the profiles you might see after taking the Rottman Creative Engagement Assessment. If you’re an Engagement Alice, chances are you’re not meeting attendance goals, people aren’t opening your emails, and your website isn’t as sticky as you’d like. While you might feel a twinge of despair if you fit this category, don’t worry. You have tremendous potential to improve event attendance and member engagement. And we’ll show you how. Come on! A wonderland of engagement awaits!

Where to Begin?

Your first thought might be to increase the frequency of your marketing, update the look of your collateral, or add more speakers and certifications to your event. Not so fast. While killer event marketing and programming can help drive engagement, you ultimately won’t achieve sustainability unless you lay a solid foundation first. Let’s take a step back.


The first step to increasing member engagement is to get 100% clear on the “why” behind your organization (NOT the “what” of speakers, certifications, etc). What is the purpose of your organization? More specifically, what is the ONE THING of most value that you need your members to know? If you aren’t clear on your purpose, your members won’t be either.


Once you’ve established your “why,” you must clearly communicate it to your membership. You need a step-by-step engagement strategy of triggers (juicy offers), targets (calls to action), and tactics (emails, direct mail, etc.) that will light a fire in your members, encourage them to attend your event, and engage them to work together towards your mission.

In this stage we’ll take a look at your email marketing, social media strategy, web site, and other collateral to identify areas for improvement, tactics to add or subtract, timing, and your buying cycle. For example, are you sending the right messages when your members need to hear them?

Event Experience

Once you have a strong foundation, a clear purpose, and an effective engagement strategy, you must deliver an incredible event experience. Otherwise, your all efforts will have been wasted. It’s not enough to have continuing education credits, certifications, and notable keynote speakers. These are all things your members can consume without actually furthering the mission of your organization. You need to create an environment of high-quality connections and engagement to accomplish real outcomes.

Consider these ideas to improve event experience and create an environment that encourages engagement:
  • comfortable, inviting spaces for casual networking between sessions (Smell the coffee—and the inspiration—brewing!)
  • brain teasers, puzzles, and games scattered throughout your event to spark connection
  • engage the five senses: food, music, lighting, and signage should match the look and feel of your branding
  • special events to encourage high-quality connections: painting lounges, cooking lessons, and improv comedy workshops are just a few ideas
  • active outings to foster collaboration: rock climbing, go-carting, or a friendly softball game
  • a post-conference party on the last day to keep the momentum going long after your event is over

Engagement starts with inspiration

You can’t push people to do anything—that simply doesn’t work. Great marketing and events pull people in. They inspire and compel passionate individuals to come together for a common purpose. They encourage members to be present, participate, and get down to the business of changing lives through hard work and dedication. Your organization can achieve this level of engagement. In fact, you can’t survive without it. So how do you get started?

Take the Engagement Assessment

Find out where you rate on the Engagement Scale. Once you know where you are in terms of engaging members, we can help you craft a plan to increase event attendance and member engagement AND achieve long-term sustainability for your organization.

There’s an old saying, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” If attendance and engagement are low, they’ll stay low unless you make a change. Don’t wait for another event to flop before taking action. What’s more, once you achieve engagement your event attendance, membership acquisition, and retention rates will take care of themselves.

Join us on a journey down the rabbit hole to find out what you can do to drive attendance and engagement starting today.

Take the Engagement Assessment now.

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How to Engage Millennials for Long-term Sustainability

Meet Luke Brandwalker, one of the profiles you might see when you take the Rottman Creative Engagement Assessment. If you’re a Luke, the forces of connection and engagement are strong in your organization. You event is well attended and members really dig in to achieve breakthroughs in your industry. Chances are good, however, that you see a lot of gray hair when you look around the room. How can you foster engagement and sustain your organization into the future? You need the Millennium Falcon…er…Millennials. You need Millennials. And we know how to find them, engage them, and sustain your organization for decades. Hop in! We’re off to a galaxy not so far, far away.

Kids These Days…

We know, we know. Everybody is talking about Millennials. It’s almost like we’re observing a new species or dissecting aliens from another planet. The perception is often that “young people these days” aren’t as dedicated, driven, respectful, or productive as past generations. Or “back when I was young” things were different. Millennials just can’t seem to put down their phones long enough for a “real” conversation. They’re lazy and entitled. They can’t keep a job…The list goes on.

You might not be thrilled at the prospect of engaging with these lazy, entitled hooligans. But writing off the next generation will cost you big. If you don’t learn how to communicate with Millennials and, more importantly, ENGAGE them, your organization can’t survive. A closer look at just who Millennials are—and the significant value they can bring to your organization—is the key to your future sustainability as an organization. Ignore them at your peril.

Why Millennials might just be your ideal members

Pew Research defines Millennials as anyone currently 18 to 34 years old. At 86 million strong, they’re the largest generation in the U.S. and the largest share of the American workforce. They have some powerful common traits you can definitely put to use in your organization.

They’re driven by passion, not profits. We know that for your event to be successful, you need people to feel compelled, inspired, and engaged—not forced or motivated and not driven by “stuff” they can acquire. About 60 percent of Millennials are entrepreneurs, and many identify as social entrepreneurs. That means they work to positively influence the world even if it means making less money as a result. They’re really not “entitled,” many faced a tough job market right out of college and were forced to make their own way in the world. Imagine if you can harness this drive for your organization.

They care about community.

Sure, Millennials tend to have a better work-life balance than their parents, but that’s because they value community, family, and time for recreation and creativity. They’ve come of age in a time where busting butt at the office isn’t rewarded with overtime pay, a pension, or even job security. They’re happy to put in their 9 to 5 day, but then they’re off to an after-work activity or event (maybe yours).

They’re drawn to companies that give back.

About a third of Millennials say they will boycott a company based on their convictions. That means if you can’t prove your value and resonate with their worldview, you’re out. However, Millennials prefer to associate with companies and organizations that have a culture of giving back. (Not a bad fit for your life-changing mission, right?) They value authenticity, so an annual day of volunteering isn’t going to cut it. They want to see real change over the long term. If you can effectively communicate your purpose and value to this crowd, they will get engaged and stay there.

They love technology.

I can hear you saying that this is not a positive attribute. But just think for a minute…Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation to date. More than 85 percent own a smart phone, and they rarely put it down. They even sleep near their phones! They’re also socially connected, with an average of 250 Facebook friends each. All this adds up to countless opportunities for you to engage them 24/7—via email, apps, mobile advertising, YouTube, or social media. And when you do reach them with relevant content, they can share it with hundreds or thousands of people faster than the speed of light.

The problem with Millennials

As you might now see, “the problem with Millennials” is largely one of misunderstanding. Don’t mistake differences in values and communication preferences for negative character traits. The truth is you need Millennials, and the sooner you understand them—and how to engage them—the sooner you’ll see attendance numbers, engagement, and goal achievement increase at your event, throughout the year, and into the next decade.

Take the Engagement Assessment

Ready to defeat the dark side and solve your gray hair dilemma for decades to come? Find out where you rate on the Engagement Scale. Once you know where you are in terms of engaging members, we can help you craft a plan to increase event attendance and member engagement AND achieve long-term sustainability for your organization.

Click here to take the assessment now.

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5 Steps to Better Engagement with Triggers and Targets

Meet Christopher Connectus, one of the profiles you might see after you take the Rottman Creative Engagement Assessment. Like the famous explorer who came before him, Christopher seeks new horizons and untold treasures. He knows his purpose. He even set out in the right direction. But this Christopher hasn’t quite reached his destination…yet.

If you’re a Christopher Connectus, you probably have an established brand, clear purpose, and a solid membership list. But you might be falling short when it comes to opens, clicks, event registration, and repeat attendance. It’s time to fine-tune your strategy and your marketing communications to reach the New World of engagement. Come on! We’ve got the map!

What are Triggers and Targets?

To move interested parties through your buying cycle—from being aware or interested to actually taking action—you need compelling triggers and targets in your marketing communications. Triggers might be your products, events, and special offers. Targets include whatever you want your members to do, like register for an event or make a purchase. Mastering triggers and targets drives acquisition, retention, attendance, and ultimately engagement. To get started, follow these five steps:

1. Review your past email or direct mail campaigns.

Make a list of any triggers (or offers) you used in the past.

Your list of triggers might include:
  • continuing ed credits or a certification program
  • in-person workshops or online webinars
  • pre-conference sessions
  • networking events
  • pricing promotions, like group discounts or early registration specials
  • ​keynotes, lunches, outings, or other conference offerings

2. Ask yourself if your audience really cares about the items on your list.

Are they exclusive to your organization? Are they so compelling people will take action to avoid missing out? Add or subtract items to your list based on where you members are today—in terms of their careers as well as where they are in your buying cycle. For example, do you have a compelling trigger for a new member who is not very familiar with your organization? If not, you might add a new member orientation trigger. Don’t worry if your triggers only apply to some of our audience. You can always segment your list later.

3. Tell people what you want them to do.

Once you’ve established your unique triggers, you need to compel your audience to act on them. For this you need targets. If you don’t tell people what to do, they will do nothing, and your campaign/event/membership/engagement will suffer as a result.

Here are five common targets for event marketing campaigns:
  • Register
  • Sign-up
  • Tell someone else (word of mouth)
  • Visit the website
  • Make an inbound inquiry

4. Identify the most effective tactics to deploy your message.

For a lot of Christophers, direct mail and email are proven standby tactics. Consider social media, including video content, to build engagement around your brand. If you master these tactics, move on to next-level ideas like microsites or virtual reality experiences.

5. Consider WHEN people will be most interested in your triggers and targets.

Focus on two types of timing: event related (before, during , and after your conference) and the buying cycle (new member, first-time attendee, brand ambassador, etc). It’s also important to consider the frequency of your communications. Generally, people will need to hear from you regularly over a period of time before they’re moved to act.

What Does This Have to do With Engagement?

If you want a successful event that inspires people to connect and work hard to change lives, you have to get them there in the first place. The only way to do that is to create compelling marketing messages that move and inspire people to act. But that’s only part of the solution. You need people to care. They need to be fully present at your event. You need momentum to carry you through the entire year. You need pilgrims who return year after year to be uplifted.

Effective triggers and targets show your base that you know them and care to serve their specific needs. They prove you have killer event offerings and a community of people who can help them achieve their goals. They also show your brand personality, the human side of your organization, which is what people really connect to. Ultimately, solid marketing convinces people of your value, not just of the “stuff” they can snag at your event. If you can’t prove your value, engagement can’t happen.

Take the Engagement Assessment

Ready to explore the New World of engagement? Find out where you rate on the Engagement Scale. Once you know where you are in terms of engaging members, we can help you craft a plan to increase event attendance and member engagement AND achieve long-term sustainability for your organization.

Click here to take the assessment now.

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Why You Need More Than Good Attendance Numbers

Introducing Julius Seizer, one of the profiles you might see after you take the Rottman Creative Engagement Assessment. If you’re a Julius Seizer, you rule at engaging members and driving event attendance, but chances are you struggle to break the acquisition and retention cycle. Your event might be full of first-timers and tourists, who come to consume your offerings and leave without furthering your mission. For long-term loyalty, repeat attendance, and overall sustainability you need to boost engagement. It’s time to seize your current momentum, build on existing strengths, and make some important tweaks, particularly in the area of high-quality connections. Carpe diem! Let’s get started building your engaged empire today.

What is Engagement?

We know engagement is more than just “showing up.” It’s about more than attendees. You need participants, volunteers, mentors, contributors, and word-of-mouth marketers. You need members to set aside their phones and their everyday tasks so they can focus on your event and the value they can give to it and get from it. You need individuals who are compelled from within to take action, work together, and tackle the hard stuff that leads to success in your field. And you need everyone to come back next year and do it all over again. So how can you reach that level of sustainable engagement?

Interestingly, the way to achieve engagement isn’t by adding more programming, speakers, certifications, and other “stuff.” It isn’t by having the best food or the coolest venue. Yes, of course, you need high-quality offerings to have a great event, but all these things will come to nothing if people don’t connect.

Hardwired to connect

It turns out human beings are hardwired to connect. When we connect we feel engaged. But not just any connection will do. Psychologists tell us there are two types of connections: high quality and low quality. High-quality connections allow us to fully express ourselves, they withstand setbacks, and they open us up to new possibilities. They also spark action and creativity.

Event marketers need high-quality connections for lots of reasons. Here are just a few:
  • attract and retain new members, even millennials
  • break the acquisition and retention cycle
  • build loyalty and encourage advocacy and word-of-mouth marketing
  • increase productivity and creativity to achieve goals and work towards your mission
  • drive engagement that sustains your organization for decades to come
  • If your event suffers from low attendance, poor feedback surveys, lack of engagement, or general lack of progress, you probably have too many low-quality connections. Even if your event is well attended this could be the case. Low-quality connections kill engagement, close minds to new ideas, and actually damage your organization.

How to build high-quality connections

Building high-quality connections (and eliminating low-quality ones) might sound daunting. The good news is that, as a Julius, you already have a well-oiled machine to help you. A few tweaks will get you on your way to connection and engagement. Try these four items for starters:

Boost your brand experience.

As we mention above, you do need a killer brand experience to attract people to your event in the first place. As a Julius Seizer, you’re doing a lot right in this area. Focus now on ways your event can help people connect. Do you have comfortable seating for casual networking? Do you have interactive sessions, like roundtable luncheons or panel discussions? Do you have a new-member orientation to welcome first-timers into the fold? Consider adding an online component to connect members before, during, and after your event—event-specific hashtags, online forums, or LISTSERVs are just a few examples.

Spread the word.

Consider energizing your marketing communications with more compelling triggers and targets to raise awareness, reassure the interested, and prove the value of your event. If your marketing is limited to email and direct mail, consider adding a channel or two. Social media, microsites, print collateral, virtual reality experiences, and YouTube can all help your members connect with each other, your organization, and your mission.

Time your communications with the buying cycle.

Your organization already has fantastic tools and resources that your members can use to change more lives. It’s up to you to connect each member with the help they need WHEN they need it. Strategic pre-conference communication not only gets members in the door; it shows your value and helps them see why they’re there. And don’t stop communicating just because your event is over. Maintain momentum and engagement throughout the year with regional events, active social media use, and regular progress updates.

Let your hair down.

Build engagement with a culture of authenticity, openness, and vulnerability. You can encourage authenticity with storytelling, idea sharing, group activities, and unscripted networking events. Unlike relationships, high-quality connections can occur in an instant—like in the hallways between sessions. If you build a culture of openness, you’ll increase the number of opportunities members have to connect with one another on really meaningful levels. Compare this to forced networking that simply encourages people to exchange business cards. Which one sounds more promising for your organization’s goals?

Motivation vs. Inspiration

It’s hard to convince or motivate anyone to do anything. For real engagement, your members need to be internally compelled and inspired to take action. High-quality connections entice members attend your event year after year and contribute while they’re there—not because they need a certification but because they might miss out on valuable interactions with their friends and colleagues. If you foster high-quality connections engagement will follow, and your event attendance, member retention, and goal achievement will all take care of themselves.

Ready build engagement and sustainability? Take the Rottman Creative Engagement Assessment to see where you rate on the Engagement Scale. From there we’ll help you forge a plan to rally the troops, engage your loyal followers, and sustain your empire for decades.

Click here to take the assessment now.

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How to Connect the Dots Between Messaging, Members, and the Buying Cycle.

Get the Marketing Superpowers to Engage Your Members

Introducing Clark Kentington, one of the profiles you might see after taking the Rottman Creative Engagement Assessment. Clarks come to us with at least some foundation to build on. They might be a startup with a clear mission but no strategy. Maybe they’re an established organization who needs a fresh approach. Perhaps they have a great event that nobody attends or emails nobody reads. For lots of reasons, the Clarks aren’t achieving their full potential, but they’re ready to make changes to get there. If you fit this category, it’s an exciting place to be! From here you can flex your marketing muscles, boost engagement, and rescue yourself from another ho hum year. We’ll show you how.

Where to Begin

We talk a lot about Clarity, Energy, and Spark—and for good reason. If you don’t have a clear mission, a savvy engagement strategy, and an exceptional event experience your organization will not thrive. In fact, it might not even survive. But how exactly do you develop these key items?

How to define a clear mission

When your organization was formed, the founders had a clear purpose. Over time that mission might have gotten crowded out by “stuff” like webinars, speakers, certifications, and networking events. Today you know WHAT your organization does, but do you know WHY? Do you know the ONE thing of value you offer to your members?

To find out, you need to strip away all the stuff—the continuing ed credits, the keynotes, the seminars. These are all things that members consume without actually engaging in the mission of your organization. This is not sustainable. Take a look at these example missions for inspiration:

  • teach people how to be leaders
  • ensure no child goes hungry
  • achieve breakthroughs in cancer research
  • challenge the status quo
  • enhance childhood development

To truly engage, you also need to know your members. Who are they? Why do they join? Why do some attend every year while others come once and never return? Formal and informal investigation can shed some light on this for you:

  • What are members talking about on social media? in focus groups?
  • What did they say on your last post-event survey?
  • Who are they? (ex: age, gender, demographics, job title, years of experience, etc.)
  • What do they care about?
  • Which archetype do they fit into?
  • Simon Sinek tells us “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Steve Jobs said, “Marketing is about values.” Walk through these steps to clearly identify your mission (just the ONE), and you’ll find your “why.” Engagement begins with a clear purpose. Without clarity, the rest of your efforts will fail.

How to create an engagement strategy that actually works

After clarity comes energy. Your strategy is your energy source, the engine that drives engagement (and thus, attendance, acquisition, and retention). It’s fueled by your clear purpose but, in addition to the “why” we discuss above, your strategy must also take into account your buying cycle. It’s not enough to have great messages and campaigns that articulate your mission. These items must be aligned with the buying cycle to foster engagement.

The first stage of the buying cycle is raising awareness. If you’re a Clark Kentington, chances are you’ve got this stage covered. You have a database of members and interested prospects. But this list itself isn’t worth much. For real value, you need to move to the next stage of the buying cycle: engaging the interested. Imagine what your organization can achieve if you rally all the troops around your mission. With the right strategy, the possibilities are endless.

