Posts Tagged ‘associations

16
Dec
14

The makings of marketing mavens

Marketing_tomschaepperTwo years after graduating college, I entered the association world.

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.

Marketing business salesKey findings:

  • 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.”

best-marketing-tacticsAs a marketing and public relations geek, I’m excited about the data this study provides. In summary, though, here are some takeaways, as listed in the report:

  • 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?

11
Nov
14

On screen or in a chair?

webeventMost of us would agree there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. The email inbox is always full. Meetings seem to pop up on the calendar. And deadlines continue to loom.

Then, if you’re a working professional with kids, you have to balance sports, clubs, carpooling and snack schedules.

It’s exhausting.

No wonder so many of us are spending less time away from our offices and our families to attend professional development events or other workplace functions.

It seems associations got the memo as the industry experiences a slow uptick in virtual events.

Last week, consulting firm Tagoras released Association Virtual Events 2014, a survey of associations’ use of virtual conferences, trade shows and other events. Conducted in August, 33 percent of the 112 respondents indicated they have offered a virtual event. And about 21 percent indicated they plan to offer such an event in the next 12 months.

Tagoras found there are three standard technologies for virtual events: webinar or webcast tools for presentations; communication tools to allow for real-time conversations among participants; and document and resource sharing of event materials.

So why the boom? More than 75 percent of respondents said they offer virtual events for members who can’t attend an association’s place-based events. Tied for second place were “to be seen as offering cutting-edge technology for members” and “to support an overall strategy to deliver more services online.” The third most popular reason for offering virtual events? To reduce costs for attendees.

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, co-founders of Tagoras

“These motivations clearly reflect necessity — organizations see a need to provide more options as travel budgets are trimmed and time becomes an increasingly precious commodity for members — but they also reflect a willingness to experiment,” study authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele wrote. “Many association professionals are embracing virtual events even before their members ask for them, and they’re doing so as part of an overall strategy built on online service.”

Obviously, virtual events aren’t for all associations, and several have yet to embrace the growing technological trend. Cost and complexity of technology were the top reasons for not going virtual, while concerns about cost ranked No. 3.

At the same time, most of the respondents indicated a virtual event has to be self-sustaining to be worth the investment, while 50 percent reported a virtual event should drive revenue. And most associations reported they charge both members and nonmembers to participate in a virtual event.

“Over time, we think associations will grow more adept at estimating realistic costs and determining a plan for covering those costs, whether through registration fees, sponsorships or both,” Cobb and Steele said. “That said, there’s skepticism on the sponsorship front.”

And then there’s fear of the unknown. Will virtual events cause a decline in attendance at an association’s traditional event? Tagoras doesn’t think so.

Is it possible to learn as much remotely as it is sitting in a room with colleagues, listening first hand to an expert? Data seem to swing both ways, but nevertheless, convenience sometimes wins.

(An editorial sidebar: Multitasking and distraction are justifiable concerns. But attendees will likely check email, text and tweet regardless of where they are. Just my two cents.)

LearnwithMouseTake a look at the stats Tagoras compiled about its survey. It seems virtual equals value.

  • While 58 percent of those who haven’t undertaken a virtual event cite technology concerns as a perceived barrier, 90 percent of respondents who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the ease of use of the technology.
  • Some 58 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about costs, but 74 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the cost of the technology. And 60 percent characterize themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the revenue generated by the virtual event.
  • Some 46 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about attendance, but 76 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with attendance.

“We are still in the early days of virtual events as a trend, but the use of this format across a diverse range of organizations — and its continued use by most who have tried it — suggests that virtual events will become a mainstay of association education and events going forward,” Cobb and Steele said.

So what do you think? Does your association offer a virtual event? Tell us about it.

21
Oct
14

Know Your Members Through Better Surveys: A How-To Guide

This month’s guest blog post is by Kent Agramonte, a marketing supervisor at Naylor. He has four years’ experience helping associations with member surveys and data. It was originally posted at AssociationAdviser.

Are you interested in submitting a guest post? Contact Kristen Parker at kristen@eventgarde.com.

Kent Agramonte, marketing supervisor at Naylor LLC.

Kent Agramonte, marketing supervisor at Naylor LLC.

When we discuss knowing who our members are, we sometimes speak in nebulous terms, such as “We need to find out what’s best for our members” or “How can we better serve our members?” We tend to put the how or what before the who.

Recently, I was talking to an association about some of the challenges it faced and the subject of who its members were was brought up. I was surprised that this particular association didn’t know exactly who its members were. Associations tend to put members into categorical groups as broad as “regular members,” which can lead to a lack of understanding of its members. To figure out what our members truly need from us, the first step is to find out who they are. But often, this key element of association management is overlooked.

