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Small Companies
If you’re like most associations, your member recruitment strategy probably goes something like this:
  1. Work very hard to get the largest companies in your industry to join, because their dues are the highest.
  2. Work even harder to get the medium-sized companies in your industry to join, because they are your reliable base.
  3. Let the small companies just find you, because the combination of lesser dues + resources needed to serve them doesn’t always feel worth it.

We understand this approach. We also know that associations must do a delicate juggling act. You need to make your payroll to stay viable, but you’re also nonprofit, charged with representing the industry.

In other words, you’re supposed to be doing it all, but your staff lacks the time and resources. So, you adopt a triage mentality, and focus your efforts on what seems like it will produce the greatest rewards.

But what if we told you there was an easily available opportunity that didn’t make your life harder and wouldn’t add more work? One that would allow you to better represent your industry AND grab a boatload of dues-paying members?

The answer is behind door number three, where the small companies are hanging out.

We’re going to show you exactly WHY you should grab them and HOW to make it worth your while.

Why Your Association Should Actively Recruit Smalls

One of our clients is a large association in the human resources industry, with about 36,000 members, and an 88% retention rate. After some discussions about their membership goals, we helped them create a campaign that would specifically target smaller businesses in the industry.

They got more than 50 new members in a matter of two months.

Here’s what the Senior Vice President and Chief Membership Officer of the association told us the other day during our weekly check-in.

“Right now, we have so many applications coming in from new members that we can’t even process them all. And we are on course to set an all-time revenue high.”

There are so many things that are great about this. First, they have an influx of new people. New people bring new blood and new opportunities. Because the CEO of that $4 million company you just recruited might be the decision maker at a $25 million company in a few years.

You never know the energy and possibility that can come with ANY new member—and that includes one that is 10 times smaller than the largest organization on your roster.

Plus, when you have a rich blend of large, medium, AND small organizations in the mix, you’re much better able to uphold your mission of representing ALL voices in the industry.

And then there’s the most obvious thing: Smaller organizations are low-hanging fruit. No-brainer revenue. The benefits of belonging to your association far outweigh the dues for most of these smalls. You just need to take the time to articulate the right message to them.

How to Handle Smalls? Automate!

We know what you’re thinking: This all sounds good, but it takes effort to recruit smalls. And if we don’t put in the effort to retain them, they’ll leave after the first year and blow our retention rate.

We hear you, and you’re right. That is a challenge. Fortunately, there’s a great answer: Automation!

You know how we helped our HR industry association client get those 50 new members? We ran multiple digital campaigns for them throughout the year. That’s it. No heavy lifting required.

We helped them craft a targeted message. It required a modest initial investment, and then it ran itself—and it continues to run itself.

That same automation can work for onboarding and retention workflow. You probably can’t afford to hire a member representative who is solely dedicated to the smalls. But you can use modern technology to streamline the process.

Targeting small organizations allows you to grow your association, thoroughly represent the industry, and plant seeds for future growth.

We understand the challenges. But we truly believe this is one of the least-accessed, BEST opportunities right now for associations.

We’d be happy to bounce ideas around with you, and help you envision what a targeted campaign to the smalls would look like.

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Recession or Not, Your Association Must Do These 7 Things Now

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Do You Know Your Prospects’ Biggest Fear? It’s Not What You Think.

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Content Marketing Must Die. And Be Reborn as People Marketing.

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Recession is an economic concept, but it’s so much a part of the popular imagination that it’s also become a behavioral one. Even the word “recession” gives people a fright.

The experts may be debating whether we are officially in a recession, but people are already thinking differently about their money and how to spend it.

This applies to associations as much as it applies to consumer spending. Because the same people who buy consumer goods also make decisions about whether to renew their company’s membership, send employees to events, and invest in training or other professional development tools.

Whether your answer to the recession question is yes, no, or maybe so doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that your association is ready to respond to people’s behavior over the coming year.

We have 7 ideas for how you can adjust and prepare for another tumultuous season.

1. Find your sense of urgency.

Many associations don’t spend time thinking seriously about the fall . . . until the fall. Yes, summer is busy, and kids are most likely not even back to school yet. We know August can be a hot and lazy month. But what if you DID start now, instead of waiting until the fall? Get out ahead of a potential economic downturn by planning your entire marketing strategy around it, instead of waiting to see what happens.

2. Use data to flag your risks.

What story is your data telling you? Are you letting it guide your efforts? For example, people often sign up for membership just to get a discount for the annual conference. But then they don’t use any of the other membership benefits. So when the budget tightens, whether because of a real or perceived economic decline, what do you think is the first to go? That membership they barely used. Identify these members at risk of dropping off, flag them in your list, and market to them specifically.

3. Prepare to compete with an election for attention.

Between now and November 8, people will be inundated with nonstop messages from political campaigns. Emails, social media posts, videos, ads, texts, phone calls: Every channel will be jammed with political messaging. How will your messages stand out? You’ll never beat politics when it comes to sheer number of communications. How will you reach prospects and members in a meaningful way?

4. Think like a prospect.

We preach this in just about every newsletter. You need to think like a prospect. The marketing techniques that drive you crazy as a consumer? Don’t do those things in your own marketing! The endless email drip campaigns. The hard sell. The blanket messages that aren’t targeted to your behavior. You can’t stand these things, and neither can prospects!

5. Figure out how to offer a “sample” of your event.

We’ve been trained by retail and entertainment giants that anything worth our time comes with a preview, whether it’s a movie trailer, book or music sample, or list of reviews. Everything worth something now offers a meaningful window into the experience or a way to test before buying. Associations must begin offering the equivalent of the movie trailer. Otherwise, prospects fear you are wasting their time.