One or two campaigns and a handful of social media posts is not an engagement strategy. Interested parties need to hear from you multiple times—at the right times—before they’re compelled to take action. (Notice they’re not being “convinced’ or “motivated.” Your job is to ENGAGE them to want to take action.) We will help you identify objectives, craft a strategy, and determine timing based on your annual conference and other industry events.

Along with proper timing, it’s essential to tailor your communications to audience needs. A new member requires more information about your event than a repeat attendee, for example. A C-level executive needs different offers than an entry-level employee. You can achieve an added layer of precision in your communications by segmenting your audience and tweaking your messages accordingly.

How to spark action with killer brand experience

Your event is your mission brought to life. Here, too, the goal isn’t attendance numbers or a certain dollar amount; it’s connecting passionate individuals so they can change more lives. Read more about how to craft powerful sensory event experiences here. The big idea is to create an environment that encourages high-quality connections and engagement by incorporating all five senses. Do this, and the numbers will take care of themselves.

Take the Engagement Assessment

Ready to step out of the phone booth and soar to new heights? Find out where you rate on the Engagement Scale. Once you know where you are in terms of engaging members, we can help you craft a plan to increase event attendance and member engagement AND achieve long-term sustainability for your organization.

Click here to take the assessment now.

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How to Measure Engagement to Improve your Events and your organization

Are your members engaged?

Are your members engaged?

When we talk about your audience’s level of inspiration, we’re really talking about how engaged they are.

Do members just show up for your event…or are they fully present? Do they simply pay dues every year…or do they actively work towards your mission? If your members are not engaged, your organization will eventually cease to exist.

While you might have a sense that your members are engaged (or not), you can actually measure engagement using tangible data points. What you discover can help you improve your marketing, events, and the sustainability of your organization.

Here’s an idea of what you can measure to determine engagement levels:
  • total number of members
  • attendance at your annual event and percentage of members who attend
  • when and where people register (early bird, on-site, etc.)
  • email open and click-through rates
  • Google Analytics on your website
  • YouTube subscribers, Twitter mentions and retweets, Facebook likes and shares
  • Reasons why members attend/perceived value of your event
  • Member satisfaction with events and programs

A word of caution: Don’t mistake quantity for quality. A high rate of retention, for example, is not necessarily indicative of high engagement. Members might renew year after year because they get something—access to a directory, continuing ed credits, or discounts on certifications. None of these “things” sustains your organization or encourages members to work together to achieve your goals. High retention rates are a good start, but if you don’t inspire and engage your base, your organization can’t survive.

Along the same lines, the above metrics don’t carry equal weight when used to measure engagement. Email opens, for example, are important but not as telling as, say, clicks or social media shares when it comes to actively engaged members. Learning how to put a value on each data point can help you more precisely measure member engagement.

So where to begin? The Engagement Assessment will help you measure your engagement in terms of attendance, email and online presence, social media interaction, member satisfaction, and more.

Once you know where you are on the Engagement Scale, we can help you form a strategy to improve your score, build on existing strengths, or work on sustaining your organization for the next generation.

If you’re interested in how other associations with conferences are working to increase engagement, click here to take a short survey. In exchange for a few minutes of your time, you’ll receive a copy of the report and a sample marketing plan at no cost.

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Engagement Assessment: Next steps to improve your marketing
After the Assessment: Next steps to improve your marketing

You found out how your organization ranks when it comes to creating an engaged membership that actively works toward your mission. You looked at attendance, your event experience, email, social media, and your website. Now what?

Now the exciting part begins! Now we can use where you are to help you get where you’re going. Whether you scored high or low on the Engagement Scale, chances are there’s something you can do to improve your event experience and the way you market it. The ultimate goal is a sustainable organization of engaged, passionate members working together to achieve big things.


Examining attendance numbers can help you break the cycle of acquisition and retention. How many people attend your event? Are they members or non-members? How many are first timers? Analyzing who registers can identify opportunities and timing for targeted, emotionally engaging marketing. It can help you plan your spark (a.k.a. your brand experience) to facilitate high-quality connections (1) between members.

When people register can hint at the perceived value of your event. If most of your registration happens during the early bird discount period, it’s an indication that members undervalue your brand experience. If many people register onsite, you may need to create more compelling offers to encourage advanced registration.

A look at repeat attendance can indicate member engagement and willingness to work toward your organization’s goals. If most of your attendees are first-timers, that’s a sign you’re not retaining attendees year after year. You may need more compelling speakers, special events, unscripted networking opportunities, and certifications to create more pilgrims and fewer tourists. You may also need to better explain the “why” behind your event, in addition to the “what.”

Event Experience

Is your conference viewed as the must-attend event in your industry? Are people excited and engaged while they’re there? If not, don’t worry. There are lots of ways to up your event experience and its perceived value.

What do attendees see and hear upon entering your conference? Do the food and drinks contribute to your brand’s personality? Is there comfortable seating for casual networking between sessions? Deliberately plan every detail to engage your audience in the emotional center of the brain, where 90% of decisions are made.

That might mean adding an ice cream social or a night at the ballpark instead of a forced networking event. It might include a video booth for capturing testimonials. Perhaps some of your sessions can be restructured as roundtables or panel discussions for increased engagement. Also think about relevant promotional items that can extend the shelf life of your marketing.

When it comes to substance, you want top-notch leaders with big ideas to keynote your events. Your sessions should address real issues your members face. The best way to know what members want most is to connect regularly through surveys, online forums, focus groups, interviews, and social media. What keeps them up at night? Which certifications do they need? Having excellent, irresistible offerings will compel and inspire attendance, rather than trying to motivate and push people to register.


Email “blasts” are a thing of the past. A more effective approach is to create specific, compelling triggers (juicy offers) and targets (desired action) based on defined audience segments. You can use your current open and click rates as a baseline from which to measure your improved results—and to gauge your campaign performance compared to other organizations who hold events. (More on increasing the success of your email marketing in a future post.)

Social Media

It’s great to keep an eye on your social media followers, likes, and shares. But if you truly want an inspired, engaged audience, you need to encourage conversations and high-quality connections. Regular social updates with images, video, and relevant content can raise awareness, reassure interested parties, encourage engagement, and build long-term loyalty as part of your larger marketing strategy. A conference-specific hashtag can build excitement around your event. Keep the conversation going by responding to comments. Social media is an especially effective tactic for connecting with tech-savvy millennials. It’s well worth your time and resources to create a dynamic social presence for your organization.


Your website represents a huge opportunity to engage members and encourage them to take action. But you’ll have to go beyond a one-sided presentation of information. Inspire members and prospects by emphasizing the “why” vs. the “what” of your organization, focusing on a clear mission, adopting a minimalist approach to text, and engaging emotions with storytelling. A responsive, adaptive design is most effective for reaching people across devices. You can use your current metrics of visitors, page views, time on site, and bounce rates to measure your progress.

Take the First Step

It’s easy to feel discouraged if you think you have a long way to go on the road to engagement. But, really, you should be excited and encouraged. Improvements in any one of these areas can have a major impact on your member acquisition and retention, event attendance, and overall engagement of your members. Each step you take contributes to building a vibrant membership that’s willing to work toward your mission and explore new possibilities for your organization.

Ready to take the first step? Let’s get started!

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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Why you Need to Measure your Level of Inspiration

Inspiration Assessment Drives Member Engagement and Attendance

Inspiration Assessment Drives Member Engagement and Attendance

The perfect scenario for your organization: Your event attendance and membership are at all-time highs. Attendees are engaged and eager to connect. You’ve broken the cycle of acquisition and retention. Your members are so passionate about your mission that they tell others about your organization. You’re growing sustainably and changing more lives than ever…

Not there yet? That’s okay! You are not alone. Most associations with events are challenged to increase attendance and engagement.

Chances are your members and prospects are engaged on some level. But how much? Is it enough to sustain your organization into the future? And how might you move closer to this perfect scenario from wherever you are right now?

Our proprietary Engagement Assessment will ask you questions to help you rank your event’s performance.

The Engagement Assessment

It turns out, engagement is a knowable and measurable thing. We’ve developed an Engagement Assessment specifically for member organizations that regularly hold member events. Why do you need engagement? So you can improve attendance, build more excitement around your event, and drive stronger membership acquisition and retention. These targeted questions will help you identify your association’s score on the Engagement Scale.

Once the Engagement Assessment reveals your current level of engagement, you can better judge which areas of your marketing you most need to strengthen. No matter where you’re starting, we have resources to help you create a strategic engagement marketing plan that’s focused on outcomes.

Where Are You Right Now?

If you’re lost on the highway, you can’t head in the right direction until you know exactly where you are. The Engagement Assessment can help you find out where you are in terms of engaging and inspiring your membership. It subdivides the engagement-generating capabilities of your event category by category to identify your pain points and get you on the path to solving your most pressing issues. The assessment is completely free. If you need assistance from there, we can help you create a roadmap to get you where you want to be. Heck, we’ll even put gas in the car. C’mon. Get in! Let’s go find engagement.

Take the Engagement Assessment

Click here to take the free Engagement Assessment. You’ll have it finished in less time than it takes you to get a coffee at Starbucks. Based on your score, you’ll gain access to resources that can help you inspire your members, break the acquisition and retention cycle, and build lasting engagement. If your score reveals there’s room for improvement, just imagine the possibilities! If your score suggests that your association is strong and your members are highly engaged, you can build on that to sustain your organization for the next generation.

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How to Gain and Retain Millennials for Your Organization

What Inspires Millennials?

What Inspires Millennials?

Millennials. You know you want them. They’re young, they’re tech savvy, they’re socially aware, and they’re eager to work for a meaningful cause. Snag Millennial members now and you’ll have a passionate, inspired base for decades to come. But just how can you gain and retain more Millennial members? Start by knowing your audience.

Who Are Millennials?

The folks at Pew Research classify Millennials those currently 18 to 34 years old. At 86 million strong Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S., and they make up the largest share of the American workforce. This group is the most educated generation in American history. It is also the most diverse, with 42 percent identifying as non-white.

About 60 percent are entrepreneurs. They’re making their own way in the world following the economic collapse and poor job market they faced out of college. Many Millennials identify as social entrepreneurs who work to positively change the world and give something back—even if it means making less money as a result.

Millennials are more connected to technology than any previous generation. More than 80 percent have a Facebook account with a median of 250 friends. About 85 percent own a smart phone, and they use apps over general web browsers by a ratio of 2:1. Many Millennials communicate via texting or online chat, even with their parents. They’re also more likely to sleep near their phones! Mobile and social marketing are huge areas of opportunity for marketers who want to reach this group.

What Do They Care About?

Millennials tend to be socially aware and prepared to act. Seven in 10 see themselves as social activists. Four out of five say they’re more likely to purchase from a company that supports a cause they care about. Three in four believe corporations should create economic value for society by addressing its needs. Additionally, about a third will boycott businesses based on causes they care about.

Millennials demand authenticity. They are drawn to organizations with socially responsible initiatives, but only if they’re genuinely doing good for people and not just for show. For example, a company should go beyond a single day of volunteering or writing a check to charity. Millennials prefer a culture of giving back and want to see actual results. (Not a bad fit for your life-changing mission, right?)

Among causes important to Millennials is environmental responsibility. Millennials are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products. They take buses and bikes more often than other generations, and they tend to work for environmentally responsible companies.

Millennials also value community and family (perhaps the result of moving back home during the recession). Their quality of life includes earning a living wage, but they also value time for recreation. Many cite the need for creativity in their work.

Know Your Base Specifically

Now that you know a little more about Millennials in general, up your marketing game by looking specifically at your own members and prospects. Here are just a few ways to get to know your younger base:

  • assemble focus groups
  • conduct feedback surveys after your event and throughout the year
  • track the results of your marketing promos to determine which offers, visuals, and messages resonate with this segment
  • perform demographic or data analysis
  • monitor attendance at specific events, workshops, and sessions to determine topics of most interest
  • capture attendee stories and experiences with a video booth

You don’t need hard data to know your Millennials. There’s a lot to be said for simply paying attention at your event. What are people talking about? Where are they spending their time between sessions? What questions are they asking at the Q & A? This abstract information-gathering can provide tremendous insight on how to serve your younger members.

Next Steps for Gaining and Retaining Millennials

Being a purpose-driven organization means you’re already a good fit for Millennials. They’re eager to make a difference in the world, and your organization can help them accomplish this. It’s a matter of connecting the dots: Raise awareness among Millennials, connect them to other inspired individuals, and continually reinforce your value through clarity, energy, and spark (a.k.a. your mission, strategy, and brand experience).

Awareness and HQCs

Simple as it might sound, one way to have more Millennial members is to go out and get them. Visit universities, speak to young professionals groups, purchase mailing lists based on age, and target the children of your gray-haired members. Once you get their attention, encourage high quality connections (1) through online forums, social campaigns, new member orientations, mentorships, or volunteer opportunities. Reassure their interest with inspiration:

Be Clear In Your Mission

Research shows Millennials like to see an organization focused on one specific mission, rather than spreading resources too thin to make a difference. Focus your mission, then clearly communicate it to your Millennials. Explaining the WHY behind your organization, not the WHAT, is especially important to this young generation.

Have Energy In Your Strategy

Use technology to your advantage. You can’t ignore social and mobile. Keep in mind most Millennials access the world via their smart phones, mostly on apps. Traditional advertising might not work. Maybe it’s time your organization had an app. Maybe you need a YouTube channel. Once you determine your triggers and the desired target actions you want your Millennials to take, consider a tech-savvy tactic for delivering your message.

Ignite the Spark Through Brand Experience

In addition to great sensory brand experience, consider a philanthropic or eco-conscious component to your event. This could be as simple as adding recycling bins to your event space or choosing promotional items made of recycled or reusable materials. Take it one step further and organize a river cleanup or longer term project that gives back to your community.

Why You Need Millennials

Millennials represent an ideal type of member for your organization. They are young and have the potential to be members for decades. They’re already inspired to change lives, willing to work toward a cause for personal fulfillment, and eager to connect. You just might have to text them to get their attention.

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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Forge Connections to Further Your Mission and Sustain Your Organization

How to Create High-Quality Connections

How to Create High-Quality Connections

Imagine your event is THE place for connecting—for meeting like-minded individuals who are open to new ideas, ready to work together to change lives, eager to mentor others, and excited about new possibilities for your organization. Imagine your members faithfully attend year after year, and they tell others about your life-changing mission. They even bring Millennials. Imagine event attendance and membership are at all time highs…These wonderful things are the results of inspiration and high-quality connections, or HQCs. The sooner you connect people for productive, inspiring, uplifting purposes, the better off your organization will be.

What are High-Quality Connections?

Certain connections are just plain better than others. Some people lift us up while others drag us down. Some people put us at ease while others put us on edge. Psychologists distinguish human interactions as either high-quality connections, HQCs, or low-quality connections, LQCs. HQCs allow us to fully express ourselves, they withstand setbacks, and they open us to new ideas. In simpler terms, HQCs are strong, powerful, and sustainable. Much like inspiration, they make us open to new possibilities at the same time they spark action and creativity.

Here are just a few reasons why you need HQCs:
  • attract and retain new members, including Millennials
  • break the acquisition and retention cycle
  • build loyalty and encourage advocacy
  • increase productivity and creativity to change more lives
  • sustain your organization for decades to come
  1. Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

LQCs by contrast kill inspiration and engagement, close our minds to new ideas, and leave damage in their wake. Consider how just one “bad apple” can destroy team morale in the workplace. Now think about how lots of these LQCs might affect the success of your event—in the form of poor attendance, lack of participation, failed networking events, and more.

HQCs vs Relationships

HQCs are not the same as relationships. Relationships are close bonds between people and include family, friends, and partnerships. They’re a powerful source of information, social support, and even health. But relationships are formed over long periods of time, and most people have relatively few truly meaningful relationships in their lifetime—perhaps as few as six. It’s simply not practical for your members to forge relationships in order to reach their goals and work towards your organization’s goals. You need action now.

HQCs can be created in an instant—in the hallway between sessions, for example. These micro-moments are defined not by their length of time but by their positive regard, mutual benefits, and sense of possibility. Luckily, people have room for lots of HQCs in their lives.

How to Build High-Quality Connections

Now that you know you want them, let’s talk about how to get them. Here are four pathways to forging HCQs with and among your base:

Be Engaged.

When members are engaged, they’re truly present at your event. They listen and participate, volunteer, teach, mentor, and contribute. They don’t just come for a certification and leave. You can encourage engagement with a killer brand experience at your event, and you can continue to engage throughout the year through your marketing. Communicate regularly with compelling triggers and targets. Broadcast emotionally engaging success stories and major milestones. Consider conducting feedback surveys or focus groups so you can continue to deliver what your members need most.

Enable Goals.

Your organization already has the tools, the people, and the knowledge to help your members achieve their business goals and change more lives. The trick is to make sure each member gets the help they need when they need it. Raising awareness is a good first step. For example, if you have a special session for CEOs, send them a personal invitation. Consider a new member orientation to help first-timers take advantage of all your organization has to offer. Don’t let connectivity end on the last day of your conference. Host regional events or maintain active online forums so members can help each other throughout the year.

Be Authentic.

Unless members are their true, vulnerable selves, HQCs can’t happen. Authentic storytelling is one way your organization can foster a culture of openness and vulnerability. Any forum that incorporates idea sharing is another (ex: panel discussions, roundtable luncheons, and Q&A sessions). Also consider unscripted networking events that allow members to let loose a little. A cocktail hour, golf outing, or game night might provide an arena for authenticity.

Enable Teamwork.

Connect inspired individuals to make even more magic happen! Consider creating an online forum before your event with different groups for CEOs, entry-level associates, or first-time attendees. Launch social media campaigns with event-specific hashtags. These pre-conference virtual meetings can help people connect better and faster in person. Interactive sessions at your event can facilitate teamwork by grouping people based on a particular issue they would like to solve. Incorporating a community project into your event can also build a spirit of teamwork.

