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August 14, 2012

What if you had at least one member in every staff meeting?

danpinkasae12.jpg

Author Dan Pink closed ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo with advice for association executives now that we're all in sales.

He called sales a natural human endeavor and "something we can do better by being more human." His message was a preview of his forthcoming book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, and he emphasized a new set of skills for "non-sales selling," most notably attunement to the perspectives of the people you're trying to influence.

Pink recommended association executives follow the lead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who pulls an empty chair into staff meetings to represent the customer. The "pull up a chair" exercise provides a visual reminder for staff and helps them be better attuned to the needs of the customer in any given project.

That's a great idea that associations could adopt, but there's no reason the chair has to be empty. Instead of having an imaginary member in every staff meeting at your association, why not have a real member in every meeting?

At some small-staff associations that are largely volunteer driven, this might already be the case, but for any association with enough staff to have staff-only meetings, adding one member would shift the dynamic in the room toward better serving member needs.

Pink said the new era of sales is one in which information asymmetry has given way to information parity: the buyer has just as much information as the seller, and it's the seller's job to understand how he or she can serve the buyer.

Maybe the logistics of getting a member into every staff meeting at your association would be prohibitive, but if you can make a habit of bringing members in more often, at least, you'll better reflect the dynamic of information parity, and you'll be better attuned to what members need.

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June 8, 2012

Is Polling Still Worth It?

I feel like I've been buried in poll numbers even more than usual, from Wisconsin governor recall results to public confidence in the economy to American Idol. But are polls really trustworthy anymore, when you have one-third of the public living cell-phone-only and most of the rest using caller ID on land-lines to help them avoid any surveys, even when they support the cause or campaign (guilty as charged!)?

Because so many associations poll members and potential members on everything from dues raises to advocacy positions, I turned to the man who knows more than almost anyone about the veracity and challenges of accurate polling: Bill McInturff, co-founder & partner, Public Opinion Strategies.

Bill, who is speaking today as part of the "Decision 2012" General Session at the ASAE Financial and Business Operations Conference, leads--along with partner Peter D. Hart--the largest polling company in the country, Public Opinion Strategies. The firm handles polling for NBC News/Wall Street Journal and works closely on polling challenges with the two primary industry associations, the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASR) and American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

"You can believe poll results but still have dwindling confidence," he told me. "There's no question that with the glut of polling, credibility is a little lower, because people are hearing wider, more diverse results of what different polls are saying. And there's no question that the basic confidence they have in polling is very different than it was 20 to 40 years ago. They're certainly asking more questions about methodology.

Despite those troubles, "if it's done correctly, it's still broadly accurate," Bill says. "It's still the best way to collect customer and other information about public opinion, and people don't tire of needing that information."
It will cost them more, though, to get it. According to Bill, the price of polling has risen for three reasons: (1) "federal laws and mandates dictate that you cannot use auto-dialers for cell phone numbers--you have to call cell phones by hand; (2) cooperation rates are much lower, so you have to call more people to get a completed survey; and (3) you have to collect the data ... using increased labor costs."

To better ensure poll veracity, Bill--who was the lead pollster for John McCain during the latter's 2008 presidential bid--advises associations to "be good consumers and make sure you go through a discussion with the pollster about methodology," asking about compensation rates for cell-phone-only or other respondents, how the "convenience factor" of women answering the phone more than men is handled, and how the data have been weighted and by how much.

I'll be writing a second blog post shortly that shares Bill's responses on whether associations can trust that the viewpoints of respondents reflect those of non-respondents as well, the potential for social media to offer new surveying opportunities, and more. I invite comments about your own association's successes or challenges when polling. And maybe you can snag Bill after the session to get more of his input, too. Thanks, Bill, for sharing your insights so generously at this busy time!

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May 24, 2012

Guarding Your Message


I was listening to a communications specialist who was at ASAE's Membership, Marketing, and Communications Conference yesterday, and she was confiding a message-gone-wrong story at her association.

In her case, members had given immediate and highly vocal feedback that they believed a certain call for an advocacy action by the organization and its membership had strayed from or even "betrayed" its core mission, thus alienating and confusing important donors and leaders.

It reminded me of the Komen Foundation controversy regarding pulled funds for Planned Parenthood programs, as well as comments by political strategist James Carville, whom I had interviewed recently about the art of smart messaging. (Carville will be a General Session speaker with Republican strategist Karl Rove in August at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo, so look for interviews with him and Rove in an upcoming Associations Now spread.)

"That debacle was an enormous and, as far as I can tell, unanticipated glitch," Carville said as we wondered why organizations still make serious communication mistakes, even with high-priced PR firms advising them. "Their overall messaging and the pink ribbon were brilliant. That became so identifiable that they were about women's health, and ... they had a real positive outfit. But then they came across as if they were some kind of political advocacy group, and that was particularly damaging. That was a glitch where they did something that was inconsistent with their overall messaging."

Carville talked about the need to vehemently "protect your message with everything you do."

"That's why I always add the dynamic of culture," he said, adding that the key elements of your primary message must be deeply embedded across your organization and lived by everyone on staff 24/7. "Where Komen, as a good example, went off track was that women's health wasn't put first; politics or ideology was put first," or at least appeared that way. That clearly had donors and supporters feeling profoundly betrayed, and I personally wonder how long it might take for Komen to recover, if indeed it can rebuild the lost trust through believable messaging and actions.

I'm interested in whether other associations or nonprofits have opinions of why and when associations mess up their messaging and are forced to execute crisis communication interventions. Feel free to share here and to sanitize players as needed for the sake of discussion.

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May 23, 2012

A source of must-have solutions

Sarah Sladek

Day 1 of ASAE's 2012 Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference in Washington, DC, started off with a look at how the membership value proposition is changing (or has already) for associations. In her opening general session, Sarah Sladek, author of The End of Membership As We Know It, told attendees that associations must create a "must-have" membership. "Nice to have is not enough," she said.

Sladek (pictured above) points to the generational shift from a belief in conformity (among baby boomers) to a belief in individuality (among genrations X and Y) as one of the driving forces behind the declining success of traditional membership tactics. Today, new generations of members will only join when they see how an association can solve a problem for them, and they won't renew if they aren't finding solutions.

Connecting members with those solutions came up as a key challenge during the first round of Learning Labs. In "Conversation that Matters: VPs of Marketing," I listened as a group of association marketing professionals discussed how to better connect members (and potential members) with the knowledge from the association and the community that is the most valuable and relevant to them.

In the course of conversation, the eternal question of what knowledge should be open to the public and what should be members-only came up, and it was suggested that an association's marketing department ought to have a keen enough understanding of the association's members and audience to know what knowledge resources are valuable enough to be members-only and what resources are better suited as free, open attention getters.

That role stands out to me as one of the most important roles an association's marketing department can serve today, especially in light of Sladek's emphasis on membership value lying in the ability to solve problems. At one point Sladek asked attendees, "What would happen if your association disappeared tomorrow? Would anyone care?" Obviously, if no one would care, that's a problem for you. But if your association disappeared and suddenly your members had specific problems they could no longer solve on their own, that will point to the value of membership. So, in determining which knowledge resources fall on which side of the membership wall, the question "Does this knowledge solve a problem for our members?" can be a valuable guide. Is it "must-have" knowledge, or is it just nice to have?