6. Keep communication jargon-free.

Lofty language that uses a lot of words winds up saying very little. Too many associations forego clarity in their quest to sound credible and worthy. But all those staid, insider phrases just come off like clutter. Instead, write like a human, talking to humans. Use clear, short, actionable sentences. Always check your reading level, and aim for no higher than Grade 8 (Flesch-Kincaid rates this newsletter as Grade 7, in case you’re wondering).

7. Train your resilience.

Resiliency is an interesting thing. It’s a mighty force that carries people and organizations through the ups and downs. But it’s not a given. You must cultivate it. What are you building right now that will last? What are you doing right now that will enable you to bounce back when the rebound happens? If someone asked you what makes your association resilient, would you be able to answer?

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Do You Know Your Prospects’ Biggest Fear? It’s Not What You Think.

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Content Marketing Must Die. And Be Reborn as People Marketing.

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There’s a new fear in town. To be clear, our lives are already full of fear, thanks to two tumultuous years and a lingering feeling that the other shoe is about to drop.

But the generalized fear that comes with being a person in 2022 isn’t actually what we’re talking about.

We’re talking about what your members and prospects are truly scared of when they see your marketing email, early bird offer, or social media post.

They’re afraid that you’re wasting their time. Squandering their attention. Making promises you can’t keep.

If we’ve learned anything the past few years, it’s that we don’t have to allow people trifling with our time. Plundering our calendars. Taking our attention for granted. We don’t have to put up with awkward social interactions or obligatory events. We barely even have to leave our homes and offices.

All we have to do is sit, click, and Zoom. And even then, we can probably multi-task and knock something else off our to-do list.


How Did Time Get to Be Like This?

Think about it: Do you even answer phone calls from numbers or names you don’t recognize?
Our outlook has become, “If I don’t know you or have a reason to trust you, I assume you are wasting my time.”

What has happened to cause the erosion of trust, and the fear that others are wasting our time?

The simple answer is that our behavior over the past 2 years has conditioned us to regard business-related events that require real-life interaction with suspicion. Or if not suspicion, second-guessing.

This is because we have learned to accomplish so many tasks virtually. “Alone but together” has become our default. Plus, we’re busy. There’s normal busy, and then there’s, “You need to do the job of three people” busy. Many people are stuck in the latter. Time away from the office is a luxury they can’t afford.

There is a more complex answer, too. And it’s that technology, media, and retail have trained us that anything worth our time (or money) comes with a preview, a list of reviews, or a “cancel at any time” option.

Want to start watching a new series on Netflix or Hulu? Watch a preview before you commit to even 30 minutes!

Want to listen to an audiobook? Listen to a 4-minute sample first, to make sure the narrator’s voice doesn’t annoy you!

Want to order a new air fryer, pair of pajamas, or phone case? Read reviews so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment!

Everything worth something now offers a meaningful window into the experience or a way to test it out.

Everything, that is, except the products that most associations market.


How to Combat the Fear of Wasted Time

A decade ago, or perhaps even a few years ago, your organization could count on the benefit of the doubt.

Now you have to hustle in the marketplace, competing with, well . . . just about everyone and everything.

That means you’ve got to figure out how to tell the story of your event in a way that allows prospects to get a meaningful glimpse. In other words, you need to think about how to offer the equivalent of reading the book sample or watching the movie trailer.

Posting an agenda online doesn’t count. A couple of testimonials won’t cut it either. The same-old highlights reel isn’t enough.

How will you reach a jaded, exhausted, and skeptical population? How will you connect? How will you build trust, so that prospects know you value their time enough to offer them the same kind of ability to sample the experience?

We’ve seen the marketing that most associations are currently putting into the world, and we can tell you: 99% of it is missing this element.

How will you be different? How will you provide that missing piece?


Rottman Creative can help with your marketing. You just have to trust us. We get stellar results for associations who are willing to think and behave differently. Give us a call and let’s start a project together now!

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. . . . Or not.

See what we did there? We assumed the benefit of the doubt. It’s annoying, right? Why would you trust us? You don’t even know us.

But if you’d like to get to know us, check out this free eBook New Tech Won’t Save Your Crappy Marketing. We are also working on another free eBook called 4 Pillars of Event Marketing to Fuel Attendance and Engagement, which is a lot of fun and will be out soon!

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Content Marketing Must Die. And Be Reborn as People Marketing.

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How Not to Get Prospects to Your Association’s Event

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We’re starting to think that “content marketing” is dead. Or rather, it needs to die.

Why? Because too many associations have the wrong idea about how to use content to connect with new prospects. It occurs to us that the term itself might be the problem.

To be clear, content marketing is about creating and sharing pieces of compelling content that help establish your brand as helpful. This piece you’re reading is content marketing. So we’re clearly on board with the idea.

The problem is that, for many associations who do content marketing, the emphasis is usually on the content itself, not the person on the receiving end.

Content Overload is Not a Relationship-Building Strategy

How do we know associations are emphasizing content over people? Because when we dig into the practices and journey maps our clients create, we see very little attention paid to the fact that most people don’t want to be overwhelmed with content in their email inbox.

It’s all, Look at our content! Give us your email and we will send you so much content! Then we’ll ask what you think about our content! Then we’ll slice and dice and show you the same piece of content 7 different ways!

When it really should be, Hey, nice to meet you. You probably don’t want all this junk in your inbox, because you’re a person, not a robot. Let’s start a conversation that respects your time.

Consider how many people open their email each day, use the “shift” key to highlight a pack of emails, and delete them wholesale.

It’s what we do. So does your boss, your best friend from college, and the guy who sold you your mattress.

And you know who else does? All those prospects you forgot were people, who get irritated at the very same things you get irritated at.

