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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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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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New Tech Won’t Save Your Crappy Marketing

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

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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.

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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

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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

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3 Ways Associations Can Replace Lost Event Revenue

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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?

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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?

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5 Ways Associations Can Help Their Members During COVID-19

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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 COVIDResponseTeam@YourOrganization.com, 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

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Learn From Others' Misconceptions so your Association can Thrive

5 Recession Myths that Hurt Your Association

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

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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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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

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 5: Events and Programs

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 4: Prospecting

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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

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 4: Prospecting

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 3: Marketing Assets

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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

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 3: Marketing Assets

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 2: The Plan

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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

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 2: The Plan

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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

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 1: The Cause

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How to Implement Omnichannel Marketing

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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

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How to Implement Omnichannel Marketing

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What is Omnichannel Marketing and Why do You Need It?

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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

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What is Omnichannel Marketing and Why do You Need It?

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Best Practices for Digital Marketing that Boosts Engagement

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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?

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Best Practices for Digital Marketing that Boosts Engagement

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9 Content Marketing Problems and How to Fix Them

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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

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10 Best Practices for Content Marketing that Converts

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(And 20+ Format Ideas)

5 Ways to Generate Enough Marketing Content

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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

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3 Essential Elements of Effective Marketing

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6 Steps to Content-Based Lead Generation

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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

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4 Steps to Inbound Lead Generation

Why Inbound Marketing is the Best Way to Generate Leads

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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.


Ethos
  • 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?

Logos
  • 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?

Pathos
  • 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

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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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How to Create a Lead Gen Funnel

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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.


Nurture

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.


Convert

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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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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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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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

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.


Awareness

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.


Consideration

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.


Decision

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 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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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.”

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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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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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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 2018, 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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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.


Segmentation

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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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 1: STRATEGY

“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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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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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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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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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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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 www.yoursite.com/newsletter. Once they submit their email address, they are redirected to another landing page saying, “Thanks for signing up.” That might be www.yoursite.com/newsletterthankyou. 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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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:

Connections
  • Who will you meet with at the conference?
  • Are there relationships you can initiate or cultivate?
  • Is there business you can close?

Challenges
  • 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?

Opportunities
  • 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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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 www.subjectline.com 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.

Footnote:
“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.


Clarity

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.


Strategy

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.


Attendance

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

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.


Website

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

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

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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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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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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WE’RE OFTEN TOLD “A PICTURE IS WORTH 1000 WORDS,” BUT WE SELDOM STOP TO THINK ABOUT WHY THAT’S TRUE.

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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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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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 www.storycorp.org 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 REASONS YOU NEED AN INFOGRAPHIC

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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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 Bizcommunity.com. 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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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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How to Integrate Storytelling into your Marketing

In the last newsletter, we talked about how to use storytelling in your event email marketing.

Definitely do that. But don’t stop there.

If you haven’t caught the first two newsletters in this three-part series on using storytelling in your event marketing, you can find the first one here and the second one here.

THE MAIN IDEAS WE WANT YOU TO TAKE INTO THIS NEXT DISCUSSION ARE:

  • Traditional messaging around NEC (networking, education, and certification) has grown stale, and to capture people’s attention these days, associations need messaging that shows these things, rather than simply tells about them.
  • Marketing an event is about connecting the unconnected. It’s about pulling people in. It’s about creating a horizontal movement of people talking to people.
  • Storytelling is a perfect vehicle to do this, because stories from real people are what create that movement-and ultimately, what make those connections.
  • Stories hit people in the emotional center of their brain, where decision-making is strongest. Good stories cultivate three essential things research has told us are central for converting people from onlookers to registrants: passion, connection, and affection.
We’re going to look at six different areas where you can use storytelling:
  1. email
  2. direct mail
  3. web site
  4. video
  5. association magazine
  6. social media

Email

We already covered email in detail in the last newsletter, when we talked about finding and mining the stories, interviewing people, using your brand archetype to create the voice of the story, and how to write and design these story-based emails. Because it’s so important to most associations’ events, there are just a few things we want to reiterate about how to use storytelling in your email campaign.

  • Make sure to use a well-designed, fully-branded HTML-based template. Even the best story can fall flat if it’s simply pasted into a text email and mass-emailed out.
  • Whether you choose to lay out the entire story in the body of the template or use a teaser paragraph in the template that links through to the entire story on a landing page on your website, your email template needs to be responsive and adaptive for mobile phones.
  • Take the time to create compelling emails and get it right, because this can be a great jumping off point for other mediums.

Direct mail

If email content is king, direct mail is first in line to inherit the throne. Direct mail has a tangible quality to it-and if you do it correctly, it can have a huge impact on your event registration numbers. Stories are the fodder for your direct mail-and if you’re doing justice to your email campaign, you’ve already got a great start.

  • Hit people with story-based direct mail in the early stage of the buying cycle. Build the passion for the event, piece by piece. This means that you’ve got to have your stories ready to go, so that you can spin them into direct mail. As with email, you want the stories to jump off the page, with captivating photography and bold graphics and callouts.
  • Bring storytelling into your postcards and teaser mailings. Do a series of postcards, each featuring a different story, or a mailing that wraps a few of them together.
  • Populate your most important piece of direct mail-your registration brochure-with stories, rather than just facts about speakers and sessions. Keep the “schedule at a glance,” but rethink how you present the highlights.
  • Remember, “affection” is one of the key feelings brands need to channel. In those most crucial print pieces, make sure to have current attendees tell other potential attendees about their affection for the event, and why they love it.

Web site

Storytelling has a much wider use than your event marketing campaign: you can bring it into multiple areas of your web site, from blog posts to testimonials. There are a few things we definitely recommend for your site.

  • Lay out your email stories into a well-designed PDF, put it on your site, and direct people to download and share. PDFs are less tangible than direct mail, but they still create nice stand-alone pieces.
  • Use storytelling at point-of-registration. Plenty of associations sprinkle testimonials throughout the event pages of their site. But as we said in the last newsletter, one-sentence testimonials aren’t very compelling. Repurpose quotes and pieces of stories to use as testimonials on your site. You can also repurpose them into blog posts.

Video

You can go huge with storytelling for video (a video crew, lighting, locations!) or do something simple, like motion graphics, whiteboard animation, sketch videos, or video testimonials.

  • If you choose a more graphic treatment of video, you still need to pull out the story. Moving words and pictures around, while nice to look at, isn’t necessarily telling a story. You can keep the treatment simple: still or motion images with quotes, mixed with dynamic B-roll images and voice over and/or music.
  • The best stories are character-driven, and that’s true for video as well. Whether it means pulling together video testimonials from attendees, or telling a story through the eyes of a specific person, let the people in your videos be the star: that’s what your audience will connect with.
  • Use video to try something new and fun. Think your organization is too set in its ways? Take a look at what GE is doing with its “Datalandia” video campaign. Who would expect that from GE? Take a lesson and surprise people. Shake it up a bit. Just keep it story-focused.

Social media

Storytelling for social media is a visual game. This is where you really need to employ photography, especially for the more visual platforms, like Facebook and Instagram.

  • Social media platforms are perfect for storytelling-just don’t try to create a one-size-fits-all post (what works well on Instagram isn’t what works well on Twitter). We’ve written in depth about the different platforms and how to tailor your content for each in this newsletter [link to social media newsletter].
  • Social media is a chance to show a little more of your association’s personality and tell your own stories through slice-of-life images and clever captions. Create a balance of event stories and association stories.
  • Let those personal connections really shine through in your social media content. People look to social media to connect with other people. Most of your posts aren’t asking people to buy: they are forging connection through stories of people.

Magazine

Your association magazine is tailor-made for storytelling. Association members routinely cite the association magazine as one of the benefits of membership. They are primed to read stories on the pages of your magazine.

  • At a minimum, create a spread for each story (maybe even a double-spread, depending on how in-depth the story is). As with your direct mail pieces, create strong headings and bold graphics to keep readers interested.
  • You can run and repurpose stories all year long-not just during the registration push. (Remember, you’re teasing passion.) Create a regular column in each issue that features an attendee story-framed around what “objections” that story helps to overcome, or what elements of the event the story highlights. Not every story has a “register now” call to action.

So, how do you use storytelling to market your event? Find the stories that hinge on passion, connection, and affection. Shape the stories. And finally, integrate the stories into every single piece of content your members, constituents, and potential attendees interact with.

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How to use Storytelling in your Email Campaigns

So, you’re ready to leave “NEC” mania behind? Ready to stop hinging everything on the same one-note message of Networking, Education, and Certification-and instead, embrace a storytelling approach?

Great! We can help. Let’s review quickly why we’re trying to hammer home the storytelling message, with a story of our own. It should sound familiar.

Once upon a time, associations were central parts of people’s lives, because there was less competition, fewer alternatives for learning and connecting with peers, no web, and no insta-anything. There was one message from above, and one place to show up. But now, we live in a new era where competition and options are plentiful, and there are many places to show up. A time when people are talking to each other, and ideas are spreading horizontally-versus from the top down. Recession or no recession, these old ways of talking to people . . . Come for networking, education, and certification! . . . have simply grown stale and are losing effectiveness. They don’t forge the three things absolutely needed to make people feel an emotional attachment to your event brand: passion, connection, and affection. What best forges those things, deep in the emotional center of the brain where most decisions are made, are stories.

With that, here we are in 2014, ready to tell stories. The communication vehicle that associations use more than any other is email. So that’s where we’re going to start. In fact, the rest of this article is dedicated to creating compelling story-based email campaigns.


Finding the Stories

If you’re going to turn stories into emails, you first need the stories. They most likely wonít be apparent until you start looking. In fact, the stories you think you need to tell when you first start this process may not wind up being the best ones.

Mining stories is a journey of discovery, and you need to approach it with an air of fluidity, where nothing is a foregone conclusion.

This is why third parties are so helpful for story mining and development. They assume nothing and see possibility in everything-and because they don’t know your “star” members (the ones who sign up the second registration opens), they cast a wide net.

When we start working with an organization, the first thing we do is request every single recent survey or feedback form we can get our hands on. For story mining, we are most interested in the qualitative data: the comments attendees make, the anecdotes they offer, and the hints they drop. We start to see little bits and pieces of stories take shape. Little nuggets of passion, affection, and connection. We know what we’re looking for, and it involves a certain kind of enthusiasm and specificity, and another crucial element: experiences that can be used to counter objections.

As an association, you have to be very clear on the reasons people don’t come. The objections. The best stories answer those objections, not with bullet points, but with concrete experiences. By telling the stories of your attendees, you are letting them talk to one another-instead of you talking at them. Youíre creating horizontal, peer-to-peer movement and elevating personal experience.

What does this look like, practically speaking? Well, instead of sending an email that simply lists the sessions, send an email where an attendee shares the story of how a session impacted their life and business. Instead of an email with a general message of: ìCome for the networking!î try sending an email where an attendee recounts how a conversation in the hallway wound up opening a major door for them.

Identifying the attendees to interview is the first make-or-break point. The second is knowing how to pull the story out of them. Again, this is where a third party is so helpful, because they come to the conversation without preconceived ideas. Plus, attendees/members tend to open up more to someone from the outside. They donít take shortcuts to explain things. They start from the beginning, which means there are many more chances to find the real story.


Finding the Voice of the Stories

It would be wonderful if we could tell you that good stories simply wrote themselves. But they don’t. It takes forethought and careful attention to voice. Remember voice? We’ve written about it many times. It’s not an area to compromise on, or just phone in.

The voice of the story begins with identifying your brand archetype (something we discussed in detail here). What are those timeless stories your brand taps into (healer, hero, ambassador, etc.), and what is the language around that story? What is the personality of your conference? Write dry, boring stories and no one is going to read them.

You’re looking to present lively characters and specific experiences.

If the only thing you say in the story is: “John Smith enjoys the networking, education, and certification options of the XYZ Event,” don’t even bother. You need to show what that looks like, rather than simply saying it. What makes this person tick? What challenges did they face? What problems did the event solve? What surprises did they encounter there? Remember, your glue for creating brand attachment: passion, affection, and connection. Those things should come through in the voice of your story.

A few more quick tips:
  • We usually advocate writing these kinds of attendee stories in third person, with plentiful quotes. But you can incorporate first person (testimonial style) as well. Remember, you still have to craft these first-person pieces: one-line testimonials (“The conference was great!”) are useless.
  • Keep your stories in the present tense (use past tense only to recall a past event), because present tense keeps the story present.
  • Use active voice. Passive voice drains energy out of a story, and makes it sound academic rather than conversational.

Presenting the Stories for Email

So, you’ve found your stories to share and youíve written them. Now itís time to think about the visual element! These are NOT simply text emails. You should design a fully-branded HTML-based template.

There are two main ways to approach designing these story-based emails:
  1. Lay out the entire story (usually between 300 – 500 words) in the body of the template.
  2. Have a teaser paragraph in the template that links through to the entire story on a landing page on your website.

We’ve done it both ways, and there are pros and cons to each. On one hand, why interrupt someone’s reading experience by taking them away from the email: why make them go somewhere else? One moment of hesitation or disruption, and you might lose them. On the other hand, directing them to your website puts them right at the point of registration. They are one click closer.

You don’t have to do it the same way each time: you can test out each way, and see if one generates a stronger response. However, if you do option #1, you definitely need an email template that is both responsive and adaptive. With so many people reading emails on their smart phones, you need an email template that reads correctly-in essence, re-configuring itself for the smaller screen, without losing anything (and still being readable, i.e., it’s more than just a miniature version of the email). Of course, for option #2, it’s important to have a responsive and adaptive website, because readers will also click through on their mobile phone.

The lesson? You can’t escape being responsive and adaptive, no matter how you go about it. Itís a design investment well worth it!

As for the design of the email itself, a few tips we have:
  • Ask your attendee for a nice headshot. Casual shots-even ones taken at the eventóare best because they feel conversational and showcase personality more. Stuffy, boardroom shots often feel too formal.
  • Create a bold heading for the title of the story.
  • Break up the text with pull-quotes, blocks of color, and additional pictures. And of course, always include a clear call-to-action.
  • We also recommend designing a downloadable PDF for your website. This is a chance to expand beyond the limits of a template. Make this a piece people truly want to share.

