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

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

What is a hybrid event?

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

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

What are the advantages of a hybrid event?

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

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

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

What are some best practices for hybrid events?

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

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

2. Understand your audience.

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

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

3. Choose your tech last.

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

4. Focus on value.

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

Seize this Huge Opportunity

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

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

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

What Am I Paying For?

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

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


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


Payton Manning Won’t Cut It Anymore

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

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

Look Back Five Years

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

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

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

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

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


1. Take a minimalist approach

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


2. Don’t be fooled by trends

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


3. Humanize your visuals

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


4. Go easy on the illustrations

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


5. Refine your timing

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

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

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

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


6. Be purposeful

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


The power of visuals

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

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

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Customer Journey

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

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

1. Know your goal

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


2. Find your people

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


3. Nurture them along the path

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


4. Go beyond email

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


5. Automate the journey

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

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

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


6. Ask for action

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


7. Track and analyze

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


8. Repeat

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


Be better

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

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New Tech Won’t Save Your Crappy Marketing

6 best practices for associations to enhance virtual offerings

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

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

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


1. Examine your audience

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


2. Articulate your value proposition

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

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

3. Develop standard messaging

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

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

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


4. Craft unified visuals

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


5. Define your strategy

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


6. Choose your tech

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

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

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

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

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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We need to talk

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Do You Have a Clear Value Proposition?

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

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

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


Let the Conversation Commence

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

So . . . are you having that conversation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Anatomy of Inspiration:

The LIMBS

The LIMBS

Design: The LIMBS

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.

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6 steps to Inspiring your base to act.

Step 2 of 6: Run your diagnostics

Step 2 of 6: Run your diagnostics

Think of this as looking under the hood. Gather the most up-to-date facts about your membership base (keeping in mind that it’s probably changed in the past few years). That means looking at surveys, demographics, member feedback, and open rates for emails (including which ones get the highest and lowest).

Get a clear picture of who your typical member is and how they behave— not just the highly engaged or your top influencers, but all of your members.

Once you know that, you can start to plot their story along the continuum of stories that have been with humanity since the beginning of time.

We hope you find these tips inspiring for your next conference, and until next time keep a look out for clue #8!

The Lone Marketer

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Using Negative Feedback to Express Your Brand in a Positive Way

In our recent edition of WhiteSpace we cover how an organization’s strategic plan, brand and conference must connect with each other. Part of that process involves implementing what is learned in post-conference surveys into the strategic plan and branding.

However, we know many associations freak out at the thought of receiving negative feedback. But, addressing negative feedback can be a positive way to express your brand (who you are and what you stand for).

If there are issues within the organization, take a page out of Domino’s book. When faced with negative feedback, the President of the company addressed the comments head on. In YouTube videos and TV commercials the President tells consumers how Domino’s is listening to what they have to say and how they are going to make a change.

Its quite uncommon in the association world, where everyone tries to hide the dirt under the rug, to see this kind of transparency. They think that by keeping negative comments close and internal members won’t talk about it. But, members are already talking about those issues and communication like this can make members feel like….well, members, instead of random consumers.

To gather feedback from members about the conference and association, but to never address it is very disrespectful to them. And, it’s only a matter of time before they realize they are not being heard, which will cause them to lose trust in you and decrease your credibility.

Stop worrying about what members might be saying and instead practice honesty and courage in addressing whatever feedback you receive from them.

That is what will drive retention and conference attendance.

Curious how Domino’s handled the disgruntled customer in their recent commercial?

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Handy LinkedIn Apps

We’ve been doing a little construction on our LinkedIn profiles. Most of the grunt work has been to install apps that allow us to share various types of content on our profiles.

A complaint we often hear about Web 2.0 tools and social media is that few people have the time to post here, there and everywhere. That’s why we like apps like the WordPress app on LinkedIn and how it automatically updates by pulling our blog posts into our profile. No added posting or clicking needed from us.

Thanks to the Behance app, we are able to display our creative work on our profile – giving users a taste of our work without asking them to leave LinkedIn. It’s free to use, easy to manage and has great options for sharing images, photos or video.

Recently Gary gave a presentation about conference marketing and Web 2.0. The SlideShare app allows us to post the presentation slides on our profile. Nothing like putting slides up on LinkedIn to encourage attendees to seek you out and connect.

If we’re not already connected, check out Gary’s profile on LinkedIn and see how we’re using these apps and others.

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COPYRIGHTS AND THE INTERNET

The Internet has made it very difficult for artists and other creative types who produce original songs, paintings, photos, movies, books, graphics, and other materials to fully protect how their work is accessed. Remember when Napster introduced mass file sharing? It practically caused movie and music execs to have a collective nervous breakdown. In less dramatic fashion, copyright infringement is still—and will remain—an issue, mostly due to the power of search engines and the ability of websites to so easily link to each other.