High-quality connections are an essential part of the Inspiration-Connection Duality™. Humans are hardwired to connect, and we connect to feel inspired. As a purpose-driven organization you can fuel that basic human need and harness it to achieve your goals. Imagine the possibilities of creating HQCs among hundreds of inspired individuals!

Are you ready to tap into the power of HQCs? Let’s get started!

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How to Build Loyalty, Drive Event Attendance, and Further Your Mission

Motivation vs. Inspiration

Motivation vs. Inspiration

The words motivation and inspiration are often used interchangeably to mean “something that makes someone want to do something,” (seriously, that’s Webster’s definition). At Rottman Creative, we think there are important differences between these ideas. You need inspiration—not motivation—to drive event attendance, inspire brand attachment, and reinforce high-quality connections (1).


Motivation involves an external force nudging someone to take action. It’s often a short-term state of being, and the end result is a given objective. For example, you might be motivated to lose a few pounds because your pants are too tight. Your members might be motivated to attend your event because they need continuing education credits to keep doing their jobs.

The trouble with motivation is that when the nudging stops, so does the action. Once your pants fit, you abandon your diet. Once your members get their CCE credits, they stop attending your event. They aren’t called to work toward your mission or advocate for your organization. They get some “stuff” and then they go away.


Inspiration, on the other hand, involves being called from within to a higher purpose. It’s often long lasting, and the end result is personal fulfillment. Compared to our pants example, you might be inspired instead to adopt healthy habits so you can live longer. Your members might be inspired to go from attendee to presenter or mentor.

Inspiration is a win-win: Members get things that improve their businesses and their lives at the same time they work toward fulfilling your mission and improving the lives of others. This scenario is far more powerful and beneficial over the long term than simply selling a one-time certification or workshop.

How to Inspire

For your organization, inspiration is better than motivation because it opens members to new possibilities, enables goal attainment, and fosters long-term brand loyalty and advocacy. In more practical terms, members who are inspired go beyond simply paying dues or showing up for your event. They set aside their phones, engage in mutual idea-sharing, actively participate, and tell others about it in person or through social media.

Inspired members strengthen and sustain your organization. Here’s what you can do to move from motivation to inspiration:

Tell Stories

Success stories inspire because they show us what’s possible. Sharing a past attendee story demonstrates to your other members that they can achieve similar growth, success, connectivity, etc. (Brain research supports this idea that stories, not facts, move people.)

For your organization, tap into the experiences of past attendees whose lives have been impacted by your event. Did they make a connection that skyrocketed their success? Did they solve a particular challenge by attending your conference? Broadcast these stories before, during, and after your event to foster inspiration on a brain-deep level. Read more about the power of storytelling.

Communicate Regularly

Even pilgrims go to church on Sundays. While inspiration comes from within, your members will still need to be kept aware of special offers, annual events, and any important accomplishments of your organization. Stay in touch throughout the year with a mix of marketing tactics: Newsletters, promotional emails, direct mailings, and sharable content can encourage action and advocacy.

Foster Brand Attachment

We know that emotions—not facts—drive most decisions. When members are emotionally invested in your organization they attend repeatedly, tell others, serve on committees, and achieve milestones. Research tells us that brand attachment is the single most important indicator of whether a person will buy a brand. Read more on how to create brand attachment.

Encourage Connectivity

When your members feel connected, they are compelled to attend your event year after year—not because they need a certification but because they might miss out on valuable interactions with their friends and colleagues. Planned/forced networking doesn’t necessarily lead to high-quality connections that inspire your members. Sometimes the most meaningful connections happen over coffee or in the hallways between sessions.

Consider how you might encourage connectivity through unscripted networking at your event. Lounge areas with comfortable seating, an outing offsite, an ice cream social, a photo booth, or a game night are just a few ideas.

Motivated members might pay dues and even register for an event. But after they get what they want, these tourists will be gone and you will be back on the acquisition and retention rollercoaster. Inspired members, however, are compelled from within to help your organization achieve goals and pursue new horizons. They spread the word about the great work you do. They feel fulfilled while they actively work to fulfill your mission. Maybe your organization can survive on motivation, but it can’t thrive without inspiration.

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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Triggers, Targets, and Inspired Journeys in Event Marketing

Triggers, Targets, and Inspired Journeys in Event Marketing

So far, we’ve debunked the myth that inspiration is unknowable. We’ve shed light on the powerful Inspiration-Connection Duality™. And we’ve helped you get a clearer picture of clarity, energy, and spark—the three key elements your event marketing needs to inspire members.

Our goal is to help you understand how to use inspiration as a best practice for your association. To that end, it’s time to talk about how inspiration translates into something tangible. In other words, how do you rally inspiration and turn it into action? Because if you want to build a more sustainable organization, you need people taking action at the right times.


Research has found that people in an inspired state feel a sense of possibility. Psychologists call this goal enablement. It means that an individual feels enabled to make something happen for him or herself. That’s exciting stuff! But it needs direction.

To start, it needs a trigger. In the most basic sense, your brand is the trigger, or the thing your members connect this feeling of goal enablement to. But within the broad category of your event brand, there are many types of triggers. Think of inspiration triggers as the fence posts of your marketing campaign: they are the teasers along the way that support your overall message. You’re always trying to pull some sort of trigger when you communicate with members.

Let’s look at three types: product-driven triggers, networking triggers, and unique triggers.

Product-driven triggers are the traditional nuts and bolts of your event, and include:
  • Education (workshops, sessions, tracks)
  • Certifications
  • Pre-conferences

Before we move on to other types of triggers, let’s do a quick review of the elements of inspiration: clarity, energy, and spark. It’s not nearly enough to send a bland, business-as-usual email about the different tracks your event has, and call it a trigger. If you’re following along, then you know you have to build your marketing campaign around your mission (channeling clarity). Each email or direct mail piece you send that uses one of these triggers has to tie back to that notion of clarity. Likewise, you want to ensure that you’re following the strategic plan you set in place, and building the energy. And finally, the mention of a trigger alone is NOT a spark. You have to create the spark with captivating visuals, imaginative and concise prose, and a well-executed design.

In other words: keep everything you’ve already learned about what inspires members in the forefront of your mind as we move on to the other triggers!

Networking triggers including facilitated networking opportunities and organic networking opportunities. We say “facilitated,” because that’s the lingo associations use; but in fact, it’s really forced networking. It’s planned. As much as we advocate careful planning, you can’t actually “plan” connections, and you certainly can’t force them. In our work with associations, we’ve discovered that the higher up members are in an organization, the less likely they are to derive any benefit from the forced networking. Organic networking is a stronger trigger overall—the more opportunities you can create for it (and the more compelling stories you can tell around it), the better.

Your organization also has unique triggers. Unique triggers are triggers that are tied to your specific event. There are generally two categories of unique triggers: pricing promotions and special events.

Pricing promotion triggers could include:
  • Group discounts
  • Membership specials
  • Early bird rates
  • Giveaways and add-ons
  • First-time attendee promotions
  • Save the dates
  • Lapsed attendee discounts (someone who has attended in the past, but not for a few years)

Special event triggers are those pieces that are distinctive, and even exclusive, to your event. This includes the popular outings or related sporting or other events that always get a large draw. Special event triggers are terrific opportunities, because they tend to be the things your attendees naturally look forward to, and tell other potential attendees about.

Examples of special event triggers:
  • Keynotes
  • Opening sessions
  • Special interest groups (sigs)
  • Luncheons
  • Closing sessions
  • Concerts
  • Golf outings
  • 5k run/walk events
  • “Night at the . . .” events (ballpark, racetrack, museum, etc.)
  • Fun and lively networking events (game night, art night, movie night, etc.)


If your triggers are the fence posts, then your target is the gate. It’s where you want to lead members, and what you want them to DO in the inspired moment. You’ve given them a trigger (a hint about the possibility that awaits at the event) and now, they need to act in a specific way.

There are five common targets for event marketing campaigns:
  1. Register
  2. Sign-up
  3. Tell someone else (word of mouth)
  4. Visit the website
  5. Make an inbound inquiry

In every piece of communication, make sure that your target is clear! The copy and visuals both need to support the target, and lead people organically to the conclusion that this is the action they need to take.

Organize your marketing segments.

The last piece of the trigger/target puzzle is around the idea of marketing segmentation. Just because your members and potential attendees tend to be like-minded doesn’t mean the same exact message will resonate with all of them. You may have the same trigger and the same target, but you need to spin it slightly differently among your groups of constituents.

You may need to segment according to:
  • Archetype (see our work on archetypes here)
  • Profession/career type/degree type/membership type
  • Purchasing behavior (the “givens”—the 20 to 30 percent who always register, the potential customer, and the repeat customer)

At Rottman Creative, we talk endlessly about inspiration. Our motto is that it’s yours for the taking, and you have to pursue it fiercely, as if your organization’s future depends upon it (because it does). You may look at everything we’ve outlined above and say, “But this is all process stuff!”

Exactly. Because it IS a process—but it’s a process with purpose, backed up by the Inspiration-Connection Duality™. This process is what brings your marketing meaning, order, and peace—which is vastly different than the anxiety, chaos, and despair that aimless, uninspired, unconnected event marketing creates for associations.


What you’re really doing with this process is creating an inspired journey for your people. You have to lead them through the process with purpose, because purpose attracts purpose, and aimlessness attracts aimlessness. It’s not just about the numbers you get at your event this year, it’s about next year and the year after that and the year after that, and so on.

For sustainability, you need more than casual tourists, who drop by from time to time. You need pilgrims—people who are deeply connected, and come year after year, as if making a pilgrimage. Every association lists “how do we find these people?” as the million-dollar question they’re struggling to answer! The answer is far simpler than most associations realize: you harness a process. However, just because the answer is “simple” doesn’t mean it’s “easy.” It takes WORK!

Are you ready to do the work of creating inspired journeys for your members and attendees?

If this piece has inspired YOU, we encourage you to pass it on to someone else you think can benefit. Forward this newsletter, or share on social media. Let’s start an inspiration revolution!

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Attract Event Pilgrims, Not Tourists

Brand ambassadors. Advocates. Cheerleaders. Fans. Whatever you call them, you know you want them: loyal members who attend your event year after year…who bring friends and colleagues…who spread the good word about your organization and your life-changing mission. At Rottman Creative, we like to think of these people as pilgrims.

What exactly is a pilgrim?

In a more literal sense, pilgrims are the devout faithful who make a journey to a holy site—often yearly—because it does something for them on a deep, meaningful level. It makes them feel inspired, connected, renewed, refreshed, and purposeful. Driven by a sense of duty, pilgrims make the journey a priority. They suspend their everyday lives to complete the pilgrimage. It’s not even a decision. It’s a must. Imagine if your event was a must for your members, a given part of their year and their lives.

Holy sites are filled with pilgrims. They also tend to be filled with camera-toting tourists who visit once, check it off their list, and never return. Chances are your event has plenty of tourists, probably too many. The good news is that tourists can be converted. Here’s how to turn casual attendees into loyal members who make your event a priority year after year.

At the event…

Offer something they can’t get anywhere else.

There’s only one Santiago de Compostela. Similarly, your event needs to be the place for inspiration and connectivity. One way to accomplish this is to provide exclusive offerings that members won’t find elsewhere. You might include continuing education credits, access to industry leaders, or event-only workshops and trainings. A word of caution, however. These are just things, and while they might get people in the door, they don’t build loyalty and encourage brand advocacy.

Deliver inherently uplifting experiences.

An inspired state requires you to create a spark for your members through brand experience. While spark involves all aspects of your event—from the mood music to the signage—meaningful activities can be especially powerful sources of inspiration. These might include a morning of volunteer work, an interactive game night, a mentorship program, or an outing to the ballpark.

The big idea is that experiences, not “stuff,” emotionally engage members and give them an extra reason to attend your event yearly. These activities make members feel good about being a part of something greater than themselves. Not to mention activities provide untold opportunities for connection and inspiration through unscripted networking. Ask yourself what experiences your event can offer members that they just can’t get virtually or remotely.

Provide meaningful mementos, not junky souvenirs.

Pilgrims often take home a vial of holy water or a bit of earth from a pilgrimage site. Similarly, unique promotional items can be meaningful reminders of your event and your organization. They serve as visual signals to unite tribe members and raise awareness for the uninitiated.

A few years back, travel review site TripAdvisor sent out branded magnets that read “I travel with TripAdvisor.” They asked users to share photos of the magnet clinging to cars, airports, and landmarks around the world. This simple, inexpensive item made existing users feel uplifted and connected to the TripAdvisor community (who doesn’t like to share their vacation photos?). At the same time, the magnet promoted the brand to the unaware.

Imagine how your organization might use tangible objects to unite and uplift your base. Maybe you ask members to tweet a picture wearing your branded clothing out in the field. Maybe you’ll host a crazy hat cocktail hour to encourage high-quality connections (1). You can add meaning and mileage to your promotional items by incorporating them into relevant marketing campaigns and your event itself. If your items don’t have meaning and purpose, you’re just adding to the babble…and the local landfill.

Throughout the year…

Stay in touch.

As our flashbacks to Sunday School remind us, even the most devout pilgrims need a little nudging and nurturing throughout the year. Connect and inspire members regularly using mailings, social media, online forums, and regional events. When it comes time to register for your annual conference, generate hype and action using specific triggers and targets.

Create pilgrims.

It’s not enough to get an interested party to pay dues or register for your event. Once these tourists have checked your conference off their list you might never see them again. That puts you back in the dreaded cycle of acquisition and retention. To create true believers, loyal fans, cheerleaders, and advocates you will need to do more. You’ll need to have a marketing strategy that sets up optimal circumstances for inspiration and connection.

Share how you’re creating pilgrims for your association!

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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Generate Specific Actions Through Inspiration

Mastering Triggers and Targets in Your Event Marketing

Mastering Triggers and Targets in Your Event Marketing

Knowing how to use triggers and targets in your event marketing will result in inspired members ready to create high-quality connections (1), fulfill your mission, and ultimately become brand advocates for your organization. Once you’ve clearly established your targets and the triggers that will make them happen, you’ll need to sort out tactics and timing for delivering your messaging. You will also need to examine your audience segments to create optimal conditions for inspiration.

Your Tactical Toolbox

Determining the marketing tactics that you will use for your event will depend on your event, your audience, your message and timing. Common marketing tactics include websites and microsites, print and web ads, social media content, direct mail and email. When deciding, ask yourself do I achieve a better ROI with direct mail or email? Are my members more likely to respond to a print ad or a social media promotion? Do we need to urgently communicate with our base? Knowing your audience and examining the results of past promos will provide insights to help determine which tactics to use.

When the Time is Right

Now that you’ve decided which marketing tactics to use, you have to decide when to use them. There are two types of timing that you want to identify (1) pre-event, onsite and post-event, and (2) where they’re at in the buying cycle.

Most of the marketing tactics you choose will be pre-event, but it’s a good idea have a variety. For example, social media efforts during your event (onsite) can increase engagement and facilitate high-quality connections OR you could send a follow-up email (post-event) thanking all the attendees for attending! Which tactic you choose depends on where they’re at in the buying cycle. Is your goal to inform the unaware, inspire the interested or reassure the intent? Or it is to get them to make a purchase (i.e., register for your event).

Determining your marketing tactics and deciding on the timing will take time, but if done right the inspiration is endless!

Success Through Segmentation

Perhaps the word “segmentation” draws a collective groan from your marketing department. It’s easy for organizations to assume their audience members are basically the same. After all, everyone is united around your mission. But when it comes to communicating triggers and targets to your base, there are some important differences that can help you increase attendance, boost engagement, and create long-term loyalty. We’re not necessarily talking about having a dozen triggers for one promotion. In fact, success could very well result by having just one that’s tailored slightly to a few groups. Let’s look at three potential ways to segment your audience:

Archetypes: Knowing your members’ archetypes — broad categories centered around values and purpose — is key to providing truly compelling messaging that triggers inspiration and generates the desired target action. Read more about how we identify archetypes here.

Profession, Position, or Membership Type: Breaking down an audience by these types of segmentation can make the individual your marketing to feel valued; that the message was geared directly towards them. For example, distributors won’t necessarily get inspired by the same ideas as manufacturers. To segment try swapping out the names (from distributors to manufacturers) and tweak the message to be more clear.

Purchasing Behavior: You likely have loyal members who take action with little to no effort on your part. These people are the pilgrims who faithfully attend your event year after year. They simply don’t need as much encouragement from you. Similarly, there are those who are ready to buy. These people have been informed and reassured already; they’re just waiting for the right offer from you. Your potential customers, by contrast, will need to be informed, reassured, and encouraged. Your lapsed customers, who attended in the past but have been absent in recent years, will likely need some re-inspiration to convince them to come back.
Crafting the right message that is specific and segmented can play a big role in getting them to take action towards the target object.

Triggers and Targets in Action

Here’s a look at a practical example of trigger and target objects in action:

Annual Conference

1. Determine the marketing tactic:

Email #1: Registration is now open!

2. Determine the timing:

Pre-event; inform the unaware and inspire the interested.

3. Determine segmentation and messaging:

(A) Last years attendees – “Looking forward to seeing you again this year…!”
(B) Attendees who didn’t attend last year, but have in years past – “We missed you last year…!”
(C) People who have never attended the event – “Make this the year to attend…!”

4. Determine the trigger object and the target object:

Trigger = Early registration discount
Target = Register today

The big idea is that these are all tangible, concrete steps you can take to create inspiration. By mapping out the marketing tactics, knowing your segments and identifying the triggers and targets your marketing will have meaning, order and peace.

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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Triggers and Targets

How to Inspire your Members to Act

How to Inspire your Members to Act

A practical guide to manifesting inspiration through triggers and targets

A cartoon from the New Yorker a few years back shows two cavemen. One is drawing on the cave walls. The other is holding a bow. The caption reads, “Enough storyboarding. Let’s shoot something.”