So, before you send your next email promoting your event, ask yourself: is there anything in this email that will create brand attachment? Is there anything in this email that makes an emotional connection? Is this email a story about what happens at this event, or a directive to register, based on logic and facts?

We know storytelling works. And we know email works. Blend them together, and make your marketing start working better for you.

Next up: how to integrate storytelling into the rest of your event marketing, including direct mail, website, video, association magazine, and social media.

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Why Associations Need Storytelling Now

Our lives used to be ruled by something we called NEC. Networking, Education, Certification. We preached it to clients, defended it at all costs, and executed it over and over again. NEC was the be-all, end-all marketing formula for events. People showed up at events for these three reasons. Create nice visuals around them, list the details, and that would fill the seats.

“How long can I keep putting that message out there? How many years can I do that before it’s stale?” This became the great debate. “It will never get stale,” we said. We were so certain. A few years later, we realized that we were wrong. Dead wrong.


The Message is Stale, Not the People

NEC is what people want at an event: that part is right. The wrong part, the staleness part, is in the message. The way associations present NEC. They shove it out in front, and say the same things over and over again. We have networking, education, and certification! Do you want to register now?

Does this ever work? Yes, it does. People can form connections to events for their own reasons, even when the marketing is completely uninspiring. But . . . and this is a very important BUT . . . it works less and less with each passing year. Itís certainly not something to bank on. Because everybody in this space has NEC. And because increasingly, people are looking for something more extraordinary. They are looking for experiences and connections that will enrich their lives.

Your event is a product, plain and simple. It’s a product you have to sell.

Hitting people over the head with the facts and stats and bullets is not a relevant way to sell things in 2014. It’s stale. But your people arenít stale. They are continually seeking, continually looking for inspiration. You have to inspire them to choose your offering above other offerings-or the perennial favorite choice: nothing at all.

We believe that storytelling is what needs to replace NEC. Storytelling is trending right now: we know that. We’ve gotten the webinar invites, heard the keynote speakers, seen the books, read the blog posts (and written some of them). But stories are more than hot commodities. More than hype.

Telling stories-the right stories-is a proven way to connect with your base. Or as we say, to connect the unconnected. It all relates to how our brains are wired. When you hit people with NEC, you are hitting them in the logic center of the brain: the pre-frontal cortex. It’s where executive function comes from, and we couldnít do taxes, make lists, or create spreadsheets without it. But gut decisions don’t live there. Inspiration doesnít bubble up from there.

For that, you need to hit the emotional center: the limbic brain. That’s where memories are kept, and emotional connections are spun. It ís actually where the majority of decisions are made (up to 90 percent, neuroscientists say).

We may rationalize the decision after itís made. But more often than not, it starts with the gut. So you want people there in the moment of decision about your event. Stories are what take them there.

There is really interesting recent research about brand attachments, by JoAnn Sciarrino, a former executive VP for BBDO North America, and the current Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She says that how emotionally attached someone is to a brand is the single biggest indicator of whether that person will buy that brand (far more than likes or shares in social media).

The three feelings that really form the “bonds,” if you will, are passion, connection, and affection. Sciarrino has measured this, and found that when people feel those three things, they form an attachment.

This is the basic science of why stories are so powerful for brands. Told appropriately, stories rouse passion, forge connection, and generate affection. You want brand attachment so that people buy your event? Storytelling is your glue.


Everyone is Talking the Talk: Let’s Walk the Walk

The association arena is talking about storytelling. Even the heads of associations are touting it, such as in this video. But talking about it and doing it are two different things.

You need to do it.

We have a whole series of newsletters in the works on how to use storytelling to market your event. Because it’s more than just saying: “Hey, try telling a story.” There is a good deal of strategy behind it. Right now, we’re imagining that you have questions. What kind of story? Whatís it about? What form does it take? What do I do with it?

We have some really good answers for you, and weíll be sharing them in the next three newsletters. But first, gather your answers to these questions. Are you ready for a fresh way to market your event? Can you leave NEC marketing behind, even as its siren song calls to you? Are you committed to engaging the next generation (and for that matter, the current generation)?

Embracing a “yes” to all of these questions will make the journey more seamless, more interesting, and definitely more fun. Be on the lookout for part 2, where we’ll dive into how to use storytelling in your email marketing.

Are you ready to start connecting the unconnected?

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Storytelling vs. Strategic Storytelling
“Those who tell the stories rule the world.”-attributed both to Plato and Hopi Native Americans

Storytelling is a craft as old as humankind. It long predates the written word as a form of communication, a way to record history, and a method for teaching. It links us to our ancestors and to each other. Despite its name, storytelling is an interactive communication form in which we SHOW others something important by illustrating a scenario, rather than simply TELLING them facts and figures we think they should know. The results of good stories are “sticky” lessons and information that strike us with awe, stay with us, and move us to action.


Why it Works

At its core, storytelling works as a marketing tool because of the way our brains are wired.

It turns out that the part of the brain that processes emotions is the same part that makes decisions-that’s the limbic system. While it seems counterintuitive, appealing to your audience with facts, figures, and other generally credible and logical information is not enough to really “sell” them on your association or your event. You absolutely must appeal to emotions if you want to propel your base toward action. Engage your membership emotionally with brand storytelling and watch how many seats fill up at your next event.


What is Storytelling?

A story has characters. It has conflict and color. A vivid setting. Tension. A plot twist. It involves looking audience members in the eye and saying, “Have you ever?” or “Do you know what I mean?” And they wait on the edges of their seats for these brilliant details, twists and turns, points of connection, climaxes, and resolutions. A story can be as simple as a joke or as complex as an epic tale. Ultimately, a story has an ending-one that leaves us laughing, crying, smarter, wiser, or filled with wonder. Stories are memorable. Some, unforgettable.


Know Your Archetypes

One reason storytelling is timeless is that basically we keep telling the same stories over and over again. We’re accustomed to tales of good vs. evil, creation, humans vs. monsters, a hero on a journey, and lots of other familiar plot lines. These classic storylines are called archetypes. They serve as frames upon which we can hang a given cast of characters and send them along more or less the same path with the same outcome as many characters who came before them.

Consider these textbook examples of stories that employ archetypes:
  • “The Chronicles of Narnia” books by C.S. Lewis are a fantastical retelling of Christian biblical stories using talking animals. They contain a creation story, a hero’s journey, monsters, villains, and more classic archetypes.
  • The movie “Apocalypse Now” is a retelling of Joseph Conrad’s book “The Heart of Darkness,” set during the Vietnam war rather than during the Imperialist expansion into Africa of the late 1800s. Archetypes employed include the hero’s journey, the everyman, and good vs. evil.
  • The “Star Wars” movies are a classic example of the battle between good and evil, just like Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost” from 1667.
  • Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and Shrek movies 1 though 4 all use the hero’s journey archetype.

Characters themselves can also be archetypes. In fact, your brand likely fits a character archetype that you can use to your advantage. (We’ve talked before about the patriarch, the advocate, and the caregiver.) A few more examples of character archetypes include:
the hero: Indiana Jones, The Lone Ranger, Katniss Everdeen
the everyman: Mr. Smith (the one who goes to Washington), Orphan Annie, Frodo Baggins
the villain: Lex Luthor, Voldimort, Wicked Witch of the West, Hanibal Lecter
the creator: Steve Jobs, Victor Frankenstein, Pinocchio’s Geppetto
the jester: The Fool in Hamlet, Dori in Finding Nemo, any role played by Jim Carey

Whether characters or storylines, archetypes provide familiar patterns that tug at emotions and hearken back to our most basic human instincts and desires.

They help us as brand storytellers know what kinds of stories to tell, what tone to take, and what kind of words to use. Similarly, they help our audience connect with us on a deeper level because, in a sense, our story is already familiar to them.


How Does Storytelling fit into Marketing?

As marketers, we strive to connect with our audiences in meaningful ways. We tap them on the shoulder and say

“Do you need what we offer? Would you like to connect with us?”

Too often, we recite information-facts, dates, keynote speaker names, panel topics-that we want our audience to know. (As a test, take a look at your web content. How many times do you use the word “we” vs. the word “you.”)

A better approach is one of storytelling, of relating vivid details of real human beings, their successes and failures. Good storytelling is an authentic exchange of conversation, emotions, and key information, always keeping the needs of your audience in mind. This is both and art and a science. It’s also a soft sell. Once they’re fully engaged and struck with awe and wonder, your audience will come to you on their own because they’re educated, informed, and connected.


Storytelling vs. Strategic Storytelling

Bill Baker of BB&Co eloquently makes a distinction between storytelling and strategic storytelling. He notes that storytelling generally involves a company or organization spilling out whatever it wants to brag about. Strategic storytelling, on the other hand, is savvy marketing that relates to your audience on a one-on-one level and “establishes context and relevance for your message.” (View his entire article here).

According to Baker, strategic storytelling can “shape the way people think, focus their understanding, and compel them towards desired actions.”


Where to Start

Customer testimonials are a type of story, but standing alone these don’t do all the heavy lifting to actually tell your story. Collect these and other attendee experiences, employee anecdotes, case studies, and company history.

Often, the reason why your association was founded, a hurdle overcome, or a problem you’re still solving make excellent, compelling stories. Consider also your audience, what they need to hear, and problems you can help them solve. Choosing an archetype that represents your brand will also help you determine what kinds of stories to gather and how to tell them.

Weave all these threads together for a strategic story that SHOWS the world what your association is all about.

Engage your audience emotionally by including bits of your story in emails, postcards, your website, events, and in your face-to-face interactions. Then stand back and watch as this interactive, collaborative approach fills seats, attracts new members, and builds long-term loyalty.


Measuring Results

While storytelling, ancient archetypes, and emotions might seem very subjective and nebulous when it comes to measuring effectiveness, it turns out there’s some pretty concrete science behind all this connection and emotion.

JoAnn Sciarrino, a researcher and the Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, developed a way to measure brand engagement by analyzing social media conversations.

By looking at the words people used in association with a given brand, a.k.a. the stories being told, Sciarrino was able to determine to what extent people were emotionally attached to the brand.

Her findings concluded that an emotional brand attachment had a higher correlation to sales than any other factor-including overall satisfaction, willingness to recommend, likes, shares, and a host of other metrics.


Brain Science

Sciarrino reminds us that emotion resides in the limbic part of our brain, the same part of the brain where 90% of our decisions are made. A neuroscientist named Antonio Damasio first discovered the connection between emotions and decision-making when he studied people with damage to the limbic brain. While they basically seemed normal aside from experiencing no emotions, Damasio’s subjects had difficulty making even simple decisions-such as whether to have chicken or turkey for lunch. Damasio’s research suggests that human beings depend on emotion to make decisions. All this science tells us that we can’t ignore emotion when it comes to connecting with our base. If we want people to take action by joining our ranks and attending our annual events, we must create an emotional connection with our brand. And storytelling is a proven, measurable way to do so.


People Relate to People

The fundamentals of storytelling, much like the pirate’s code, are more like guidelines than actual rules. Not all stories have a villain, a love story, a journey, or even a happy ending. But all good stories are “true” in the sense that they are authentic. All good stories evoke a sense of wonder and connection. Storytelling works because people relate to other people, and they connect with brands primarily on an emotional level. The end goal of storytelling is timeless inspiration. And while that might sound like a lofty goal, it’s certainly an attainable one. What’s your brand story? How might you use it to inspire your base?

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We Want To See You Be Brave:

Fear

Fear
We may be the busiest, most distracted species on the planet. But strip away our phones, our houses, and our machines, and we are just people, hardwired to connect.

In fact, human beings are made for connection. Neurobiology tells us that our brains are full of mirror neurons—little pieces of brain magic that allow us to match a person’s emotional state as we’re interacting with them (you feel inspired, I feel inspired; you are worried, I am worried). With each beat, our hearts literally send out signals of connection that are actually able to be measured.

Step back from biology and look to the heavens, and the science of connection gets even weirder. In fact, the very universe in which we live seems to be held together by strange phenomena, where particles at opposite ends of the universe are entangled and mirror each other—what Albert Einstein famously called “spooky action at a distance”. (We’re not making this up! Watch the wonderful Tom Shadyac documentary I Am for the most concise discussion of human connection we’ve ever seen; find it on You Tube here, or catch it on Netflix streaming.)

Forget biology and theoretical physics, and just look at technology.

The web has connected humanity like nothing before.

And social media has added another layer of connection—every new portal built with the promise of better and better ways to connect us.


We are itching to connect. At every moment.

And yet, for associations, there is so much disconnection happening—right in front of you. Even as your members’ hearts are sending out signals, hoping to be mirrored and entangled, the loop isn’t making its way back. Even as you use the very technology built to connect the human race, there is more and more disconnection. The loop is broken.

We know exactly why it’s broken. You won’t like the answer. You probably won’t even believe us at first. But we’ve seen too much and been in this industry long enough to know that there is no way it isn’t the answer.

The answer is that your association is afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid. Which means that when you reach out to members with your marketing, more often than not, you are operating from fear. And fear will cause disconnection every time.


Let’s Back Up: This Isn’t a Blame Game

The most helpful thing to do as we begin this discussion is to remove blame and judgment from the equation. We’re not passing judgment on your association, or finger pointing. This fear business has mutated its way into the DNA of the association industry, and no one person or association caused it.

We want to help your association—truly. We’re not interested in calling you names and making you feel like crap. But we can’t help if we also operate from a place of fear, and only tell you what you want to hear. In these last few years, we’ve been aligning more and more with truth telling. And now, we’re taking it to a new level by calling your association on its fear (which also means confronting our own, since our livelihood depends on you and your industry colleagues hiring us).

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We Want To See You Be Brave

We may be the busiest, most distracted species on the planet. But strip away our phones, our houses, and our machines, and we are just people, hardwired to connect.