Associations tend to commission studies of their industries as a whole. While that is a great way to gauge the overall health of the industries they represent, it may not gauge the health of your individual members’ businesses. An association-specific survey will help you directly gauge the health of your membership and future needs you must address.

Getting started

So where do we start? The first step in a successful membership survey is to establish its goal. If you are trying to figure out your members’ overall business health, it is important to look at three key factors:

  1. Demographics. Questions that ask about member titles, where they fall in the chain of command and whether they are the ultimate decision-makers for their organizations can help you find out how influential your members are and the influence your association has within your industry.
  2. Economic factors. How much do your members spend on products and services each year? Do they expect their business to expand or shrink in the next 12 months? What is their organization’s revenue? These questions can help you find out the economic health of your members and will act as a benchmark for growth in future surveys.
  3. Member needs. Ask your members questions about what they need or want from your association. For instance:
    • What issues are you and your company most concerned about?
    • Is our association doing enough to focus on legislative issues that affect your business?
    • What can we do to bring additional value to you, our member?

By asking these questions, we can begin to paint a picture of what your members are going through and the state of their businesses. This information is also key to generating non-dues revenue because it is vital information for any advertiser, sponsor or strategic partner that wants to reach your members.

surveySurvey build and deployment

The second step in any successful survey is building and sending the survey. There are several free and low-cost survey tools that can help you generate basic surveys online. For example, SurveyMonkey offers a free, easy-to-use, basic version of its survey tool. Survey Gizmo is a low-cost alternative and offers a free trial. For more advanced metrics, try Qualtrics.

Once you enter your questions into the survey tool, test the survey on yourself and make sure all question logic flows the way you intended.

When you are 100 percent confident that your survey is ready to be sent out, you may want to test it on a small sample of potential respondents before sending to your full distribution list. That’s called a pilot. It’s a good way to tighten up the wording or answer choices that may end up confusing respondents.

Most online survey tools will allow you to include a link to the survey in your member outreach efforts. Our suggestion is to email this link to potential respondents or include it in an e-newsletter to your members. If you do not have a way to mass email your members, MailChimp is a commercially available tool that is free to anyone with fewer than 2,000 subscribers.

Once sent, keep your survey open for at least two weeks (but not forever) and send an update email at the beginning of the second week to remind members to take the survey if they have not already done so. If you are worried about not getting enough responses to your survey, you should offer some type of incentive to take the survey. Gift cards go a long way to helping you get responses.

recruitmentanalyticsFrom data collection to analysis

After two or three weeks, it is typically time to start looking at the results. Remember that you only need about a 10 percent response rate to make your survey statistically viable. For example, if you send your survey to 1,000 members (this is your sample size) and 100 members take the survey, than you can statistically project the results to your entire membership.

So, if 75 percent of respondents in a statistically generalizable sample are CEOs, then it would be safe to say that 75 percent of your members are CEOs. If you don’t meet the 10 percent threshold, then your results are still viable as “non-scientific” insight into your membership base. No, you cannot generalize to your entire association, but the small result pool will give you the overall pulse of members.

Once you have taken a look at the results, make sure to turn them into ratios if possible. For example, if 63 percent of your members say they are concerned about tax legislation, then it is better to say nearly two out of three members are concerned about tax legislation. Expressing numbers as ratios gives a human face to your members and allows people to better visualize results. Most people can picture two out of three people in their head, but a concept like 63 percent is harder to imagine.

Results like the ones in your survey are interesting to you, your members, potential non-dues revenue generating advertisers and the industry as a whole. So it is a good idea to share them with as many people as you can. An easy way to accomplish this is to create an infographic with short bullets that details the findings of your survey. This infographic shouldn’t be much longer than a page and should be emailed to members, industry stakeholders and included in your official communications pieces as much as possible.

Surveys generally only retain their validity for about two years. So plan to send out member surveys every other year to make sure you will always have the most up-to-date information about your members.

Conclusion

Good research, with good information, adds value to your association, your association’s communications and your members. When members see that you are making a concerted effort to understand more about them and their concerns, the more benefit they see in being a member of your association. Learning about your members helps you learn more about your association’s goals and the direction in which your association should be heading while helping you recruit potential members and associate members. The brain always knows what the body is doing, but when it comes to association management, sometimes the brain needs a road map.

30
Sep
14

Tips for improving trade show participation in 2015

Mariama Holman

Mariama Holman, content marketing specialist for MultiView.