Now that you know you need inspired members (and the clarity, energy, and spark that inspiration must have), it’s time to see what inspiration looks like in practice. Luckily for you, all these big ideas can be executed using two things: a trigger object and a target object.

In essence, your brand is the trigger that inspires people to take action. More specifically, your products, events, and special offers trigger inspiration. The target object is whatever you want your members to do—whether it’s register for an event, make a purchase, tell a friend, etc. For example, you might offer an early bird discount and encourage people to register for your event. The discount is the trigger. Registration is the target.

You can’t have an effective trigger if you don’t know what you want your audience to do. Similarly, a target object is useless without a trigger to direct your members towards it. It might go without saying that in order to have effective triggers and targets you must know what your audience wants and needs.

You might find it’s easier to start with the target and work backwards. If you want more Millennials to register for your event, what inspiring triggers might make that happen? Next, you can decide which tactics—email, social media, direct mail, print ads, etc.—might be most effective at communicating the trigger and target objects to your base. (More on tactics next time.)

Three Triggers, Six Targets

Identifying triggers and targets gets even easier when you break them down into categories. There are three common types of triggers: product-driven triggers, networking triggers, and unique triggers. Your targets will typically fall into one of six categories: make a purchase, register for an event, sign-up for membership, tell someone else, visit the web, or make an inbound inquiry.

Product-driven triggers include concrete items, such as your downloadable information; certifications; pre-conference events; and the educational sessions, workshops, and tracks available at your annual conference. The target of product-driven triggers is often asking your members to make a purchase or register.

Networking triggers revolve around planned/forced networking events and organic networking events (i.e. the unscripted variety that happens as a result of being present at your event). Your goal is to trigger your base to register for your event and, by extension, to connect with others, become inspired to work towards a goal, attend your event yearly, or become more engaged throughout the year.

Unique triggers include a range of offers specific to your organization, events, and audience. For example, you might promote a special discount for members who attended a past conference but have been absent in recent years. Other unique triggers might be keynote speakers, opening sessions, luncheons, outings, or fun activities like game nights. The target objects of these triggers might be making a purchase, registering for your event, or attending a special session or activity.

Triggers N’ Targets
For Engagement Marketing
Learn More >

How to Interrupt the Babble

A concise, minimalist approach to triggers and targets will be most effective. Yes, your event has a lot of potential triggers, but each promotion should focus on only one. Maybe it’s free continuing education credits or an early registration discount. Your trigger is the big idea. Everything else should support this idea or be eliminated to avoid distracting your audience. Identify one target object. What is it you want people to do? State this clearly and concisely as a call to action. For example, “Register by November 1 to receive your early bird discount.”

Don’t forget about clarity, energy, and spark. Your message will need all three elements of inspiration to cut through the babble and avoid becoming noise. After all, your goal is to INSPIRE people, not bore them to death or overwhelm them with useless “stuff.” Complementary visuals can help you here, too.

Lastly, make it easy for your audience to take action. Include an obvious link to your registration form, enclose a response device in your direct mail, and state your contact info repeatedly on all promotions. Don’t make your inspired members search for what to do next. You might lose them along the way.

Triggers and targets are the “clubs” you need to go after inspiration and make action happen. Happy hunting!

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For Event Marketing That Moves People, Start With Inspiration!

Step one in conference marketing is to create an inspired state for your members.

Inspiration is not as mysterious as you might think. That’s excellent news, because if you are going to attract millennials to your events, focus on stabilizing your organization’s lifecycle, and move your event marketing from reactive to proactive, you’re going to need inspiration! In fact, make good friends with it now.

As we wrote about in the last newsletter, we’ve done the research on inspiration. The heavy lifting through the fields of psychology, business, and organizational leadership. We have some key findings to share with you—both from this research, as well as from our own learnings as an event branding agency in this business for the long haul.

Inspiration is the first part of the buying cycle.

You’ve built a product for a target audience . . . or, to frame it so it’s more relevant for associations: you’ve built a conference for your members. Great! Except, who cares? Literally, who will care? You have to inform the unaware. Any association with an email list has that task mastered. How do you move members (particularly those elusive millennials) from “I know about this event,” to “I want to attend this event?”

That is where the buying cycle gets exciting, because it’s the point at which you have to inspire the interested. And by “exciting,” we mean, if you don’t do it, forget all of it. It’s do or die. If you don’t inspire your members about your event, why will they care? And if they don’t care, why will they come? And if they don’t come, they miss out and you miss out. No one connects, and no loyalty or affinity is built. No joy. No lives changed. And then it’s back to the drawing board for the next event.

So yeah, inspiration is pretty damn important.

Inspiration is a process (which means it can be replicated).

As a brand, as an organization with a life-changing product, you have to deliberately encourage inspiration. Yes, deliberately. There’s nothing in the definition of inspiration that suggests it need be haphazard. To inspire someone is to mentally stimulate them to do something. What’s magical about that? Everything and nothing.

What’s not magical is the work you have to put into your marketing to make it inspiring. It’s like the oft-quoted line from writer Peter De Vries: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” Your association needs to approach inspiration as a discipline, as a best practice, as a habit.

We’re going to explain some of that best practice in a moment. But first, let us tell you what is magical: the effect that inspiration has upon people. Inspiration awakens people to new possibilities, and it diminishes their worry over the more practical concerns that tend to bog them down (like registration fees and travel costs). It pulls them forward to something better.

Inspiration is not the same thing as motivation.

Before we go on, there is one thing to clear up (because it has tripped us up in the past, too). “Motivation,” as a concept, is often about the things you should do. You should eat more leafy green vegetables. You should shop local. You should like us on Facebook. Nothing kills that awesome moment of inspiration like a list of the things you should do. Something may be of a motivational nature—like a terrific attendee story. But if you set out with this idea that your members just need to be motivated, all you will wind up doing is giving them a list of shoulds. You’re pushing them, rather than pulling them in. Push millennials, and they’re on to the next thing.

To inspire members, your event marketing needs three key things.

Research from the University of Rochester found that inspiration has three overarching qualities, which we have translated into the three elements of an inspired state: clarity, energy, and spark. These three elements correlate directly to marketing.

Clarity comes from your MISSION.
Focus on the one thing with the most value.
Energy comes from your STRATEGY.
Your strategy outlines how you will fulfill your mission.
Spark comes from the EXPERIENCE.
The experience brings your mission and strategy to life in your content, so it becomes real.

Start with CLARITY

When the founders of your association first came together, they had a clear purpose, whether it was five years ago or 105 years ago. Assuming your association has grown (if it’s large enough to be hosting a conference, then it must have grown), and new people and ideas have come on board, you’ve had to add on a lot of “stuff.” That means speaker series and webinars and luncheons and certifications and any number of other things—things that are VERY important. But they are WHAT you do, not WHY you do it.

WHY your event exists—or, the ONE thing with the most value to your members, attendees, and supporters—is driven by your mission. And most of the time, that mission gets diluted in the marketing, overshadowed by all of the WHAT stuff.

Let’s put it this way: does Cheerios really need 13 different types of Cheerios to reach consumers? (Check the cereal aisle; we’re not making it up!) Does that much brand dilution help them? Similarly, do you need 13 busy, overdesigned callout boxes and bullet points? Or, do you need a clear understanding of exactly what your mission is and why potential attendees would care—and a marketing campaign built around that? We’re banking everything on the latter approach being the one that works.

Is your mission 13 different types of Cheerios, or is it ONE thing? People can’t be inspired when there is nothing but noise, “WHAT” stuff, and options coming at them. Has anyone ever been inspired in the cereal aisle? Clarity is what causes people to feel the transcendence associated with inspiration—and to make clarity bloom, you need smart, curated, concise, well-edited marketing pieces, that are beautifully minimal in all the right places.

Build the ENERGY

Inspiration moves people toward a vision or idea. If your mission is the thing that gets their attention and helps your members feel that moment of transcendence, your strategy is like the engine that moves them. You build the energy of inspiration through the ways in which you communicate to your members and articulate your mission.

Don’t mistake us: the mere sight of a strategic plan is not an inspiring thing (we’ve created enough of them to know)! Rather, the momentum comes from the choices you make in your marketing. It’s the voice you develop to talk to members. It’s being clear on your attendee archetype (read more about our work with archetypes here). It’s the decision to welcome vulnerability and humanness into your marketing, instead of thinking you should stay above it. It’s awfully hard to move people from high above. Get down in the trenches with them and connect with them emotionally.

Create the SPARK

You can’t force someone to be inspired. You have to evoke it. You have to spark it. The spark comes from the way your content marries the strategy and the mission. Said another way, it’s how you bring the experience of the event to life.

Your association’s conference is not merely a set of dates, a venue, and an agenda-at-a-glance. It is about the larger experience, from the smell of breakfast to the sights and sounds of networking spaces to the feelings evoked in the sessions themselves. It’s sensory, to be sure, but it’s also related to the way the event makes them feel about their life. As any savvy brand knows, you are always selling a lifestyle. Hollister is selling the idea of Southern California surf culture (no matter that they’re headquarter in Ohio), Lexus is selling the idea of luxury, and Harley-Davidson is selling the idea of freedom, or as Harley’s CMO Mark-Hans Richer says, “We’re not really about transportation; it’s not about getting from point A to point B. It’s about living life the way you choose.”

What experience are you evoking? What lifestyle are you selling? It’s the job of your content to tell this story in rich visuals and sharp prose. Millennials are especially eager to understand the story behind the experience. The days of the old boys club and the secret handshakes are fading (exponentially more each year). The old loyal guard: by all means, treat them well! But don’t expect them to create sustainability for your organization.

Have clarity around your mission, harness energy in how you talk to your members and potential attendees, and then spark a desire in them to be part of event experience. These are the elements of an inspired state. Will you take the time to harness them in your marketing, so that you can truly inspire your members to action? Your next conference—and the future of your association—depends upon it.

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Create a SPARK to Inspire Members Through Brand Experience

Once you’ve achieved CLARITY in your mission and ENERGY with your strategy, there’s one last element that’s absolutely essential to inspiring your membership: a SPARK that evokes inspiration by providing members with an experience of your brand.

A memorable, positive brand experience inspires people to forge high-quality connections (1), explore new possibilities, and work towards goals. Additionally, it will help break the cycle of acquisition and retention because your members will become loyal advocates for your organization.

Your annual event is your biggest opportunity to create a spark. It’s your strategy coming to life. It’s also your chance to set up optimal conditions for inspiration, engagement, and—ultimately—mission fulfillment. Recent research suggests that the best brand experiences are multisensory.

Engage the 5 Senses

Consider what people will see when they walk through the doors of your exhibit hall. What will they eat and drink that might help them associate your brand with value? What kind of music will you play in the lounge areas—upbeat techno or smooth jazz? Will they connect better sitting in rows or roundtables? Consider whether your crowd is more interested in the smell of flowers or fresh-baked cookies. Do you have an interactive element, such as game playing or team activities? Every detail should be a spark of inspiration that offers value to your audience AND reinforces your mission.

Does this mean you need a sound and light show to attract Millennials, for example? Scented candles in the restrooms? Extra fuzzy couches? That depends on your Millennials. Nonetheless, your event does need to be welcoming, engaging, positive and memorable in order for it to be a spark of inspriation. Some gimmicks might be necessary, but avoid sensory overload. As we’ve mentioned so many times, you have to offer value for inspiration and connection to take place. If not, you’re just part of the babble.

It’s important to note that creating a spark of inspiration is not a passive endeavor. You can’t simply wait for members to show up and have whatever incidental experience with your brand. It’s your job to intentionally and deliberately craft a brand experience that will engage your members and move them to action. It’s within your control to encourage insporation to happen. (Cue Jack London and his inspiration-seeking club).

Use Brain Power

Sensory experience is backed up by some pretty convincing brain research. Science tells us that 90% of decisions are made in the emotional center of the brain. We also know that storytelling will get you farther than language when it comes to engaging people emotionally. Accompanying visuals are better than stories alone. And other sensory items—such as scents, textures, and music—can further enhance your message and create that spark of inspiration your organization can’t live without. What’s more, sensory items are powerful triggers of memories. You can use the same colors, visuals, smells, or textures in your marketing after the event to continue to engage and inspire members throughout the year. (Check out our past work on sensory marketing HERE.)

Learn To Surf

For a lesson in brand experience, take a look at clothing retailer Hollister. Walk into any Hollister store and be instantly transported to a beach in Southern California. Each store looks like a beach shack, complete with palm trees, beach balls, and sections for “Dudes” and “Betties.” Television screens display real-time surf conditions from Huntington Beach pier. The air is scented with the brand’s signature fragrance (available for purchase, of course). A curated collection of beach tunes plays over the speakers (also available for purchase). All indicators suggest to the shopper they have entered an authentic SoCal surf shop.

Hollister’s brand experience not only creates a spark that entices customers to purchase; it inspires them to adopt a lifestyle. In addition to making repeat purchases, loyal customers advocate for the brand through their appearance, behavior, music and even their smell. The interesting part? Hollister is not really a surf shop. It’s a division of Abercrombie & Fitch dreamed up in an office in Cleveland, Ohio.

The secret to success? It comes from a clearly crafted story, a well executed strategy, and an engaging in-store experience. The brand is so successful at moving people to purchase that Hollister’s sales have outplaced those of actual surf companies.

We’re not suggesting you fabricate a story to please your members. Chances are your organization was founded on a pretty incredible authentic story anyway. The key is to bring it to life with clarity, energy, and spark. If Hollister can be so successful with a fabricated brand experience, imagine how you can move and inspire your base with an authentic one.

All 3 Elements of Inspiration

Communications coach Carmine Gallo once said “Steve Jobs does not deliver a presentation. He offers an experience.”

Great brands and business success stories don’t happen by accident. The savviest marketers craft a story around their mission, they know their audience, and they execute a killer strategy that will engage and inspire. Lastely, they carefully and deliberately create a multisensory brand experience in which inspiration can take place. They feed inspiration by engaging all the senses. They fan the spark into flames by delivering value. And they achieve results in the form of loyalty, retention, and advocacy.

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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Get Energized!

Get off the acquisition and retention roller coaster and learn how to inspire your members with effective strategy.

How many times have you seen membership and engagement spike for your annual event only to drop off soon after? The acquisition and retention roller coaster is not a sustainable way to achieve your organization’s mission. You’ve piqued interest and maybe even moved members to take action, but unless you continue to energize and inspire them your organization can’t be sustainable—and no amount of networking, education, and certification can remedy the situation.

We know inspiration starts with CLARITY to raise awareness and reassure the interested. But you also need ENERGY in the form of strategy that articulates your expertise. Energy can help you break the roller coaster cycle, fuel high-quality connections, drive brand attachment, and improve member engagement.

You Need More Than a Mission

Having a clear mission and being excited about it doesn’t guarantee you’ll inspire people to take action. You also need a strategy that communicates your value and expertise. But before you can effectively communicate with your audience, you have to get their attention. You have to speak their language and connect with them emotionally. You must learn their pain points and offer solutions. You must understand their archetypes and what keeps them up at night. No matter how great your strategy is, if you can’t cut through the babble to reach your intended audience, you’re wasting your time.

Here’s a look at how to create a killer strategy AND how to make sure you communicate it effectively:

Establish Objectives

WHY are you doing what you’re doing? What outcomes do you strive to achieve with your marketing communication? You might have an attendance number in mind or a financial goal you’d like to reach, but set those ideas aside for now. Your objectives should be bigger! First you need to create high-quality connections where members openly express themselves and are also open to new ideas (1). When members forge meaningful connections with other members, engagement and brand attachment increase as a result. By connecting and inspiring people, you move them to action—to work towards your mission—and create a sustainable organization. Aim for high-quality connections and your attendance and financial goals will take care of themselves!

Determine Archetypes

There is simply no substitute for knowing your audience when it comes to good marketing that generates results for your brand. Who exactly are you trying to inspire? You probably have an idea of your organization’s key demographics—age, location, job title, purchase history, etc. While these details can inform your messaging, knowing your audience goes beyond the data. Archetypes are broad categories that help you understand your audience, their concerns, their emotional state, and other key factors on a deep, meaningful level. Chances are your members fit into just one or two archetypes that you can master in order to communicate with them. (Read more on how we examine archetypes for effective marketing).

Brand Voice and Key Messaging

Now that you’re clear on what your objectives are and who you need to reach, it’s time to craft your brand voice and develop key messaging. Your voice is your brand’s personality. It should be human and show some vulnerability to draw people to you in an authentic way. Using the same voice across all marketing platforms assures consistency in your message and helps people get to know the real you—online, offline, or in person. If you don’t maintain a consistent, authentic voice, it’s easy for your messaging to become noise. If that happens, your audience won’t be able to connect with you, no matter how interested they are in your mission.

As we mentioned previously, simplicity is key to clearly stating your mission, and it’s a good bet when it comes to key messaging as well. What is the one thing of most value you want your members to know? (Ok, you can have more than one key message…but let’s not overdo it.) If your key messaging doesn’t tie back to your mission, it’s babble and you’re wasting your efforts.

A Lesson From Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs once said “Marketing is about values… It’s a very noisy world and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us.” The way to cut through the noise, said Jobs, is to focus on core values, not products. Apple’s mission is clear—improve the world through technology. Next comes energy and strategy: “Even a great brand needs investment and caring if it’s going to retain its relevance and vitality,” said Jobs.

Apple’s success comes from deeply knowing its audience and creating products and messaging that offer value. In fact, Apple knows its audience so well it often releases products in anticipation of demand. Jobs once famously quipped, “ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” You only need to see the line around an Apple Store on the day a new iPhone comes out to know whether this strategy is working.

Get Off the Roller Coaster

It’s time to get off the roller coaster. In terms of the buying cycle, energy is most critical after you’ve raised awareness and inspired the interested. You need energy to move people toward making a purchase and experiencing your brand. You also need energy to maintain momentum once they’ve joined your organization or attended your event—to break the cycle of constant acquisition and retention efforts. No energy, no inspiration…no dice.