In fact, human beings are made for connection. Neurobiology tells us that our brains are full of mirror neurons—little pieces of brain magic that allow us to match a person’s emotional state as we’re interacting with them (you feel inspired, I feel inspired; you are worried, I am worried). With each beat, our hearts literally send out signals of connection that are actually able to be measured.

Step back from biology and look to the heavens, and the science of connection gets even deeper. In fact, the very universe in which we live seems to be held together by strange phenomena, where particles at opposite ends of the universe are entangled and mirror each other—what Albert Einstein famously called “spooky action at a distance”. (We’re not making this up! Watch the wonderful Tom Shadyac documentary I Am for the most concise discussion of human connection we’ve ever seen; find it here, or catch it on Netflix streaming.)

Forget biology and theoretical physics, and just look at technology. The web has connected humanity like nothing before. And social media has added another layer of connection—every new portal built with the promise of better ways to connect us.


We are itching to connect. At every moment.

And yet, for associations, there is so much disconnection happening—right in front of you.

Even as your members’ hearts are sending out signals, hoping to be mirrored and entangled, the loop isn’t making its way back. Even as you use the very technology built to connect the human race, there is more and more disconnection. The loop is broken.

We know exactly why it’s broken. You won’t like the answer. You probably won’t even believe us at first. But we’ve seen too much and been in this industry long enough to know that there is no way it isn’t the answer.

The answer is that your association is afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid. Which means that when you reach out to members with your marketing, more often than not, you are operating from fear. And fear will cause disconnection every time.



Let’s Back Up: This Isn’t a Blame Game

The most helpful thing to do as we begin this discussion is to remove blame and judgment from the equation. We’re not passing judgment on your organization, or finger pointing. This fear business has mutated its way into the DNA of the association industry, and no one person or association caused it.

We want to help your association—truly. We’re not interested in calling you names and making you feel like crap. But we can’t help if we also operate from a place of fear, and only tell you what you want to hear. In these last few years, we’ve been aligning more and more with truth telling. And now, we’re taking it to a new level by calling your association on its fear (which also means confronting our own, since our livelihood depends on you and your industry colleagues hiring us).

“But We Have to Look Professional”

For most associations, the crux of the fear is this: we are a professional organization, and we can’t appear to be anything but professional. Your worth, your membership retention, and your events are all tied up in this idea of professionalism. The problem is that most associations we’ve encountered have a very narrow definition of what professionalism means.

It means not stepping outside of what is sanctioned or expected. It means the lowest common denominator. It means walking only as far as the accepted edge, and not sticking as much as a pinky toe over it. It means pulling back, building walls, and drawing distinct boundaries around personal and professional.

In your marketing, it means being guarded and thinking you have to talk to people in a stiff, formal way—instead of a human, conversational, and lively way. It means being careful about what you show. It means repurposing the same marketing and the same ideas over and over again—because you know that although they don’t get very good results, at least they don’t offend anyone. It means relying on posting links on Twitter instead of telling stories about people. It means a well-manicured appearance that is mostly just . . . uninspiring.

It hardly ever means being truly human, and connecting at the level of imperfection, messiness, and emotion. Because to do that is to be vulnerable, and in most associations’ eyes, vulnerability = weakness.

But here is the central problem. Among people, it’s vulnerability that truly forges connection.

Here is a piece of truth we will not back down from: An association that operates from fear, constantly checks itself, and hides behind accepted norms about professionalism CANNOT connect. All you can do is create professional-looking disconnection.


Anything But Vulnerability, Please!

It would be great if you just believed us now.

But we sense you need more.

Let us introduce you briefly to researcher and storyteller Brene Brown, who changed our view on vulnerability dramatically (along with the almost 18 million other people who have watched one of her two TED talks, here and here.). Her work on shame and vulnerability is groundbreaking, and it applies to business as much as it applies to things like relationships and parenting. Because her research is about people, and every single organization is made up of people.

One of Brown’s central points is that the myth that vulnerability is weakness is profoundly dangerous. It stifles people and organizations. Because without vulnerability, there would be no innovation and no creativity. In fact, she says, vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage, because it means stepping out and being seen. It means risking failure. It means putting forth a human face when it’s easier to hide behind something else. But it’s that very risk that makes people connect.

After her TED talks exploded, Brown got offers to talk to organizations all over the world. They wanted her to talk about innovation, creativity, and change—but not vulnerability. Not possible, she told them, because vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

So yes, it would be convenient to avoid vulnerability. But if you want your association to be relevant for the future, you can’t.
You. Can’t.


Here Comes the Bravery Part

So what does leaving fear behind and getting comfortable with vulnerability look like for your association?

Well, we can tell you what it has looked like for us.

It looked like nearly losing our business six years ago, and one by one, letting loyal employees go as the recession strangled us. It looked like putting family vacations, eating out, and anything that wasn’t an absolute financial necessity on hold. It looked like pacing the floors at 3 a.m. wondering how it was possible we had depleted all of our savings, but trying to shield our worry from the three bright-eyed kids at home.

It looked like climbing out from under a pile of rubble and loss to start again from scratch, but this time, digging down deep and asking hard questions about why we were in this business. It looked like making a counter-intuitive decision to narrow our focus, and work with the people we thought we could make most difference for: associations and non-profits. It looked like investing in support we were afraid to invest in (like high dollar business coaches that we absolutely could not afford), saying things we were afraid to say, and putting things out there before they were perfect.

The thing is, without failing so spectacularly and painfully, we would still be operating on the surface. Without that experience, we wouldn’t be able to understand what’s under the surface, and to look at organizations and see clearly what needs to be fixed.

Ultimately, the result of all of that vulnerability is that now—for the clients who will listen to us and trust us—nobody does it better in this space. Nobody else gets the whole picture of talking about WHY you do what you do—and how that forges real emotional connection—better than Rottman Creative. And the only reason we get it is that we went through emotional and financial hell, and came out on the other side with a new sense of purpose.

And here we are again, being vulnerable in front of the very people who send us the checks: telling you that your association is so mired in fear, it hurts us to see it. And it’s affecting everything from how you run your meetings to how many people show up at your conference.

STOP BEING SO AFRAID! It’s time to truly connect. Our hearts and souls know it. Particles at opposite ends of the universe know it. Why don’t you know it?

Ask yourself: what could stepping into vulnerability look like for your association? We’d love to dive deep with you and figure it out. In fact, we challenge you, right now! Show this article to your boss, and say: “This article is talking about us. What should we do about?”

We can’t wait to see which association is brave enough to take the challenge, let their guard down, and market their event on a personal level. Who will do it?

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The Anatomy of Inspiration:

The BRAIN

The BRAIN

MARKETING: THE BRAIN

Marketing is the BRAIN of inspiration. It gets its blood supply from the brand (the HEART), but it operates as its own little command center.

The fact is, you can inspire haphazardly (the nature of viral videos, produced with no game plan in mind, is proof of that). But if you’re trying to ensure the sustainability of your event, we recommend something a bit more thought-out.


Connect the Neurons

What makes for a strong brain is a system of well-developed connections among neurons. And to create those clear pathways, you need strategy.

A strategy—organized into a comprehensive marketing plan—is the key to using your marketing to inspire. And we’re not talking about the same old marketing plan you’ve used for two years where you just plug and play dates. We’re talking about one that’s current, robust, self-reflective, and takes into account the way your members want to be communicated to (not the way you want to communicate to them).


Make the Brain Work

When we work with associations, we spend a lot of time upfront setting the strategy, and we are painstaking in our discovery efforts—digging deep and asking the tough questions. We’ve found that the raw material for inspiration is usually found in the answers to those tough questions.

For example, we are working now with the Door and Hardware Institute (DHI) to market their summer convention. The strategy we created for them isn’t just a column of dates and email topics. Rather, it’s a story that begins with a thorough overview of the event, and contains a clear vision of what we want to happen (the objectives), a discussion of what we know about their members (the leverage), an analysis of what we’ll use to craft the message (the raw materials, including the voice and archetype), and careful thought about how we’ll tell the story (the messaging and copy points). The deliverables are last—because the deliverables don’t even matter if the strategy isn’t based on how to move members.

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The Anatomy of Inspiration:

The HEART

The HEART

BRAND: THE HEART

The brand is the beating heart at the center of inspiration. In the same way that your heart pumps blood to the rest of your body, your brand pumps enthusiasm to every area of your marketing.

Heart-Based Connections

All parts of inspiration channel connection—specifically, how you connect to your members.

But it begins with making a heart-based connection with members. Connection doesn’t start in the logic center of brain: it starts in the heart. It starts in the emotional center. It starts when members connect to your WHY. They can’t make that connection if your brand isn’t radiating that WHY. Talking only about WHAT you do (speeches, certifications, training, tracks, networking) will inform your members—and for the die-hard members, that’s enough. But it won’t move the masses. And it definitely won’t inspire them.

This is why so many associations are in a permanent state of cardiac arrest. The enthusiasm isn’t flowing. The channels for inspiration are blocked—clogged with plaque, in the form of too much WHAT stuff.


Do a Heart Check

You can’t build a brand around something you’re not completely, 100 percent clear about.

And you can’t keep trying to build a heart from WHAT. You’ve got to go deeper to find the inspiration.

Before you launch any campaign, write any email, create any brandmark or event theme, grab a clean sheet of paper and fill in these blanks.

We exist because _.
The difference we make in members’ lives is _.
If we weren’t here, would our members miss us? Why?

Inspiring your base starts with escaping the same old safe scripts and coming up with truthful, raw, and compelling answers to these questions. It means going to a more vulnerable, human place (we’ve noticed these are very uncomfortable places for associations to hang out).

Associations host events to change lives. So what IS that change? What happens at your event that can’t happen in the same way anywhere else? These first two questions on the list are deal-breakers. They’re elementary. But the third is actually where to start if you’re struggling. Because people will never miss what they can’t connect to in the first place. They won’t miss the difference that’s never pointed out to them.

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The Anatomy of Inspiration

Since we’ve been communicating our “Inspire Your Base” message, we’ve noticed an evolution in how people are responding. The responses have moved from, “No thanks, we’re good just doing what we’ve always done,” to “Yes, we DO need to inspire our base. But how exactly do we do that?”

In fact, the number one question we get is: “How do we actually inspire people?”

For us, it goes like this: Inspiration is the place where brand, marketing, content, and design intersect and relate. Each one of those elements — brand, marketing, content, and design — is a living, breathing system, interrelated and interdependent on each other. If inspiration took human form, it couldn’t live without each part working together. In fact, the best way to truly explain is with a quick anatomy lesson.

The brand is the beating heart at the center of inspiration. In the same way that your heart pumps blood to the rest of your body, your brand pumps enthusiasm to every area of your marketing.


Heart-Based Connections

All parts of inspiration channel connection—specifically, how you connect to your members.

But it begins with making a heart-based connection with members. Connection doesn’t start in the logic center of brain: it starts in the heart. It starts in the emotional center. It starts when members connect to your WHY. They can’t make that connection if your brand isn’t radiating that WHY. Talking only about WHAT you do (speeches, certifications, training, tracks, networking) will inform your members—and for the die-hard members, that’s enough. But it won’t move the masses. And it definitely won’t inspire them.

This is why so many associations are in a permanent state of cardiac arrest. The enthusiasm isn’t flowing. The channels for inspiration are blocked—clogged with plaque, in the form of too much WHAT stuff.


Do a Heart Check

You can’t build a brand around something you’re not completely, 100 percent clear about. And you can’t keep trying to build a heart from WHAT. You’ve got to go deeper to find the inspiration.

Before you launch any campaign, write any email, create any brandmark or event theme, grab a clean sheet of paper and fill in these blanks.

  • We exist because _.
  • The difference we make in members’ lives is _.
  • If we weren’t here, would our members miss us? Why?

Inspiring your base starts with escaping the same old safe scripts and coming up with truthful, raw, and compelling answers to these questions. It means going to a more vulnerable, human place (we’ve noticed these are very uncomfortable places for associations to hang out).

Associations host events to change lives. So what IS that change? What happens at your event that can’t happen in the same way anywhere else? These first two questions on the list are deal-breakers. They’re elementary. But the third is actually where to start if you’re struggling. Because people will never miss what they can’t connect to in the first place. They won’t miss the difference that’s never pointed out to them.

Have your answers? Then let’s move on to the more cerebral aspects of inspiration.

Marketing is the BRAIN of inspiration. It gets its blood supply from the brand (the HEART), but it operates as its own little command center.

The fact is, you can inspire haphazardly (the nature of viral videos, produced with no game plan in mind, is proof of that). But if you’re trying to ensure the sustainability of your event, we recommend something a bit more thought-out.

Connect the Neurons
What makes for a strong brain is a system of well-developed connections among neurons.

And to create those clear pathways, you need strategy.

A strategy—organized into a comprehensive marketing plan—is the key to using your marketing to inspire. And we’re not talking about the same old marketing plan you’ve used for two years where you just plug and play dates. We’re talking about one that’s current, robust, self-reflective, and takes into account the way your members want to be communicated to (not the way you want to communicate to them).


Make the Brain Work

When we work with associations, we spend a lot of time upfront setting the strategy, and we are painstaking in our discovery efforts—digging deep and asking the tough questions.

We’ve found that the raw material for inspiration is usually found in the answers to those tough questions.

For example, we are working now with the Door and Hardware Institute (DHI) to market their summer convention. The strategy we created for them isn’t just a column of dates and email topics. Rather, it’s a story that begins with a thorough overview of the event, and contains a clear vision of what we want to happen (the objectives), a discussion of what we know about their members (the leverage), an analysis of what we’ll use to craft the message (the raw materials, including the voice and archetype), and careful thought about how we’ll tell the story (the messaging and copy points). The deliverables are last—because the deliverables don’t even matter if the strategy isn’t based on how to move members.

It’s the heart and head working together. The brand and the marketing. The soul and the logic. As for what to actually say in your message? For that, we head to the belly.

Your content is the BELLY. It’s the day-to-day fuel. It’s where inspiration is nourished.