Your content marketing is overloading people, instead of learning about them and meeting them on their terms.

What you need instead is people marketing.

Two Principals for People Marketing

People marketing is about making information more accessible and reducing the level of annoyance prospects feel. It offers content without overwhelm. It asks: What irritates you? And then it avoids that.

People marketing is based on the idea that you should always think like a prospect.

We’ve got two principals to help you understand people marketing. The first one is an old-school, universal truth and the second is based in behavioral science.

#1 Market to others how you want to be marketed to.

We all know the golden rule of treating others how you want to be treated. It’s elegant and beautifully simple. But when it comes to marketing, hardly anyone does it.

Ask yourself, what builds trust for you? What makes you engage instead of deleting, lean in instead of running away? Sure, some of it is topic related (people who are interested in sports read sports content, etc.). But much of it is behavior related. If people feel like you are inundating them and wasting their time, you’re gone from their inbox.

#2 Think differently about outcomes (and happiness).

Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling Upon Happiness, has written extensively about how bad human beings are at predicting what will make us happy and how long our happiness will last.

For example, positive events, like promotions or a new house, do add to our happiness, he says. But not as much as we think, and not for very long. What makes us most genuinely happy, and happy for the long haul, are social connections with others.

His work deals with individuals, but we think the findings generalize to organizations—since organizations are run by individuals. Especially the idea that when you focus so much on desired outcomes (because you’re certain they are the key to happiness), there’s a lot you might miss.

Associations can become so preoccupied with reaching short-terms goals that they compromise the very relationships they are trying to build. They think more content and more emails will create outcomes that bring happiness for everyone. But they miss what people want: connections.

In other words, beware of trading short-view actions for long-term strategy.

What Will Your People Marketing Look Like?

This is the question your association should be asking itself. Inside of it are the questions: How can you think more like a prospect? How can you create trust among people who don’t know you? How can you focus on people more than outcomes?

Rottman Creative helps associations like yours find answers to these questions.

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How Not to Get Prospects to Your Association’s Event

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The Best Way to Boost Association Marketing Results: Think Like a Prospect

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How NOT to get prospects

So your in-person event is back on. Great! Now you need attendees. Here’s a list of proven failures that will most definitely NOT attract prospects. Take these tactics off your to-do list. Then implement a few of the surefire strategies listed below to build a high-quality prospect pool and get more people in the door.

FAILURE #1

Have no value proposition or differentiator

If you’re looking to deter prospects or get ignored altogether, having no value proposition is a great start. Afterall, professionals in your space have lots of events to choose from, so they can just choose a different one. Alternately, they might be satisfied with LinkedIn or Google.

FAILURE #2

Send a drip campaign with 5+ emails

Don’t stick with a “spray and pray” e-blast approach. Sending multiple impersonal emails is a proven tactic to take potentially interested people and chase them away.

FAILURE #3

Hire a famous keynote speaker who is irrelevant to your industry

Your association promotes itself as the best place to find industry-specific resources. Don’t hire a big name celebrity as your keynote speaker who knows absolutely nothing about your industry.

FAILURE #4

Use overly complex language nobody can understand

Long paragraphs, long sentences, and long words take lots of time and brain power to decipher. If nobody can understand you, they surely won’t know why or how to register for your event.

FAILURE #5

Create busy visuals nobody can decipher

Your event branding and logo shouldn’t be difficult to read. Using a plethora of colors and fonts adds to the clutter and is guaranteed to turn people away.

FAILURE #6

Use a generic event name that is meaningless to anyone outside your association

Don’t be afraid to use your association’s acronym as your event name. Afterall, if prospects have never heDon’t use your association’s acronym as your event name. Afterall, if prospects have never heard of you before, they won’t be compelled to attend XYZ’s Annual Conference.

FAILURE #7

Wait until the last minute to create your event website

Your event’s website is a central hub that lets people get to know your association, see how they’ll Your event’s website is a central hub that lets people get to know your association, see how they’ll benefit from your event, and actually register. If you leave off the value proposition, agenda, and registration links until a few weeks before your conference you won’t reach attendance goals.

FAILURE #8

Be so exclusive nobody thinks they are allowed to come

Don’t hide the fact that your event is open to the public, including people who are not members of your association. When people don’t feel welcome, they will definitely not investigate further.


5 Ways to Actually Attract Prospects

Aside from doing the opposite of the failures mentioned above, here are five ways to up your event game and attract more prospects.

SUCCESS #1

Tell your story

Your prospect might have no idea who you are or why they should care. You have to convince them to care. You can’t do that with a few dozen impersonal emails. Tell your story quickly and make it easy to take action on it.

SUCCESS #2

Craft a unique value proposition

If you can’t articulate in just a few words why someone should attend your event, you need a new value proposition. Focus on benefits and differentiators. In one sentence, explain why you are worth someone’s money and time away from the office.

SUCCESS #3

Speak like a human

Messaging should be authentic and value based. Write everything at a 7th or 8th Grade level for easy comprehension. Be friendly and inviting. Make sure everything makes sense to someone who has never heard of your association before. 

SUCCESS #4

Be relevant

Take time to curate a truly relevant experience that addresses your audience’s current pain points. Conduct surveys and focus groups. Choose a keynote speaker who knows your industry inside and out.

SUCCESS #5

Keep it simple!

When it comes to your messaging, visuals, agenda, or anything else related to your event, go with the simplest choice. Cut the clutter. Stay on point. Promise select takeaways that matter to the segment of prospect you’re going after.

A good default strategy for event-related prospecting is to think like a prospect. Take some time to consider the types of messages and offers you prefer to receive from other businesses and organizations. Stick with those and leave the rest of the noise behind.