Stay tuned here on Acronym for more from MMCC, and follow the conversation on Twitter via the #MMCCon12 hashtag. And for more from Sarah Sladek, see:

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March 6, 2012

Dude, that association is so flawsome!

The latest trend profiled on trendwatching.com is titled "Flawsome." Despite the painful portmanteau, it has some interesting implications for associations. (Hat tip to Jeffrey Cufaude for pointing me trendwatching.com.)

Trendwatching defines "flawsome" as such:

"Consumers don't expect brands to be flawless. In fact, consumers will embrace brands that are flawsome: brands that are still brilliant despite having flaws; even being flawed (and being open about it) can be awesome. Brands that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humor, and (dare we say it) some character and humanity."

This idea builds on Mark Athitakis' post in January, "Resolved: Embrace Your Messes," in which he suggested that "Maybe this is the year you stop trying so hard to apply order to things and instead spend more time acknowledging life's inherent messiness."

I see this idea as a welcome but tricky one for associations to follow. At face value, consumers embracing an organization's flaws seems like it can only be positive for associations because, well, every association has them. But there's a limit to how flawed something can be, beyond which it's just crummy.

Knowing exactly where that line is located is likely more art than science, and to venture near it comes with some challenges that present themselves in unique ways for associations:

Human versus haphazard. One danger I see for associations is in equating being under-resourced with being flawed. Consumers will embrace flaws when they're the result of being human, not when they're the result of haphazard execution. In other words, you can't aim high, miss by a mile, roll out the product anyway, and then hope your members will understand "because we're a nonprofit."

Two different audiences. Associations have their engaged members and their mailbox members, and the degree to which each will embrace an association's flaws is likely to vary greatly. The engaged are more likely to know and understand the challenges the association faces and likely already put a human face on the organization because they've directly interacted with its people, both staff and volunteers. Mailbox members might see the association from a distance, as a monolithic brand that they judge by the same criteria they judge any other brand, for-profit or non.

More people equals more messiness. An association brand is a particularly squirrely beast because it's built upon the value of a community. The community is the brand, and vice versa. There's inherent value there, of course, but it also makes for a lot more inconsistency or non-uniformity to embrace.

Trendwatching briefly hinted at one strategy for embracing flaws at varying levels, suggesting that "many brands could learn lessons from the software industry and their 'beta' approach. Customers will of course often appreciate and even enjoy helping you improve." I certainly agree. I also know a few members of the association community who would have some recommendations on how to be flawsome. But I'm also curious for your recommendations. Does your association try to embrace its flaws? How have you presented that message to your members and customers?

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November 21, 2011

Analyze Social to Tell a More Compelling Story

The following is a guest post from David Nour, managing partner of The Nour Group, Inc., author of the forthcoming Return on Impact—Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships (ASAE, 2012), and general-session speaker at ASAE's 2011 Technology Conference & Expo.

Does your association leadership get the bigger sense of social? Not just social networking or media—"doing" social such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube—but becoming a social organization?

There is a Persian story that goes something like this: A group of villagers is weaving a basket together. A wise man walks by and asks them what they are doing. The first says, "I am pushing one straw against another." The second says, "I am making a basket." The third answers, "I'm helping a man carry food to feed his family."

Though they were all three working on the same project, they each saw their jobs very differently. How do your staff, members, or volunteer leaders see their role in social? Is it as the same mundane pushing of one woven strip against another, or do they see a little bigger than that—which is the basket itself—or do they see a purpose for why they are doing what they are doing?

The difference is that the last villager was engaged. Social analytics allow astute organizations to listen more intently to capture and share amazing stories of those who are engaged in the mission of the organization and the impact they create daily.

According to Forrester Research, every year more than 500 billion consumer opinions are shared online. The secret of monetizing these highly connected relationships for any organization is finding the right individuals and engaging them to talk about the right things in the right places. Those opinions, often internalized through stories, are affecting talent acquisition, revenue growth, and emotional loyalty and are making the advocates who write them highly influential, since they have the ability to shape thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors.

If a brand can be defined as a vision delivered, social analytics is the barometer of how well that vision is, in fact, being delivered, implemented, and applied to solving business challenges or taking advantage of market opportunities.

Metrics should measure against agreed-upon objectives and values and help to correct your course along the way--more like a dial you turn up or down than a switch you turn on or off. Here is the problem: The overemphasis on social media tools—propagated by a cottage industry of vendors and platforms, once-a-week conferences, and fly-by-night consultants and their glorified blogs—is the tail wagging the dog. Too often organizations allow the tools to dictate rather than define what to measure.

So how does an organization tell more compelling and interesting stories from its social-analytics capabilities?

Social analytics should help organizations begin to humanize business operations and tear down silos between internal teams. By designing and implementing listening platforms, the organization can uncover insights and create more meaningful and influential relationships. The narrative from online interactions fuels connected relationships. Great storytelling by organizations about the benefits they've been able to create for a broad range of stakeholders—from highly empowered employees to engaged members and loyal customers, to supportive investors and media advocates—consistently sets them apart.

Word of mouth is the gift that keeps on giving and when it comes to connected relationships; advocates attract and influence other advocates. Beyond promoting products or services, conversations between individuals about an organization can be incredibly insightful, but only if the organization is savvy enough to listen and not interrupt, interject, defend, position, or posture. You must simply listen, learn, and translate experiences into compelling narratives. Connected people who become advocates talk about the organization, even when the organization isn't listening. Connected relationships are trusted amongst their peers and within their microcommunities, as they aid and influence others down their individual decision journeys. Although the reach of one connected relationship may be minimal, as an aggregate, the total reach can have a strong business impact on any organization.

Social analytics can help an organization emphasize authenticity. In our current low-trust environment, true passion is contagious and genuine connections create influential cause and effect. Results of generosity are not just communicated; with social analytics, they're amplified.

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September 7, 2011

An Anniversary No One Will Forget: Associations Vary in 9/11 Treatment

So many associations are gearing up to share tributes, assess their industry's progress, and conduct community service projects in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that it's impractical to list them all. That said, I do want to share some of the tools, communication efforts, and creative projects in case some organizations are still pondering what their staff or members might want to do:

Created a microsite of resources. The American Psychological Association (APA) has set up a microsite with resources to "help people cope and build resistance" during the emotional days around 9/11.

Partnered for a TV special/podcast/on-demand show. APA also partnered with "Nick News With Linda Ellerbee" to co-develop a TV report called "What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001," which ran September 1 and is available on iTunes as a free podcast and in Nickelodeon's video-on-demand offerings throughout the month. A related discussion guide helps parents and teachers talk to kids about the tragedy and tough emotions.