Communication Arts recently ran a very interesting article by Tad Crawford and Arka Chatterjee that addressed copyrights and the internet. They looked at the effect of thumbnail images, frames, linking, and deep linking on copyrights. If your company or organization does not yet have policies in place to prevent copyright infringement from happening, it might be time to put some together.


Thumbnails

Search engines, like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, often display thumbnails (small, low resolution images) of photos, paintings, and other images on search results page. Two recent lawsuits have challenged this practice by claiming copyright infringement. Judges in both cases found in favor of the search engine companies.

In the first case, Kelly v. Arriba Soft, photographer Leslie Kelly sued Arriba Soft, claiming that their Ditto.com search engine was infringing on his copyrighted photos by displaying thumbnails of his work on its search results page. The court found that because Arriba was not profiting from Kelly’s work, but rather was displaying his photos for relevant web research purposes, the use of the images were fair. The second case, Perfect 10 v. Amazon.com, was very similar to the first; it concerned Google’s image search feature. This feature allows users to click on the thumbnail in the search results list to view the full-size image. A judge found that though Google was usurping Perfect 10’s distribution rights, its image search feature was being used in fairness.

As these examples show, balancing licensing and copyrights with the exposure gained from having one’s work easily found online is tricky. You don’t want to lose money on your work, but being able market your work globally can be a huge benefit, especially for young artists, many of whom struggle in obscurity.


Linking and Framing

In the SEO world, you are encouraged to link your site to others and vice versa. What if your site links to another that contains infringed material? The Supreme Court settled just such a lawsuit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios v. Grokster. Grokster, a peer-to-peer file sharing service, was found liable for copyright infringement for directing users to unlawfully copied media content. Of course, Grokster was providing links to movies on purpose, but be careful about inadvertently linking to protected content.

Framing is similar to linking, and it also presents an infringement problem. Framing happens when a web portal links to a web site and displays that site’s content in a frame; the frame’s edges typically include ads that benefit the portal. It has been successfully argued that framing website content is copyright infringement, as in the case of the Washington Post v. TotalNEWS. The Post accused TotalNEWS of framing their content, and the judge ruled in favor of the Post. In another case, Wells Fargo Bank sued WhenU.com for displaying pop-up ads on its site that advertised competing brands. Wells Fargo successfully argued that their website was being “framed”.


Deep linking

Deep linking occurs when Website A links to content within Website B without acknowledging Website B’s entitlement to profits from the content; for instance Website B depends on advertising revenue, but the ads are bypassed by the link. Even worse, it often appears that Website A is the originator of the content. Tickets.com, a clearinghouse for concerts, shows, and other events, was accused by Ticketmaster of using a web crawler to pull information about concerts and shows off its website to post on Tickets.com. A judge found that Tickets.com was acting fairly, as the concert information was public information and therefore not protected by copyright.

While everything we create is copyrighted, once we post our original work to our website it can be considered public information.

As long as no one else profits from displaying or linking to it, it can appear on search engines’ results lists and be linked to by other websites. If you are not comfortable with losing control over how your work is viewed, be careful of what you post online.

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The Evolution of a Brand

You’ve created a brand identity for your association that seems to be working. Members recognize your logo when they see it on tote bags or postcards. They’re happy to refer colleagues and renew their own memberships.

Think your job is done? Think again!

In a recent newsletter, we mentioned the need for brands to change and evolve as the marketplace changes.

The ultimate example of brand evolution is Madonna, whether or not your a fan. Over the last twenty-five years, she’s gone from “Material Girl” to Marilyn Monroe lookalike to children’s book author to pop icon. While many eighties rockers are relegated to the bottom of people’s CD collections, Madonna remains relevant and in the public eye decades later.


But you don’t need such an extreme makeover to keep your brand current.

Just look at Apple. Their logo is iconic, and it’s undergone several redesigns since the mid-seventies. Remember that rainbow-striped apple they used between 1976 and 1998? It made sense because its color graphics were one of Apple’s main selling points. Now the company is known for the slick, streamlined appeal of the MacBook and iPhone, so their new logo reflects this new identity.

Brand enhancements like tweaking or simplifying your logo can improve your brand, but they’re not a cure-all.

Your association itself needs to evolve as well: for instance, getting involved in social media and facilitating two-way communication with members.

With strategic changes over time, you ensure that your association continues to grow alongside its members and maintain relevancy.

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Video Killed the Radio Star, And Traditional Online Marketing

Online marketers have seen their sales skyrocket when they start to incorporate video into their marketing. At the beginning of the year, eMarketer projected that online video ad spending would increase by 50% this year, and that it would reach $4.5 billion in 2013. That’s a lot of money!

Fueled by the fact that it’s getting easier and cheaper to produce quality videos, and that consumers like watching videos. We recently read that in July of 2008, 134 million Americans watched 11.4 billion videos. That’s two videos per user, per day.

Even with today’s economic situation and shrinking budgets, online marketing campaigns still include video, because it’s working.

A video is the closest that we can get to actually touching and holding a product, or experiencing a service.