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How to Navigate the New Frontier of Hybrid Events (and maximize ROI along the way)

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The Best Way to Boost Association Marketing Results: Think Like a Prospect

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Think Like a Prospect
Raise your hand if this sounds like your association…

You need more prospects. So you offer up a nice piece of content in exchange for an email address. Congratulations, you found some interested people! Next, you fire off an automated drip campaign with three or four “canned” emails as follow up. The majority of your interested people promptly delete these emails and unsubscribe from your list. Very few engage further, and even fewer convert. Your association continues to struggle with membership numbers, and you are very tired of marketing that just doesn’t work.

But Why Doesn’t It Work?

Literally no one wants to be spammed with a bunch of emails just because they needed some information. Would you?

There’s a better way, and it starts by thinking like a prospect. If you yourself wouldn’t want a bunch of impersonal emails, irrelevant offers, or jargon-filled sales letters, your prospects won’t either. It’s time to imagine life from your prospect’s point of view so you can improve your marketing and get the results your association needs to thrive.

Here are four steps to get you started.

Quit bombing people with communications you wouldn’t want yourself.

In addition to the prospecting example above, your association might be guilty of some of these other marketing missteps:

  • You send members 20 or 30 emails about your annual event every year.
  • You continuously email 8,000-10,000 people when you only need a few hundred interested parties.
  • You send 20,000 direct mail packages and get less than 30 sign-ups.

Instead, let your people tell you what they want. Look at their online behaviors. As follow-up, create multiple workflows based on how people have engaged with your messages and offers. Personalize the customer journey as much as possible.

For example, if 50 people downloaded your content, send those 50 people a thoughtful direct mail piece. Don’t mail more than 300. Look at your list and whittle it down to the most likely prospects.

Shift how you think about your events and membership.

Thinking like a prospect means acknowledging that there’s a lot to be worried about right now. Things like war, Covid, and the economy add to the pressures of daily work. People might not have money or time to join your association or travel to your event, and they might have other concerns as well.

More importantly, they’ve figured out how to live without your event for the last two years and they’re still doing fine. Online resources have effectively taken the place of your association for many people. It’s not realistic to think that everyone will rush to your event simply because it’s once again occurring in person.

You will need to be patient as you entice people to attend or join. Given all of today’s challenges, it will take more time than you’d like to nurture your leads in a logical, thoughtful, personalized manner.

Make a dramatic change in what you say.

Speak in a conversational tone. After all, that’s what you prefer when others talk to you. Ditch abstract, overused words like “thought leadership” and “strategic connections.” Swap those for concrete terms that promise benefits. Focus on what sets you apart from competitors.

Communicate in words an eighth grader would understand. Yes, you are a professional organization with in-depth, complex information and resources. But your marketing has to be simple. It has to engage people quickly or they will hit delete and move on.

Rethink your use of marketing automation.

Marketing automation isn’t a “set it and forget it” tool. To be successful, you must set up multiple workflows based on your audience’s goals and pain points, your organization’s resources, and your users’ actual behaviors. Then you need to make adjustments as you go based on performance.

Ideally, marketing automation captures data that you can use to customize future communications and improve your numbers. It helps you reach more people with personalized messages and offers. Too often, however, associations use automation as a way to put their marketing on autopilot. At that point, it’s just more spam.

For every campaign you launch, stop and ask yourself what a member or prospect would want. Is it really another email? Or is it a phone call from a helpful human? Additional useful content? A direct mail piece? Something else?

Start Making Changes Now

Giving people individualized attention is hard to do, and there is no “golden ticket” that will instantly improve your numbers. But you have to start somewhere, and you have to start now. As the last few years have shown us, anything can happen. Better marketing now means your association will be poised to thrive no matter what the future holds.


Think like a prospect is No. 3 in our ebook, 3 Action Steps Associations Can Take to Achieve Goals. What are numbers 1 and 2? Download it and see.

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Change My Mind: Everything Your Association Offers is on LinkedIn for Free

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How to Navigate the New Frontier of Hybrid Events (and maximize ROI along the way)

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The age of the hybrid event is here. As associations contemplate returning to in-person gatherings, the advantages of virtual—including serious time and money savings for your members—can’t be ignored. To engage the largest audience in the most personalized way possible, a hybrid event that combines in-person offerings with virtual ones is the way to go.

The hybrid model comes with some challenges, of course, including logistics, technology, engagement, and more. But the juice is worth the squeeze. Following a few best practices will help you navigate this new frontier to maximize the benefits and engage your base for years to come.

What is a hybrid event?

A hybrid event is any in-person event that has some online component. This could include a livestream of the in-person sessions, on-demand content, a gamification component, a remote keynote speaker, a Q&A with both in-person and online audiences, or any number of other possibilities.

There are no rules here and no audience expectations because everything is new. For example, you might discover that your event becomes 80% virtual and only 20% in-person based on your audience preferences.

What are the advantages of a hybrid event?

If your association is like most, you’re eager to replace lost event revenue from 2020 and fuel future growth by retuning to a full-fledged in-person conference and expo. Plenty of your members are chomping at the bit to get out of their homes/offices and connect in person once gain.

However, budget cuts and lingering fears related to COVID-19 mean people won’t be returning to your event in droves just yet. In-person attendance will likely be low for years to come. A virtual event offers an opportunity to serve your base with high-quality content from afar.

A hybrid event is the best of both worlds. It’s a chance to regain the magic of an in-person experience while engaging people virtually—and generating revenue on both fronts. Chances are you invested in virtual event infrastructure in 2020, so the potential for hybrid is already there.

What are some best practices for hybrid events?