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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Let's Be Clear: Inspiration Requires Clarity

How to Cut Through the Babble Instead of Becoming Part of It

Walk down the cereal aisle in any grocery store and you’ll be bombarded by countless boxes in a rainbow of colors. While there are dozens of brands and flavors, they all contain basically the same stuff—sugary junk food that doesn’t nourish and leaves you feeling hungry in just a few hours. Adding another brand or flavor to the cereal aisle won’t help matters. It will just add to the clutter.

Event marketing often falls into a similar situation. Organizations promote dozens of products—networking, education, and certification among them—but they don’t articulate any VALUE to their membership. Members get so lost in the clutter that none of the messaging sticks and they’re left…well…hungry for real meaning and value.

Want to connect with more members? You don’t need another cereal box. You need LESS STUFF. Your members need CLARITY, not clutter. A minimalist approach to event marketing, believe it or not, will result in more inspired members, higher event attendance, and better fulfillment of your organization’s mission.

Identify One Thing of Value

We know inspiration can’t exist without clarity, a way of seeing things in a new light that compels people to take action. For your organization, that means clearly conveying your mission to your membership. The best way to achieve this clarity is to strip your messaging down to the bare bones. What is the one thing with the most value you want them to know? Once you determine what that one thing is, remove any “noise” from your marketing that might distract your audience. If your messaging doesn’t tie back to your mission, it’s clutter.

Know Your Archetypes

I can hear some of you saying “But our members are so diverse! How can we deliver one message that is valuable to everyone?” Start by defining your audience’s archetypes. You might be surprised that most of your members fit into one or two defined categories that will help you speak to them in meaningful ways. You can always craft variable messaging based on membership status or event attendance, but these details are secondary to archetypes.

Another strategy for determining the one thing of value is to look at your single biggest pain point (or Super Problem, as the pros say). If your greatest concern is reaching Millennials, for example, create a clear message the illustrates the value of your mission to this particular audience. Staying clear and focused on one issue can help you avoid the clutter trap.

How to Achieve Clarity in Your Marketing

Clearly communicating your mission is essential to the first two phases of the buying cycle—raising awareness and inspiring the interested. Present a confused or cluttered message early on and people simply can’t connect with you. They’ll get lost along the way! The key to a clear message that hooks and inspires your base is to know your audience well and to concisely articulate how your event will benefit them.

Take for example, the 99U conference by Behance. Tired of hearing babble about idea generation at conference after conference, the folks at Behance wanted to see some action and results. Their solution was to develop an event around the mechanics of idea execution. The simple value proposition of the event is basically, “Let’s actually get something done,” as opposed to, “Come get certified, see speakers, network with professionals, and attend happy hours.” The former promises value. The latter, stuff.

TED Talks are another great example of clarity and simplicity in action. Experts who could speak for hours are given just 18 minutes to present an idea, engage the audience, and demonstrate the value of their work. TED Talks are wildly popular with hits in the millions because they’re relatively short, accessible, and engaging even to a layperson. Sure, the experts have more to say. But if the speaker raises awareness and inspires the interested, mission accomplished. We can always dig deeper once we’re inspired if we want to learn more and take action.

Taglines are also a nice model for clarity and simplicity. Consider Nike’s three-word mantra “Just do it” as opposed to something like “Best-in-class apparel and equipment for today’s top athletes.” When it comes to inspiring your base with your mission and your event, you want the TED Talk version, the tagline version, the version that focuses on actual value in a clear, simple way.

Not the Kitchen Sink

You might think that paring back or eliminating elements from promotions is a terrible idea. After all, your organization is doing some pretty exciting things, and you want to tell the world! Resist the urge to include everything and the kitchen sink. Keep in mind that a clear, minimalist approach doesn’t take away meaning. It simply helps you get to the main point with laser focus—to cut through the babble and inspire your membership by delivering value.

Enough with the Stuff!

Modern consumer culture buys into the lie that accumulating things will make us happier, better people. We have a passion to possess as much as possible, rather than focusing on what makes us feel fulfilled. This “more stuff” idea spills over into our roles as event marketers. We often assume more is better when in fact LESS might be just what you need to go from Ho Hum to Hell Yeah. Clarity is key to inspiring your members, fostering high-quality connections (1), and advancing your mission.

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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It's big, it's powerful, and it's part of every buying cycle

Writer Jack London said,

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Rottman Creative goes after inspiration with a club.

We feel a level of intensity around inspiration that’s as wild and untamed as Jack London’s Yukon Territory. Everything we have always done has been about chasing inspiration. We said from the very beginning, people need to be inspired to act. It’s who we are and what we do for our clients.

Something interesting happened though. The more we worked to infuse inspiration into event marketing campaigns, the more we found ourselves talking about connection. Our clients needed to inspire their members. But equally important was their members’ need to connect. Connection, we saw, was the twin desire of inspiration. People inspire to connect, and they connect to be inspired.

This Inspiration-Connection Duality™: it’s big, it’s powerful, and it’s part of every buying cycle.

We have been living it and sharing it. We know that this duality is what helps associations grow, thrive, and change their members’ lives. When new clients would come to us, as part of the discovery phase, we’d audit their past marketing, and we could plainly see the campaigns that worked and the campaigns that didn’t. They would talk to us about their struggles to attract millennials (and their fear of being unsustainable without them), about being perpetually stuck on the membership acquisition and retention roller coaster, and about their inability to get out of “reaction” mode when the latest marketing tool or social media platform came along. We could plainly see that their problems were failures of inspiration and failures of connection.

Surely though, there was more to this than a gut feeling? Could there be a science behind it? Data? A meaningful and agreed-upon way to define this seemingly unknowable Mobius strip linking inspiration and connection? We took a step back, and realized that we needed a deeper understanding of this Inspiration-Connection Duality™. We set out to understand it—not just at the level of the heart, but scientifically.

First, we dove into inspiration, a concept that floats around in space, finds its way into lines of poetry, buddies around with muses and supernatural beings, and is plastered all over Pinterest. But what does it truly mean to inspire, or to be inspired? What do associations need to do to inspire people? Then, we turned our brains to connection, the domain of quantum physicists, biologists, and psychologists alike. How do people connect? What are the elements of connection? Why is there so much disconnection? And what do inspired and connected members do that non-inspired and non-connected members don’t do?

We took on these questions with purpose and focus. And we found answers.

Inspiration is not unknowable. It is quite knowable. It’s replicable. It’s scalable. And it is science. The same is true of connection. We are, in fact, wired to connect. Yet so often, we belie our own DNA, our own atomic structure, and find ourselves disconnected.

In our findings, we discovered that there are certain things that MUST be in place for inspiration to occur, and there are certain ways that inspiration actually moves people toward things. (1)

We also found that elusive bridge between inspiration and connection. We knew the connection piece was central, but we struggled to articulate its relationship to inspiration—knowing only it was part of this duality. We now understand not only the role of connection, but also what creates the high-quality connections that make events thrive—and the low-quality connections that detract, leaving damage in their wake.(2) We understand why those millennials aren’t interested, why associations can’t get themselves off the rollercoaster, and why they spin their wheels with their marketing efforts.

We realize these things, and this is the crux of what you need to understand:
  • Your event marketing has a big job to do. It must harness the specific things research shows are needed for inspiration to happen. Do this, and you’ve enabled people to create the all-important high-quality connections. And THAT is? the formula for greater impact and sustainability. THAT is how you get off the roller coaster. THAT is how you bring in the next generation and continue to change lives.

If we were fierce in stalking inspiration and connection before, now we are positively howling. Our own call of the wild is, “Hell Yeah!” We will bring what we have learned to every association that is brave enough to hear it and join us in our howl! And, as always, we will bring this knowledge to bear on every piece of marketing we do for our clients. That’s not a promise we make lightly. Get your club and let’s go! We have some inspiration to chase, and some connections to make.

Hell Yeah!

(1) Thrash, T.M., & Elliot, A.J. (2003). Inspiration as a psychological construct. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 871-889. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.871

(2) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

This is the first of several pieces we will write about inspiration and connection. Our goal is to help you digest it in pieces, in nuggets that you can relate to with your own brand and event. What’s ahead in the coming months? Here are just a few of the topics we’ll be diving into.

  • The three key ingredients you absolutely need to inspire members.
  • Understanding the role of trigger objects and target objects in inspiration.
  • What’s The Inspirational Scale and why should your association care about it?
  • The bridge from inspiration to connection that all associations need to cross.
  • What are high-quality connections, and how do you harness them for your marketing?
  • The true cause of low-quality connections (and the damage they do to your members and your event).

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We Need to Belong

Tap into the Power of Human Connectivity to Attract Long-Term Members

In their book The Blue Zones, authors Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain identified regions of the world where people live exceptionally long lives, many over 100 years. Not only are people living longer in these regions; they have fewer illnesses and enjoy more quality years of life. Once the authors narrowed down these “longevity hotspots”—from Japan to California—they looked for common characteristics that contributed to people’s long lives. They discovered just six key factors, one which was social engagement.

Hardwired to Connect

From our early origins, human beings have been herd animals, wandering in groups before eventually creating settlements and cities. Congregating kept us safe from predators, starvation, and the elements. Even with these ancient pressures long gone, we still feel the need to gather today—in churches, in stadiums, in book clubs, at sci-fi conventions, and in member organizations. We need to belong. And, according to the The Blue Zones, we’re better for it.

Among many benefits, including health and happiness, being part of a group makes us feel secure and more likely to show our true colors, thus facilitating even deeper, more meaningful connections with others. Vulnerability researcher Brené Brown put it this way: “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.”

Belonging Hypothesis

Psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary developed a “belonging hypothesis” that suggests humans are hardwired to form bonds and are reluctant to break them. That means once you hook a member, you’re likely to keep them. The psychologists also pointed out that people prefer a few close relationships rather than many casual friendships. You must prove your value to members or they won’t have room for you in their circle.

Baumeister and Leary suggest two criteria for developing a sense of belonging:
  1. frequent, positive interactions with the same individuals
  2. engaging in these interactions within a framework of long-term, stable care and concern

Note that frequency alone isn’t enough to draw people in. Interaction with your members must be positive, and you must exhibit stability and genuine concern for their interests (not just furthering your own). If you’re pumping out regular e-blasts without considering the needs of your base, people won’t feel connected to you. They won’t let you in their loop and they won’t join yours.

Inspiring Connectivity

Our need to belong and connect is one reason member organizations exist. You offer security, support, and concern for people who are looking for those same things. People thrive in groups—but not just any group. That’s where inspiration comes in. Tell your stories, resonate with audience worldviews, draw people to you, and you’ll build positive, beneficial connections that last for years and years.

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Tap into the power of visual storytelling to inspire members, connect them, and demonstrate the value of your organization.

Tap into the power of visual storytelling to inspire members
We’re often told “A picture is worth 1000 words,” but we seldom stop to think about why that’s true.

Psychologists explain that when we see an image, our brain automatically places it in a greater context. We look for related objects. We scan past memories to draw associations with the image and make connections. We see a scene, not just an object. This phenomenon, known as Perception of Scene Gist or Scene Perception, explains why images are powerful triggers of emotion, connectivity, and decision-making.

Research conducted in 2008 by psychologists Monica Castelhano and John Henderson indicated that color further enhances our understanding of a scene and the speed of our understanding compared to black and white images.

Additional research shines light on just how powerful visual communication is compared to text:

Visual Power By the Numbers:
  • 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual
  • 40% of people respond better to visual info than text
  • 70% of all your sensory receptors are in the eyes
  • People remember 80% of what they see and do and only 20% of what they read
  • Color visuals increase willingness to read by 80%

Our tendency toward visual communication is reflected in our current social media habits. Primarily visual platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest are among the fastest growing social media outlets today.

Every minute of every day:
  • 8333 videos are shared on Vine
  • 3472 images get pinned on Pinterest
  • 216,000 images appear on Instagram
  • 72 hours of video get uploaded to YouTube

All this data adds up to a pretty compelling case for a strong visual presence, online and off.

But where to begin?

Your visuals are an extension of your authentic brand story—a story you carefully construct to attract like-minded members and invite them into your loop of connectivity and inspiration. While consistency is important to ensure brand recognition, it doesn’t necessarily create a powerful, emotional connection with your audience. Choose images that do some “heavy lifting” to draw in members and inspire them with visual stories.

When you move your brand to online spaces, it’s wise to remember that human nature hasn’t changed but technology certainly has. To some extent, each platform influences our stories and our visual communication. You must remain true to your brand story, but you also have to satisfy algorithms to ensure your content actually gets viewed.

On Facebook, that means you need video. Recent changes announced by the platform suggest that images alone won’t help your business page views. Video proves your relevancy and increases your exposure. Videos on Facebook are shared 12 times more often than links or text posts combined.

Regardless of the platform, compelling visuals encourage sharing, a.k.a. the sincerest form of flattery. This is another opportunity for you to fuel the loop of connectivity and inspiration.

Don’t be afraid to update your images. You risk breaking the cycle of inspiration and connection when your look is outdated or irrelevant. If members can no longer relate to what they see, they’re not likely to tell themselves—or anyone else—a good story about your organization and its value.

You Still Need a Story

Of course visuals alone won’t draw members to your organization or fill your seats for a specific event. You still need stories to continue the loop of connection and inspiration. Google’s current algorithm actually favors web pages with 500 words of text or more and blog posts with 1600 words. Along with the search engines, human beings also need written content to help understand your greater brand story and the value you offer—to answer their question: “What’s in it for me?”

But words alone can’t accomplish all this either. Compelling, consistent visuals are an essential piece of your brand story. Combined with vivid storytelling, they make for seriously effective marketing as well as member engagement and connectivity.

You don’t want just anyone to join your organization. You want the right people who are eager to connect with your help. They are looking for you, and they’re hungry for inspiration and connection (even if they aren’t fully aware). Your brand visuals are a huge indicator that they’ve come to the right place, that they’ve found their tribe, and that great things are about to happen. If you’ve been getting just average results from your marketing, it might be time to up your visual game.

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How to Close the Circuit and Illuminate Your Base

We’ve talked about the endless loop of connectivity and inspiration that draws members to your organization and fuels your life-changing work. The loop is a little bit like an electrical circuit. For example, you must have a closed loop to illuminate a light bulb using electricity. No loop, no connectivity, no illumination.

Your organization also needs a closed loop to function. You need energy and connectivity to fuel illumination and inspiration—to power your work and continue to attract members. Your goal is to get members and prospects to say “Keep me in the loop” about your events, certifications, and products.

5000 Marketing Messages

Once people are in your loop, they’re receptive to what you have to say. Outside the loop, however, you’re competing with the “noise” of other marketing messages—some from competing organizations with similar offerings. Estimates vary, but research suggests we’re bombarded with as many as 5,000 marketing messages a day. That’s a lot of noise!

In order to be heard over all this noise, many organizations resort to shouting—using e-blasts, keyword stuffing, spray-and -pray direct mail, or other bullhorn tactics. They shout about networking, education, and certification using facts and figures. But these same organizations are often disappointed by low event turnout and declining membership numbers.

How do you Change Lives?

Once your members are in the loop you can share facts, figures, and details. But first you have to connect and inspire them by demonstrating the value of your organization and the benefits of membership. Networking, education, and certification aren’t benefits, they’re features. They’re your product. What you need is inspiration. What will your product DO for your members? How are their lives better because they’re a part of your organization? How will your certifications advance their careers, improve their businesses, and help them change more lives?

You Need Storytelling

We know the best way to accomplish a closed loop is through storytelling that connects and inspires. While very recent research is illuminating a lot of cutting-edge science about the human brain, our hardwired need to connect is as old as humankind. Best of all it never changes. Human beings are itching to connect, to belong, to be inspired. They’re looking for your organization even if they don’t know it yet. Your job is to let them know you exist and inspire them with stories that engage their brains.

First get people in your loop. Light them up. Then worry about facts.

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Connectional Intelligence

How to Drive your Organization’s Life-Changing Work by Harnessing the power of Connections

Did you know you have traditional intelligence, emotional intelligence, and connectional intelligence? Researcher Erica Dhawan partnered with business strategist Saj-nicole Joni to identify how relationships can drive innovation and breakthroughs. What they discovered was connectional intelligence.

Beyond IQ and emotional intelligence, connectional intelligence relies on conversations and community to generate results. The team explains that while connectivity is an innate characteristic in humans, connectional intelligence “requires intentional use to be unlocked.”

Here are a few ways you can use your connectional intelligence to rally members, drive attendance, inspire connectivity, and achieve your organization’s goals:

1. Know your audience AND the current situation in the industry.

To rally people around a cause, you need to know a lot about them, what their concerns are, and what’s going on in the industry and in the world around you. Identify how what you’re doing fits into the bigger picture. Dhawan calls this idea “understanding your context.” For example, if your members struggle to do business in a particular arena, do they need PR and marketing help or do they need to lobby community leaders for a better business environment?

2. Don’t be afraid of difficult conversations.

our organization exists to change lives. You can’t accomplish meaningful outcomes if you don’t dig deep to get at the heart of your members’ concerns. Ask tough questions. Investigate. Take feedback to heart. Rehashing the existing conversation isn’t enough. Talk about the topics people are afraid to bring up. Be vulnerable and be amazed at what you uncover.

3. Invite people into your loop.

Once you’re clear about your context and mission, get others on board. Engage people emotionally with dynamic storytelling campaigns over email, direct mail, and social media. Sponsor events that matter to your membership. Ask for volunteers. Encourage participation at your annual events or at smaller local events throughout the year. When people feel connected they’re more likely to be inspired by your message, which fuels a cycle of connection and inspiration.

Using your connectional intelligence means you’ll have to cut through the “noise” of competing marketing messages and demands on your members’ time if you want to be heard. Knowing your audience and telling stories that resonate with their worldviews is a great start. Once they’re listening, your job is to continually inspire and connect so you can further your organization’s core mission.