If you know anything about nutrition, you know that filling your belly with high-calorie, low-quality foods usually makes you feel lethargic, bloated, and generally rotten. By contrast, high-quality calories and good food makes you feel more energetic, more motivated, and generally better. Content is no different: it’s quality over quantity. Want inspired members? Don’t just dish out content for contents’ sake. Take a true content marketing approach. In other words, feed them good calories.


A Storytelling Diet

The way to truly nourish inspiration is through standout storytelling, both visually and verbally.

Stories come in all forms: the story of your association, the story of what happens at the conference, the story of lives changed.

This is what we did for the National Investment Center (NIC) to market their spring regional conference this year. We spent time interviewing members they selected—each of whom had a different story to tell about the conference. (Hint: get your members comfortable talking, and they will always say things 100 times better than you could ever say them yourself.) Using a content marketing approach, we turned those stories into inspiring articles and well-designed downloadable PDFs, with call-to-action web buttons.


A Growing Appetite

When your content is solid and engaging and starts with quality—and you have the right plan in place—you can turn the stories into anything: magazine articles, emails, direct mail pieces, social media posts, print posters, apps, infographics, and, of course, motion graphics.

In fact, we’re moving toward the belief that VIDEO is becoming the most important way to present content (we’ll be writing more about that soon). We’re going to start embedding motion graphic clips (some as short as 15 seconds) into every email. It goes back to strategy—and the idea that you need to communicate to members the way they want to be communicated to.

Over and over again, people consistently rank video as one of the top ways they like to view content.

When we talk about quality content, we’re not just talking about words. Words are huge. Words move people, no doubt. But in today’s highly visual marketplace, you absolutely cannot inspire in a sustainable way without the final piece.

Design represents the LIMBS of inspiration, because it’s what carries your message into the world. It’s what members touch and interact with. In other words, it’s what gives your brand, your marketing, and your content legs and arms.

Associations consistently tell us: “Yes, we know this. We do design our marketing materials.” To which we almost always reply: “No, you don’t.” Design isn’t just creating a vector graphic in Adobe Illustrator, changing a few fonts, and slapping on the brand colors. Good design—design that truly inspires—must be purpose-driven.


Design That Elevates

By purpose-driven, we mean that it’s heart, strategy, and story—woven together into a captivating visual package.

It’s smart, savvy, and it makes a strong emotional connection by bringing the story to life through visual elements that are consistent in every single piece of content, from print to digital to social media.

Our favorite recent example is the work we’ve been doing with the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association (ASTRA). Their design is very clearly the limbs of the campaign. It’s what elevates the event in the hearts and minds of their members.

The graphics are bold and bright. The images of children are whimsical and light and forge those emotional connections with members.

Every single piece takes design into account, from the play of space to the vibrancy of the colors to the personality of the event.

No postcard is slapped together. No email is sent as text only. Each piece has legs. We also put together a short motion graphics piece for them, which has gotten a huge response from members. Video is no longer optional: it’s a must do in today’s dynamic, busy, and visual-driven world!


Designing an Experience

The final thing we must point out is that while print is still very much alive and brings a tactile element that absolutely has a place in moving and inspiring members to register, your overall design strategy has to work for the digital world.

It has to pop on the screen. Most associations realize that text emails do nothing to inspire. But they don’t push the design nearly far enough. And they hardly ever carry it into social media, which has become an increasingly visual format. (We’ll be writing more about that soon as well!) No matter the medium, design is what will make the experience of your brand come to life.

We’ll repeat it again: Inspiration is the place where brand, marketing, content, and design intersect. Neglect one, and the whole suffers. Cheat one, and you cheat them all. But take the time to weave them all together, and watch inspiration bring your base to life.

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6 steps to Inspiring your base to act.

Step 5 of 6: Leverage your offers

Step 5 of 6: Leverage your offers

So, what do you have to offer members? Literally, what is the stuff you’ve got? Remember, the first stepping stone is that your job is to change lives. You can’t do that if people don’t register. But they’re not going to register until they see a piece of what you have. Stop looking at this as a catch-22, and just start sharing what you have.

Be generous, and be strategic.

What events/promotions/discounts can you tie to registration? We’re not just talking about hotel discounts and room blocks. But giveaways. Information sharing. Community-building activities. What thought leaders in your industry can you tap to provide value-added things for your members?

However, your offers won’t be effective if you don’t understand (and account for) registration timing.

We hope you find these tips inspiring for your next conference, and until next time keep a look out for clue # 11!

The Lone Marketer

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6 steps to Inspiring your base to act.

Step 4 of 6: Develop your voice

Step 4 of 6: Develop your voice

People don’t know that you’re talking to them if you don’t actually talk to them.

And the way your people recognize that you’re talking to them is through voice.

If your logo or conference brandmark is your visual signature, your voice is your verbal signature—and without it, there is no compelling reason to listen to your message, to take action, or to share it with others.

We see far too many voiceless marketing campaigns: generic information, lacking context, personality, or specificity.

A strong brand voice demands attention. It creates instant recognition, and—most importantly—inspires your people by talking authentically and directly to them about the stuff they care about. The visual and the voice—your graphics and your copy—have to work together. They have to both come from the same place of inspiration, and archetype-driven messaging.

Nothing about how you communicate to your members should be haphazard. That included what you offer them.

We hope you find these tips inspiring for your next conference, and until next time keep a look out for clue #10!

The Lone Marketer

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The New Age of Purposeful Brand

It’s the month for taking stock. For raising your glass, and taking your turn sharing what you’re thankful for. Around the Rottman table, we’re thankful for many things: good health, good business, a new grandchild even. But we’re also thankful for something else. We are thankful for you, because you are working toward something we admire: making people’s lives better. As you know, we believe associations host events to bring people together so that lives can be changed. We can’t imagine any other reason as compelling. So, thank you.

But that’s not the end of the Thanksgiving story. Not even close. In fact, we just need to take a quick detour back to the very beginning of human history. We know you’re tempted to beg off, what with the turkey coma and all. But you don’t want to do that, trust us. Because if you are really committed to the business of changing lives (and we believe you are), you’ll want to see what we have to show you. So grab another helping of sweet potatoes and come with us.


At the Beginning, There Were Stories

We may have overreached when we said the very beginning of human history. Let’s advance forward just a little bit, to the time when people started forming societies. When they had developed language and belief systems and had figured out that no matter who is in charge or how you get your food, some people like to be the hero, some people like to tell the jokes, some people are the poets, some people are the peacemakers, some people are prone to adventure, and so on.

Where we are, then, is the beginning of human emotion, and the realization that there is a set of stories that drives humanity. We’re standing front and center, watching the birth of the archetype, or the idea that there are universal human stories that get lived over and over again, regardless of time or circumstance.

That people are intrinsically wired to live them, be called by them, and instantaneously recognize them.

Why are we taking you back to this moment? Because there is a direct line between here and what you are trying to do with your event. And if you truly understand how to follow that line, you can see a 15 percent increase in attendance at your event.


What do a bunch of old stories have to do with making people show up?

That’s a great question. The short answer is: everything.

We firmly believe that we are entering the Age of the Purposeful brand: where instead of squandering their attention, people save it for better stuff. Stuff they care about. Stuff that speaks to them, in colors, forms, sparks, emotions—and ultimately, the stories that call to them, bubbling up from some place in the collective unconscious.

It all sounds a bit mythical. So here is a dose of reality to ground it: in the Age of the Purposeful Brand, content for content’s sake won’t be good enough. Throwing darts wildly to see what sticks: that luxury is gone. There just isn’t enough attention anymore. You have to talk to people with much more purpose. For you, that means marketing all the tracks and precons and keynote speakers in the world won’t be good enough if you are not connecting to something fundamental. To the deep-rooted stories of who we are. This is what archetype-based branding is all about: connecting your brand to the archetypes it already evokes, teasing that out, and using it to create a distinct brand voice and brand look.

We laid this out back in March when we talked about the steps to creating a marketing plan: you need to understand brand archetypes so that you know how to talk to your people and what kind of images to show them. Because when an association puts forth the effort to discern their archetypes and uses those archetypes to develop a thoughtful, branded voice, they connect to their members in a new way. They connect because they have a much clearer picture of: (1) what visual and verbal stories will resonate with their members, and (2) how to tell those stories so that members recognize that the story is meant for them, in that precise moment, and that they should take action.


Let’s look at a few examples.

The Caregiver: Talk to us About Nurturing

The American Specialty Toy Retailers Association (ASTRA) has a bright, cheerful brand, matched by a bright, cheerful summer conference. They are in the toy business, and the toy business is about loving to see kids smile and nurturing play and learning. In fact, it’s a brand with a deep story about nurturing.

After our discovery session with ASTRA, we realized that their retail members fit the Caregiver archetype.

They are in business because they want to nurture. They nurture their love for what they do, and in turn, they nurture their own businesses—which is related to helping parents nurture their children. Using this Caregiver archetype, we were able to create a branded voice that spoke directly to ASTRA’s retail segment. We knew what kinds of stories to tell, what kind of tone to take, what kind of subject lines to write, what kind of graphics to create, and what kind of words to use. In telling the story of caregiver, we were telling the story of the conference in a way that resonated with members at a deeper level than merely logic. By doing this, we were able to help ASTRA get a 15 percent increase in enrollment for their event.


The Advocate: Stories about Effecting Change

For the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), it was the classic story of difference-making, because we uncovered that their provider organization leaders fit the Advocate archetype. They are here because they want to make a piece of the world better. Their sense of purpose is linked to championing the rights of others and making life better for people. They want to effect change and help people use their voices for causes they believe matter.

Hence, the voice we created for ANCOR appealed to their members’ sense of justice and compassion.

It was big and inspirational: together, we’ll make life better. We’ll shape policy that makes a difference. We’ll give voice to people who need it. Again, understanding the archetype and the voice that needed to flow from it helped us shape their campaign and develop the right kinds of case studies to use in email communications and direct mail. And it helped ANCOR meet their numbers, even amidst funding slashes and members’ shrinking budgets for things like attending conferences.


The Patriarch: The Language of Protection and Duty

One last example is from work we are currently in the middle of, so we can’t give as many details. It’s an association from the world of commercial building and architecture, and the members are mostly owners of or management level within small companies that handle very specialized product distribution. In our many discovery conversations and research, we came to understand that their distributor base fits the Patriarch archetype. They are leaders who feel an inherited responsibility to protect others. They make others feel safe and inspire respect, and they understand that this is what makes them good at their job.

Wrapping the voice in the Patriarch archetype will help this association validate to their members that the day-to-day of decision-making to preserve the order matters.

That being better at their job makes the whole industry better. It helps us strike the right balance in the voice, and understand what kind of emotions and ideas we need to tap into when we design and write the emails. From pictures to pull-quotes, archetypes help inform the look, feel, and tone of every piece of communication.


It’s There: Use It!

Obviously, teasing out the archetypes and creating the accompanying voice helps us—as the marketing firm charged with drumming up inspiration and increasing attendance. As we said in the beginning, we’ve seen a 15 percent increase in attendance for the associations who have worked with us to create marketing campaigns steeped in brand archetypes.

Ultimately though, it helps you and your association. A lot. Because you are working every day in the business of changing lives. We know that your job is getting harder. That’s why we offer this to you. Don’t you want to be able to better reach your people? To communicate with them in more meaningful ways? To convert more of them from mildly interested onlookers to fully engaged registrants? Don’t you want the secret access code to their collective unconscious?

The beautiful thing about this approach is that everything you need is already there: you just need to recognize it and know how to use it.

Enjoy the holiday, and after you recover from your turkey hangover, give us a call. We’d love to help you figure out your archetype. It’s not doing any good just hanging around back there in the beginning of human history. It’s time to put it to work for you.

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The Story is What Sells

Your registration brochure isn’t just a marketing piece. It’s the face of your conference. A face can launch a thousand ships. Or it can make everyone pack up and go home. To make it a face that inspires action, your brochure has to engage your people. It’s got to do the old W&W: woo and wow. The most effective way to do that isn’t to promote the venue. Rather, the most effective W&W strategy is to create a story around the number one reason people attend your conference: person-to-person interaction.

Our research has confirmed that in-person networking is the number one reason people step out of the virtual world and the LinkedIn discussion groups. Hence, your registration brochure needs to upsell the networking opportunities with both copy and visuals, and really tell the story.

If you’re not telling that story, don’t even bother putting a brochure out there.

Because if you thought the recession was bad for conference attendance, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The world of information is downloadable—and it will continue to be even more downloadable. Social networking facilitates connections almost instantaneously.

However, you do have something in your corner. The virtual world isn’t the same as the real one. Slap a camera on your computer, but it doesn’t matter. Virtual experiences can’t match the human experience of standing in a circle of your colleagues, chatting and laughing as you generate ideas and sparks and connections. The experience of all of your neurons firing because you are breathing the same air, in the same moment, at the same place, at the same time as a bunch of other interesting people.

The fact that virtual can’t match human is the meat of your story, and you better tell it in a compelling way.

We hope you find these tips inspiring for your next conference, and until next time keep a look out for clue #3!

The Lone Marketer

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2010's Top Trends in Conference Marketing

East to West, Big and Small – we’ve been watching what’s going on and it’s time to report the facts. Over the past year we’ve been analyzing conferences and annual meetings across the country. Organizations are still struggling to meet attendance goals. We’ve identified four major trends that attribute to low attendance.


1. Informing and assuring, but not inspiring.

Organizations are doing a good job of informing their members about the conference, and their websites and direct mail pieces are great for reassuring the intent. However, the images and wording in the marketing messages lack inspiration. Content and imagery used in marketing materials, including direct mail and websites, must inspire the member to want to register for the conference.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Answer the question “Why should I attend?” with every message and image.
  • Build excitement through imagery and words.

2. Over reliance on email communications.

If we only had a penny for every time we heard an association executive say, “I’ll just email that info to our members.” Email marketing has become a central part of communications for many organizations. However, with an open rate of under 20% and a click thru of 3% – email marketing is not the most effective tool for reaching the membership.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Compare email marketing strategies to current best practices (segmentation, personalization, engaging subject lines, interactive content).