1. Simplify your offerings based on your association’s differentiators.

It’s easy for your event to become a three-ring circus of sessions, certifications, whiz bang technology platforms, cocktail hours, rock bands, and more. Some of this was a risk before the pandemic. Now more than ever, your event (and all your association’s offerings) should focus on what you do best. What sets you apart from competitors? What is the highest-value service you provide for your members? What do you offer that people can’t find anywhere else? Highlight these differentiators in your event marketing as well.

2. Understand your audience.

The answers to a few key questions about your members and prospects will guide the decisions you make about your hybrid event—including the size of your venue, registration price, engagement strategies, and the percentage of your event that goes online.

  • Are your members and prospects ready and willing to travel again? 
  • What is the No. 1 reason people attend your event?
  • Why might people NOT attend?
  • Do people place a higher value on your networking or your content?
  • Are people looking for certifications? Can these be delivered online?
  • How important is a hands-on, face-to-face exhibit hall experience?
  • What is the ROI of in-person offerings compared to virtual ones?
  • What does your association offer that can only take place in person?

3. Choose your tech last.

There are hundreds of tech solutions that you could include in your hybrid event. Most of them aren’t actually necessary, and some of them add unneeded complexity and the potential for technical difficulties. After answering all the questions in No. 2 above, choose the tools that will best serve your base. For more insights on technology, have a look at New Tech Won’t Save Your Crappy Marketing.

4. Focus on value.

A big-name speaker fills seats but may not offer insights your audience needs to hear. A well-known entertainer may get rave reviews from attendees without generating enough ROI for your association. Focus on value first. Ask yourself: Does this help people solve their challenges? Does it enable goals? Does it present new possibilities? Does it foster meaningful connections? Is it purposeful? Does it align with our cause? Also consider whether it generates ROI for your association. 

Seize this Huge Opportunity

A hybrid event is a huge opportunity for your association to serve the needs of your members in a curated, personalized way while generating much-needed revenue. Amid today’s challenges, people are tackling more responsibilities than ever. Be part of the solution. Distill your event down to only the most powerful resources and deliver them in a way that honors people’s preferences. Cut everything else.

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3 Digital Marketing Tactics for Event Marketers

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Change My Mind: Everything Your Association Offers is on LinkedIn for Free

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If one of the main benefits of your association or your annual conference is “networking” you have a problem. LinkedIn was made for networking. Sure it’s not industry specific and it’s not as personal, but it is free. Nearly every industry is represented there, so there’s bound to be individuals from your sector who are eager to connect and collaborate. There’s probably a special interest group too.

If another big benefit of your association or event is “thought leadership,” guess what? LinkedIn is giving you a run for your money there as well. LinkedIn is loaded with great ideas, insights, strategies, tips and tricks that could apply to your members’ businesses. Again, this content might not be 100% tailored to your specific space, but it’s free and it’s somewhat helpful.

What Am I Paying For?

For both networking and thought leadership, your potential members can invest precisely $0 and get a huge return in the form of somewhat relevant contacts and information. By comparison, your membership dues and event registration fees will seem like a big investment. People will want to know: “What do I get in return for investing so much money?

Quite often, an association will answer this question by saying, “We’re focused exclusively on our sector! We’re unique and customized to our space!” Also quite often, that same association will host a conference featuring big-name experts from other industries. Suddenly your argument of “we’re unique and focused” doesn’t hold up.


People will want to know: “What do I get in return for investing so much money?”


Payton Manning Won’t Cut It Anymore

A celebrity keynote speaker like Payton Manning, Erin Brockovich, or Steve Wozniak draws a crowd. They leave audiences feeling inspired and uplifted and, quite often, entertained. People go back to the office bragging about how they saw an A-lister live in the flesh. They might even have a notepad full of motivational quotes and pithy one-liners to share with their team. They likely also have a mittful of business cards from networking sessions and cocktail receptions.

Prior to 2020, these might have been reasons enough to invest time, money, and travel into your annual event. But they just don’t hold up any more. When faced with health and safety considerations, serious budget constraints, and a dire workforce shortage, your members and prospects are forced to prioritize their time and money. They simply can’t justify expensive entertainment, generic insights, and networking opportunities that they could get elsewhere—for cheap or free. 

Look Back Five Years

Look back at your annual conference agendas for the last five years. How many keynote speakers were from other industries? How many sessions featured presenters from other sectors? If a lot of your content isn’t specific to your industry, you will need a stronger answer to the question “What am I paying for?” If your strongest benefit is networking, then we’re back on LinkedIn where we started.

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What to say visually and when to say it to reach your association’s membership and retention goals

These days, the social media canvas looks like a Jackson Pollack splatter painting. There are more fonts, colors, and graphics than ever. More politically charged messages. More impersonal ads. More videos. More virtual offerings. More noise.

Your audience has more going on too. More screen time. More responsibilities. More uncertainty. More stress. Amid all this “more,” people are craving, well, a little bit less—less clutter, less distraction, less dog and pony show, less B.S.

If your association wants to have any chance of cutting through the chaos to reach your audience—and reach your membership goals for the year—you have to strengthen and simplify your visual presence. Here are five best practices to help you fine-tune what to say visually and when to say it.


1. Take a minimalist approach

Simplify your branding to include only the most compelling, essential, easy-to-grasp elements. Go back to the basics and focus on composition, structure, and form. Take a lesson from history, when language was simpler. We heard about one designer who used ancient rune symbols from 150 AD for font inspiration.


2. Don’t be fooled by trends

Stay away from trendy design elements that can quickly be overdone. At the moment, everyone is jumping on the gradient bandwagon. You might think being trendy shows that your association is fresh and modern. The reality is that you’re just blending in with everyone else on social media, and your conversion rates will suffer as a result. A simple, clean, bold approach will go farther than the latest design fad.