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5 Ways to Encourage Connectivity Among Members

Consistent branding is essential to connect all the people and parts of your organization. You need the same look and feel whether your members find you online or in line for the restroom. Consistent branding tells your members they’ve come to right place. But that doesn’t mean they’ll actually feel connected and inspired when they get there.

Once you have an established brand and an authentic brand story, it’s time to invite your members into the loop, where they can forge an emotional connection with your organization and each other. You need this connectivity not only to fill seats and build lasting loyalty but to inspire members and enable the life-changing work of your organization.

Here are 5 ways to get connecting:

1. Go beyond branding.

If your event theme is superheroes, imagine how connected everyone would feel if you handed out superhero capes for your opening reception. Promotional items have a shelf life that your other collateral probably doesn’t have. Wearables and vehicle decals are like little lighthouses for your organization. Get the most bang for your buck by giving true conversation pieces that unite your members.

2. Build online communities, not just online presence.

Your website is a repository of information—events calendar, key personnel bios, your mission statement, maybe even a blog. It is NOT inherently a place for people to forge meaningful, productive, emotional connections. For this you will need a forum that allows for conversation. Consider social media, a LISTSERV, Basecamp, or other platform that permits an exchange of ideas rather than a one-sided presentation of facts.

3. Organize special events at your conference.

Your whole tribe is already in town for your event. Why not make the most of it by adding unscripted networking opportunities? You might schedule a happy hour at a local watering hole or organize a first-timers orientation to welcome new members. Consider an “after dark” concert or entertainer to extend connectivity into the evenings.

4. Organize special events throughout the year.

Supplement annual national events with smaller regional affairs throughout the year. This might mean you host mini conferences or workshops in a few centrally located cities. It could also be much simpler. Consider sponsoring a team for a 5k or organizing a neighborhood cleanup day. These simple events can facilitate powerful connections among members by bringing them together for a common cause.

5. Tell stories. Before, during, and after events and throughout the year, tell stories.

Share them over email, on your website and blog, through the mail, and on social media. Feature your members, your staff, and anyone else touched by the work your organization does. Remember that when people hear a story they actually feel as though they are experiencing the events for themselves. Maintain a regular schedule to remind members of your value all year long.

It is interesting to note that we often use the verb “forge” when talking about connections. Forging connections implies effort and action. Connections don’t just happen; they must be made between your members and your organization. How will you fuel the fires of connectivity?

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8 mistakes you're making with brand storytelling

If you decided to give brand storytelling a try but you’re not really seeing results, don’t give up. Finding great stories is a good start. Now it’s time to fine-tune your storytelling to ensure your audience feels connected, engaged, and inspired (and moved to act!). Even if you’re a storytelling veteran, take these eight ideas to heart to get even more out of your efforts.

Mistake #1: Content for content’s sake.

You’ve heard the advice: You need content. So you’ve been wildly producing content, and it’s jam-packed with keywords. The trouble is, writing for search engines won’t help you make meaningful connections with your membership. Stick with helpful, relevant content that speaks to your audience’s current needs in a conversational tone. Chances are, the right keywords will naturally appear.

Mistake #2: Ignoring comments.

In the same vein as #1 above, maintaining relevancy is key to a successful online presence and a successful organization. Listen to what members are saying. What are they talking about? What are they sharing? It’s okay to find negative comments as long as they’re part of a productive, meaningful discussion. If everyone is complaining, or no one is talking at all, it might be time for a new strategy.

Mistake #3: No strong visuals.

So much compelling research suggests that to truly reach your members you need vivid color images that paint a compelling, authentic picture of your organization’s value. Take things to the next level with informative, helpful videos to encourage sharing and satisfy social media algorithms at the same time.

Mistake #4: Assuming technical content and storytelling don’t mix.

Just because the information you wish to convey isn’t as “exciting” as a consumer product doesn’t mean you can’t have great brand storytelling. Stories are carefully crafted based on the value your organization provides to your membership—and that is exciting. As an added bonus, choosing a story format for technical information increases the chances that your audience will remember the info.

Mistake #5: Not doing it enough.

Human beings are busy and easily distracted. Crafting a few great stories won’t be enough to draw all your members to you. Marketing research suggests that you need to reach out to a prospect 7 to 13 times before they’re convinced to make a purchase. You don’t need a new story every day, but you do need a comprehensive plan of direct mail, email, social media, and other promotions that you launch on a regular basis.

Mistake #7: Discontinuity.

Along with regular communication, you need to be consistent with your message. Use images with a similar look and feel. Use the same tone across all written communications. Include a hash tag specific to your organization and/or your events to help members and prospects connect the dots. Your base should be able to easily recognize you no matter where they encounter you.

Mistake #8: There’s no story.

Interesting facts, testimonials, and reviews are not stories. They are important, maybe even juicy, details about your organization and the value you bring to members. But keep in mind that a story has characters, rising action, a climax, falling action, and an ending. Even if your story is very brief, it should follow this classic arc in order for your audience to connect with your brand on a brain-deep level.

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The Power of Human Connection

Storyteller Wins $1 Million Ted Prize

Every year, the folks at TED Talks award a $1 million TED Prize to “a leader with a bold, innovative vision for sparking global change.” The money is intended to help winners “inspire the world” by making one ambitious “wish” come true. Past winners include an undersea explorer, educational researcher, epidemiologist, and astronomer, among others. The 2015 prize went to a storyteller, Dave Isay of StoryCorps.

Everyone Has a Story

StoryCorps collects and archives 40-minute interviews between two everyday people, usually friends or family members. Any topic is fair game. The project is based on the premise that everyone has a story and every life matters. Interviews might include general questions, such as a child asking a parent, “What’s the best advice you ever got?” They might be more specific. In one interview, a mother recounts her journey crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Another features the story of two parents who lost their son to a rare childhood illness.

To date 60,000 interviews with more than 90,000 participants have been recorded. Currently story recording is limited to select locations in the U.S. The TED prize will help Isay expand StoryCorp internationally.

If you’d like to hear some of the stories, you can tune in weekly to NPR. You can also visit to browse featured stories. The interviews are so important to American history they’re all stored in the Library of Congress. Isay suspects he curates the largest collection of the human voice every recorded.

Do Stories Really Matter?

It might seem like stories couldn’t possibly be as important as environmental conservation, modern medicine, or scientific research. Here’s an explanation from StoryCorps’ website that sheds some light on just how powerful stories are:

“We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”

Isay imagines incredibly powerful applications of storytelling—resolving wars, documenting history, combating prejudice, sharing wisdom, and more—all possible through simple, authentic human connectivity.

Why You Should Take Notice

It’s remarkable that the 2015 TED prize recognized the value of storytelling and its potential to change the world. We should take notice. Imagine how collecting and documenting your organization’s stories might change your community, your industry, or an even larger circle. Imagine if you could preserve the collective wisdom of your grey-haired members who are about to retire and take all their knowledge with them. Or maybe you should preserve the perspective of the next generation—to determine how you can best serve them. Who might you attract? How many lives might you change?

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7 Tips for Promoting Your Next Event on Twitter

Twitter offers incredible potential for event marketers to promote events and inspire members with meaningful content. And you don’t have to launch an elaborate social media campaign to get results. Follow these best practices to connect and inspire your base on Twitter—and maybe even see attendance numbers rise.

  1. Create an event-specific hashtag.
    This will help you track the conversation before, during, and after your event. You can find out a lot about your members this way. What questions are they asking? Which sessions are they talking about? What were their disappointments? Choose a hashtag that’s unique but easy to remember. Put it on everything—your direct mail pieces, brochures, website, a billboard…everything.
  2. Link to interesting and informative content.
    Share your organization’s blog posts, but don’t forget to link to third-party info that is also useful to your members. Your goal is to be seen as a resource.
  3. Be authentic and human.
    Even if your organization has a Twitter page, consider establishing pages for key leadership personnel. Your members want to see the human side of your organization, and a human profile pic (rather than a corporate logo) can go a long way in fostering connectivity with your base. Regardless of the type of page, tweet in a genuine, conversational tone.
  4. Be entertaining.
    Tweet a quote, a joke, or a beautiful image. Engage people emotionally. You might not get a measurable result from entertaining tweets, but they help to portray your brand personality and will eventually draw like-minded members to your organization.
  5. Participate.
    Be sure to favorite member tweets that catch your attention. Tweet @ members and prospects and retweet their interesting tweets. Talk with people, not at them. What saves Twitter from being a noisy crowd of people furthering their own interests is genuine human connectivity.
  6. Ask for the sale.
    Avoid being overly promotional most of the time, but don’t be afraid to ask members to renew dues, sign up for your events, or buy your products every once in a while. Mention early bird discounts or special offers to soften the message and make members feel like they’re getting special treatment by following you on Twitter.
  7. Integrate with offline promotions.
    Interactive storytelling can help you get more mileage out of your marketing. Ask a thought-provoking question in your direct mail piece and encourage members to tweet their answers. Ask for photographs. This interaction will not only engage members; it will help you tailor your event to meet their needs.

Having followers makes you a leader. While it seems like the goal on Twitter is to get as many followers, favorites, and retweets as possible, it’s wise to keep in mind that we must offer value to our base or they will find it elsewhere.

Twitter is just another extension of your authentic brand story. Make sure your language, images, and corporate identity on Twitter are consistent with the rest of your branding. Tell stories. Tweet professional images that represent your organization. Encourage a conversation with your base. The result will be connectivity, inspiration, and a stronger following online and in person.

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How To Tell Exciting Stories

Even if your Product is Boring

Swiffer cleaning products offer an alternative to the dirty, backbreaking chore of house cleaning. But inherently, they have a few marketing challenges:
  1. Nobody wants a broom. While people certainly want clean homes, nobody really gets excited about the equipment that will accomplish this outcome.
  2. A broom is a broom. Cleaning products are pretty low tech. It’s tough to convince someone to pay a premium for one tool when multiple cheaper alternatives are available.

Swiffer’s answer to these challenges is a series of commercials centered around everyday families. These commercials not only raise awareness about an innovative solution to a domestic hassle. They do it in a way that justifies the premium price and helps you remember which brand to purchase.

You’ve probably seen the commercial featuring the Saunder family who recently transplanted to the Pacific Northwest. The constantly rainy weather means their kids frequently track mud into the house. The doorbell rings, and the mom finds a box of Swiffer products to solve her domestic woes. The spot ends optimistically with mom saying, “Sunshine is overrated. Now we can get messy.” A cheerful tune whistles the commercial to a close.

Get in Your Audience’s Heads with Storytelling

While a few of the Swiffer commercials have been notable for their inclusiveness (ex: multi-racial family with an amputee father), the real mastery lies in the storytelling.

Each 30-second commercial has a textbook storytelling arc:
  • introduce the characters/family (exposition)
  • explain the dirty, strenuous problem (rising action)
  • deliver the Swiffer (climax)
  • show the family trying the products (falling action)
  • reveal how life is a little bit better as a result (denouement)

These commercials are inherently effective because they follow a time-tested format for engaging audiences. Hearing a story makes our brains feel as though we’re experiencing these events ourselves. What’s more, Swiffer chose scenarios that many of us actually have experienced ourselves—muddy footprints, too much pet hair, dusty ceiling fans. Storytelling allows us to become emotionally attached to the characters and the brand.

Be Authentic

Another remarkable aspect of the Swiffer stories is their authenticity. They feature real families sharing their experiences in the home. You’ll notice a mix of ages, body types, and ethnicities—no cookie cutter models here. There’s plenty of dirt, too. Swiffer doesn’t try to make cleaning glamorous. There are no big promises, just simple solutions to help everyday people enjoy their homes and families a little more.

Show, Don’t Tell

The commercials aren’t overly promotional. Viewers simply see the benefits of the products for themselves through the eyes of the real people using them. Any “selling” that happens is spoken by one of the family members as a kind of testimonial to the products’ functionality, ease of use, and effectiveness. The parting shot shows Swiffer’s logo and signature green color to remind you which brand to buy when you head to the store.

Just because you’re not selling a “fun” consumer product doesn’t mean you can’t have stellar, exciting marketing. There’s really nothing exciting about sweeping dirt off your floor. These commercials are a superb example of how you can build a story around your brand by focusing on the value you bring to your audience.

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Drive Attendance at your Next Event with a Visually Compelling Fact Sheet

1. Data is intimidating.

Data alone won’t fill seats at your event. You need to create a story around your data so members can easily grasp it and act upon it.

2. Most people are visual learners.

Research suggests that color visuals increase willingness to read by 80%. Visuals also boost retention and are more persuasive than words alone.

3. Simple is better than complex.

Engage your audience instantly by breaking complex facts and figures into bite-sized nuggets of information. Members can always ask for additional details if they want to learn more.

4. Time is limited.

Not only do people have the approximate attention span of a goldfish, but they’re constantly bombarded with marketing messages. You need to get your point across quickly, before your audience moves on to something else.

5. Your brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.

Continuing the conversation on neuroscience marketing, it’s wise to at least consider how the brain processes stories vs. information, visuals vs. text, etc. Adding a compelling visual piece to your marketing mix might be just what you need to get and hold the attention of your members.

6. People are looking for infographics.

Between 2010 and 2012, search volume for “infographic” increased 800% on Google. The format has gained so much popularity in recent years, you’ll find dozens of infographics about the effectiveness of infographics.

7. Increase traffic.

Visuals are inherently more shareable than reports, brochures, or direct mail pieces. Produce a great infographic and your members won’t be able to resist sharing it with friends and colleagues.

An infographic is a lovely compromise that delivers hard facts in a user-friendly visual format. Data is a good start when it comes to assembling an infographic for your event. Attendance numbers, retention rates, and numbers from feedback surveys can make for good infographics. But adding quirky details, like how many gallons of coffee were consumed at your event, can add a human element that resonates with your membership.

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If Your Audience Isn't Engaged, It's Your Fault

Storytelling is big buzzword in marketing these days, but as recent research is proving, it’s no passing fad. Storytelling is a powerful tool for engaging your audience’s brains on multiple levels. It enhances their interaction with you as well as their perception of your brand. It also aids in retention of the information you present.

A recent article by Scott Schwertly of SlideShare offers a simple yet adept explanation (have a look at Schwertly’s fantastic infographic for full details):

  • When you tell your audience FACTS, they use just two parts of the brain to either agree or disagree with you.
  • When you tell a STORY, audiences use seven parts of the brain. Rather than simple agreement or disagreement, your audience’s brains literally participate in the story you’re telling.

Sensory Perception

The seven regions of the brain illuminated by storytelling correlate to specific senses. Movement in a story triggers your motor cortex, for example. Touch triggers the sensory cortex and cerebellum. By contrast, information is processed only as language. Aside from sensory responses, stories trigger emotional responses as well. Emotions, not logic, drive decision-making and action.

Everyday Language

The language you use matters, too. Rich, descriptive storytelling in everyday language is more effective than vague clichés or complex, technical wording. Don’t forget that humans relate to other humans, so you’ll need to be authentic and relatable as well.

Engagement Depends on You

What does all this brain science mean for your organization? Essentially, you get to choose whether or not your audience will be engaged. From the onset of any marketing piece, speech, event, or campaign, you can choose an approach that has an inherently higher ability to engage your members. Or you can choose to present facts and figures that by their very nature—and by humans’ very nature—are less likely to be interesting, engaging, or memorable.

If members aren’t engaged, they’re not going to be compelled to connect with your organization, renew membership dues, or attend your events. They’re not going to become brand ambassadors who participate in storymaking and deliver essential third party credibility.

All this adds up to a pretty compelling case for storytelling.

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Who Will You Be?
Dick’s Sporting Goods Takes Storytelling and Storymaking to a New Level with a Recent Series of Commercials Featuring the Tagline, “Who Will You Be?”

The full length commercial runs for about a minute and speaks to the audience with direct, almost prodding questions and statements:

Who will you be…when the choices you make make all the difference…The true tests, they don’t come easy. And they won’t last long. But that’s why you’re here, for these very moments…because there’s nothing that tests you like sports…

Engage the Senses

The images are close shots of athletes playing softball or hockey, running a football in the rain, lifting weights, or icing muscles. You can see the exertion and intensity on their faces, the grime on their jerseys. The visuals alone would tell a powerful story even if there were no narration at all.

The music adds to the emotional effect of the piece. It gradually builds before dropping off instantly to end the commercial in a moment of silence. The parting image is a young boy gazing at a trophy case. The question returns: Who will you be?

Inspire Your Audience to Action

This combination of storytelling, compelling visuals, and emotionally gripping music—all crammed into a one-minute spot—would make for a respectable commercial on its own. But the fact that the central message of the piece evokes audience emotion and kindles the imagination puts it over the top. This commercial literally has infinite possibilities because every audience member can make up his or her own story to answer the question: Who will you be? This promotion makes people believe they could be Olympians, professional athletes, the strongest in their class, the fastest at the marathon. Anything.

It’s Not About You

There isn’t one occurrence of the word “we” (as in Dick’s) in the entire commercial. The company’s logo appears at the end for one fleeting second. But the ideas and inspiration set forth in the commercial are more than enough to send us all running to the nearest sporting goods store (Dick’s hopes we’ll run to their stores).

The larger campaign includes eight additional commercials about 15 seconds each featuring specific sports. These mini moments don’t allow for the same storytelling arc and emotional ride as the longer piece, but they do pique interest and they’ll likely be useful for Dick’s to target specific markets by sport.

Hats off to Dick’s for a masterful storytelling effort. This approach caught our attention, and it must have struck a chord with audiences, too. #whowillyoube was trending on Twitter the day the commercial was released.

How might you prompt members to imagine amazing possibilities with the help of your organization?

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How to Build Brand Attachment

And Why You Can’t Afford Not To

Brand loyalty is great. It makes your members renew year after year and sign up for your annual events without fail. Brand loyalty means members choose to spend their valuable time and resources on your organization instead of a competing alternative—whether it’s another organization or simply staying home to run their businesses. You need brand loyalty. But you need brand attachment more.

