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

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

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

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

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

1. Find your sense of urgency.

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

2. Use data to flag your risks.

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

3. Prepare to compete with an election for attention.

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

4. Think like a prospect.

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

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

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

6. Keep communication jargon-free.

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

7. Train your resilience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How Did Time Get to Be Like This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How to Combat the Fear of Wasted Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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. . . . Or not.

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

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

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

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How Not to Get Prospects to Your Association’s Event

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

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

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

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

Content Overload is Not a Relationship-Building Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you need instead is people marketing.

Two Principals for People Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 Think differently about outcomes (and happiness).

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

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

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

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

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

What Will Your People Marketing Look Like?

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

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

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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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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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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 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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Part 1: The Cause

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