3. Humanize your visuals

People relate to other people better than to impersonal organizations. Your visual branding must show your human side to attract members and prospects. A tip from neuroscience: Show people’s faces. Human faces enhance a website’s visual appeal, efficiency, and trustworthiness. One study determined that users find it easier to perform tasks on websites with faces.1


4. Go easy on the illustrations

Illustrations can be useful for depicting technical subject matter, complex emotions, or difficult topics. Use them sparingly, however, as too many cartoons can hurt your professional image.


5. Refine your timing

Recognize that people need different types, lengths, and formats of content depending on where they are in the buying cycle. Tailor your visuals and comms accordingly: 

Awareness phase: Providing entertainment can capture your audience’s initial attention and entice them to view more of your message.1 From there, blog posts, social content and e-books can address an acute problem your audience is trying to solve. Keep things simple and fairly brief. People don’t necessarily know you or trust you enough to watch long videos, read lots of text, or interpret complex data.

Consideration phase: Provide meatier content to help people evaluate your association’s offerings compared to competitors. Use visuals such as graphs, infographics, and illustrations to aid comprehension of complex topics. Consider adding email marketing in addition to retargeting and social media ads. 

Decision phase: Ask for action. By this stage, people have already made up their minds about your organization. They just need a nudge to convert or go another direction. Messaging and visuals at this stage should be clear, concise, brief, and straight to the point.


6. Be purposeful

Keep in mind that the wrong visuals can damage your brand and credibility. One study of Instagram posts by orthodontists showed that personal images of family members hurt the office’s credibility and decreased the likelihood of being selected by patients.2 Only include images if they truly show the value of your association.


The power of visuals

Don’t overlook the power of visuals in your membership and retention marketing. Great visuals communicate on their own—sometimes better than text. They can also work in harmony with your marketing copy to drive home key points. Fresh, bold, clear, simple visuals can make or break your campaigns and your goals for the year.

Sources:
  1. Consumer Behaviour through the Eyes of Neurophysiological Measures: State-of-the-Art and Future Trends, Patrizia Cherubino et al.
  2. The Effects of Images Posted to Social Media by Orthodontists on Public Perception of Professional Credibility and Willingness to Become a Client, Thiago Martins Meira, et al. 

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8 Steps to a Better Customer Journey for Associations

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Customer Journey

It’s great to be passionate about your association. It’s understandable that you want to tell everyone about all the resources you offer, all at once. COVID-19 and other disruptions add to the urgency to get in front of more people with more things. But casting a wide net and crossing your fingers isn’t a sustainable strategy to reaching your goals—and it doesn’t serve your members well either.

A better idea is to find your people and move them along a curated path from awareness to consideration to decision. Amid all of today’s crises, it’s more important than ever to have a focused customer journey so people don’t get lost along the way. Follow these eight steps to get started.

1. Know your goal

Choose one goal at a time. For example, maybe you want to increase member acquisition by 5%. Sure, you have events, products, and retention to worry about. But for right now, stay focused on this one goal.


2. Find your people

Who isn’t a member that should be? The answer isn’t “everyone in our industry who hasn’t joined yet.” Define your ideal prospect based on whatever factors are meaningful to your organization—demographics, years in business, annual revenue, number of employees, etc.


3. Nurture them along the path

Customize your messaging and offers to provide timely, relevant communications that meet people where they are. Focus on benefits to the individual, not on your association’s agenda. Answer the question: What am I paying for?


4. Go beyond email

Don’t bombard people with impersonal emails! Use a range of content types, including video, stories, retargeting, ebooks, and more. Present a cohesive look and feel across formats to help people recognize and remember you.


5. Automate the journey

The only way to personalize the customer journey for enough individuals to meet your goals is through marketing automation using a series of if-then statements. 

For example:
  • IF a prospect clicks your social ad, THEN they are taken to a landing page to download a helpful piece of content.
  • IF they enter their email on that page, THEN they go into a drip email campaign with a new set of “if-thens”
  • IF they don’t enter their email, THEN they are retargeted on the web, or perhaps another social media platform, and the process repeats.

Remember to focus on one goal at a time. Let’s say your ad in the above example is about your resource library, an exclusive member benefit. The landing page should feature a piece of content from your resource library. The email drip campaign should be about the resource library and maybe one or two additional member benefits. If people click an ad for a resource library, don’t take them to a landing page for your annual conference—no matter how much you think they’ll benefit from attending. 


6. Ask for action

If you want someone to join, ask them to join. Don’t assume they will come to you on their own. There is too much noise out there competing for their attention—from your competitors, sure, but also from the daily chaos of their jobs and lives.


7. Track and analyze

Marketing automation provides real-time data to help you trigger steps in the customer journey based on what people want. Combine that with a customer relationship management program to track and score leads. Now you can calculate campaign ROI as well as cost per sales-qualified lead and marketing-qualified lead.


8. Repeat

Choose a new goal—maybe, event attendance—and repeat steps 1-7. Let the data tell you what’s working, what’s not, and where to focus your efforts so you can achieve your goals.


Be better

Today’s challenges force people to prioritize how they spend their time and money. That in turn forces your association to up your game if you want to make the cut. An automated customer journey can help you focus your resources on the mostly likely prospects and the highest value benefits you can offer them.

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6 best practices for associations to enhance virtual offerings

As the pandemic continues, many organizations are looking for ways to replace lost event revenue, attract and retain more members, and better serve their base from afar. New technology seems like the perfect solution, and the possibilities are endless. You could do more on social media, revamp your website, create an interactive content library, or launch a series of Zoom events. You could even add artificial intelligence or virtual reality event environments. 