This month’s guest blog post is by Mariama Holman, content marketing specialist for MultiView, a digital marketing company for associations.

It’s never too early (or too late) to start fine-tuning your organization’s participation in a trade show. The time is now; the fourth quarter of 2014 is filled with a myriad of seasonal events. Additionally, there are plenty of major events on the horizon for early next year, such as the Springtime Expo hosted by ASAE. This event hails as the most significant one-day show for association meeting professionals, attracting leaders from across the nation.

Headed to a trade show soon? Heed these helpful hints:

Develop a strategy

The association should be like a tactician competing on the battlefield – vying for new members and the continuing loyalty of old ones.

Lee Ali, managing director and founder of Expo Stars Interactive Ltd., states that 65 percent of exhibitors do not have a clear strategy or plan of action for trade show participation. Given these events are often costly, it is important to put time into thinking through trade show involvement and determining a worthwhile ROI.

Set and track goals

What are the goals for participation? How did the association perform?

Answers to these questions are necessary for assessing performance and creating a strategy to improve. Unfortunately, 97.5 percent of exhibitors do not keep track of any quantifiable results from their events. It is a best practice to always outline what “success looks like” for trade show participation and keep track of performance.

Train for success

Olympic sprinters train to win medals. Artists rehearse to perform concerts. Entrepreneurs practice their pitches to gain funding. Why shouldn’t associations train for success as well?

According to Ali, 74 percent of exhibitors do not train their staff for trade shows and events. There is a certain set of skills unique to trade shows. These skills are a hybrid of marketing and sales – knowing how to not only “sell” visitors once they enter a booth, but appropriately attract them in the first place. It is important to prepare staff by teaching best practices, running through set-up/tear down time frames and developing a familiarity with the hustle and bustle of a trade show.

Optimize

People, events and organizations are not perfect and never will be. However, organizations can always strive to improve – getting better, faster and smarter year after year.

An association is bound to make some mistakes at a trade show, whether it is falling behind schedule or not securing the amount of X, Y or Z it hoped. Utilize these moments as opportunities to learn and improve your organization’s involvement in the future.

23
Sep
14

The benefits of educating about benefits

surveyAs a follow up to my Aug. 19 post about associations offering voluntary benefits to their members, I thought it would be wise think about benefits for association employees.

I’ll mention it again: With extensive media coverage of the Affordable Care Act, benefits are on everyone’s mind. In fact, just the other day while I was grocery shopping, two women were discussing their benefits while they compared the price of cheese.

It’s true that larger organizations can generally provide better – and more comprehensive – health care benefits. But according to a rather surprising Unum survey conducted recently, most employees don’t know or understand the benefits they have.

And employers are at fault, the study found. Surveying 1,521 working adults, it revealed that employee satisfaction with their workplaces and benefits is at its lowest since 2008.

Conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Unum, an insurance provider, only 49 percent of workers indicated their places of employment are good places to work, while only 47 percent ranked their benefits as good.

But here’s the kicker: The research also showed that employees don’t feel they’re getting adequate information about their benefits. In the survey, only 33 percent of employees rated the benefits education they received as excellent or very good – a drop from 2012 and a reversal to the upward trend in ratings since 2009.

So why does this matter? Associations generally operate with small staffs, so it’s important that your employees are happy, and the survey found a correlation between good benefits education and employee happiness. In other words, an informed employee is a productive employee.

In addition, according to the survey, 79 percent of workers who reviewed benefits in the past year and rated their education as excellent or very good also rate their employer as excellent or very good – compared to only 30 percent of those who said the education they received was fair or poor.

“This research underscores the value of an effective benefits education plan because when an employee understands their benefits, they tend to value them more and in turn may then value their employers more for providing access to them,” said Bill Dalicandro, vice president of the consumer solutions group at Unum.

educationBottom line: Employers need to do a better job educating their staffs about benefits. But how?

It doesn’t matter how large or small your organization is, chances are, a dedicated staff person handles human resources. That person should be responsible for providing such an education.

How? Rapid Learning Institute shared some tips in a recent blog post. It suggests offering materials for various learning types: printed materials and videos for visual learners; podcasts and audio conferences for auditory learners; and interactive online tools or worksheets for tactile learners.

The most common way to educate continues to be printed materials, the institute said, but emails, social media and internal messaging systems also work well.

Or consider hosting educational benefit sessions throughout the year. Have a little-known perk? A tax tip? Communicate with your employees on a regular basis.