3. Lack of segmentation for marketing.

Most associations have their membership broken down into segments, however unique marketing messages are not created for each segment. Instead, one-size-fits all messaging is created for everyone – but in reality, it doesn’t fit all. It’s more likely not going to fit anyone.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Collaborate with the membership team to identify segments.
  • Play up the differences in each segment to create personalized marketing messages.

4. Poor analysis of conference survey results.

Many associations are missing out on great information, testimonials, marketing messages and ideas for the event because of poor strategies for reviewing attendee surveys.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Surveys need to be analyzed by someone in marketing.
  • There is greater potential for an honest look by having someone outside the organization analyze the results.

Additional trends

Marketing team dropping the ball.

Attendee survey results show that annual meetings provide members with tools and information that assists them with their daily activities and larger challenges. It is the responsibility of the marketing team to create messaging about the conference that informs members of how the content at the event will affect potential attendees.


Missing word of mouth.

Marketing has changed dramatically. Word of mouth and conversations are very important for consumers when making a purchasing decision. Associations are missing out on this opportunity by not using testimonials and social media to the fullest extent.


Late registration.

Attendees do not need to register early for various reasons. Marketing teams need to combat this by having a marketing push towards the end of registration time. Two areas of control for you to leverage: money and availability.


Attempting social media.

Associations of various sizes are tip toeing into social media and attempting to use it to supplement conference marketing. However, few are seeing conference attendance numbers to be affected by social media because the content being shared over social media platforms tends to be very informational. Also, there is a disconnect between the social media strategy, overall marketing messages and the members actual needs and wants.


The Big Picture

Low attendance is a symptom – not the problem. The problem is that organizations have a weak foundation because their three most important elements do not connect:

  1. Brand Guidelines
  2. Strategic Plan
  3. Conference

It’s a constant battle for organizations to ensure they align strategy, identity, and capacity with vision, mission and values. And, members can sense when they fail to do so. Low attendance is simply a symptom of a larger problem – the disconnect between the strategic plan, brand and conference.


The 2011 Solution

Dust off the organization’s strategic plan, create branding guidelines that define what the association stands for, and remember to incorporate the conference into the strategic plan and brand.

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Direct mail is not dead and social media is not the king

A recent study found that about 80% of consumers rely on multiple marketing channels when making a purchasing decision. Yet, many associations have come to rely solely on a single-channel approach. Just like a monotone speaker loses the attention of his audience, mono-channel marketing prevents your members from connecting with your message.The more you diversify your communication channel with your consumer, the better the impact.

Cross media marketing hits people from all sensory perspectives, and is more successful because it connects with members of varying learning styles. Some may be more likely to remember the information in a video, others from a letter, and still others from an online conversation.

We’re going to take a quick lesson in using social networking as a marketing tool and then discuss how to integrate it with other marketing channels.


How to use social networking

Listen

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make about social networking is jumping in with both feet before taking a look at what they are really jumping into. Just like we wouldn’t ask you to read our newsletters without first doing research to determine interesting topics, you will be wasting your members’ time if you don’t first listen to their needs.

Ask your members how they use social networking and what they enjoy about it. Also, use search features on Twitter, Facebook, Google’s Blog Search, Whos Talkin (www.whostalkin.com) and Social Mention (www.socialmention.com) to gather information on what people are saying about your organization and industry.

Goals

Set goals on what you hope to achieve through social networking. Some may be more vague, like increase brand awareness, but be sure to set some goals that you can measure (e.g. increases in web traffic).

Community

Target your community based on demographics, but also based on their interests and passions.

Strategy

Develop a social media strategy. You’re strategy should include all of the background information in the above steps, plus information on who is executing the plan, what support other staff members should provide, brand values and messages to be conveyed, and a schedule for evaluating success.

Content

Share valuable content. And please remember, we mean content that your audience finds valuable – not strictly what you think is important.

Be Real

People are not flocking to Facebook and Twitter to have conversations with robots. These sites are popular because we get to connect with human beings, so be real and use a human voice. Show empathy, humor, surprise….you know, emotions.

Oh, and measure!

How will you know if its working? You’ve got to measure and check in on ROI.


Three stages of social networking

When looking around at successful, struggling and failing social media efforts, we’ve discovered there are three stages of a social networking campaign: Inform, Drive, and Engage.

Stage 1: Inform

The inform stage is as clear as it sounds. You are simply informing your audience that you have various social networking accounts. This can be done by placing the links and icons on other pieces of communications like direct mail, the website, and email signatures. You are not yet asking members to follow, just letting them know you are there.

This is not a long-term strategy for success because you are likely still doing a lot of listening and not having any conversations in these channels, but it is a great place to start. To start to see value, you will need to move to the next stage, Drive.

3 ways to move from Inform to Drive:
  1. Join in on conversations you stumbled upon while conducting searches.
  2. Implement tactics developed after asking members how they use social networking and what they like about it.
  3. Develop a list of reasons for why members should follow you. Replace the links and icons you’ve been using on email signatures and the website with these “calls to action”.
Here are some examples:
  • “Follow us on Twitter for latest info & contests”
  • “Join our discussions on LinkedIn for great (free!) advice from industry leaders”
  • “Share our mission with your friends by following us on Facebook”

Stage 2: Drive

At this stage you’ve identified why your social media efforts are valuable to your members and you’re ready to get more followers. Your tweets, Facebook postings and LinkedIn updates continue to be very informative – who you are, what you are about and why you are in this social space. There may be an occasional conversation with followers.

To transform your social media efforts into an effective part of your marketing strategy, you must move on to the next stage, Engage.

3 ways to move from Drive to Engage:
  1. Promote information your followers share through RTs and link sharing.
  2. Join in on conversations your members are having in these channels.
  3. Adopt trends you see other successful social media users implementing (i.e. hash-tags, videos, news aggregators, trendy topics, etc).

Stage 3: Engage.

At this stage the organization is having open conversations with members through social media channels. The dialog is active and interesting to members. Not only are they responding to your Tweets and updates, but they are sharing them with their friends. Members who love social media will begin to use these channels as their primary source of communicating with you and getting information about events.

In this final stage, you will constantly be researching, connecting, embracing your brand, developing contests/promotions, building excitement and hopefully sharing content that will become viral.


Whatever stage you are at, you must integrate!

Social media is a hot topic these days. Partly because it is the new thing, and partly because companies are hoping a combination of social media and email marketing will eliminate the costs of printing.

People have been saying that direct mail is going to die because of social media. But, the same thing was said when we started using the telephone for mass communication, and the television, and email. While it has morphed, direct mail it is not yet dead.

Food for thought: The average consumer receives 14-15 emails from brands each day (which few people open up). The same consumers receive 16 pieces of advertising per week received via mail. This gives direct mail one advantage over email marketing.

However, to be truly successful at social networking and get worthwhile results, you must integrate it into your entire marketing and communications plan.

Integrating can be as simple as driving members to your social media channels with “calls to action” placed on email signatures and direct mail pieces. You can also integrate by tweeting or posting a LinkedIn Update about a direct mail piece or email newsletter that members are about to receive. (Many companies do something similar by emailing customers to keep an eye out for coupons in their mailbox.)

However, true integration (and marketing success) will occur when you leverage the best of all your marketing channels. By being in conversation with members through social networking you can receive real time feedback. Even the most avid social media user still prefers to have certain kinds of information collected in an email document, printed piece or an easy-to-access website.


2 ways to try cross media marketing:

Before, during and after your annual event, use social networking to ask members how they want to receive certain kinds of information. Is it helpful to be mailed a program guide, or would you rather be able to access that from the website?

Increase your effectiveness by giving members a multi-sensory experience when sending them marketing messages.

Use a Quick Response Code (QR Code) or Personalized URL (pURL) to lead a potential attendee to a website with a video, inspiring text and images, links to social media channels and a form to sign up for the email newsletter.

Direct mail is not dead and social media is not the king. Instead, they are both respectable components of a complete cross media marketing plan.

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All for one and one for all

The 3 most important elements of any organization.

It’s a constant battle for organizations to ensure they align strategy, identity, and capacity with vision, mission and values. More tension is added to that conflict as an organization grows during the good days, or shrinks during challenging times. There are three living elements that must reside in unity within an association or non-profit.

Strategic Plan
Branding
Conference (Annual Meeting)

If these foundations don’t reside and work well together, there will be a disconnect in the eyes of the members. For example, if your strategic plan mentions being open and transparent to cultivate community, but you fail to express that at the conference, your members will see that and lose trust in you. All too often we see organizations stress the importance of “supporting” their members, yet they fail to apply (or, even read) the feedback gathered after the annual event. We also see strategic plans focus on reaching out to younger professionals, yet the association executives only listen to the highly engaged members.

The disconnect from goal to execution can easily be identified by members and it will turn them away faster than bad service or a nasty meal.


From the inside looking out

Over the past year, we’ve been conducting Conference Marketing Audits. This has given us great insight into how associations of various sizes operate, why they experience success and why they experience failure.

We’ve been promoting ways to increase conference attendance, but these audits have shown us that everyone (including us) needs to take a step back from day-to-day operations and look at the bigger picture.

Low attendance is simply a symptom of a larger problem – the disconnect between the strategic plan, brand and conference.

We’ve yet to come across an organization that is effectively connecting the values, mission and vision of the strategic plan to the brand, and then to the conference. What we’re proposing is that an organization must view these three elements as one. Although each is distinctly valuable all three are related and must work together to shape the organization as a whole. The strategic plan, brand guidelines and positioning statement for the conference should be bound together in the same notebook and placed at every desk in the office.


Strategic Plan

First off, the Strategic Plan (Go To Manual) is not just for the board members. It should be shared with every staff member – especially the marketing department. Seriously, how can any one develop a successful marketing plan, if they don’t know which way to drive the organization (or how fast)?

Tips for dusting off your strategic plan:
  • Hold monthly or quarterly reviews of the strategic plan and how the organization is achieving the goals.
  • Creatively display the mission, vision and values throughout the office. You could even make fun, engaging pieces that staff members would want to display at their desk.
  • Explain to staff members what the strategic plan means, why it is important to their department and how their job is affected by it.

As the strategic plan grows to include everyone in the organization, it should also grow to include the brand and conference. Why are these important in relation to the values and mission? What goals need to be set for the conference? How will those goals be measured and reached?

It baffles us to no end that the largest live gathering, the heartbeat of the organization, is not mentioned in the strategic plan or embraced in your branding.


Branding

Your brand is a promise delivered.

A brand represents a set of values to the world through actions and words. It states what you stand for and lets members know they can count on you to meet those defined expectations.

The branding guidelines are what brings the brand to the office.

If you want to be successful at fulfilling your mission, your brand guidelines can’t be a list of marching orders and dos and don’ts on how to use the logo. Instead, it must be what the association stands for and the brand pillars that capture the gut feeling of your members. This is where it is important to have conversations with members and conduct surveys.

We understand how hard it can be to dig through feedback and be subjective after you’ve been in the association for several years. Eventually, you will have engaged with members long enough that you will develop a sense of what they need and want, which means you may think it would be a waste of time to read survey results. However, this step is so vital to understanding the members’ gut feeling that it warrants careful review and analysis of the feedback.

As you can see, the brand guidelines are connected to the conference, not just in how logos and fonts are used for the marketing, but also through measuring how members feel about the association. And, its not hard to see how that should play into the strategic plan as well.


Conference

The conference is the largest touchpoint of your brand.

Essentially, your conference should be the essence of your brand. A member’s experience at the conference will determine their gut feeling about the organization. Which is why you must gather feedback at the event, read it and apply it. Let it refine the strategic plan and the brand guidelines.

Also, the conference goals should be part of the strategic plan and shared with everyone in the organization. When a goal has been set, share it with everyone. Then provide feedback as they reach toward the goal.

How are you doing?

Dust off your organization’s strategic plan, create branding guidelines that define what you stand for, and remember to incorporate the conference into the strategic plan and brand.

  • How does your organization’s marketing fulfill the essence of the plan?
  • How are core values expressed in emails to members?
  • How is the organization’s mission fulfilled through pre-conference marketing?

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6 Guiding Principles

Follow the Golden Rules for golden results

Remember the golden days when organizations had unrestricted budgets for sending employees away to conferences. All you had to do was quietly mention your conference and boom! Sold out. It hasn’t been since the 90’s that associations have had to re-think event marketing. But, the world has changed drastically and if you don’t adapt, your organization is going to become irrelevant.

But, how do you keep up with the times and still hold on to the values of your organization?

At a recent conference we saw some marketing directors from various associations fail at this challenge during a conversation that paralleled the kind of peer pressure occurring at middle schools. A marketing director from an association was guilted into signing up for Twitter by marketing experts from other associations. Ignoring her knowledge that her members do not use social media and without considering the nature of that industry these marketing “experts” rallied together to pressure her into starting a Twitter account for the association.

We’re going to bet that her instincts were correct and that Twitter is not popular among professionals in that industry. Imagine the time and money she is going waste on launching a Twitter account that will have little to no engagement.

What could have saved her in this moment of peer pressure?

A set of marketing principles….like the ones we’ve laid out for you in the newsletter!

These guiding principles can keep you focused on fulfilling an organization’s mission and goals, while remaining relevant. These essential truths will keep your organization on target for fulfilling your mission and goals – while navigating trends, social media, economic changes and cultural shifts.


Principle 1.

We should use social networking to reach out to attendees. We will learn new ways of communicating through social networking to engage in meaningful, effective conversations with individuals before, during and after the conference.

Everyone is jumping on the social media bandwagon. That’s fine – it’s popular, it’s fun and it’s a great way to communicate with attendees….well, at least that is what we believed until we looked at how associations are using social media.

Page after page of uninspiring content and no engagement from followers. It comes as no surprise that these associations are not getting anyone to register for their events from Facebook or Twitter.

So, what can you do?