According to emerging research, people can form emotional connections with brands the same way they do with people. Emotional brand attachment is the single most influential factor in driving sales—even more than overall satisfaction.

Why You Need Brand Attachment

Members with brand attachment not only come back year after year to attend your events, purchase your products, and renew membership dues. They become brand ambassadors who are highly likely to recommend your organization to others. Emotionally attached members promote your brand for you with invaluable third party credibility. They bring friends and teammates to your events and encourage colleagues to join your organization instead of competing alternatives. Investing in brand attachment has endless possibilities for ROI.

How Can You Build Brand Attachment?

Leading this exciting research is JoAnn Sciarrino, researcher and the Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Sciarrino suggests there are three key elements to brand attachment: affection, connection, and passion.

Here are three ways you can use these key elements to emotionally engage your membership:

1. Know your audience.

Find out what your members’ affections, connections, and passions are. What keeps them up at night? What problems are they solving? Which important causes matter to them? The more you know your membership on a deep, meaningful level, the more you can focus your marketing efforts to forge emotional connections.

2. Craft your story.

Once you know your audience, craft your story in a way that resonates with them. What does your organization offer that will solve audience problems? Who are the unique individuals they can expect to see at your events? How is your organization changing lives? Highlight specific members whenever possible. Be authentic, but always keep your audience in mind when crafting your story.

3. Raise awareness.

A great brand story isn’t worth much if nobody knows about it. Optimize your story for your website. Tailor content for social media platforms, marketing collateral, and direct mail promotions. Craft compelling videos. Gather vivid, illustrative images. Tell stories. Promote your events beforehand to drive attendance, and broadcast your successes afterwards to drive brand attachment.

Building brand loyalty by providing value to your membership is a great start. Take your organization to the next level by forging emotional connections that create lasting brand attachment.

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Why You Need Video

And Why It’s Easier Than You Think

Forbes says 2015 is the “Year of Video Content Marketing.”

So just how powerful is video? Consider these stats: YouTube has more than 1 billion users. Facebook reports that videos are shared 12 times more than links and text posts COMBINED. Twitter users share more than 700 videos EACH MINUTE. Recent research suggests videos—not images—get viewed more often on Facebook business pages.

The challenge for many organizations is to find new, engaging ways to reach audiences while satisfying increasingly complex social media and search engine algorithms. Video seems to be the solution.

What does all this mean for your organization? Is it time to rent a news van or schedule time in a recording studio? Thankfully, adding video to your marketing mix can be fairly simple and affordable. In fact, you don’t even need actual footage.

Try one of these simple strategies to set your brand (and your membership) in motion:

Animation and Motion Graphics

Got a great brand story but no video footage? No problem. A compelling script can be the start of a great, affordable animated video. Photographs can be transformed into engaging motion graphics. Take a look at these examples for inspiration:

Smart Phones

A recent episode of the sitcom Modern Family was filmed entirely on iPads and iPhones. If cell phone footage is good enough for primetime TV, surely your organization can put it to use as well. Here are a few examples of top-notch videos filmed on smart phones:

Best Practices

All the rules of good marketing apply to your videos. Be concise (and often brief). Less than three minutes is a good rule of thumb. Some great vines are only 6 seconds long. Be authentic: Video is just another piece of your brand story. Be engaging: If you don’t move people in the first few seconds, they will move on. Possibly forever. Be informative: You’ll rarely see marketing videos go for the hard sell. Offer interesting, informative content to keep your audience interested and encourage them to share. Don’t forget your contact info and a call to action at the end.

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All about that BRAIN

How to Engage all the Senses to Reach Audiences Emotionally

“Ignore neuroscience at your 2015 marketing campaign’s peril,” says a recent article from The article cites work by researcher Colleen Backstrom, CEO of neuro-marketing agency Kaleidoscope, who suggests you’ll need more than just words to reach your audience.

Get Emotional

We know 90% of decision-making comes from the emotional center of the brain. And we know that storytelling emotionally engages the brain better than language alone. Backstrom suggests that in order to build trust with our audiences, we need to go beyond words and even beyond stories. We need to engage all the senses.

Get Visual

First, she says, you need compelling visuals to make your brand “sticky” in the minds of your audience members. It turns out our brains process visual information better than text. Backstrom cites the infographic as an especially powerful format given that the average attention span of an individual is around eight seconds (roughly the same as that of a goldfish, in case you were curious).

Get Scented?

You can incorporate other senses as well. The music you choose in your videos, at your events, and on the web affects customers on a brain-deep level. Consider fast vs. slow music, classical vs. dance tunes, and whether you want your audience to feel energized, relaxed, rebellious, solemn, or something else.

Some companies are even incorporating smell into the mix by infusing spaces with subliminal scents. Sounds crazy? Think about how the scent of fresh-baked cookies makes you FEEL. Textures, too, are important. Consider your business card and the impression heavy card stock makes vs. flimsy paper, smooth vs. textured finish, traditional rectangle vs. die-cut shape.

Get Noticed

All these sensory details provide cues about your brand to your audience’s brains. Of course in an increasingly digital word, it can be tough to incorporate tactile, sensory elements in your marketing mix. So use them when you can. Consider the sounds and music in your videos or the paper and printing techniques in your direct mail pieces. Incorporate deliberate sights, sounds, and even smells in your event spaces. These sensory details have the potential to reach your audience where it matters—in the emotional center of the brain.

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How New Facebook Changes Affect Your Business

In an effort to make its pages more engaging to users, Facebook might not be showing your business page postings as much as it used to. A recent blog post from the social media giant says the change is part of an ongoing effort to make the site’s news feed better—including reducing the amount of purely promotional posts.

Even if you’ve been posting meaningful content, it’s likely you’ve seen a drop in the number of people who see your posts this year. While the Facebook announcement does acknowledge the importance of business pages as consumer resources, you will likely need to adjust your strategy if you want to continue to reach your base.

Not to worry. There are some simple steps you can take to get noticed, reach people, and continue to build your brand on social media.

Ask for an email.

Use your social media to encourage members to sign up for your mailing list. Getting audience emails and/or mailing addresses allows you to control who gets to hear from you and how often with no restrictions on content.

Play by the rules.

Follow Facebook’s Page Posting Tips and Best Practices for maximum exposure and generally sound ways to communicate with your base on the platform. Tips include posting consistently, targeting based on demographics, being timely, and saving promotional content for ads.

Add video.

While the Tips and Best Practices suggest including high-quality images with your posts, a recent investigation by analytics company SocialBaker reveals that posting a photo might actually hurt your chances of getting seen. According to the report, videos will get you more eyeballs.

Pay to play.

Facebook offers two ways you can pay to increase your visibility. You can “boost” an existing post by paying a fee, or you can purchase ads. Both of these services allow you to target a specific audience based on age, geography, interests, and lots of other criteria using a pre-set budget you determine.

Rather than feeling punished, use these changing algorithms as motivation to up your marketing game. If you’re constantly hitting up your membership with promotional offers on Facebook, maybe it’s time to purchase some ads or develop informative content instead. All good marketing should truly engage your audience with compelling content, thoughtful conversations, dynamic visuals, and meaningful interactions—on social media and off.

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3 Ways to Get Great Member Stories

I hope by now I’ve convinced you just how important storytelling is for your organization. But getting started with a robust storytelling marketing program probably seems a little daunting. Sure, you’re familiar with the history of your organization. You might even know some great stories about your coworkers. But how do you uncover those really juicy member stories…the ones that illustrate the life-changing work you’re doing…the ones that offer invaluable third party credibility to your organization?

Here are three strategies for snagging truly compelling member stories. Try one out at your next event.

1. Solicit stories after conferences or events.

You might already have a feedback survey in place to follow up with members after events. But if you don’t ask for a story, you won’t get a story. Simply stating, “Tell us a story about your experience at our event” won’t likely get you any usable material either. People need a little coaching. Consider a thought-provoking prompt to get them talking. For example:

Tell us about a member you met at the event who gave you an idea you can use in your business. Do you plan to stay in touch? How?
What session had the best information? Why? Did you connect with someone new during this session? Tell us about your experience.
What advice would you give someone who is considering attending the event next year? What is the “must see” attraction at this event? Why?

2. Solicit stories during conferences or events.

Deploy teams of roving reporters with thought-provoking questions to get members talking. Ask for a video statement whenever possible. Sometimes these off-the-cuff, in-the-moment stories are the best ones you’ll get all year. And members will appreciate the direct interaction with your staff. Try these questions to get members talking:

  • Why did you decide to attend this year?
  • Can you share a big idea you’ve picked up at the conference already?
  • Have you made any connections with other members that will help you do business?
  • What is everyone talking about this year? How do you think it will affect the way you operate?

3. Get creative.

The University of Alabama decided to capture campus experience using a photo-booth style device called “The Box.” Part marketing tool, part historical record, The Box provided the space for storytelling (and storymaking) to happen. The results were infinitely more authentic and telling than any responses the university would have gotten on a multiple choice survey. Consider setting up a testimonial booth at your next event, or imagine a more creative strategy to capture stories while delighting your members.

The stories are out there, and most of the time members are dying to share them. When you get a good story, don’t keep it a secret. Share it in your marketing pieces, on your website, and via social media. The members you feature will feel flattered, and others will be encouraged to share with you, too. If you don’t get anything good, up the ante. Offer an incentive, such as entry in a $100 gift card drawing, to encourage participation.

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Interactive Storytelling

Physically engage your audience to get more from your marketing.

As a limited-time holiday promotion, coffee shop chain Caribou Coffee printed the opening lines of various feel-good stories on their beverage cups. Customers were encouraged to go to the web to learn the ending of the story that began on their cup. The chain’s current promotion asks customers to submit “what you stay awake for” via numerous social media outlets. The best answers will be printed on forthcoming cups.

The McDonald’s “Signs” commercial we’ve mentioned previously is another example of interactive storytelling. Then there’s the Heinz 57 ketchup bottles with a QR code that leads to an online game of Trivial Pursuit. Families are encouraged to play while they await their food orders at restaurants.

Cross-Channel Interaction

Encouraging people to move from one channel to another can get you added mileage from your marketing promotions. On a very simple level, it causes people to linger longer with your brand. Beyond that, moving your base online from offline puts them in a place to share your stories socially.

Another important aspect of these campaigns is their interactivity. An old school direct mail technique is to have audience members move a sticker from one part of the mailer to the reply card. This simple interaction leads to a boost not only in response rate but in sales closed. It seems that people who physically interact with a brand feel more connected to it and are thus more likely to make a purchase.

While an element of interaction might seem like a gimmick, it could be just the thing your organization needs to connect with your membership. It’s easy to delete emails, toss junk mail, and forget about TV commercials. It’s harder to forget about a story that hooked us on one plane and moved us to action on another.

A Win-Win

Take the current Caribou Coffee promotion. This interactive storytelling as a marketing technique is a stroke of genius. The brand gets priceless word-of-mouth marketing and the people who provide it feel like they’ve won something. Same goes for the interactive ketchup bottle. Heinz facilitates family fun at the same time it drives traffic to their web site.

Imagine how you might create a similar win-win to engage your audience and create greater brand attachment.

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As you look around the room at your annual conference, there’s a good chance you’re seeing more and more gray hair. This realization is probably followed by a sense of panic. What will happen to your organization in just a few years when the bulk of your members decide to retire? How can you attract and retain a younger base? And how can you preserve the knowledge and experience of your veteran members?

Step away from the panic button. Consider implementing a few of these ideas to attract younger members and keep your organization thriving.

Stay connected on social media

Social media is a one-to-one, 24/7 link between you and your base. While you might not see a concrete ROI in terms of new members signed up or conference registrations paid, the connectivity social media affords is invaluable. Your events happen a few times a year at best. Stay connected year round with a strong social media strategy.

Freshen up your visuals

Feature younger people in your membership brochure, on your website, and in any of your other marketing collateral. Seek them out for testimonials and success stories. Aside from showing younger faces, it might also be time to freshen up your logo or other visuals with a more contemporary look.

Actively recruit younger members

Fish where the fish are. Speak to your local young professionals group, purchase a mailing list based on age, or look for partner organizations with your desired demographic. Consider reaching out to university students to generate enthusiasm for your organization and your industry. A little investment now could pay off for decades to come.

Encourage involvement

Invite new members to serve on committees and get involved. Pair newbies with veteran members to make them feel welcome and to pass down that valuable knowledge and experience. Consider hosting a new member cocktail hour or open house to encourage connectivity beyond your annual events.

Explain the why

Lots of today’s young people want to be involved in something that matters. Share your authentic brand story and explain the reason why your organization exists. People of all ages will be drawn to you.

Some organizations dismiss social media or an updated look as unnecessary. They think, “We’ve never needed it before and we’re doing just fine.” But as your membership nears retirement and attendance numbers dwindle, you’ll need ways to reach new people—and the value they’ll bring for years to come.

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Are you in the Loop?

Inspiration and connection move in a noiseless, effortless, infinite loop.

People want to be inspired to connect. They connect to feel inspired. Again and Again, one desire chases the other.

Inside the loop, people put down their phones. They are present in the moment. They yield to their hardwiring for connection. They let inspiration direct them.

Inside the loop, they can hear.

Too many organizations operate OUTSIDE the loop. Where it’s loud. And crowded. And difficult. They try over and over to find their way in. They tap and hammer and e-blast with messages swimming in logic. They get a toe in, spin around in their analytics, and fall back out.

The problem is that they’re missing the access point.

We’ve spent our share of time outside the loop. Leaning on numbers and facts and bullet points. This webinar and that expert. This industry report and that status quo. We’ve circled around and over and through and found the access point. It’s so simple, but yet, so easy to miss in the disconnected haze outside the loop.

You invite people into the loop of connection and inspiration through human storytelling—person to person to person.

Effective storytelling finds people in their emotional centers. Their limbic brains. Where memories live. Where neuroscientists say the majority of decisions are actually made.

Everything else is important, but secondary. Without the ability to tell great stories, you won’t get there. And you should be there. Because inside the loop, people and organizations are the best versions of themselves.

Inside the loop, you can fulfill your organization’s core mission. Which, one way or another, is always about CHANGING LIVES.


It’s not a human concept at all. It’s beyond what we can even imagine. But that feedback loop? Th at’s 100 percent human. We’d love to meet you there.
Give us a call at 301-753-4226 or email

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Pay with Lovin'
Continuing its efforts to be viewed as a caring corporate citizen, McDonald’s released another heartwarming commercial—this time during the Super Bowl.

“Pay with Lovin’” shows random McD’s customers ready to purchase their food when a cashier asks them to perform various tasks in lieu of payment. For a few customers, payment means calling mom to say “I love you.” Others need to dance, hug, or say nice things about family members. If they “pay with lovin’” their food is free. The promotion is set to run until Valentine’s Day.

Feel Good People Stories

Coming on the heels of “Signs,” McDonald’s local feel good commercial released a few weeks ago, Pay with Lovin’ continues the restaurant’s focus on humans rather than food. It encourages connectivity among customers and, by extension, to McDonald’s who facilitated the connection. It does more tugging at emotions than actual sellin

Pay with Lovin’ another example of storymaking in the vein of Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign. The idea is to create situations in which customers create their own meaningful stories, which they then spread through word of mouth.

Is it working?

Feedback on this campaign is about as mixed as the Signs campaign. While some of the Lovin’ encounters were tear jerking and heartwarming, others were stiff and awkward (clearly, strawberry sundae guy didn’t really want to raise roof). But even the awkward moments lend an air of authenticity to the whole thing. And it’s hard to argue with a campaign centered around love and positive vibes, not to mention free food. As of writing this post, the chain has given away nearly 1 million free orders.

Collectively McDonald’s new commercials are an attempt to halt declining sales and improve public perception of the brand that’s still under scrutiny for low wages and questionable ingredients. Even if it’s not working, they’re getting a ton of social media mileage out of these attempts. Search #paywithlovin on Twitter or take a gander at to see just how much traction you might get out a clever feel good campaign.

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How Much Does Visual Matter?

We know that visual matters.

If your brand doesn’t engage with the eyes, any words you use to tell your story will likely fall short. But just how much do brand visuals matter?

A new infographic from HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales platform, suggests people remember 80% of what they see and only 20% of what they read.

A few more compelling stats from the infographic:
  • 65% of people are visual learners
  • 93% of all human communication is nonverbal
  • 55% of website visitors spend less than 15 seconds actively reading content on a page

Tweets and Facebook posts with images get more than double the social shares as the same tweets and post without images. Here at Rottman Creative, we can attest to this personally. Switching from cartoon-style line drawings to compelling photography for our social media updates led to a major boost in post and page likes and an exponential increase in clicks. Our revamp of was motivated by this same need for a greater visual presence to engage and inspire our audience.

The evidence is pretty compelling that if you’re not including a strong visual component in your branding, you’re missing out on reaching a lot of people. But simply having visuals isn’t enough. You need the right visuals.


Color impression can account for 60% of the acceptance or rejection of a product or service. Red, for example, can suggest excitement and passion, while black implies luxury and sophistication. Choose colors that reflect your brand’s mission, personality, and services.


Also consider the format of your visuals. HubSpot found that Twitter users tweet images 361% more often than videos, and the images get more than double the retweets of videos. While this trend might be a symptom of our limited attention spans, videos still hold the power to increase conversions on landing pages by 86% and boost visitor understanding of your product or service by 75%, so don’t count them out just yet.

The Bigger Picture

The big idea is to make sure your visuals make sense. Choose compelling visuals that represent your brand, your mission, and the audience you want to attract. Then provide greater context with polished, descriptive copy. Even the best visuals will fail at inspiring your audience if they aren’t a part of your larger, authentic brand story.

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A Tale of Two Images

Only the right picture is worth a thousand words.

A great image can do a lot for your organization. It can portray your personality, tell your story, and rally your members around your organization. It can build loyalty, raise brand awareness, live in infamy on social media, and pay dividends when it comes to engaging and retaining members.

Consider the following two images from a brochure promoting the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association’s annual conference.

