I served as director of communications for an association for four years – and I loved every minute of it. As all association professionals understand, resources were thin but job responsibilities were huge. I was all things communications, media relations and public relations.
But marketing? Not so much.
True, we launched our first official marketing campaign a couple years into the job. But with too few hours in the day and a never-ending list of priorities, marketing just wasn’t at the top of the list.
Fast forward 10 years, and I’m now a public relations professional who loves all things marketing. Today, we blur the lines between public relations and marketing, especially thanks to digital and social media. Yet, the mission is the same: Build your brand, your reputation and your credibility by engaging key audiences with specific (albeit simple) messaging.
And that takes an incredible amount of work and vision.
Associations are in a tough spot, forced to do more with less. So where does marketing fit in?
It often struggles to justify its existence, but associations seem to be embracing it as best as they can, according to a new report by Demand Metric Research Corp., a research and advisory firm serving the association industry.
The 2014 State of Digital Marketing in Associations benchmarking study was administered mid-October through mid-November, with membership associations holding the largest response rate. The median size was 1,001 to 5,000 members.
- Three-fourths of associations in this study report their marketing is somewhat to very effective. Eighty-eight percent think members perceive their marketing and communication efforts as sometimes to always relevant and professional.
- For associations rating themselves most effective at marketing, strategy and planning is their most frequently cited capability. But for those that rate themselves least effective at marketing, strategy and planning is the fifth most-cited capability.
- E-mail, event and content marketing are the top ranked tactics in terms of effectiveness.
- Almost 90 percent of associations include an e-mail newsletter in their digital marketing portfolio, but only 41 percent use an e-mail preference center.
- The ownership of marketing tasks – such as pricing, positioning, promotional channels, data analysis and technology spend – is fragmented, with a number of other association departments frequently owning these tasks.
- In an increasingly technology-driven market, IT owns most of the technical skills marketing needs to succeed.
- Only 13 percent of associations report not using any marketing metrics. For the 87 percent that are, most are using volume or activity metrics, such as click-through rates, which don’t provide true indicators of marketing’s contribution.
So, more than half of respondents reported that marketing strategy is important, and that they have the staff to design and implement such a strategy. But the key is to achieve buy-in: Marketing is an all-hands-on-deck approach. It shouldn’t just fall on the shoulders of the director of marketing and/or director of communications. Leaders should provide the vision; the board of directors should adopt it; and leadership should provide guidance to all staff. And all staff should operate with key messages in mind.
In the survey, respondents possessed three marketing capabilities: membership engagement strategies and campaigns; public relations; and membership retention and strategies.
But what about tactics?
Respondents ranked e-mail and event marketing as the top two marketing tactics, followed by social media, website/SEO and content marketing. But here’s the problem: Without content, there’s no marketing strategy. Content is the foundation from which to create all marketing strategies.
For example, e-mail newsletters and campaigns should be consistent with branding (the look and feel of the association).
The same goes with blogs. Although many associations aren’t blogging, blogs are crucial marketing tactics. They’re the perfect places to post content (content marketing). In addition, blogs are invaluable SEO tools.
Of course, marketing without analytics is useless. Google analytics are simple and effective, and associations should be using them. But the only two analytics most associations employ according to the study: click through and open rates.
“Marketing is simply too important to leave entirely in the hands of the marketing team,” the study’s authors wrote. “It is a function that must pervade the entire organization, guided by strong leadership that collaborates effectively with everyone, from the board and below.”
- Strategic orientation. The most effective marketing functions in this study are those who prioritize strategy and planning. If your team feels like it’s too busy to take time out to plan and develop marketing strategy, then you’re opting for lower marketing effectiveness.
- Embrace content. The content marketing effectiveness gap revealed in this study is huge. Most of the marketing tactics associations are using rely on some form of content as input. Learn how to develop and deploy content effectively.
- The ownership and responsibility for some of the key marketing tasks is very fragmented. Much of this fragmentation would go away under strong, executive marketing leadership. Even without a marketing executive, associations can give their marketing teams a better chance by allowing them fuller ownership of the things for which they have, or should have, responsibility.
- Marketing is increasingly a technical pursuit. Associations need to equip their marketing teams with the skills and training to function in the modern world of marketing.
- Any use of marketing metrics and an analytics process is good, but even better is when that process uses metrics that do more than just report on activity levels. Association marketers need to identify metrics that truly indicate the value they create and then hold themselves accountable to them.
So what do you think? Is marketing part of the plan for 2015?