Look at the demographics of your target audience. Then do a little research to discover which social media platforms they are using and how they are engaging on social media. It may be that members in your association love using Facebook – but only for keeping up with friends and family. If that’s true, then investing in Facebook will be a waste of time.

Tips:
  • Ask the highly engaged members and regular attendees how they use social media, personally and professionally.
  • Brainstorm with members to get an idea of the content they’d like to receive from the organization via social media and which discussions they would help kick-start online.
  • Review our guide to measuring social media ROI

Principle 2.

We accept that late registration is a fact, not a trend. We will not ignore cultural shifts. Instead we will work with them to make our marketing plan even stronger and more effective. Adding new means of communication and changing the schedule of communication are musts.

You have to embrace it. Don’t freak out.

Late registration is a side effect of making it easy for people to register. And, with the economic challenges we face today – they are more likely to wait until the last minute to register.

This isn’t true for everyone. Your hardcore attendees and the very involved members will sign up every year. But, will they alone support the growth necessary to increase attendance and membership retention? Likely not. You need to get the other members more engaged. These are the ones you are after to make the conference a greater success.

So, what can you do?

You have two sources of power to influence potential attendees to register early. Money and availability. The traditional early bird discount is how you can use money to influence. As for influencing through your power of availability. You can limit certain sessions to people who register early. This will add urgency to the process and communicated how much you value the content of the event.

A more radical option is to replace the early bird kick-off with a late registration push. Yes, that will make your job a little tougher. But, what’s more important to you – an easy work day or giving potential attendees what they need in order to boost attendance?

Tip:
  • Reach out to the needs of all segments of your target audience.

Principle 3.

We should promote value over venue when developing a conference marketing plan. We will position ourselves as experts with valuable resources and information to share with like-minded professionals, instead of positioning ourselves as tour guides. Through multi-media and strategic communication we will educate potential attendees on why they should attend.

Promoting the venue over the value of the conference is a cop-out. It’s not in the best interest of the association or members, and its definitely failing at your job because you are not talking about the value of the event. There has to be something more members can gain from attending your event other than visiting a great city.

So, what do you do?

For anyone who may disagree, we are not suggesting that you omit the conference location from all marketing pieces. Yes, please tell them where the conference is occurring and a few area attractions that may make their trip enjoyable.

We’re simply saying that the venue should not be promoted as the primary benefit for attending your event. Value first.

Tip:
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Use imagery that captures the value of the event, not just the venue’s most popular sites.

Principle 4.

We perceive that conference marketing is one arm of an organization’s holistic messaging for fulfilling their mission. We embrace conference marketing efforts that will enhance an organization’s strategic messaging and fit within the organization’s overall goals.

Most organizations have some sort of strategic plan that guides them towards specific goals and fulfilling their mission. However, conference marketing must give association executives amnesia because they completely forget about the organization’s strategic plan when promoting their largest event of the year.

The huge disconnect between the powerful strategic plan and an association’s branding guidelines.

Just like the strategic plan, branding guidelines should be a living document that ties back to the organization’s goals and purpose.

It is a complete failure if the plan for marketing the annual event is list of rules on font and logo usage. Let’s get this straight, branding guidelines are not a list of rules about fonts, pictures and colors, no more than parenting is a list of house rules about curfews and putting away toys. Branding guidelines must capture the essence of the association, which in turn affects the event. They are pillars of how the largest in-person meeting of the year fulfills the organization’s mission.

We see poorly defined branding guidelines all the time…and the failures that come from it. If brand guidelines are really just a list of rules, then of course the only thing to rely on is the venue. Thus begins the transformation from association guru to travel agent, and the abundance of marketing materials with pretty pictures of D.C., Nashville or whatever city has been picked for the venue.

So, what do you do?

Grab a copy of your organization’s strategic plan and get ready to examine your navel….your branding guidelines. How does the conference help fulfill the mission? Why is the event important when you look at the big picture?

Immediately you’ll realize the value of the conference. A story will form that will give potential attendees a “gut feeling” about what you’re all about.

Tips:
  • Promote the new sections/sessions as being up-to-date and relevant content for your members.
  • Use testimonials from previous years to help tell the story.
  • Create brand guidelines that connect the organization’s strategic plan to conference marketing efforts. (i.e. our goal to be the place professionals come for the latest in industry trends means our email marketing campaign must promote breakout sessions that are lead by industry leaders)

Principle 5.

We believe that a marketing plan is a schedule of strategic activities that will guide behavior. We will achieve conference marketing success by following a roadmap that leads to a desired destination. We affirm that a marketing plan is a well-researched strategic map that addresses the role, appearance and tracking of all marketing efforts.

You have reached a fork in the road as the path you are on divides into two roads. The road on the left forgoes the use of data and surveys. It leads you to brochures and emails with pretty pictures of the conference location. It is easier and familiar. It involves some Googling and chatting with the nice lady at the tourism office.

The road on the left worked in attracting some people – not as many as last year, but what do you expect with the economy. The road to the right takes you the way of using survey results and data to create a marketing plan designed to guide behavior.

It is a more challenging and a longer journey, but along the way you meet new members, hear stories of how attendees implement what they learned at previous conferences, and find out why some members did not attend last year’s event.

The road to the right results in the birth of new ideas for promoting the event, more member engagement during the marketing campaign and an increase in conference attendance.

As an added bonus, membership retention numbers are also on the climb!

You must adhere to this principle or you’ll be marketing venue over value with pretty pictures instead of real, valuable content. Ultimately whatever crowd that does draw, is not one that will stick around – they will just as easily leave your nice venues for another. CRASH! There goes your retention rates, too.

So, what do you do?

Survey previous attendees about past conferences. Then use this data to help formulate a plan that will help the unaware, inspire the interested and reassure the intent.

Tips:
  • Learn something new by surveying members other than the ones you see at every event.
  • Talk to members who received marketing materials, but did not attend.

Principle 6.

We should recognize that doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is foolish. We will not engage thinking that supports ineffective habits. We will transform our habits and works based on research, the audience’s needs, and our vision. We will test our efforts to ensure that we are putting energy into projects that produce quantitative results.

Look around, do you see companies using the same marketing tactics with the launch of every product? No, its different. Apple is a great example. Their marketing evolves with cultural shifts, but also with the product they are promoting. The marketing for an iPod, iPhone and Apple computers are completely different from each other, yet, each one captures the essence of what the product has to offer the target audience.

Your marketing must evolve.

If you are doing it the same way every year, that is why you are seeing the drastic drops in attendance and retention rates. Yes, the economy has affected things, but your inability to adapt is the real reason why attendance and retention rates are dropping.

So, what can you do?

Tell a story through testimonials. A simple testimonial about how the content of the event affected an attendee’s work can add freshness to the marketing campaign. An interview with an attendee about what they took from the conference and how they implemented it in their work will go a long ways in promoting the value of your event and organization.

Tip:
  • Follow an individual (through a blog, Facebook page, Twitter, etc) while at the conference. And, then go “home” with them to show how they implemented the new information, tools and resources they picked up at the event.

Congrats! You’ve made it to the end of newsletter!

In addition to the great stuff we just shared with you, enjoy an RCG exclusive deal.

Conference brand mark special!

RCG will develop a conference brand mark unique to your organization and event. The brand mark will be based on the principles shared with you in this newsletter. Instead of a cookie-cutter logo, you’ll have a brand mark that expresses who you are and the value of your event. Includes an animated video file that can be used for online marketing. Available for $1200 to first THREE* people who respond to this email.

*Three winners will be awarded a brand mark during October 2010. Void where prohibited. Limited time offer. Employees, vendors, current clients are not eligible.

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Glanced at, tossed and forgotten?

Little, three word statements can get you in trouble. Take “I love you”, for instance. Said too soon, too often, not enough, or not at all can sink a relationship. How about every kid’s favorite: “Clean your room!” An allowance might be withheld, a cell phone might be held hostage, or, in an extreme case, piles of stuff might be shoveled in the trash can if mom’s forceful request is ignored.

Then there are the three word statements that cause you to do the exact opposite of their intention. “Walk, don’t run!” is a command that is pretty much impossible for little kids to obey when they’re excited. “Nothing new here” and “Pay no attention,” on the other hand, immediately piques curiosity. Obviously, you are hiding something and I’d like to know what. Telling Dorothy and her friends to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain didn’t work for the Wizard of Oz after Toto unveiled him, and it won’t work for you either.

Finally we come to “Save the date,” a favorite of event planners. Use that often? If you do, cease, desist, stop immediately! Those are probably the three most overused words in event planning, and using them is the best way to make a bad first impression.

Think about it: you have 3 seconds to make a good first impression. Three! A quick glance is all a person needs to form an opinion. Once that impression has been made, it’s nearly impossible to undo. Show up for a first date in a favorite outfit that makes you feel like a million bucks with your hair and makeup just so and a huge smile plastered to your face, and you are already one step towards a second date. Enter the shabby, dreary lobby of what was billed as a boutique hotel, and you might walk right out and seek accommodations elsewhere—and then tell the readers of Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Zagat about it.

Save the date notices that simply list the date and venue are tired, overused, and totally ineffective. They immediately send the message that there’s no need to rush, no need to do anything right now, no need to take action because more information is coming…eventually. Your save the date notice is glanced at, tossed, and forgotten. What kind of first impression is your “save the date” notice making for your organization’s big event?

Whether you are attempting to make a good first impression in your career or social life, it’s very important to know how to create one every time. This article will provide a few useful tips on how to do just that when planning an event. As they like to say, a picture is worth a thousand words. With extra thought and preparation, your picture—or event marketing materials, in this case—could be worth a thousand and one words.


The First Impression

In this day and age, everything is interactive. To grab someone’s attention and leave a really great first impression, you need to wow them, engage them, get them talking. Social media is everywhere these days, and for good reason. With it, you can start a conversation with your audience, whoever and wherever they are. People are not numbers anymore; they’re not a boring set of statistics and demographic information laid out in a chart. They’re individuals with personalities, and you want to offer them substance, value, excitement and a positive impression of your brand.

Making a good first impression relies on three little rules rather than three little words. When you are planning an event, your marketing materials must:

  • Promote the event’s value
  • Inspire the unaware
  • Enhance the brand

Promote the event’s value

Use common sense when making that first impression. You need to answer these important questions: Why should I attend your event? What new things will I learn, see, do? What is available to me at this event that I cannot find or get elsewhere? Basically, what’s in it for me?


Inspire the unaware to attend

Be thought-provoking and inspirational in your messaging, especially during these days when everyone is doing more with less: less time, less people, less money. Make a strong argument for why someone should leave the busy day-to-day of their jobs to go to your event. What will be new, fun, interactive, a once-in-a-blue-moon experience? How was last year’s event such a smashing success, and what will make this year’s better?


Enhance the brand

Put on your strategy hat and remember that you’re not selling an event, you’re selling an entire brand experience.

You’re event adds value to your brand, and you’re putting on this event so members will think more highly of your brand.

After all, your ultimate goal is to ensure attendees become members, renew their membership, or increase their donation, not because you like to throw a big party.

This is a great quote that I read somewhere, and I am sorry I don’t remember where, but it’s very apropos to this discussion: “Your event should be a memorable experience that adds value to your brand, but if your first impression is of the same old-same old, then what is that really doing?”

You need to do something new, so break out of your box, ditch the playbook, and approach your event with fresh eyes. Armen Gharabegian, CEO of Design Ethos in LA, contributed some relevant advice in a column that appeared in Corporate Events Magazine. He really stressed the impact your event has on your brand. We couldn’t agree more. If the marketing materials you use before, during, and after the event look the same every year, your organization looks irrelevant, out of touch, stodgy, and boring. But don’t just focus on the design and how your brand looks; the content matters even more. Your marketing materials must resonate with people and tell your brand’s story.

Gharabegian also urges you to think about the key takeaways of your event: How will you get your attendees to remember the information you are sharing with them? Encircle your attendees in messaging that drives home those points. What emotions do you want to trigger? Go beyond a new look and message in your signage and staging; take it to the flooring, seating, walls, ceiling. Incorporate everything into your branding efforts.

Making a great first impression while planning your event starts with thought, preparation, and relevance. In those three, very fast seconds someone spends glancing at your event marketing materials, pull out all the stops to grab their attention. By adding inspiration, excitement, and value, and your brand will grow and flourish.

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Last year, associations saw a 25-50% to drop in conference attendance. Surveys show the outlook for this year isn't much better. Yet we're seeing associations use the same approach to marketing their conference year after year. That’s like writing your own one-way ticket to failure! If you're reusing the same tired strategies and hoping that people will attend, then we have news for you: Hope alone doesn't sell seats at a conference. People who have attended in the past and see the same marketing approach will assume that you're spitting out the same info as the year before. And for those who haven't attended, well, if your marketing pieces didn't win them over last year, then why would this year be any different? Here's another dose of tough love: associations like yours are feeling the pinch both from the economy and from social media, which is breaking down geographic barriers and allowing like-minded people to connect without shelling out for a conference. Don't believe us? Just look at SuperComm, which was one of the biggest technology trade shows in the early 2000s with over 50,000 attendees in 2001. Attendance dropped to 6,400 last year and the two associations that sponsor the trade show decided to cancel the 2010 event altogether. When members don't attend your conference, it's reflects poorly on your association's brand, which can translate to poor member retention. The fact is that associations planning conferences need to do more with fewer resources and fewer staff people in order to survive in this dog-eat-dog climate. And the secret to getting more bang for that hard-earned buck can be summed up in two simple words: BRAND EXPERIENCE. So, what is this elusive brand experience? A positive brand experience reinforces your association's reputation and strengthens relationships with your members. When they log onto the conference website or get a postcard and see something memorable that conveys passion for your organization, that's a positive brand experience. It's a gut feeling, like love at first sight. (OK, let's not get too carried away.) The experience reignites members' interest and inspires them to attend the conference. It might also inspire them to become your brand ambassador and share the info with an unaware colleague. Score! OK, smart guys. So, how can we create a good brand experience? First, don't think about how that postcard or website or banner should look. Think about the feelings it should create and the actions it should motivate. Do you want members to think, "wow, this is exactly what I need to take our fundraising to the next level! I'm going to register right now!"? Or maybe, "this medical conference could connect me with important researchers – why haven't I gone before?" Notice that in both of these instances the branding experience is effective, because it speaks to the members' needs and plays up the value of attendance. Being different is all well and good, but it's more important to be relevant to members. In the first case, our friendly fundraising professional needs to learn some new strategies. He gets a postcard in the mail, checks out the website, and *BAM* he's sold! It helps wth a need for him, because the association understands its members and created an easy-to-navigate site that content that's useful to them. The other hypothetical attendee gets her needs met, because the association emphasizes the connections that members can make to boost their research. They chose a story that resonates with her, and it worked! Wait! How do we figure out what our members really want? If only it were as easy as Mel Gibson made it look in What Women Want. It takes some time to get inside your members' heads, but that time is an investment that will pay off down the road. Remember, building a successful and sustainable brand isn't a sprint to the finish line. It's a marathon that never quite ends, because your brand needs to evolve over time as needs change and the marketplace changes. Here's how to examine your members' needs: Look at your current members – Why did they join? What do they get out of membership? What social media platforms do they use? What will motive them to renew? Look at the kind of new members you want to reach – What keeps them from joining your association or attending your conference? What needs are not being met? Look inward to your organization – Are you already doing great things that nobody knows about? That could be part of your brand's promise! Look at competitors to see how they position themselves – What resonates with their members? What doesn't? You can't possibly talk to every single member, so you'll need to extrapolate information from those you do reach. Then you can create personas that speak to their needs and help you hone in on a branding strategy. I'm passionate and I think I understand members' needs. How do I communicate that? 