Visual Storytelling

They both show the same individual, Todd Anderson, CEO of Hub Hobby Center. The first is a corporate headshot that looks polished and professional but doesn’t tell us much about Todd’s story, industry, or capabilities.

The second image is more illustrative. There’s Todd, now wearing bunny ears, surrounded by people, and deeply engaged in an activity. This image tells a story about what it’s like to attend an ASTRA conference. Given the bunny ears, this obviously isn’t a traditional business conference. The background is crowded, implying a good turnout. People viewing this image might feel like they’re missing out on a lot of fun if they don’t attend, that perhaps “everyone” will be there so they should go too.

In combination, these two images work together to suggest that serious business happens at an ASTRA conference, but some major fun and connectivity happen too.

Show and Tell

It’s worth mentioning the importance of original photography and design. Because your visuals do so much heavy lifting when it comes to showcasing your organization and events—your story itself—stock photography will almost always fail at projecting your authentic brand personality.

You have limited space to visually represent your brand. Make every image count by choosing photographs and graphic elements that do some real work. Show and tell members why they must attend your event and what they’ll miss if they aren’t there.

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These days, data is big business. You have unprecedented access to information about your audience’s location, age, income, education, and employment history. But it goes further than that.

Like never before you have purchasing habits, personal preferences, values, affiliations, and routines—all trackable via social media, rewards programs, location markers, and more. Big players in the industry are incredibly adept at piecing together all your data to more effectively market to you. (Target took the prize in this arena when it accurately predicted a customer was pregnant before she announced it to anyone.)

Personalization Potential

Variable data print, email, and web advertising allow marketers to customize messaging down to the individual. A simple example: If you frequently buy chicken from your grocery store, you’re likely to get a coupon for chicken in your next circular. Since I like steak and buy that frequently, I’ll get a coupon for steak.

With all this personalization made possible through data, marketing is more engaging than ever, right? Wrong. It turns out data isn’t enough to reach people on an emotional level. Remember that our emotions are responsible for as much as 90 percent of our decision-making abilities. In other words, a coupon for chicken won’t cut it. While this type of personalization is a great start, the effectiveness of data is vastly enhanced when accompanied with artful storytelling.

Find the Story

What story could chicken possibly have, you ask? Well, for starters there’s a great American tradition of family meals around the dinner table—the place where events of the day, stories, and information are shared. Perhaps chicken is a healthy alternative to hamburger. There’s a story there. Knowing your audience and telling compelling stories that resonate with their worldviews is the key to marketing success. The data helps you get to know your audience, but unless you forge an inspiring emotional connection, you’re wasting your efforts.

Your organization has a story. Each of your events has a unique story. Use your data to know your audience, but use emotion to truly engage, inspire, and connect.

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The New Rottman Creative Website

We’re pleased to unveil a brand new! Here’s what prompted our change and how we went about crafting a more inspiring site:

Rottman Creative exists to connect the unconnected, to inspire people to act. We accomplish this by reaching people on an emotional level with dynamic visuals and relevant compelling content. We create event brands that attract people, light them up, and connect them to the event, the organization, and each other.

The “old” wasn’t actually old—just over a year. But when we took a step back and asked ourselves if we were “walking the walk” when it came to connecting and inspiring people with our own brand, we realized we fell short. We had plenty of content, but not much connectivity. And there wasn’t enough visual appeal to engage visitors and encourage them to click through and stay a while.

Visual Storytelling

The next version of our site had to include a strong visual component. We engaged a photographer to shoot our portfolio pieces in interesting settings with complementary colors and textures. As opposed to including a slider of digital pieces, this approach added depth to our work by providing real-world context and thought-provoking settings. The photographs hint that each piece has a story.

Large environment images greet you when you visit the home page. These big simple visuals represent our passion, inspiration, and thought process—images include everything from worker bees collaborating in a hive to a perfect surf wave beckoning me catch it.

Simple Structure

When it came to the site’s structure, our approach was to simplify the interface to make all parts of the site easy to access and navigate. Our blog, newsletter, and portfolio are the three core areas of our site; we wanted visitors to seamlessly navigate each and realize at a glance that all three are connected.

We used a combination of the large environment images and smaller tiles throughout the site to complete the bigger picture of our capabilities. This visually interesting format is an emerging trend in web design—and we think it will be around for a while because it’s so compelling.

There is still plenty of content on our site, but the new format connects it more coherently. The next phase of our rollout will include “Front Row” content streams that link our work to the big ideas behind it. This feature will really show you how our work demonstrates our core beliefs in connectivity, inspiration, vulnerability, and storytelling.

Please have a look at the new Click. Read. Stay a while. Be inspired.

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A Thing of Beauty
As we were going through the process of reinventing our online image, I came across a cool design story about John Mayer’s latest album cover.

Mayer wanted to do something unique and compelling for his album artwork that truly represented his music, his passion, and his personality. He called upon a traditional turn-of-the-century sign painter in the U.K. to help him out. The two collaborated via web chat to make Mayer’s vision come to life—first in glass and gold foil, then in digital design. The resulting album cover is a stunning blend of tradition and technology that compels people to pick it up, admire it, explore, learn more, and listen.

Make Something Beautiful

Mayer said something about the process of making the cover that really resonated with us: “In this world we live in where everybody is trying to figure out the next strategy for PR, all we did was make something beautiful.”

We set out to create a thing of beauty and quality with the new It was painstakingly crafted to reflect our work and our passions. The creative process was a lesson in authenticity. We knew we had to demonstrate our visual and branding capabilities by making something beautiful, inspiring, and engaging of our own. But we also knew we had to match that beauty with quality content that mattered to our audience.

Photo Storytelling

The backbone of our new site is the photography. You will see not only the actual pieces of collateral we completed for our clients; you’ll see them juxtaposed with interesting colors and textures in real-world settings. The images complement our content and help to showcase our work and tell our brand story. But on a very basic level, they’re just plain beautiful and they compel you to linger on our site.

As technology changes, all of us adapt our stories to fit new formats. But human nature never changes. Beautiful things will always compel people.

We hope the new will pull you in, inspire you, and encourage you to take your time and explore.

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Bullhorn or Tin Can Telephone?

Sometimes social media is like the people who stand in public parks with a soap box and a bull horn.

They shout about religion, animal cruelty, the wage gap, miracle cures, or current affairs. For the most part, the general public walks right on by, dismissing the speakers as crazy or ignoring them altogether. Occasionally a soap-boxer gets a response from a passerby, but it’s often heckling or a hand gesture. It is a rare person who has an epiphany and is moved to action after hearing a soap box message from a bullhorn.

Many organizations use social media like a bullhorn without ever considering whether their audience cares about their message or if anyone is even listening. They’re not engaging any one, making connections, or inciting action. They’re shouting, and it’s a one-way conversation.

Connectivity is a Two-Way Street

Perhaps a better method for delivery would be the tin can telephone. You know, the one created by connecting two cans with a piece of string. In order for a tin can telephone to work, the listener must be a willing participant. He has to pick up the can, put it up to his ear, and listen intently. The speaker must whisper a message and wait to hear a response. It’s a personal connection between two people, a two-way exchange of conversation.

Social media can often be a shouting match that drowns out all voices—even the interesting, reasonable ones. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in what we want to tell our base that we sometimes forget to stop and ask them what they would like to hear.

Ask yourself whether your organization is shouting or having a conversation. If nobody is talking back—or if you’re getting a lot of heckling and hand gestures—it might be time to reevaluate your social media strategy. Without listeners around your campfire, your water cooler, or your conference table, your story simply can’t be effective.

Ready to whisper into the tin can telephone? You might be surprised at who is ready to connect on the other end and what they would like you to know in return.

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McDonald's Serves Up Stories

McDonald’s turned some heads recently with the release of its “Signs” commercial. In just one minute, this emotional piece of sadvertising engages viewers with hints of tragedy, triumph, and human connectivity—all set to the moving musical ballad “Carry On,” sung by a choir of young people.

At the end, viewers are encouraged to visit to “See the stories behind the signs.” This call to action extends the commercial’s depth by encouraging viewers to get even more connected to the cities, people, and events highlighted in the commercial. It extends the commercial’s reach onto social media (and, really, to infinity and beyond) by posting the stories on tumblr, where they are instantly shareable. Visitors to the tumblr site are rewarded with three additional commercials, each with a different theme.

Where’s the Beef?

It’s worth noting that there is no mention of food whatsoever in any of the commercials. These spots focus on the human side of Mc Donald’s at a very specific, local level.

McDonald’s has been in the news a lot lately—for both “pink slime” allegations and the low wages of its workers. This storytelling strategy aims to combat these negative perceptions by portraying McDonald’s as a bunch of local owners who care for their communities, not a soulless corporation out for profits.

A Mixed Bag

The campaign was met with mixed reviews. Critics doubted its sincerity. Other viewers were moved by the gesture that, while uncharacteristic of previous McDonald’s branding, seemed authentic and inspiring. The T.V. spot certainly serves as an excellent example of how a company can put storytelling to work toward achieving a specific outcome. In McDonald’s case it might be a positive public perception. For your organization it might attracting new members, inspiring existing members, or influencing more lives.

How might you emphasize the human side of your organization? Harness the power of storytelling to engage and inspire your membership and achieve your goals.

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In a sense, everyone connected to your organization is part of your marketing department.

The term “brand ambassador” is probably an overused buzzword these days, but the idea behind it is sound. Each person at your organization represents part of your story. What they say, what they do, even what they wear say something about your organization’s service, products, and culture. (Consider blue-jean clad Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos).

Each promotion you create is also part of your story. Good branding presents a unified face to the world using a unique but consistent tone of voice, original images, one-of-a-kind events, and meaningful personal interactions.

Your members, too, tell pieces of your story—in tweets, testimonials, conversations, and referrals. This storymaking is as critical to your brand’s success as the stories you craft and promote.

This all adds up to a case for authenticity. No matter who encounters your organization or where they are in the decision-making process, they get a bite sized portion of your true authentic self.

Marketer Seth Godin explains his in book All Marketers are Liars, “The problem with first impressions isn’t that they’re not important…but that we have no idea at all when that first impression is going to occur. Not the first contact, but the first impression. That’s why authenticity matters.”

How often have you left a conference with a stack of business cards and very little memory about who’s who? When it comes time to follow up on those leads, you won’t remember exactly what was said at first contact. By establishing a consistent, authentic story, you won’t have to worry that the values you promoted at the show are the same ones your organization can stand behind.

Not only is authenticity effective at attracting your tribe members to you. It’s easy. Your organization has too many moving parts to maintain various fronts for different audiences at different points of contact. Being authentic at all times ensures the consistently right impression with little effort from you.

Remember, it’s a rare company that changes anybody’s mind. Your goal is to find your tribe, the people whose worldview suggests they will already believe what you’re saying. These people are just waiting to connect with you and be inspired. And they can’t do that unless you are authentic and vulnerable at all times.

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Fighting the Gut Instinct

People go with their gut. We make decisions, even big ones, in a matter of seconds mostly based on emotion and not facts or logic. Some studies suggest this is a leftover from our early days as hunter-gatherers, when we needed to make quick decisions to stay alive. (The jury is still out on whether we make good snap decisions more often than bad ones.)

People are also stubborn. We rarely change our minds once we’ve made a decision. Rather than seeking a well-rounded approach to the situation, we tend to gravitate toward people and information that reaffirm our decisions and complement our worldview.

How to Market to People Whose Minds are Made Up

This makes our job as effective marketers pretty tough. If people have already made up their minds and they’re not prone to changing them, why do we bother continuously promoting ourselves?

First, you simply don’t know when people might encounter your brand. Your next ad or email could be the catalyst for a prospect’s snap decision to join your organization.

Second, you can’t predict which aspects of your story will resonate with your audience’s worldview. When you present a set of ideas that mesh with the decisions your base has already made, you reaffirm their choices and they will naturally gravitate to your organization. Your prospect will tell herself a story about your organization and sell it to herself with little effort on your part.

A Case for Authenticity

It’s worth noting that you can’t simply tell your audience what they want to hear. If a what you offer doesn’t actually help a member after she decides to join, she’s not likely to recommend your organization to anyone (she might even say something negative). She’s probably not going to renew her membership next year. And she’s not going to spout any valuable word-of-mouth storymaking.

Your only course of action, then, is to be your true, authentic self. Tell your story at every turn to attract new prospects and to inspire current members who believe in your organization because it resonates with their worldview and gut instincts.

As they say, it’s easier to sell salad dressing to someone who already eats salad. Your job isn’t to convince people, it’s to find those who are already convinced and let them know you’re there.

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7 Clues to Business Narrative

So you want to start using storytelling to inspire your base and your team. Now what? How do you get started? Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story: A guide to crafting business narratives that captivate, convince, and inspire, suggests seven strategies for crafting a good story.

1. Provide context.

Clue in your audience as to the conditions surrounding your story. If a major industry change sparked a new idea, don’t forget to tell your members about that change. Context is a lens through which people will view your tale.

2. Use figures of speech.

Metaphors and analogies help illustrate your story because people are so familiar with them. For example, you might mention the tradeshow floor was buzzing like a beehive. That’s more interesting and engaging than simply stating that it was busy.

3. Add emotion.

Smith suggests appealing to emotion, and we couldn’t agree more. The emotional center of the brain is responsible for 90% of our decision making. A good marketer simply can’t ignore emotions.

4. Be concrete.

Add specific details to your stories and skip the corporate jargon. A conversational tone with real world details—not abstractions—will forge a connection with your audience.

5. Include a surprise.

Smith notes recent research that suggests a surprise could make your story more memorable. Surprises trigger the release of adrenaline in the brain, which heightens memory formation.

6. Use a narrative style appropriate for business.

Keep it professional and concise. Smith suggests a story that’s 3 to 5 minutes long.

7. Be interactive.

The only thing better than a story that’s so good your audience feels like they’re a part of it is a story your audience is actually a part of. (Remember Steve Jobs’ prank call?) Involve your audience in whole or in part for an even greater impact.

Storytelling in business is a little different than the stories you might tell your kids at bedtime, but with a little effort, they’re every bit as interesting, engaging, and inspiring.

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Let's Keep it Simple

Wooden toys are great. They’re fun, engaging, and durable. They’re so simple they hardly ever break. Very little goes wrong with a wooden toy. Let’s apply this idea of simplicity to your brand storytelling so you too can be fun, engaging, and durable.

Kill Your Darlings

William Faulkner famously quipped, “In writing, you should kill all your darlings.” In other words, it’s important to know your story in its entirety, but then you should boil it down to its core. Document your history. Develop a full cast of characters from your team, your members, and those lives your association touches. Write it all down.

Next, eliminate complications and confusion that can dilute your message. Try to identify the top three things about your association that your membership absolutely must know. Faulkner’s dark language hints at how difficult this process is. There’s so much you love about your association, and you don’t want your members to miss one detail. But you must thin the herd for the greater good.

Simple, Focused Marketing

The best marketing efforts are simple and focused. Direct mail and email state key benefits and make one offer to one audience. Taglines summarize a brand in a handful of words. Postcards grab attention with concise headlines. Tell your audience too much and risk getting ignored altogether.

A Case for Simplicity

Take a nod from the recent explosion of viral vine videos. In just six seconds or less, a good vine conveys emotion, tells a story, makes a push, connects people, or represents an entire brand. Keep in mind, of course, that “simplicity” isn’t synonymous with “short.” You need powerful, concise stories to connect with your audience.

Another example is the 2012 movie The Artist. In a time when movie makers continuously up the ante with special effects, pyrotechnics, and computer enhancements, The Artist took the world by storm silently in black and white. This pared-back approach allowed audiences to focus more on the story and characters and less on visual effects. The truckload of awards the film won suggests simplicity has a place in our complex, cluttered world.

What about the Bells and Whistles?

Today’s storytelling technology offers more possibilities than ever to convey your story to your audience (and they are fabulous and you should use them). But even the best high tech, interactive promotions fall flat if they don’t have a strong, simple message at their core.

How might you use a “wooden toy” version of your brand to inspire your members?

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Go with your gut?

Emotions are essential to our decision-making process. But letting our hearts make big decisions about our homes, cars, and careers seems like it could be a dangerous thing. Is our gut instinct a good instinct?

According to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, our gut feelings, scientifically known as “somatic markers,” help us make decisions more efficiently. Following a hunch means we don’t need a lot of time to reason rationally. But is an impulsive decision a good one? Quite often, yes. Damasio’s research suggests that emotions trump logic when it comes to making decisions.

The brain is a complex creature

Our brains are a network of interrelated parts. It’s tough to have a decision based purely on emotion or purely on logic and reason. Psychologist and neuroscientist Stephen Kosslyn suggests we have a top brain and a bottom brain that work together. The top brain absorbs information from our environment and emotions. The bottom brain focuses on signals and senses, compares them to our memories, and considers the consequences of our decisions. Even our impulsive decisions, then, are based on some reasoning.

Your M.O.

Kosslyn suggests that the extent to which we are controlled by our top vs. bottom brain says a lot about us. He suggests that most people fall into one of four cognitive modes:

  1. Movers use both the top and bottom systems of the brain to plan and see the consequences of their actions.
  2. Perceivers use more bottom brain and often analyze and give context to a situation.
  3. Stimulators make elaborate plans without always considering consequences.
  4. Adaptors don’t favor top or bottom and often let the environment or others make decisions.

Knowing which mode seems like you is the first step to making sound decisions, suggests Kosslyn. Considering all four modes will help you as a marketer to better reach your audience. Perceivers, for example, might benefit from seeing a budget, reviewing a list of pros and cons, or receiving a detailed information packet. Movers are ready to be make impulsive emotional decisions. However, they will need some assurance from you that attending your event will result in benefits rather than consequences.

Kosslyn explains the complexity of decision making. Damasio’s research suggests emotions must play a role in the process. There is no magic formula that will address all the brains in your base.

But balancing emotion and reason seems like the way to go when guiding your audience toward your organization and events.

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Storytelling Success in 140 Characters