Developed a so-called "impact kit" for reporters--a compilation of stats, resources, and trained commentators who can discuss an event from the perspective of its impact on an industry, profession, or locality. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) has organized materials around terrorism and insurance to aid reporters covering the 10th anniversary, including prepping its board president for media interviews and promoting I.I.I.'s white paper on "terrorism risk and insurance." A strong quote in its press release will likely get good response from media: "The 9/11 attack was the largest payout in the history of insurance until Hurricane Katrina in 2005," says President Robert Hartwig said. "Insurers became the nation's economic 'first responders,' and as construction progresses on the site of the former World Trade Center, insurance claims dollars continue to play an essential and highly visible role in rebuilding lower Manhattan while also mitigating the overall economic impact of the 9/11 attack."

Conducted a 9/11-related study. A good example was released this week by CoreNet Global, an association of corporate real estate and workplace professionals. The study concludes that 9/11 "had a permanent effect on the workplace," in part by accelerating the trend toward "distributed work" conducted by workers in multiple locations. "The focus on risk management as an intrinsic strategic planning and management function also grew stronger," according to the association. "Business disruption planning became a common element for many corporate workplace and asset managers as a result of 9/11," says spokesperson Richard Kadzis. "Elements of this planning include mobile work plans for employees, facility collocation policies, redundant facilities, energy back up, business continuity plans, and off-site data storage."

Combined old-time traditional communication tools with social media tools to promote public service. The Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has launched a billboard and Internet campaign called "Remember Through Service" to mark the day by highlighting the service of Michigan Muslims to the nation and to "provide an accurate depiction of how Muslims contribute to the broader society." Individuals highlighted include a doctor who was a first responder to Ground Zero, a Detroit police officer, an assistant prosecuting attorney, an assistant principal in an Ohio public school, a Vietnam veteran, and a volunteer doctor at a free medical clinic. You can see the billboards here[LINK TO http://www.4shared.com/photo/BMwnt-sz/CAIR-rev.html] and related YouTube videos[LINK TO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCC1mg8Guw8].

Volunteered like crazy. The goal is more than 50 million--that's the magic number for how many volunteers the government, community partners, and others hope to engage in community service projects such as park cleanups, mentoring, and food drives. Any organization still interested in community service projects can go to www.911day.org for a list of opportunities.

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August 8, 2011

One step at a time

What's wrong with baby steps?

Nothing at all, judging by several ideas shared in Learning Labs so far at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo. In the three separate sessions I've attended, speakers extolled the virtues of incremental improvements in their associations' work.

In "Coping and Managing as a Small Staff Executive" on Sunday, Lydia Middleton, CAE, president and CEO of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, talked about saving time and money for her association by moving to a virtual staff model. But she didn't completely abandon the brick-and-mortar office. Instead, AUPHA is transitioning. They've reduced office space from 3,500 square feet to 900, and staff work from home two days a week.

Later on Sunday, in "Email Marketing in a Mobile World," Amy Hager, communications and online member services manager at the Satellite Broadcast and Communications Association, talked about small, simple tweaks to emails to make them more mobile friendly, such as limiting subject lines to 30 characters and changing the "view the online version" link to "view the mobile version." The latter led to a 173-percent increase in clicks on the link, she said.

And this morning, in "Is There Money Hidden in Your Data," Wes Trochlil said there's one simple change that most associations can make to improve their data-gathering practices: stop collecting data that you don't use to make decisions.

We discussed small-scale innovations here less than two weeks ago; clearly it's a theme that continues here at #asae11.

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June 13, 2011

Are free offerings worth anything?

It was pretty clear from his session at ASAE's Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management, that Rafi Mohammed is not a fan of the price of "free." I'd say hostile even. His point: why do something that you think has such little value that you wouldn't charge anything for it?

I disagree with him on this one. I think there is value in things other than money. When someone is willing to pay attention to your organization when faced with so many other things that are screaming for their attention it means something. When someone interacts with your organization, that has real value, whether they've paid you for that privilege or not. In many cases, adding an extra barrier--such as requiring a monetary exchange--between you and who you want to attract, will limit the success you're able to achieve.

Here was the issue debated at the forum, and I'd love any readers' takes. One association executive talked about sending a couple of his staff to a conference for professional development. The staff came back raving about the experience, and the executive said he was excited by the feedback. And then the conference organizer followed up with a couple of free webinars that extended the learning and sharing from the conference. It probably wasn't necessary, but that was the deal cincher -- the association would be patronizing that conference in the future.

Mohammed thinks the conference organizer was leaving money on the table. They could have either offered a premium for the conference plus webinars or charged for the webinars themselves. He says the webinars did not actually add value to the conference because in all likelihood, they had already made the sale for the next conference -- that is, they're not getting anything additional by providing the webinars. Participants who commented, in general disagreed, saying the free webinars solidified the future sale, and could have been the deciding, impactful idea that spurred other, less raving, attendees to come back.

Would love others thoughts on the value of offering free products/services in general, and especially where you come down on the postconference webinar example.

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May 4, 2011

A Top Ten list from MMCC/Springtime

Last week, I attended both the ASAE Membership, Marketing, & Communications conference as well as Springtime. I'd imagine most people don't go to both of these (unless they need the hours), as they're basically focused on different audiences. But as someone in a (very) small association, I do both meeting planning and marketing for my association.

So, for those who were not able to attend, I thought I'd do my top 10 takeaways -- both "formally presented" and personally realized.

In no particular order:

-Twitter is amazing. I spoke on a webinar recently in which I said I was not a fan of Twitter but did it "because I have to". MMCC changed my mind - by virtue of the #mmccon hashtag that ASAE urged us social networking types to use during the conference, I was able to not only connect with a large group of my peers at the conference, but also get the best tidbits of ALL of the concurrent sessions I was missing.

-Even content leaders can learn from their own session. I was on the panel for an Association Career Path session at MMCC and while it was "character building" to present, I was amazed at how much I learned from the other panelists, Sue Holzer and Peter O'Neil.

-Mentoring relationships should not be forced. The best mentorship relationships are the ones you "luck upon" yourselves, even if you've never formally admitted to one another that you're a mentor/mentee. Less awkward and obligation-based!

-Providing incentives to members to join/register doesn't have to mean giving the milk away for free. Incentivizing can be anything -- from priority seating to a shout out in a newsletter. And it helps fill your room blocks/meet your budgets earlier!

-The iPad? Also amazing. I was able to arrange my notes easily and quietly (no clicky keyboards on that puppy). I bought it as a toy but it truly proved itself to be a valuable business asset last week.

-Find a way to provide membership/communications values to your members' employees. Knowing someone's administrative assistant by name is a good thing. Send them a holiday card just like you would your actual members -- if they have an emotional connection to your association, the mail you send their boss is more likely to make it on their desk.

-I need to get my CAE!

-This is so simple, yet we don't do it -- segment your surveys. When we all have so many different types of members (credentialed vs. non-credentialed, executive vs. administrative, experienced vs. new to the industry, etc), why are we asking them the exact same questions and analyzing them the exact same way?

