Why Associations Need Storytelling Now

Why Associations Need Storytelling Now

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

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


The Message is Stale, Not the People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

You need to do it.

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

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

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

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