But not so fast. While you have a golden opportunity to better serve your members during a time of disruption, you also have the potential to fail miserably. If your brand is a hodgepodge of messages and images, moving everything to a new platform means you will now have a high-tech hodgepodge of the same messages and images. New tech solutions only work when you have a solid foundation based on your audience’s needs and your organization’s core competencies. 

In short, new tech won’t save your crappy marketing, but these six best practices can help you enhance your virtual offerings strategically to drive revenues, engagement, and retention.


1. Examine your audience

Be specific about who you serve. Know their job titles, years in the business, pain points, demographics, level of familiarity with your subject matter, preferred communication channels, and more. Define your audience’s primary archetype—that’s their universal character type—to help you further understand your base and how best to interact with them.


2. Articulate your value proposition

Once you know who you serve, take some time to define how you serve them. Be specific with tangible benefits. This is not your mission or vision statement. It tells your audience what’s in it for them. Here are a few real-world examples:

  • American Staffing Association: Create better lives, better businesses, and a better economy.
  • Intuit: Simplify the business of life. Ladders: Move up in your career.
  • Bitly: Shorten. Share. Measure

3. Develop standard messaging

Messaging includes two parts: how you talk (voice) and what you say (message). 

  • Voice—If your brand were a person, how would that person speak? Conversational vs. academic, casual vs. formal, technical vs. accessible, funny vs. straightforward, edgy vs. conservative, etc.
  • Message—What information will you convey? Ex: Who you are, product/event descriptions, key member benefits, why join, etc.

First, define your voice. Next, develop a messaging tree with standardized language in that voice. A message tree can help unify your internal team so you can better convey your organization’s value to your audience.


4. Craft unified visuals

A solid brand has a unified look and feel. Be fresh and modern. Focus on people. Show you’re committed to diversity and inclusion. Avoid mixing cartoons with photographic images. Choose a limited number of fonts and colors. Take a minimalist approach. Your brand visuals should contribute to your credibility as an organization and reassure people that they’ve come to the right place.


5. Define your strategy

Sketch out a plan for attracting leads and nurturing them over the long term. Include key dates, your budget, formats, content, and offers. Know your goals and KPIs. Determine how you will score leads and follow up based on each score. Don’t launch a single promotion without knowing how it fits into the bigger picture.


6. Choose your tech

A wise woman once said, “Don’t doubt you can, just wonder why you want to.” There are lots of tech solutions out there with tons of features, but if your audience doesn’t need or want them you’re just wasting your time and money. A few considerations:

  • ROI—Does the solution generate measurable value (ex: increased traffic, clicks, likes, shares, lead forms completed, etc.)? Would a simpler solution generate just as much value?
  • Ease of implementation and use—Is it relatively quick to implement? Is it easy for your internal team to use? Is it quick and easy for members to take full advantage of?
  • Potential for bugs and problems—Aim for simple over complex. If your virtual reality event platform goes down the day of your event, do you have a backup plan? (This happened to one of our clients!)

You’ll notice that choosing your tech should be the LAST step. Don’t just jump on the latest high-tech trend. Solidify your value prop and branding first. Create a detailed strategy. Then make an informed decision on which solution will best help you achieve your goals.

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8 ways to improve your website in the post COVID-19 world

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8 ways to improve your website in the post-COVID-19 world

Plus a 10-point checklist to help you get started

Chances are your website started out great. It was simple, clean, and easy to navigate. But websites often take on a life of their own. Things get messy as you create more pages, add plug-ins, and post new content. Before long, your helpful online resource becomes a tangle of words, images, forms, and password-protected content. You, Dr. Frankenstein, have created a monster.

But never fear. Websites have a pretty short shelf life (or at least they should). If it’s been a few years since your organization has purposefully revamped your website—to throw out the old, clean up the clutter, and update it for modern times—it is critical to do so now.


Everything is virtual

In the post-COVID-19 world, your website takes on new significance. It is the home base for your brand, your mission, your offerings, and your community of followers. It could be years before people feel comfortable interacting in person once again. Until then, your website needs to do some heavy lifting to deliver on your promises, engage and connect people, provide products and services, and do so much more. And you can’t accomplish all of this with an outdated, ineffective site.

Sure you could go wild with high-tech features like virtual reality or artificial intelligence. We will likely see more and more advanced technology on the web in the near future. But for most organizations, this just isn’t necessary. Plus, it won’t make up for outdated content, confusing navigation, and incongruous images. Solidify the foundation first. Then think about adding bells and whistles.


8 ways to improve your website

Here are eight back-to-the-basics web improvements you can make now to help you engage people, convert prospects, and build loyalty in a virtual world.

1. Out with the old

Create a process for regularly retiring old offerings and outdated materials. Take a hard look at what is on your website to make sure it all still applies to what your organization delivers today.

2. Less is more

Part of your role as an organization is to curate resources and information because your target audience doesn’t have time to do it themselves. Your website should serve up only the most helpful, time- and money-saving, life-enhancing information, products, and services. Ask yourself: “What is the least people need to know?”

3. Freshen up your design

An effective modern website is fresh and clean. It has plenty of white space. Images are human, professional, diverse, and uncomplicated. Keep the number of fonts and colors to a minimum. Make it easy for people to see what they need and take action.

4. Simplify navigation

A beautiful website is useless if people can’t find what they’re looking for. Simply your navigation using these best practices:

  • Identify 4-6 buckets that your site’s content falls into for your homepage navigation headings.
  • Avoid making people click too many times to arrive at a desired resource. Aim to get people to their destination in three clicks or fewer.
  • Add quick links on your home page to the most popular areas of your site.
  • Enable keyword search for even faster navigation.
5. Update your copy

Edit references to in-person offerings that no longer exist or anything else that’s changed due to COVID-19. Then go deeper to make sure all your messaging is clear, concise, and aligned with your core brand. 

