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Has Your Association Adapted to the New Marketing Reality?

by Tracy Talbot on August 8, 2017

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As an association, you can’t afford to implement marketing the same way you did five years ago.

What once was a game of simple awareness has become a dizzying world of digital, mobile and content strategies designed to create meaningful, engaging experiences for members and prospects alike.

It’s a collision of data, strategy, design and copy across multiple platforms and channels—a literal balancing act that, despite the thousands of blog posts purporting otherwise, isn’t simple, isn’t straightforward and requires time, energy and resources to really get right.

In working with associations across industries, McKinley Advisors has observed the association-marketing field as a whole, struggling to optimize their process accordingly. Challenges with tools, capabilities, staffing and more stand in the way of modernization, and these infrastructure issues often lead leaders to lament that “marketing is causing declining results,” when really, it isn’t that simple at all.

At McKinley, we exist to help associations function more successfully. And in the spirit of that, we’ve put together a modern marketing guide to take your efforts to the next level.

Modern Association Marketing at a Glance

It’s difficult to know where to begin with marketing these days. What once was a deliverables-focused environment has become a hub for all things communications, brand and revenue. So we start with that in mind—the need to better understand what a modern association marketing department should actually do.

This blog post from Moz says it all: modern marketing functions must include strategy, creative, communications and audit. And each of these must be aligned with the others to create the truly cohesive, engaging experience that consumers (even those in the association space) crave.

They work like this:

  • Strategy: The “how” of the whole operation. Strategy teams (which typically include acquisition, retention, social and content marketers) determine the most effective way to communicate with/sell to your association audience.
  • Creative:The “what” of your association. Creatives (typically designers and copywriters) bring strategy to life, connecting internal goals with audience desires through key deliverables.
  • Communications: The “doers” of your efforts. Communications professionals (email marketers, communications coordinators, etc.) leverage creative and strategy to ensure that creative is delivered and association content is distributed across channels so that the message is going as far and wide as possible.
  • Audit: The “reviewers” of your effectiveness. Your auditors (typically SEO managers, analytics managers etc.) review the performance of your communications to determine the effectiveness of your strategy and creative. They then make recommendations to strategy/creative for course correction.

Think of them as four segments of a circle, all feeding into the next and constantly working in a state of iteration. Strategy is always being tweaked based on the revelations of your auditors, and those tweaks make their way into the creative and the communications and are again reviewed by auditors.

Tools of the Trade

Of course, with the rise of the modern marketing department, so too has come a new generation of tools and processes designed to help organizations operate much more smoothly. And while you may have invested in some of these—marketing automation or segmentation, for example—knowing how they fit strategically into the modern marketing mix is key to making them truly work for you.

The major tools of modern marketing include:

  • Marketing automation: Equal parts email automation, communication flow design, and analytics platform, marketing automation will allow you to simplify how you send emails, track their performance, test multiple types of messages etc. If you aren’t using automation for onboarding, renewal and events (or, of course, investing in staff that can), you’re missing a critical piece of the puzzle.
  • Google Analytics: Pulling data straight from your website, Google Analytics provides you critical information about your site’s performance (including time on page, bounce rate, page views etc.) that allow you to optimize based on your goals and your audience behaviors. But success doesn’t come from implementation. Only in regularly pulling reports and interpreting them expertly can you expect to see significant gains in web traffic and engagement.
  • Social media management platform: Similar to marketing automation, social media management platforms allow you to preschedule, strategize and track the performance of your social media presence and campaigns. In doing so, you dramatically simplify a complex social environment, taking control of your presence and gaining the ability to iterate on what’s bringing your association the most success.

And several helpful processes include:

  • Audience segmentation: At its core, audience segmentation is exactly what it sounds like—dividing your total possible audience (both current and potential) into personality types complete with beliefs and behaviors. By doing so, you create opportunities for personalized creative and communications that resonate better for the particular segments and, ultimately, engage them more.
  • Brand strategy: Brand is a considerable asset to any organization. It’s that unspoken feeling that communicates your association’s purpose and adds a coherent look and feel to your creative. In short, a good brand makes it easy for people to recognize your association immediately. Great brand strategy capitalizes on that recognition—growing and messaging your brand in a way that increases trust and goodwill among existing and potential audience members.
  • Content strategy: As associations, part of your “reason to be” is as an information source for members. A solid content strategy devises a way of creating and sharing content that 1) resonates with your audience, 2) brings them to your brand and 3) encourages the perception of your association as a thought leader.
  • Search strategy: The Internet operates on a principle of search, and it’s important you’re doing everything you can to bring those searching in your industry to you. Using a combo of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing, you can ensure that your page ranks high enough in organic search for potential members to find you.
  • Data analysis: From content to email to social to paid ads to web traffic and beyond, the work your marketing department does produces data. And this data—from engagement rates and clickthroughs to time-on-site and conversions—informs the decisions of any true marketing department. Developing a method for analyzing this allows you to iterate on your strategies, creative and communications quickly, saving you valuable time while creating a sustainable system for better understanding and communicating with your audience.

Modernizing Your Association Marketing Department

Though it may seem like a lot to get your head around, the principles of modern marketing aren’t difficult to achieve but it does require an investment in resources.

By leveraging a strategy-driven approach to creative and communications, you ensure that every effort taken by your organization moves you one step closer to reaching your goals. Add to that an audit component to help with course correction and a set of tools and processes that best support your strategy and you’ll start to see the digital world for what it is—a wealth of opportunities.

How has your association adapted as marketing has changed? Send me a note or add a comment below to share your successes. I’d love to hear about an association that has optimized its operation. You can also let me know or contact our team if you’re interested in a Marketing Assessment for your organization.

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