-My favorite sentence I heard at MMCC was "Failing to plan means planning to fail". Put in non-cutesy-words, make sure that you have a road map for all of your projects. Have a retention communications plan, regularly look at your strategic plan, plan your week in advance.. everything should have a plan. As long as it's attainable and realistic, it's worth the time it takes because it will save you time (and resources) later.

-Offer to help other people in your office when you need a break. Even if helping someone stuff envelopes "isn't your job", it's still a small mental break from your own task, and that person is likely to help YOU stuff envelopes later when THEY need a break. Sweet!

And perhaps a #11: Blog your takeaways so you can refer back to them later...

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April 27, 2011

Stop using open rates now

At the MMC Conference, I heard the term "open rate" several times. It's a statistic that really grates on me. It has one teeny tiny use, and it's not at all what it sounds like it should be.

First, it's necessary to understand how open rates are tracked. You, or your email server, have to embed a tiny, usually transparent image into each email. To see the images in an HTML email, your client retrieves the image from the sender's server. Counting the number of times the image is retrieved divided by the number of emails sent that don't bounce back gives you the open rate.

The problem with this approach: users can turn off images. If someone opens your message but does not view the images, you will never know they opened it. And here's the hammer: what's the top business email client? Outlook. Default is for images not to load. Default view is also with a preview pane.

How else do people access their email? On their mobile device. In almost all cases, the default is that images do not load.

There are other problems, too, as the message preview option in some clients can also distort the number in the other direction.

So when you have an open rate of 30 percent, that does not mean that 30 percent looked at the message. Most likely, more people looked at it than that, what is absolutely clear is that you just don't know, unless you do everything in images and do not use text in your emails at all. (Such a decision will give you more accurate statistics, of course the rather nasty tradeoff is that you ensure your message doesn't reach as many people.)

So what is the use of the statistic? Not much really. If you send out a similar message every week, a newsletter for example, and you alter something about it, say you write a snazzy subject, you can tell if that has some impact on the people you send it to. If you go from 30 percent to 40 percent, it tells you that the new way to do subject lines probably gets your message seen by more people.

But that's about it. I don't even think you should use it as a trending statistic. For example, let's say a year ago you averaged a 30 percent open rate, but that rate has slowly declined so that over the last few months you've only averaged 25 percent. By itself that is not cause for concern. It might mean that your recipients have begun reading more email on mobile devices, which are less likely to retrieve the images than other email clients. Instead, you should rely on secondary measures. If you see that drop in open rate, and in every email you advertise a different book, and you're seeing that you're selling fewer books that are marketed in this way than previously, then you may want to rethink the emails to try to devise ways to make them more interesting to open (while also looking for other causes).

So please, stop using this outdated statistic. You want to know if your emails are working? Include links unique to the email, and see if you entice people to click. Or give a unique code for people to use when making a registration or purchase.

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April 26, 2011

SEO: No home runs here, just a whole lot of tee ball

From a marketing and communications standpoint, there is perhaps nothing more important than ensuring your association is at or near the top of the list of search results when people are searching on terms relevant to your industry, profession, or interest. I've read the articles and been to training on search engine optimization (SEO) like lots and lots of other folks. I was drawn into a session here at the Membership, Marketing & Communications Conference by its title: "From Page 55 to Page 1: One Association's Journey Out of the Google Abyss."

It's the story of how the Society of Hospital Medicine, and specifically, what they did after they learned that their job board--a new product they had high hopes for in terms of outreach and revenue--did not show up on the first page of Google results even though competing job sites did. And it wasn't on the second. Or third. They had to hit "more results" a total of (you guessed it) 55 times.

Alarmed they studied the issue and implemented strategies to improve, not only the new product, but the way the entire website would show on Google and Bing and other sites. What they discussed is not any different than what you'd read about or learn about in other SEO sessions. It's examining the language you use, some backend HTML stuff, and getting reputable, strong sites to link to your site. What they really learned is that it takes a strategy and a lot of effort, and it's continuous. They have some good, interesting tools they used that can be helpful to associations. (I'll follow up with them, give me a couple weeks and I'll update this post, ideally, with a link to a sample or two.)

But Todd Von Deak, CAE, the VP of operations and general manager of SHM, summarized the main point several times: "Don't look for the home run. Play tee ball instead." His point, it takes a lot of little things, all wrapped up in ongoing processes to jump 54 pages in Google. They talked about getting marketing and web staff on the same page as being critical--and I'd add all communications and content people. To successfully get to and stay at the top of search results requires the cooperation of anyone who has direct access to put things on your site to use the right terms and build pages in the right way. It sounds easy and simple, but it takes amazing discipline to pull it off.

They also reiterated a favorite theme of mine, which is that the most important part is getting highly rated sites to link to your site. The top way to do this, obviously, is to have good content--to put good, linkable material on your site. I've always tended to downplay the second way to get this done, which is to try to actively manage it. Basically, the strategy here is to assess who would be a good reputable site on which a link would be beneficial for your organization, and actively try to get them to do it. I always thought such a strategy would never pay off, but I'm not so sure anymore. For one, there are more influencers than there used to be, and identifying them is easier than before. Social media has changed this game, and even when you look at traditional media sources, they are doing tons of social media activities. And second, yes, it's still a lot of work and may not yield a lot of links, but search results are so important, why not put resources on it? Everything an organization decides to do, continue doing, etc., is a resource decision, and there are few things that are going to rate higher in importance than being at the top of search results.

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April 22, 2011

Earth Day: A Chance at Relevancy

Earth Day can be a fraud, a feast, or a fizzle.

It can be a great rallying date around which to publicly re-enunciate your organization's commitment to sustainability and showcase actions you've taken that back it up, or it either can be dissed as a greenwashing exercise or simply ignore it.

But are the latter two options very smart business choices with all of the studies showing the growing influence of eco-conscious consumers, the heightened watchfulness of media and citizen journalists, and the myriad hard data that have emerged about the positive ROI of a well-planned social responsibility strategy that syncs with organizational mission and core competencies?

If that kind of strategy sounds time-intensive to chart, it can be. However, it takes effort to plan any strategy, so I don't think that concern should be seen as much more than an excuse, especially when this approach jives so well with most our community's common goals of operating efficiently, attracting and retaining talent, holding tight to our budgets, bolstering innovation, engaging members, and building brand value.

It's heartening to see the many press releases from nonprofits and associations today as they urge members and consumers to switch to paper-free bill paying, plant a tree, volunteer, recycle, insulate, and more.

Less heartening is that so many associations are silent today. I promise you that no matter what industry or profession your group represents, your members--maybe not all of them, but certainly a growing percentage--are indeed moving toward greater sustainability. This is a chance for your association to be relevant. This is a chance to show value in a new way. There are serious opportunities here for any organization of any size in any location (you'll find some examples at www.asaecenter.org/socialresponsibility) to help members strengthen their businesses and professions.

So celebrate Earth Day today. Acknowledge it with authenticity. Tell staff, members, and others what you already are doing to help lighten your environmental footprint (that kind of self-audit is the first step anyway), and ask them what else you could be doing.