 Hiring a skywriter to fly over a major sporting event usually does the trick for us. Just kidding! Use this checklist to ensure that your conference materials reflect the right message and fulfill the appropriate needs. What story are you telling? What problems are you solving? What needs are you meeting? Are you including a clear call to action? Do you encourage open communications with your members? Are you promoting value over venue? What unique attributes of your product or service distinguishes your conference? All of these areas are related, but they point back to numero uno: storytelling. Find the right story to tell and the appropriate actions, problems, and needs will become crystal clear. And if you do a really good job solving the right problem and telling the right story, then members will be so jazzed they'll tell your story, too, perhaps using tools like email, blogs, and Twitter. All the more reason for your association to embrace these tools, too. But remember that the story should focus on the value attendees will get out of your conference, not all the cool amenities of your conference venue. Over the years, we've seen a few too many associations get caught up in promoting the venue to the exclusion of their conference, which creates brand conflict and confusion. Conference venues have their own marketing staff; it's your job to find the unique selling point of your conference and share that story. But isn't good branding expensive? Conferences and other events offer you an opportunity to engage members, reaching out to unaware prospects and strengthening the bond with existing members so they'll renew membership. In fact, a 2009 survey of senior marketing and sales executives found that respondents believe event marketing is the channel that provides the greatest return on investment. Of course, that's assuming that you create a strong, memorable brand for the event. But you don't need fireworks or skywriting to lure attendees. Focus your conference design and marketing on the purpose of the event and the brand experience you want to convey. When marketing choices are strategic, everything supports the brand, ensuring that nothing is wasted. It also gives your association the best return on investment possible. Besides, the alternative (laziness or just plain bad branding) will cost your association even more. Low attendance translates to lost revenue, lost members, and, in some cases, lost jobs.
Last year, associations saw a 25-50% to drop in conference attendance.

Surveys show the outlook for this year isn’t much better. Yet we’re seeing associations use the same approach to marketing their conference year after year.

That’s like writing your own one-way ticket to failure!

If you’re reusing the same tired strategies and hoping that people will attend, then we have news for you: Hope alone doesn’t sell seats at a conference. People who have attended in the past and see the same marketing approach will assume that you’re spitting out the same info as the year before. And for those who haven’t attended, well, if your marketing pieces didn’t win them over last year, then why would this year be any different?

Here’s another dose of tough love: associations like yours are feeling the pinch both from the economy and from social media, which is breaking down geographic barriers and allowing like-minded people to connect without shelling out for a conference.

Don’t believe us? Just look at SuperComm, which was one of the biggest technology trade shows in the early 2000s with over 50,000 attendees in 2001. Attendance dropped to 6,400 last year and the two associations that sponsor the trade show decided to cancel the 2010 event altogether. When members don’t attend your conference, it’s reflects poorly on your association’s brand, which can translate to poor member retention.

The fact is that associations planning conferences need to do more with fewer resources and fewer staff people in order to survive in this dog-eat-dog climate. And the secret to getting more bang for that hard-earned buck can be summed up in two simple words: BRAND EXPERIENCE.

So, what is this elusive brand experience?

A positive brand experience reinforces your association’s reputation and strengthens relationships with your members.

When they log onto the conference website or get a postcard and see something memorable that conveys passion for your organization, that’s a positive brand experience. It’s a gut feeling, like love at first sight. (OK, let’s not get too carried away.)

The experience reignites members’ interest and inspires them to attend the conference. It might also inspire them to become your brand ambassador and share the info with an unaware colleague. Score!


OK, smart guys. So, how can we create a good brand experience?

First, don’t think about how that postcard or website or banner should look. Think about the feelings it should create and the actions it should motivate. Do you want members to think, “wow, this is exactly what I need to take our fundraising to the next level! I’m going to register right now!”? Or maybe, “this medical conference could connect me with important researchers – why haven’t I gone before?”

Notice that in both of these instances the branding experience is effective, because it speaks to the members’ needs and plays up the value of attendance. Being different is all well and good, but it’s more important to be relevant to members.

In the first case, our friendly fundraising professional needs to learn some new strategies. He gets a postcard in the mail, checks out the website, and BAM he’s sold! It helps wth a need for him, because the association understands its members and created an easy-to-navigate site that content that’s useful to them. The other hypothetical attendee gets her needs met, because the association emphasizes the connections that members can make to boost their research. They chose a story that resonates with her, and it worked!


Wait! How do we figure out what our members really want?

If only it were as easy as Mel Gibson made it look in What Women Want. It takes some time to get inside your members’ heads, but that time is an investment that will pay off down the road. Remember, building a successful and sustainable brand isn’t a sprint to the finish line. It’s a marathon that never quite ends, because your brand needs to evolve over time as needs change and the marketplace changes.

Here’s how to examine your members’ needs:
  • Look at your current members – Why did they join? What do they get out of membership? What social media platforms do they use? What will motive them to renew?
  • Look at the kind of new members you want to reach – What keeps them from joining your association or attending your conference? What needs are not being met?
  • Look inward to your organization – Are you already doing great things that nobody knows about? That could be part of your brand’s promise!
  • Look at competitors to see how they position themselves – What resonates with their members? What doesn’t?

You can’t possibly talk to every single member, so you’ll need to extrapolate information from those you do reach. Then you can create personas that speak to their needs and help you hone in on a branding strategy.

I’m passionate and I think I understand members’ needs. How do I communicate that?

Hiring a skywriter to fly over a major sporting event usually does the trick for us. Just kidding! Use this checklist to ensure that your conference materials reflect the right message and fulfill the appropriate needs.

  • What story are you telling?
  • What problems are you solving?
  • What needs are you meeting?
  • Are you including a clear call to action?
  • Do you encourage open communications with your members?
  • Are you promoting value over venue?
  • What unique attributes of your product or service distinguishes your conference?

All of these areas are related, but they point back to numero uno: storytelling.

Find the right story to tell and the appropriate actions, problems, and needs will become crystal clear.

And if you do a really good job solving the right problem and telling the right story, then members will be so jazzed they’ll tell your story, too, perhaps using tools like email, blogs, and Twitter. All the more reason for your association to embrace these tools, too.

But remember that the story should focus on the value attendees will get out of your conference, not all the cool amenities of your conference venue. Over the years, we’ve seen a few too many associations get caught up in promoting the venue to the exclusion of their conference, which creates brand conflict and confusion. Conference venues have their own marketing staff; it’s your job to find the unique selling point of your conference and share that story.


But isn’t good branding expensive?

Conferences and other events offer you an opportunity to engage members, reaching out to unaware prospects and strengthening the bond with existing members so they’ll renew membership. In fact, a 2009 survey of senior marketing and sales executives found that respondents believe event marketing is the channel that provides the greatest return on investment. Of course, that’s assuming that you create a strong, memorable brand for the event.

But you don’t need fireworks or skywriting to lure attendees. Focus your conference design and marketing on the purpose of the event and the brand experience you want to convey. When marketing choices are strategic, everything supports the brand, ensuring that nothing is wasted. It also gives your association the best return on investment possible.

Besides, the alternative (laziness or just plain bad branding) will cost your association even more. Low attendance translates to lost revenue, lost members, and, in some cases, lost jobs.

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Sharing Tweets through TwitterFountain

You may remember a few months ago in an edition of WhiteSpace we shared with you the Top 5 Reasons You Should Twitter Your Annual Meeting:

  • Keep non-attendees informed on conference happenings.
  • Keep attendees better informed about the day’s schedule.
  • See the conference from a different perspective.
  • Inspire non-attendees to attend next year.
  • Stay connected to members.

(If you don’t remember, or you’re a new reader check out our newsletter.)

Now we’ve found a very cool, and easy-to-use tool for sharing all of those tweets. TwitterFountain is a Twitter application that pulls together tweets that contain a chosen keyword or hashtag. It also pulls in images from Flickr with a chosen tag.

If we ditch the geek-speak, this means you can have a constantly updating application on your website or blog that shows all tweets and Flickr images related to a certain topic….such as your annual conference.

Here is a TwitterFountain we quickly set up to show tweets containing the phrase “charitytuesday”, and Flickr images tagged “conference attendees”:

In just a few minutes we’ve created a communication tool with real-time updates. Imagine how useful (and fun) this could be for your annual conference.

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3 Ways to Collect Feedback Online

One thing that most of your members, conference attendees and website visitors have in common is that they want to have their say. They want to give their opinion and know they’ve been heard. And, if you don’t respond, the world is full of organizations or businesses who will.

Here are three tools that can help you gather info that will be helpful in making future decisions about event planning, marketing, and publications.


1. YackTrack.com

YackTrack is a free-to-use search engine. Focused on online conversations, YackTrack searches Twitter, Technorati, Google Blog Search, Flickr, Mixx, delicious, Identica and more. After completing a search, you can subscribe to an RSS feed to read new chatter about your search topic as it is posted.


2. GetSatisfaction.com

GetSatisfaction is more tailored for businesses, but it can still be useful to organizations. The website allows individuals to report problems or complaints with a product or service. Setting up a free account could provide a great space for conference attendees to be honest about their experience at your most recent conference. Association staff members can then respond over the site.


3. SurveyMonkey.com

SurveyMonkey is an online survey tool, that allows you to plug in your own set of questions, pick your industry, set your parameters and then get instant results. The service is free for up to 100 survey responses.

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What happened in '09, stays in '09

Let’s leave behind the nightmares of low conference attendance in 2009, and embrace the hopefulness of 2010. I think we can all say that we are glad 2009 is gone. The economy has affected our jobs, lifestyles, retirement funds, and our level of stress.

Articles are popping up all over the place about how various industries survived 2009. From real estate to retail, industry leaders are reflecting on last year and making hopeful projections for 2010.

Yet, there is a different tone in the world of events and conferences.

We’re gonna guess that you saw a drop in attendance for your annual conference, because we recently read a survey which reported that 71% of associations saw a decrease in conference attendance in 2009. And, some associations saw a decrease of close to 50%!

Very gloomy news. But, the most disturbing part of this survey, completed by various association executives, was that 41% do not expect anything to change in 2010, and 20% expect attendance to decrease again!

At a time when most industries have professionals who are willing to make changes to be successful, association executives seem satisfied to sit back and just let another year of poor conference attendance come and go.

We think that is a lousy way to head into a new year. Instead, we are going to reveal more about what happened in 2009 and identify some conference marketing failures that can be corrected to help make 2010 a successful year for conference attendance.


And the survey says…

(Pull out your stats from 2009 to see how you compare with the association that participated in this survey.)

Here’s the review of 2009 Annual Conferences:
Attendance was down, sponsorships and exhibitor attendance dropped, some organizations faced attrition penalties, and a few had to cancel their largest, annual meeting.

  • 72% of respondents said overall attendance was down
  • 36% said attendance was down 20-50 percent
  • 75% said exhibitor and sponsor attendance was down
  • 42% paid or owned attrition penalties
  • 72% had to renegotiate with suppliers because of decreased attendance

It’s not fun stuff, and we don’t get why anyone would want to have a repeat of that in 2010. Yet, the projections for 2010 based on this survey say just that.


62% of respondents expect to have the same or smaller attendance in 2010

Yes, 2009 was a bummer, but it is time to get over it, fix the problems and have a successful year.

  • Examining how you promoted the event is a great place to identify some solutions that could increase attendance. Check out our newsletter Positioning Your Annual Conference for Greater Attendance to get started. www.rottmancreative.com/positioning
  • Developing new strategies for member retention and conference attendance are a must during a recession.

65% expect exhibitor and sponsor attendance to stay the same or decrease

Weak attendance and suffering sponsorships and exhibit halls hurt the overall value of the conference because attendees have few networking opportunities. Its the start of a nasty cycle that keeps feeding into the death of your annual conference.

  • The quality of an exhibit hall can greatly impact the conference value and attendance. Crowdsourcing is a great way to ensure that you are pulling in the right vendors. www.rottmancreative.com/crowdsourcing

86% plan to renegotiate with suppliers to makeup for attendance shortfalls

It worked in 2009, so why not try it again? Over 60 percent of respondents renegotiated with hotels and venues by promising to bring future business. Yet, what kind of business are you bringing them if with each event you have to renegotiate because of declining attendance? We think your time would be better spent developing a new marketing plan to help increase attendance, instead of letting this defeatist mentality take over as you plan for failure.


Nearly 40% will work with Convention & Visitors Bureau to market destinations

Before you make the switch in careers to a travel agent, let’s look at how the travel industry is doing.