The same is true for conference marketing. Using videos in your marketing efforts is the closest you will get to letting potential attendees experience your event before registering.

And, the stats show that they enjoy watching and sharing videos. About 75% of the US internet population watches videos online daily, or every other day. And, 98% of all connected desktops have Flash Player installed, meaning they are equipped and ready to watch videos online.


2010 Video Usage Stats

Video usage is only going to increase in 2010. Here are some stats we discovered projecting usage in the next year:

  1. In 2010, there will be 176 million online video viewers.
  2. In 2010, 86% of internet users will watch videos online daily.
  3. Video is expected to continue to grow at a 40% year-over-year increase.

Just as online marketers are using video to boost sales, you can use video in conference marketing. Videos reviewing last year’s break out sessions, interviews with previous attendees, or short talk from the main speaker can help interested attendees get a feel for the conference.


Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Keep your videos simple with short talking points – no more than 2 minutes.
  2. Test out the theory by creating videos for one or two products, or offers and see how they perform to other registration offers.
  3. Look for user generated content. It could be that some of your previous attendees or members have created videos about their experience, or would be open to creating their own videos about the event.

A video gives people something that direct mail and e-marketing can not. If done right, you can connect with people in a more personal way and increase your chances of eliciting an emotional response. A video allows you to speak to potential attendees with a “human voice”, instead of the marketing speak that is on most collateral pieces. That is a powerful tool that you can use to increase conference registration.


References for stats:

Adobe Scene 7
eMarketer
Universal McCann

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Fill Your Empty Seats with RCG's Exclusive Marketing Planning Package

We’ve been giving you guys tons of tips and how-tos about conference marketing, and now its time to help you put it all together and fill those empty seats at your next conference.

“We cannot adjust the wind… but we can adjust the sails.“

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This marketing plan package equips association and non-profit executives with the tools and knowledge to fill the empty seats. This package is especially designed for:
  • Associations and non-profits with a limited staff
  • Organizations not meeting their attendance goals
  • Organizations with an In-house marketing team that needs a fresh set of eyes to review currents strategie


We are only offering this special package in the first quarter of 2010. If you want to reach your conference attendance goals for next year, then check out the details and special price for the workday sessions and remote guidance provided in our exclusive Marketing Planning Package.

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Not meeting your conference attendance goals?

Adapt or Fail.

A plan for survival.

Under attended. Under funded. Under staffed.
Does that describe your last conference?

It’s time to adapt, or your conference will be 6 feet under…..along with your job. History has taught us that the inability to adapt to change, will result in extinction. “Survival of the fittest” is not just a theory for the animal kingdom, it also applies to businesses, organizations and even annual conferences.

The first conference I helped promote was way back in 1988 for the United Way of American. Amazingly, we see associations using the same approach to conference marketing today. The same preliminary offers and save-the-date postcards that were being used 21 years ago, are staples in many organization marketing efforts today. But, there have been drastic changes in communication and lifestyle. Therefore, can this still be the best way to market a conference?!


Adapting for survival, and success.

In previous editions of White Space, we have given you plenty of tips on effective conference marketing.

  • We’ve covered the importance of positioning your conference as a unique offering.
  • We’ve climbed onto our soapbox many times to stress value over venue.
  • Like a newsboy standing on the corner yelling the day’s headlines, we’ve harped about changes in communication and social networking.
  • We’ve written do’s and don’ts about marketing to younger members and integrating offline and online communications.
  • And, we’ve warned you of deadly myths, like the misconception that late conference registration is just a trend of 2009.

You are now equipped with some of the best ideas in the industry about conference marketing. These ingredients can be combined to help you adapt and achieve attendance success. But, are you still missing one thing?


The recipe.

Even with all the ingredients, you can’t make a delicious cake without the directions. You can try winging it, but without the recipe you won’t know how much of each ingredient to include, the order, the purpose or the timing.

The same is true for conference marketing. You can read our newsletters and blog posts to learn about the strategies and activities that are resulting in sold-out conferences, but without a conference marketing plan, you won’t get it right, especially with the constant changes in communication and the economy.

  • Do you develop a new plan each year based on last year’s event?
  • What method or role does research have on your planning?
  • Does your marketing strategy stress value over venue?
  • Does your marketing plan take into account the ever-changing way your members want to receive and access information?

If you’ve answered no to any of these questions, then you need to call us.


Filling empty seats.

There is one thing that will fill those empty seats, and that is a marketing plan that is a schedule of strategic activities designed to guide behavior.

Let me reiterate, the only way to fill the empty seats is to follow a strategic marketing plan based on research, the audience’s needs and the organization’s mission.

We’ve told you about the ingredients, and now we’re going to give you the recipe. For the first time, we are going to offer a special package for organizations who want to adapt for survival and success.


A one-day, on site hands-on marketing planning session, followed by 4 weeks of remote support that will provide your team with a plan on how to fill empty seats at your next conference.

This special offer is only available for the first quarter of 2010, call or email for details and to reserve your spot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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