Focus on benefits and value vs. features. Use action verbs. Answer your audience’s question: “What’s in it for me?”

6. Be smarter with user data

Turn your website into a data-gathering machine that helps you create laser-focused marketing. Capture information such as user demographics, behaviors, preferences, and topics of interest. Then, automate integration with your other marketing platforms for timely follow-up and targeted lead nurturing that drive conversions.

7. Consider UX

User experience, or UX, considers all interactions a user has with your organization and how each element involved shapes the perception of your brand. For your website, good UX design focuses on what the user needs and makes it easy and enjoyable to navigate your site.

8. Stay active 

Designate personnel to maintain interactive components of your site. Regularly moderate discussion forums, job boards, chat boxes, or message boards, to ensure productive interactions and gain valuable insights into the mindset of your audience. This will also add an important human touch to your brand.


Don’t miss out

A fresh, modern, up-to-date website has so much value—in potential leads, sales, members, customers, credibility, brand recognition, and so much more. It’s worth investing time and money to transform Frankenstein’s monster into a purpose-built site that serves and delights your base.


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Dear Associations, We Need to Talk

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We need to talk

Why we’re starting a working group to help associations answer the tough questions about this year and beyond


For months, we’ve been talking to our association clients about their plans for hosting events in the new age of hybrid.

We haven’t yet heard an association with a plan that sounds like it will work. And by “work,” we mean resonate with members in a meaningful way and compel them to turn out because you are providing something they can’t find elsewhere. 

We know that some of you are planning hybrid events. Others are using magical thinking and hoping live events will be back to business as usual. And then some of you . . . well, you don’t have much of a plan at all.

We also know that so many things are working against you. Uncertainty is the biggest one: What will the year look like? 

Hotel contracts may be a challenge. And let’s not forget your sponsors. Will they want to continue spending thousands of dollars sponsoring an event with very low turnout?

We wish we could change these things, but we can’t.

All we can do is force the conversation about creating a plan for next year and beyond. We’re talking about a real plan that answers questions like: In an uncertain world where the last six or seven months have turned everything upside-down, what is it that we actually bring to the table for our members? What’s the through-line that makes our members feel connected to our purpose? What even is our purpose? 


Do You Have a Clear Value Proposition?

First, let’s be clear: Your event will most likely take a hit next year, no matter what you do. Sponsorship will probably be down as well. The real issue on the table is whether you will just ride it out and hope the next year is magically different and everyone returns as normal . . . or use the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and force yourself to answer those questions above regarding your purpose. These questions, by the way, are all to do with the value proposition of your association (something we’ve written a great deal about).

As you work to formulate your event plan, your value proposition can help you identify the space where you can win. Because what you won’t win on is innovative technology, free stuff, and incentives. Early bird sign ups? Forget everything we know about early bird incentives. It’s a different world post-COVID, where we’re all in one big game of chicken, waiting to see what will happen before we commit to anything.

Practically speaking, this means you need flexibility hard-wired into your event. But metaphorically speaking, your event needs to be about something—something that taps into your members’ sense of belonging, need to connect at a human level, and desire to be better. 


Let the Conversation Commence

Your association has something unique to say about each of those areas—belonging, connection, and betterment. This is the place where the conversation about what next year might look like should begin.

So . . . are you having that conversation?

We have found that while some associations are jumping right in and working to answer the tough questions, just as many are walking around anxious, unsure how to even begin navigating this conversation.

We think it’s time to bring these issues into the light and try to come up with some answers.

That’s why Rottman Creative is putting together a working group of forward-thinking people to talk about the future of events for associations, and how associations can rethink their business model for a post-2020 world. 

The rough plan is to host three 30-minute Zoom calls, spaced two weeks apart. We’ll recap our discussions in an email, highlighting the most relevant take-away. We’ll also host a Slack channel, where we discuss the most pressing issues associations are facing, with an eye toward figuring out solutions and creating better value propositions. 

We don’t have the answers, but we do have a strong sense of the questions to ask, and having worked with more than 150 organizations over the last 20 years, we can confidently play the role of facilitator.

We believe that the way forward is to focus on being better. And right now, that starts with being willing to have better conversations. 

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Tag! You're it, Facebook!
For some time now Facebook users have been able to tag each other in photos, videos and notes. Well, now they can tag each other in their “What’s on your mind?” status updates.

“Um, so?” may be what’s on your mind right now, but status tagging is a great feature that can help your fans promote your Facebook Fan page. Facebook users update their status to let friends know all sorts of things about how they are doing, what they are doing, and things they like. Now, with status tagging they can reference who or what they are talking about.

For instance, when a Facebook user says they are going to volunteer with their favorite nonprofit, they can use the “@” symbol to reference that nonprofit’s Fan Page. Or, when a Facebook user just registered for an upcoming conference they can reference the association’s page or event. Those updates will show up in the news feeds of all their friends, and on the pages of the organizations they referenced.

Facebook posted instructions on how to tag friends and fan pages in status updates on their blog:

“Now, when you are writing a status update and want to add a friend’s name to something you are posting, just include the “@” symbol beforehand. As you type the name of what you would like to reference, a drop-down menu will appear that allows you to choose from your list of friends and other connections, including groups, events, applications and Pages. Soon, you’ll be able to tag friends from applications as well. The “@” symbol will not be displayed in the published status update or post after you’ve added your tags.”

Start testing the status tagging and see how it can enhance the connections with your friends and fans. It can be a useful tool for referencing other organizations or businesses you want to help promote on Facebook, as well.

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