16
Sep
14

Fun and games for associations

Chase-Bank-Gamification-Example-CaseStudy-IGamifyJust about everyone I know is addicted to Candy Crush. (Not me. I tried and was terrible.) And I have quite a few friends who thrive on becoming king of a location on FourSquare.

Me? I get excited when I get a new badge on my hotels reward program and can share it on Facebook.

Ah, Facebook. Its gamification genius has taken social media by storm. In fact, it seems companies of all sizes are joining the gamification bandwagon.

But what is it?

According to Clickipedia, “Gamification is used by brands to motivate employees, create healthy competition among teams, generate buzz or social proof and encourage customer loyalty, among other benefits. With a variety of techniques – some easy to implement, some requiring advanced planning, coding, or technical expertise – any business can use gamification to get better results, no matter what your goals.”

And this means associations.

For example, if your association operates a blog, consider ranking users – and commenters – to reward those who contribute the most to your blog. Create badge levels and then allow commenters to share the badge on Facebook. You can also do this on your website. Create reward programs for the materials your customers buy, the articles they read and the events they attend.

Or, if you’re unveiling a new education module, consider making the demo a game.

For more ideas, check out Clickpedia’s 25 Best Examples of Gamification.

According to EventMobi, there are five basics of gamification:

  • collect points
  • achieve new levels
  • earn achievements such as badges and prizes
  • participate in challenges
  • compare progress with others via leader boards.

g1But where to start? In June, Incentive Research Foundation released a whitepaper on gamification, listing some important dos and don’ts.

It suggests thinking of those you’re trying to entice as “gamers.” These gamers could be employees, customers, community members or meeting attendees. An app might be the best way to do it. For instance, if you’re hosting a conference, create an app. Think about doing a mobile scavenger hunt with the app to foster networking and creativity. Or, reward conference attendees with badges for taking short quizzes at the end of a session.

Gamification is mostly about psychology, not technology, the authors wrote. So it’s important to identify the behaviors you’re trying to engage.

But be careful. Games can be addicting and they can alienate a potential customer base. So make sure that your efforts are valuable.

“Gamification is hyped and often touted as a kind of magic bullet for getting consumers or employees to do what you want,” IRF said. “Yes, gamification can change human behavior, and it is effective, but your players aren’t stupid. Regardless of the experience you are gamifying, it must eventually generate some real value. Otherwise, your players will eventually realize that you’ve wasted a lot of their time playing, but provide no value what so ever. This leads to gamification backlash, where your players start to resist your future attempts at gamification.”

Has your association entered the gamification world? If so, tell us about it.

09
Sep
14

Hack attacks: Headed your way?

bigstock-Hacker-Typing-On-A-Laptop-44548564Home Depot. Apple Inc. (celebrity nude photos). Target (last Christmas). JP Morgan Chase.

The list goes on and on. It seems every day we hear about another cyber security attack.

While the attacks have targeted big businesses and corporations, associations, small businesses and nonprofits aren’t immune to security breaches, association experts have said.

So what if someone hacked into your system and stole your members’ credit card numbers?

In a June 1 Associations Now story, industry professionals linked data breach mistakes to employee error. For example, employees are lax with confidential information, and should change passwords every three months. But most don’t.

Malware attacks and phishing attempts are two of the biggest culprits, according to an Inc. Magazine story.

It’s scary just how quickly your business’ weak spots can become portals to your most protected information. But there’s help.

In October, the Department of Homeland Security will sponsor “National Cyber Security Awareness Month,” offering educational workshops, events and resources to combat cyber attacks. It may be wise to have your IT department check it out.

In the meantime, below are some other resources to explore:

  • In April, Zurich released a report on cyber security, which lists recommendations for organizations of all sizes. One of the recommendations: Organizations should employ the same cyber strategies as government agencies. Education is a must. And so is awareness. “Unfortunately, cybersecurity professionals often assume that the risk posed to the system as a whole is merely the sum of all the point risks,” the authors wrote. “They analyze cyber vulnerabilities looking at one technology, one organization or one nation at a time, paying little attention to how risk might emerge from the interaction of those organizations or technologies. Just as sound, internally-focused risk management failed to protect companies from the collapse of the financial system, strong internal computer security controls won’t shield even the best-protected companies from a ‘cyber sub-prime’ failure.”

Perhaps one day there will be a professional association dedicated to cyber security professionals. A new report by Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University advocates for such an organization, arguing a lack of skills and information is undermining efforts to improve cyber security.

Has your association fallen victim to hacking? If so, I’d like to hear about it – and how you resolved the situation. Email me at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

Until then, stay safe. Be smart.




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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