You may find the sustainability journey to be an enlightening road to greater relevancy.

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April 7, 2011

If you could send a one-question survey...

In a morning session at Digital Now, panel speaker Richard Yep, CAE, executive director of the American Counseling Association, shared a guiding question for navigating the use of mobile technology to serve his association's members:

"How can we make your life easier?"

It's an apt question in the mobile context, but it applies to any association service: advocacy, education, knowledge sharing, community, and so on. And the more I think about it, I think this question might be the best question an association could ask its members. If I only had one question I could ask members, I think I'd put this one at the top of my list.

I'm curious what question you'd ask your members if you were only allowed one question. (If you were stranded on a deserted island with just one survey question...) Would it be an open-ended question? Multiple choice? Would it be about a specific issue in your industry or a program your association offers? Please share.

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January 4, 2011

Parading Around Your Message

I'm a sucker for a parade, and so, apparently, are some associations and nonprofits that see these traditionally small-town events as lesser used but still effective methods of marketing themselves and their messages.

Parades = hokey. Right? While the Macy's Parade on Thanksgiving is likely the main parade that pops in your head when you think "parade," don't discount the likes of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, which was watched last weekend by millions on TV and online, or even something local like the annual Halloween Parade in Vienna, Virginia, which pulls a crowd of 10,000 and is one of the largest events in the state.

If you watched the Rose Parade, for instance, you saw at least seven nonprofits and about a half-dozen associations represented among the 47 floats, including the Alzheimer's Association, which won the President's Trophy "for most effective use and presentation of flowers" for "It's Time to Face Alzheimer's." The network broadcast of the parade included more than three minutes of primo airtime by the narrators, who discussed Alzheimer's disease and the nonprofit's resources, along with a link to the Alzheimer's website from the TV station's news site.

Another committed participant was the nonprofit Donate Life America, which has created Rose Parade floats for years, winning the Theme Trophy this year for "best presentation of the Rose Parade theme" with its "Seize the Day!" approach. The project attracts a loyal volunteer base of builders and donors, while driving people to the Donate Life website, according to the group.

So set aside your possible bias against parades as marketing vehicles and enjoy this slideshow of the different way your colleagues captured their message in moving flowers.

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November 30, 2010

One big push vs. chipping away

In any member-engagement effort, which style of outreach is more effective: a single, major call to action or sustained, long-term repetition?

Or, if both can be useful, how do you decide which one is appropriate in any given situation?

Fundraising is a simple example to draw a contrast between the options: If your association trying to draw donations for a cause, you could post a "Donate Now" button on your website and regularly remind potential donors about the need for donations, or you could host a week-long or month-long pledge drive with a specific goal to reach (and possibly a big thermometer poster that you color in as the donations come in). Or you could do both, perhaps.

I have zero experience in development, so I wouldn't know what the best option or balance would be in the example above. Fundraising, though, is just one specific kind of member engagement, and I find that I run across this choice of methods constantly in working with member volunteers. After all, to volunteer is to donate one's time and energy, rather than one's money.

Just in my slice of association work, I seek contributions from members in the form of

  • Interviews;
  • Writing articles or blog posts;
  • Submitting sample documents;
  • Rating and commenting on online articles;
  • Commenting on this blog;
  • Submitting story ideas.

Heck, even just reading an article or blog post is a contribution of one's time.

This big push vs. chip away decision can take a lot of different forms. Take our "big ideas" month theme here on Acronym last December. We could have made "big ideas" a theme throughout the year, planning one or two posts each month on that topic. In that case, though, we went with the big push, focusing nearly every blog post for a month on that topic. Given the level of member discussion online that month, the choice worked, but in retrospect, I'm not sure if we made that decision on anything more than a gut feeling.

My gut tells me, though, that a gut feeling probably isn't the best way to make the decision between a big push or chipping away when it comes to engaging members. This is a decision that any association faces, whether it's choosing between ad-hoc taskforces and standing committees or between a single-theme meeting and a series of wide-ranging conferences.

So, I'm curious what ideas you have. To our expert marketers, member engagers, and volunteer relaters out there, any guidance to share on how to balance big-push calls to action and long-term open opportunities?

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August 31, 2010

Rebranding: Lessons for the Rest of Us

I remember when March of Dimes kicked off its new branding several years ago, so it was interesting to read the terrific article in this month's Chronicle of Philanthropy that shows which media vehicles worked and which failed in terms of accomplishing the organization's many specific goals for the campaign. You can read more about the following three lessons learned in "March of Dimes' Evolution in Online Fundraising:"
1) The vetting and targeting of influential and "advocate bloggers" was worth it.
2) The purchase of online ads placed near popular search engine words and terms took creativity and smarts, in my opinion.
3) The failure of a popular web video that was "cool" but didn't get the right job done shows that tracking and reflection can reveal false assumptions and prevent future marketing mistakes.

Kudos to the organization for their candor about the campaign. We all benefit from sharing such insider information.

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July 21, 2010

Relationships vs. Marketing

"Marketing is what happens when relationship fails." When I heard this comment, I wasn't at a board meeting or a marketing conference. I was at church, listening to the sermon, more than a month ago. And I can't get the words out of my head. It wasn't some wacko sermon about marketing. The context was about growing the church community through caring for each other and meeting the needs of the unchurched - making a difference in the lives of others (I'll omit the spiritual component here). It made me long to live in Walnut Grove - the town from Little House on the Prairie.

After my Laura Ingalls flashback, I realized what was conflicting me. How can we form and multiply relationships that matter and inspire members instead of relationships that have a goal of developing and maintaining a membership base in order to generate profit for our organizations? Is it an either/or situation? Is the opposite really true - is marketing obsolete if relationship succeeds? What do you think?

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July 1, 2010

Quick Clicks: Straight Up

Welcome to the latest edition of Quick Clicks--just in time for the holiday long weekend (for those of you who are in the States). Here's some great reading before you head out to your holiday celebration of choice:

- Welcome to new association blogger Dave Martin! Dave just recently launched the Dirty Martini blog, with the great tagline "Association Marketing Straight Up."

- Amith Nagarajan has written three posts on the Aptify CEO blog following up on his Leadership Inspiration post here on Acronym. He's written on encouraging debate at all costs, making decisions with imperfect information, and challenging your opinion continuously.

- The Connect blog shares 56 takeaways from ASAE's Membership and Marketing Conference and Association Media & Publishing's Annual Meeting.

- At face2face, Sue Pelletier considers a couple of perspectives on the question of whether or not association tradeshows are on their way out.

- At the SignatureI blog, Marsha Rhea considers what the next 50 years might hold for associations.

- The Nonprofit University blog shares a fascinating parable about Goldilocks and the three executive directors.

- Vinay Kumar wonders if we're asking the right questions as we try to improve our organizational performance. On a somewhat related note, Chris Bailey has some suggestions on how you can listen like an anthropologist to hear what isn't being said during important conversations.

- At the Insights From a Future Association Executive blog, Bruce Hammond has started an interesting discussion about the future of magazines.

- Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project blog shares some lessons learned from arranging a virtual career fair.

- Joe Sapp at the Moving Through the Association World blog (welcome back, Joe!) responds to Brian Birch's recent Acronym posts on building a new website with some advice of his own.

- Rebecca Rolfes suggests a new way for associations to think about growth.

- The AssociationRat blog wonders if the business world has anything equivalent to a walk-off in baseball.

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June 25, 2010

Marketing on a shoestring budget

Here's our third and final post from consultants who helped facilitate a series of Idea Swaps for small staff executives recently. Here, Sue Bowman from The Haefer Group summarizes the points emerging from discussions on how to market when resources are scarce.

When hosting the discussions at my table, I started the dialogue with a question: What about marketing keeps you up at night? The small staff execs who participated in this round of discussions had two common and related anxieties: 1. they wear multiple hats--only one of which was a marketing hat; and 2. they had very limited budgets.

The easy answer that addressed each of these stressors is for small staff execs to rely on one of the popular marketing packages to send frequent e-mails to their members, emphasizing the features of the organization. After two hours of discussion with three separate groups of small staff execs, we determined that perhaps the easy answer wasn't necessarily the correct answer. Instead, it turned out that the following concepts are more likely to produce better marketing strategies and fewer panic attacks.

Heavily Promote Member Only Benefits
Members and prospects need to understand how your organization:

  • Makes them smarter

  • Saves them money

  • Makes their lives easier

Don't take it for granted that your existing communication materials already do this. Our discussions focused on how we often talk about what we do but not the personal benefit we provide to members.

Understand Key Metrics
It's tough to market smarter if you don't know where your successes are coming from. Look at return on investment from various marketing channels. Understand who's coming, who's leaving, and why it's happening.

Maximize Your Use of Volunteers to Help the Organization Market
Have members and volunteer leaders contact prospects/renewing members to focus on value--from a members' perspective. Make sure EVERYONE knows the value elevator speech. Reward success with publicity and recognition.

Segment Messaging
In the case of e-mail marketing, change up your messaging in your typical contacts. Segment, segment, segment! Target vulnerable members, like those in the first several years of membership.

Build Your PR Program
Do some research, look at related sites on the internet to build press contacts. Keep the flow of information going.

Use Social Media Discriminately
Everyone agreed that there are many opportunities to market organizations using social media--including LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. The challenges that presented themselves included the time commitment, keeping content fresh, and competing organizational priorities. The majority of participants thought it was best to focus on one element and do it well.

Easy isn't always the way to go. There is no silver bullet to marketing success. But these strategies should help you sleep just a little bit better.

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April 2, 2010

Ask why, not just what

A couple weeks ago, I volunteered as a judge for an awards program. When I originally signed up for this duty and when I filled out an online evaluation survey about my volunteer experience, I was asked "Why do/did you want to serve as a judge for this program?"

I like that I was asked that question. It had an open-text answer field, so I explained in my own words why I volunteered, and I hope the association is able to use that info to its advantage. It was a good reminder to me that the answers to "why" questions are extremely valuable in a way that the answers to "what" questions can't quite reach.

Consider these two "what" questions that could appear on any member or volunteer application or survey:

  • What types of resources or educational programs are you most interested in receiving or attending?
  • What types of volunteer opportunities would you be most interested in?

And now consider these two "why" questions:

  • Why did you join this association?
  • Why did you sign up to volunteer?

In either case, you'll get some pretty good info about your members (quantifiable data, even, if you do it right), which you can use to match your offers with the appropriate segments of your members. The difference between the two, however, is the difference between interests and motivations.

It's great to know that a member is interested in writing for your journal. It's even better to know that she's interested in writing for your journal because:

  • She sees it as a prestigious publication in which to appear.
  • Or, her company wants to gain exposure for a new product it has developed.
  • Or, she is writer by training and she wants to exercise her writing muscles in a way that she isn't able to in her normal job.

These are three very different motivations, and knowing which one applies gives you the ability to directly appeal to that intrinsic, personal benefit when informing that member of future events, products, and volunteer opportunities.

But you can't get that info about motivations if you don't ask "why."

I told the association for which I volunteered that I wanted to serve as a judge to see and learn from the best examples of work in our industry. The networking was nice, sure, and so was the sense of contribution to industry, but learning from the best definitely topped my list.

If that association leads with "learning from the best" the next time it tells me about an event or a chance to volunteer, I'll be more likely to sign up.

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February 25, 2010

Quick Clicks: Home runs

Welcome to another edition of Quick Clicks. Thanks to all the association bloggers who give us so much great stuff to link to!

- On the SmartBlog Insights blog, Rebecca Leaman wonders whether it still makes sense for nonprofits to attempt to drive traffic back to a single website "home base." Her question started a great discussion in comments.

- Andy Sernovitz has some thought-provoking comments on how you can take advantage of changing customer expectations (even if they might seem threatening at first glace).

- Jeffrey Cufaude has started a new series of blog posts he's calling "Wednesday What Ifs?". So far, he's tackled paying for dues and other programs and services in multi-year increments, giving implicit rather than explicit permission, and focusing on consistent quality rather than on the big breakthrough.

- Cindy Butts responds to some recent Acronym posts with her thoughts on the pursuit of perfection.

- Kevin Whorton has a great post at the College of Association Marketing blog on the surprising disconnect between the words and actions of one focus group.

- Jeff Hurt has great advice for pumping up the networking potential of your face-to-face events.

- If you're an "emerging leader" and you've ever thought, "When do I just emerge already?" Rosetta Thurman has a post for you.

- Shelly Alcorn at the Association Subculture blog has launched an interesting series of posts applying the rubric from Jim Collins' new book "How the Mighty Fall" to associations.

- Six is apparently a big number this week: A guest post by Mack Collier on Lauren Fernandez's LAF blog shares six truths of building successful online communities, and Aimee Stern shares six great ideas she got at a recent Super Swap.

- The Nonprofit University blog has some thoughts on the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and its implications for nonprofit organizations.

- David Patt has some interesting observations about behavorial differences he's seen with older and younger colleagues. What do you think?

- Jeff Cobb at the Hedgehog & Fox blog has four questions whose answers might predict your future success. (And at his other blog, Mission to Learn, he has a post I loved on learning lessons he's gleaned from watching his toddler.)

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February 11, 2010

The Perception of Perfection, and Why It Sucks

I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing lately, and how it seems to be changing, some say due to the emergence of social media. And I constantly see and hear comments about how things are more "real" in social media--and I wonder why we all strayed so far from being real in the first place!

I think over the last few decades, corporations, followed by associations, seem to have decided that they must appear perfect in the eyes of their customers or potential clients. This makes sense in a competitive world. But man it’s a pain, takes a ton of time, and might be counter-productive in many ways, including:

1) Customer expectations: If we pretend that we’re perfect, then we are giving our customers permission to expect more of us than is possible with the time, resources, and people available to us.

2) Handling mistakes: When we drive our employees to be perfect, we focus more on their mistakes, and how embarrassing they are to us as managers or as an association, instead of seeing what a huge opportunity for growth and real connection they can be.