A survey from Allstate showed that 50% of Americans cut back on their vacation budgets for 2009. But, not everyone did so because of lack of funds. Many did so because it seemed to not be a necessity. When it came down to it, vacations lost their value. Also, just like your office, there have been cutbacks, people are more stressed and tired. Who has time and energy to even plan a vacation, let alone actually take one?

So, maybe the idea of picking a great event location and marketing it, isn’t such a great idea after all.

  • Instead of marketing the destination, associations need to promote the value of the event.

82% plan to increase e-mail promotion

Um, we can’t believe we actually have to say this, but sending 20 poorly-planned and poorly-executed e-mails, instead the 10 poorly-planned e-mails sent last year will not increase conference attendance.

  • Instead of communicating more, how about communicating better? Integrating e-mail marketing and direct mail is a great place to start. Check out our newsletter with tips on how to get started. www.rottmancreative.com/content458

71% will use social media to promote meetings

Well, just like increasing e-mail marketing, social media will not increase attendance or sponsorship if there is not a solid strategy backing it up. Tweeting “We’re going to have a conference in beautiful Austin, TX” will not benefit you at all.

  • There are two essential tools you need before implementing social media into your marketing plan: a social media strategy and a social media policy.

46% will create campaigns specific to each attendee segment the organization services

Brilliant! This is exactly what we love to see associations doing, and we would love to work with any group that is thinking this way. We expect them to have great success next year and have an increase in their conference attendance. Congrats!

  • One group that deserves to have their own messaging is the younger members in your association.

It’s time for a new game plan.

You knew it was going to be a tough year. But, you picked a great venue, decent speakers, got the best deal for the hotel that you could and followed your standard marketing plan to the tee.

Yet, no one showed up. Well, it’s no surprise to us – and it shouldn’t be for you either. And, the same thing will happen in 2010 if you don’t take action to change.

When the world is against you, you have to step up your game. There is a lot that you can’t control – like budgets, cutbacks and increasing travel costs. But, there is a lot you can control – like, effective marketing that promotes your event as a unique offering.

It’s time to step up and fix the problems in your marketing plan, and let the nightmares of ’09 stay where they belong….in the past.

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Integrating Direct Mail and Online Marketing

Tips for correctly integrating direct mail and online marketing to increase conference attendance.

As social networking has become more popular, the science of social media marketing has evolved. In fact, if you Google “social media marketing”, you will be overwhelmed with tips, how-to videos, case studies and sales pitches. But, like many professionals you may wonder, with all of that information, how do you decide what is valuable and will really work?

The big secret to effective social media marketing is to view it as a new strategy to integrate into your existing marketing plan.

Much like how advertising and marketing changed when homes across the nation started arranging their living rooms around a TV, you must consider how to adapt to consumers spending hours each day at their computers. It is a new avenue for communicating with your audience. And, it is more dynamic than other marketing tools because it allows consumers to talk back and share info with their friends, family and colleagues.

To demonstrate how to effectively and tastefully integrate social media marketing into existing marketing plans, we are going to break down the specifics of combining direct mail and social networking for association conference marketing. This can be tricky since direct mail tends to be a push oriented message, and most social media marketing takes the pull approach. We are going to focus on increasing visibility and awareness by integrating social media/networking, such as:

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Blog

Specifically, we are going to discuss integrating those channels of communication with the standard save-the-date notification and the conference overview piece.

Plan, plan and then plan some more.

Before we fill your head with lots of wonderful ideas, we must stress the importance of scheduling each marketing effort for integration into the overall plan. Poor planning can take a perfectly fine message and make it seem fragmented and confusing.

Tips for planning an integrated direct mail and social media marketing schedule:
  • Create a calendar that you can easily reference. It should include a date for every single marketing effort from direct mail to tweets.
  • Plan corresponding messages for each direct mail piece and social networking effort/announcement, such as including a blurb about Twitter on the save-the-date card.
  • Start with what you know best. If you are more familiar with direct mail pieces should be scheduled to go out, start there and then fill in social networking.
  • Content strategy for social networking and print pieces should be planned before anything is published to your audience.

Time to execute: Save-the-Date postcards.

The easiest place to start with integrating direct mail and social media are the save-the-date notifications, whether they are a postcard or email.

Before:

A couple of days before the save-the-date notifications are sent, make postings on Facebook and LinkedIn that will be visible to association members and others who may be interested in the conference. The post can be short and sweet with a link to a video featuring highlights and testimonials from the previous year’s event.

Here’s an example:
  • “It’s conference time again. Check out highlights from last year and what you can expect from us this year.”

Be sure to also put the highlight video on your YouTube stream.

Day of Mailing:

Start using Twitter for the campaign. We recommend putting up an interactive PDF file on the association website, and directing tweets to that page. (To see the advantages of using an interactive PDF, check out our newsletter on the “Five Advantages of the Interactive PDF.”)

Some tweets can include:
  • “What are you doing on November 10th?
  • “VIP save-the-date postcard coming your way.”
  • “Where will you be on November 10th? Hopefully with us! More info coming to your mailbox this week.”

During the planning phase keywords should be established that will be used during the campaign and actual event as Twitter hash tags. Include them in these tweets, and make mention of Twitter on the save-the-date postcard/email.

After:

One week after postcards have been mailed out, post on the association blog some background information about the save-the-date postcard. Specifically, this is a great opportunity to discuss how and why the conference theme was chosen. Besides informing members about the importance of this topic, you can build excitement by passionately explaining the reasoning behind the visual elements such as the conference brandmark.

This blog post is pivotal in the overall plan because it starts the transition from announcing the date and theme, to building value in the event. Here are a few tips to remember while creating the post:

  • Create an outline for this blog post while the visual elements for the conference are being created and tweaked. Or, at least refer to your notes from those discussions while writing the post.
  • Don’t shy away from displaying excitement and emotion about the theme and why the association finds it important.
  • Don’t distract or confuse readers by listing all the options you were considering but ruled out.

Next up: Conference overview piece.

Before:

A few days before sending out the conference overview piece start dropping hints to followers on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. These can include short posts that tease the readers into guessing or wondering about what to expect at the conference. The goal is to put them on alert and peak their curiosity before receiving a direct mail piece that is longer and more intensive than previous pieces in the campaign.

These teasers can be fun riddles – include prizes for anyone who guesses correctly.

Day of Mailing:

Hit up Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn again to announce to potential attendees that you’ve just placed all the answers to the previous days’ questions in the mail, and they will be receiving it soon.

After:

Post a couple of polls on the association blog and social networking channels asking potential attendees what interests them the most about the event. This can include polls about breakout group discussions, planned social activities or event speakers.

These polls do two things:
  • They encourage potential attendees to start thinking about the value of the conference;
  • They give you a wealth of information about what attendees are expecting.

Thinking on your feet.

Since this integrated plan includes communicating with your audience through dynamic, social media/networking tools, you need to prepare for receiving instant feedback from the people you contact. They may respond with questions, excitement about the conference or offer their opinion on how to improve the event. We recommend deciding how this feedback will be handled; and if it can be used to build value in the event, then share it through other mediums.

Let’s say a member who attended last year’s conference leaves a comment on the association blog post about how and why this year’s theme was chosen, saying that they greatly enjoyed last year’s event because they left with a wealth of information and new friends. This is a great testimonial that should be shared with potential attendees on the website and printed pieces.

These tips can provide rewarding ROI for associations who take them seriously and use them correctly. But, they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to integrating direct mail and social media. Basically, we’ve covered the importance of planning, given some examples of scheduling, and thrown some fun, different ideas out there. But, there is a lot more to cover. Like how do you keep a consistent message throughout these mediums, but still get the best use of them, because you can’t use the same message on a direct mail piece and on Twitter and expect the same success. Why? Well for those answers, and many more, you will simply have to stay posted.

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Conference Marketing to Younger Members

A Field Guide to the Millennials.

They first heard your name briefly mentioned in one of their college classes as a professor listed off some professional resources. Or, maybe their introduction to you was after they landed their first “real” job and received a free membership to your esteemed association from their new employer.

They often confuse their older colleagues with their obsession with technology and desire to text message instead of making a phone call; and at the same time amaze their superiors with their idealistic ways, optimism, high standards and energy.


They are….drum roll please….the Millennials.

Most associations would love to get these young professionals more involved in their organization.

A key to getting them involved and transforming them into life-long members starts with getting them to the annual conference.

But, conference marketing strategies that have been effective on previous generations won’t work on this bunch. This generation has seen more marketing and advertising messages, starting at a younger age and in a more universal way than any previous generation. Because they have been flooded with hyped sales pitches, they are numb to traditional marketing and advertising techniques. They surf the web, rarely noticing ads. Direct mail postcards are barely glanced at before hitting the recycling bin. Mass emails are marked as spam. They use DVR to skip over commercials on TV.

Marketers have learned that this may be the toughest crowd to please. Not only are they opposed to mass advertising and marketing, they are difficult to reach because of the increasing number of communication options and media channels.

So, is all hope lost in marketing to them? Does it seem impossible to get younger members to even take notice of the upcoming conference, let alone to get them to register? Don’t fret – the basics we reviewed in last month’s White Space on the “Dos and Don’ts of Conference Marketing” still apply. We are simply expounding on the idea of personalizing and segmenting your marketing pieces for the groups of recipients.


Follow Their Lead

Millennials are the early adapters of most social networking sites, meaning not only are they using them, but they have become masters at integrating their online and offline lives through these sites. Actually, Millennials have become so reliant on communicating through technology; they have weak skills at what other generations would consider traditional means of communication.

Need a real life example?

Let’s take a look at a common real-life event that has been happening for centuries: a wedding. The way Millennials tell their friends and family members about this major life event is a perfect lesson in marketing.

As recent as five years ago, young couples would mail a Save-the-Date postcard, followed by an invitation and RSVP card to friends and family about this major life event. They would also put an announcement in the local paper. But, Millennials are not necessarily following these traditions. They know that the chances of someone in this age group keeping up with a “Save the Date” postcard are slim to none, and even less likely is the possibility that their best friend from college will actually fill out the RSVP card and mail it back. Instead they create websites for their weddings complete with e-invitations, a quick way to RSVP, links to online registries, directions, hotel information and a blog from the young couple about the planning which gives attendees an idea of what to expect. And after the wedding is over they post pictures of the reception, honeymoon and even moving into their new house. Friends share YouTube videos and Flickr pictures, and the wedding conversation carries on for months.

Now let’s take the lessons we learned from this example and put them to use!

Go To Where They Are

To communicate with Millennials, the best place to start is the social networking sites they are already using every day. Set up accounts, learn the language and start conversations. The good news is that it is free to set up accounts on these sites. It only takes the investment of your time to integrate the message of your conference marketing and remind members of important dates.

  • Facebook: Any Millennial is more likely to read details of an event they are invited to over Facebook than they are to read a piece of direct mail before losing it in their apartment.
  • Twitter and Text Messaging: Forget about phone calls and long-winded email, Millennials like it short and sweet.
  • LinkedIn: This is a gold mine. LinkedIn is a great way to introduce association members to conference speakers. Start by having key staff members develop profiles.

Build Value with User-generated Content

Growing up in a world of e-bay, Wikipedia and blogging has taught Millennials how to develop relationships and build trust without any face-to-face interaction. Take advantage of this to show them that your organization provides quality content and addresses important issues that they need to be aware of. User-generated content can transform you into a respected authority in their eyes.

  • Aggregate blogs, articles and Twitter posts from event speakers onto your website in the months leading up to the event.
  • Have a Millennial in your organization give weekly video updates about mainstream news related to topics that will be addressed at the conference.
  • Use a blog or Twitter to let key staff update members on conference planning – be sure to include any decisions that were made to make the event more environmentally friendly, i.e. paperless registration.

Personalization

Even though Millennials are trained experts at filtering out traditional marketing messages, they are not completely immune. The trick is to approach them creatively. Creating a completely different conference logo and message just for Millennials is not necessary. More important is tailoring the delivery.

  • Personalize direct mailing. Instead of sending Millennials the traditional Save-the-Date postcard, send them an invitation to join in on your online conversation. Point them to your blog, Facebook page and Twitter profile.
  • Offer younger members a chance to participate in the planning by hosting online polls giving them a chance to vote on social events to be held during the conference.
  • Show some effort in personalizing the conference for a younger generation by including speakers closer to their age.
  • To really wow them, set up your own social network that will allow them to create profiles and communicate with you and each other all in one spot.

Show that You Care about their Values

Millennials are cause-driven, idealistic and have high community standards. Years from now our history books will talk of the difference they made in our most recent presidential election. Harnessing this energy is a great opportunity to turn Millennials on to your association and annual conference. Find out what is important to them, and incorporate that into the planning, marketing and hosting of the conference.

  • Create an opportunity for members to discuss traveling or lodging together to save money and gas.
  • Allow younger members to get more involved through event volunteer opportunities.
  • Make an effort to go green with everything from paperless registration to reusable dinnerware.
  • It doesn’t matter how you do it, but make an effort to show that your association cares about something greater. Collect canned food for a local homeless shelter, raise money for cleaner water in an under-developed country, or connect with a local nonprofit that can organize an optional volunteer activity for attendees during the conference.
Of course, you have to tell members about these efforts as part of your marketing, preferably over Facebook or Twitter.

Marketers in the entertainment and media industries have already figured out the power of the Millennials and have adapted to their communication preferences. Now, fresh to the workplace, Millennials are already changing the dynamics of office politics, communication and culture – and their impact will continue to grow exponentially over the next few years as they will outnumber both Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Any association that services them as professionals must learn how to communicate with them and get them involved in their organization.

You know the value of your annual conference, you know how it can benefit your members – now the challenge is to figure out how to tell them. As conference marketing becomes more dynamic, it becomes increasingly vital for associations to develop a solid conference brand mark, theme and message.

The bigger picture of these tips for marketing to Millennials is that without bridging the gap between strategy and creative, any marketing effort will fall short of its potential.

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