As trade associations lay out their strategic plans for 2012, most will have the same goal – to increase the size of the membership and to increase the rate of renewal. At its core, this is the same mission of a brand manager at a consumer goods company – to create new customers while increasing the loyalty of existing customers.
Why then are the marketing plans so different?
The board of a mid-sized trade association recently invited me to help them think through ways to rebrand the organization as a first step to increasing its footprint. I immediately abandoned my prepared presentation when I saw their signage in the lobby.
It read, “Investing hundreds of millions to stimulate to the creation of new companies, employment opportunities, new funding sources, and business investments in this geographic area”. [Exact wording intentionally altered.]
In the intangible world of professional services and trade associations, marketing messages often divert to the comfort zone of the organization’s staff rather than towards the needs of the targeted audience. Meaning they market what they do, rather than why what they do matters.
Would a soft drink manufacturer place this language in an ad to sell its product?
“We mix precise amounts of carbonated water with sugars and syrups and place it in cans and to be distributed to a point of sale for easy consumer access.”
Trade associations primarily care about two things: growing the membership base and getting members involved. It is a simple equation; the rate of membership renewal is equal to or greater than the value that a member gets from the program, and value is determined by respective ratios, including membership size, membership quality, resources, and – most of all – membership engagement.
Here are two simple lessons that trade associations can learn from consumer marketers to increase their rate of membership growth and renewal by engaging the membership.
1. It is about them. Not you. Qorvis took a look at more than 100 trade association websites this week. More than half of these websites had “About Us” as the first link in the global navigation. The first two sub-navigation under “About Us”? You guessed it, “Board of Directors” and “Staff.” If you went to any website for a soap, or a razor, or a candy bar, you would be hard pressed to find the brand manager’s name listed anywhere on the site. You would find, however, messages that guide you to consider the product.
Leaders, and their expertise, do matter in selling services and can differentiate you from alternative associations. It is important information to have listed. I am not arguing that.
What is important to note here is the root cause of the messaging problem. The board members are listed first because of a default to speak about one thing that the trade association knows most – itself.
2. Foster engagement. Don’t wait for it. Marketing a trade association doesn’t have to be overly complicated to apply similar concepts utilized by successful consumer brands. As long as the concept is tightly managed, it can remain simple in concept and still yield high levels of member involvement.
For example, Qorvis just managed a photo contest for the American Equipment Manufacturers’ I Make America campaign. EAM members and prospective members could submit images – often humorous – of instances where American infrastructure had lapsed. The campaign solved two problems. It provided a fact-basis in photographs to support legislative arguments in favor of the organization’s political agenda, while simultaneously engaging their current and prospective membership pool.
On the other end of your message is a member with dues to renew. Lead with messages that teach the member something he or she did not already know, or towards campaigns with which he or she can get involved. Your association will further establish its thought leadership, or provide an tangible opportunity to increase the value the member receives.
By Joe Bisagna