3) Time: It takes a ton of time to be perfect! I realize that having mistakes in printed materials, for example, is not good; but I’ve witnessed many times companies throwing complete hissy fits when there is one spelling error; sure you printed 5000 brochures and the word ‘product’ is spelled wrong, but if your value proposition is weak enough to be completely destroyed by a spelling error, you need to go back to the drawing board!

4) Sales: God, if I go to one more trade show, and talk to someone in a booth who acts like they are trying to sell me a car, I will pull my hair out. Selling is about relating to people, not acting like someone you aren’t. People can sniff a fake from 100 miles away, and they know a fake smile from a real one.

I’m not advocating that we just shoot from the hip all the time, or that high expectations aren’t a necessity ... but let’s face it, many audiences now expect perfection, and we are hamsters on the wheel trying to attain it. I’m just saying, take it in stride, and use all of the resources available to you, including mistakes, bad decisions, fears, and flaws, to illustrate what you really represent in your work each day.

So to me, this is a real chance to get real. I love it when I make mistakes. I have many flaws. I point them out to members and prospects, and make fun of myself ... which is much more human than being perfect!

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February 4, 2010

Free for a day

Some of you may have seen that access to the Wall Street Journal online—which normally requires a paid subscription—was free yesterday. At right, see a screenshot I grabbed yesterday.

The free day was subsidized by a sponsorship from Acura, which of course got a nice big banner ad on the front page and more ads elsewhere throughout the site.

I thought this was worth pointing to on the heels of the recent discussion that's been going on here and elsewhere about micropricing and, more broadly, pricing models in general for associations.

This "free for a day" sponsorship is an idea that I could see associations emulating in their products and services, whether it be online content, meetings, books, education, or anything else they normally charge for or keep behind the members-only wall.

Two important thoughts to add about it:

  • "Free for a day" (or "week" or "month" or whatever) has a certain buzz-creating ability that "sponsored by" or "brought to you by" just doesn't have. It's worth noting I found out about the WSJ promo yesterday via friends/colleagues on Twitter.
  • You can't offer something free for a day if you don't ever charge for it at all.

Curious if any associations have tried this specific type of promo and, if so, how it went. Let us know in the comments.

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January 29, 2010

First, assume no one cares

A couple seemingly unrelated thoughts that I've read recently have me thinking about the importance of this question: What if no one cares?

  • On Scott's "Welcome to governance month" post, Maddie Grant commented with a general feeling of angst toward boards, and she said "A friend said to me that people should print my comment and show it to their boards and say, ‘this is what some people think of boards - how would you refute it?'"
  • Then I saw "Three Quick Steps to Clear Writing" on Copyblogger (which, if your job entails writing in any way, you really should be reading). One of his steps: "Care: Clarity comes from deeply caring if people truly understand."

The latter reminded me of the old writer's adage "write for the reader," which really means "consider the reader's perspective, not your own." But with Maddie's comment in mind, I realize that this mindset should permeate pretty much everything you do.

  • For your next membership campaign, don't just assume that prospective members might be interested in networking or improving their careers. Assume that your prospects are content, lazy slouches with no ambition, little desire to expand their horizons, and zero familiarity with membership organizations. Then figure out how to make membership in your association relevant to those people.
  • Next time you call a staff or volunteer meeting, don't just assume that your colleagues want to collaborate with you. Assume they're already overworked and have little to no knowledge of the need for or the fundamentals of the work you'd like to do together. Then figure out how to make them excited about working or volunteering with you.
  • When you give your next presentation at a meeting or conference, don't just assume that the audience wants to learn. Assume that they came to your session because it looked like the least boring session during your time slot and that they don't think your topic is in any way relevant to their field of work. Then figure out how to get that audience engaged.

Of course, in most of these cases, people do care. But don't assume that. Don't assume anything in your favor. Rather, before you take on any task, ask yourself, "What if no one cares about this?" Then, with that perspective in mind, direct your efforts to making sure that you reach the people who don't care. It will make everything you do much more effective.

[On a related note, my colleague Lisa Junker wrote a great article back in 2007 on "red teaming," which is an exercise in assuming the mind of your competition to better understand your own weaknesses. It takes the "What if no one cares?" idea a step further by asking, "What if people want to defeat us?" and addresses it on an organizational level. It's a good read.]

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January 21, 2010

Is micropricing the answer to your revenue woes?

In the last few days, some association bloggers have made comparisons between associations and the newspaper industry:

The discussion focuses on whether the association business model is doomed to the same fate as newspapers, and it arose from a broader discussion about the association model on ASAE & The Center's Executive Management listserver.

However, another theme that arose in the discussion is "micropricing," which I'll loosely define as "small fees for single-resource access." Think 99 cents per song on iTunes or $9.99 for a book on an Amazon Kindle. Some newspapers are poised to try this method with their online content. The discussion on micropricing in the comments to the SocialFish post has been good (you should go read it), and I want to pull that topic to the forefront here. I think micropricing could work for associations, and here's why:

For a long time, membership strategy for many associations has been to put access to resources behind the member wall, with just a small sample available for free to nonmembers in the hopes that it will entice them to pay to become members. The inherent challenge in this model is that the gap between free and a membership fee is often quite large. It's a big leap to ask people to make.

Associations need to provide some stepping stones in between. This is where I think micropricing comes in. In between the free resources and the all-access, big-fee membership, micropriced content and resources could generate additional revenue among nonmember customers.

But here's the important part: micropricing will only work for associations as one method along a continuum. If you threw away membership and free, it's doubtful that micropriced products would generate sustainable revenue. But, if you offer some resources for free, a lot of resources for small fees, and full access to all of your resources (and the community) via membership, you have a nice three-tiered system that's built to entice people to spend some money.

Think about the three groups of prospects you have:

Group 1: People who are only interested in the products you offer for free.
Group 2: People who pay for some of your products but not for a full membership.
Group 3: People who pay for membership.

With just "free" and "membership," you miss out on Group 2. With micropricing, you can do three things:

  • Generate revenue from Group 2.
  • Push some people in Group 1 toward Group 2.
  • Push some of the people in Group 2 toward Group 3.

These last two are important, because they're a lot easier to do than trying to get people to move all the way from Group 1 to Group 3.

So why aren't many associations trying this? My guess is this: while "free" equals zero dollars and "membership" equals $100 or $500 or $1,000, micropricing is messy. It means you have to do actual trial and error, actual research on your members' and customers' buying habits, and maybe even some actual math. And you have to do it with every individual product or service you offer. The concept of micropricing gets derailed fast when people start asking, "What price is right?" The leader in that situation has to make other people comfortable with, "We won't know for sure until we try."

So to answer the question in the title of the post: no and yes. While micropricing can't be the only method of generating revenue at associations, it could be one method, and it could be one that bridges the gap between the others. If you're familiar of any associations that are trying some form of micropricing, let us know in the comments.

