The Anatomy of Inspiration

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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