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November 13, 2009

Quick clicks: Ideas and excellence

Welcome to this week's round of Quick Clicks. Lots of good ideas:

- To tie into our social media theme for this month, a link to an interesting interview with "digital ethnographer" Michael Wesch (creator of the "Web 2.0: The Machine Is Us/ing Us" video) on the dark side of social media and the future of the web.

- If social media is making you feel overwhelmed (raise your hand!), Rex Hammock has a prayer for you.

- Rosabeth Moss Kanter blogs on the Harvard Business Publishing site about the power of the "15 minute competitive advantage."

- Seth Godin encourages you to remember to ask "why."

- Joe Gerstandt was inspired by Veteran's Day to write about what he learned about leadership from the Marine Corps.

- Are you a manager that cares enough? Rajesh Setty has nine questions to ask yourself to find out. Elsewhere, Bob Sutton lists 21 things great bosses believe and do to encourage innovation.

- More for managers: The Digital Now blog encourages you to lead with the latest brain research in mind.

- At the Associations Live blog, Kathy Johnson warns you not to let unfulfilled or unexpressed expectations ruin your relationship with your board.

- Some good economy-related posts: The SignatureI blog lists eight factors involved in building a results-driven culture in the down economy; the Plexus Consulting Group blog has examples of associtations using the recession to "trim down and muscle up"; and on the Hourglass Blog, Eric Lanke has a fantastic in-depth post on how the different generations may be responding to the current economy.

- The Aptify CEO blog has some musings on how to predict if trial members will convert, renew, and engage.

- On the Association Puzzle blog, Cecilia Sepp and several commenters have advice for new association professionals.

- Short meetings are a good thing, right? Not always, says David Patt.

- Tony Rossell shares some advice on how you can structure your organization around the value you offer.

- I'm linking to this to see if Joe Rominiecki will try to come behind me and delete the link: On the Splash blog, Mark Sedgley uses the Yankees as a model to describe how you can create a environment of excellence.

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November 6, 2009

Quick Clicks: The quotable edition

Welcome to your first November Quick Clicks post! Here's some quoteable and noteable posts from the past week or so:

- The Digital Now blog reminds us that "the fish out of water has no other fish to contend with."

- Shelly Alcorn tells it like it is: "You are not Stuart Smalley and darn it, some people are NOT going to like you."

- "We followed the best advice we found and marched confidently forward … right into failure." Get the full story from Peggy Hoffman at the Idea Center blog.

- Jamie Notter asks, "As a leader, do you know if you are truly willing to trust your people?" Elsewhere, Judith Lindenau writes on building the bond of trust between staff and members.

- Two association bloggers were recently quoted by CNN. Bruce Hammond blogs about the experience and clarifies a few things.

- The Nonprofit University blog asks, "So how's that recovery treating you?"

- If you missed Joe Rominiecki's recent post on the crazy idea of allowing first-year members to attend your meetings for free, there is some great discussion going on in the comments. One standout for me: Joe says, "I believe every member who joins an association and isn't meaningfully engaged is simply a missed opportunity."

- On a related note, Mark Buzan offers some ideas for keeping association members interested and active.

- "It’s not the inability to move quickly that hampers associations, it’s the unwillingness to do anything outside of the status quo," posits Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog.

- "What's your Apollo program?" Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog wants to know.

- Chris Bonney at the Vanguard Technology blog has five reasons why playing it safe is a bad idea.

- Deirdre Reid asks where the balance is between managing staff time wisely and providing member service on demand.

- The SignatureI blog has a fascinating "vision of excellence" for association learning and invites you to add to it.

- Aptify's CEO blog has some interesting suggestions for data points associations can collect that correlate to member renewability. (Is "renewability" a word? Do I lose editor points if it's not? Hmmm.)

- Ellen Behrens at the aLearning blog wonders if association learning is lagging behind other sectors.

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November 4, 2009

Free attendance for first-year members?

What would happen if your association allowed first-year members to attend any and all meetings and events during their first year of membership for free?

"Bankruptcy," might come to mind, but I actually think this could be a good idea.

Last week I pointed out an article about the positive effects on communities that result from citizen involvement in government, and I drew some rather obvious parallels to member engagement and volunteerism in associations. The bottom line: social interaction leads to increased engagement in a community.

As association professionals, we all know this—feel it, even—because we've experienced so many meetings and made so many great connections and friends in our respective communities. But even so, it's hard to sell the value of that experience to anyone who isn't familiar with it. You just have to experience it yourself to understand.

So if that's the case, what's the best way to get people to try one of your meetings? Tell them it's free.

Once you get people in the door, then you let the community you've built do the work. Let first-year members experience the education sessions you offer, meet with the industry experts that you bring in, and network with all of the fellow members that are there. Chances are they'll be more likely to come to another meeting, and another. And a lot of them will be more likely to come to a meeting in their second year, even though there's a price tag, because they'll feel the intrinsic value of your community so much more clearly.

Yes, you will lose some money up front. For every new member who would have paid to attend a meeting anyway, you've lost registration fees for a year. But for every new member who wouldn't have paid to attend a meeting but does attend one for free, you haven't lost anything other than the marginal cost associated with serving an additional attendee (cost of lunch, tote bag, etc.).

However, you could stand to gain in:

  • New-member dues: Because of your "first-year free attendance" policy, you attract more new members than you would have otherwise.
  • Renewal dues: With a higher retention rate as a result of increased engagement and a larger initial base (see above point), you have more second-year members a year later.
  • Continued attendance: For each member who would have never come to a meeting but tries one out because it's free and then pays to attend one the next year, you've gained a registration fee.
  • Exhibitors: More attendees at meetings with tradeshows means a better draw for exhibitors to buy booths.
  • More non-meeting purchases: Increasingly engaged members are thirstier for knowledge, meaning they're more inclined to pay for collateral products (books, certification courses, etc.).

And these are just potential dollar gains. Any increase in member engagement also adds to the richness of knowledge sharing, collaboration, and the diversity of ideas in the community. These are harder to put dollar values on, but they're just as important.

Anyway, the free sample idea isn't revolutionary, so I'm interested to know if any association has ever tried this or anything like it. You could make any number of variations to this model (e.g. first three meetings free, first six months free, 50 percent off all registrations, etc.), though the first year free has a certain boldness to it that I like.

I'm just an editor, so there are probably a lot of gaps in this idea that I'm missing. Please let me know what they are. Tell me why this is too crazy to work.

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October 26, 2009

Quick clicks: Risky business

Friday's Quick Clicks is now Monday morning Quick Clicks--my apologies for the delay! Here's some reading to kick off your week:

- Leslie White, who has written some great guest posts for other association bloggers in recent months, has started her own blog, Risky Chronicles. Her first post is all about risk strategy and polar bears.

- Jeff De Cagna has some strong words about what relevance is not.

- Tony Rossell at the Membership Marketing blog suggests a simple exercise to determine the value you offer to your members.

- Jeff Hurt issues a call for next-generation conference and membership revenue models.

- Michael McCurry has some ideas for how to plan for attrition (or attendance growth) in today's economy.

- David Gammel suggests that growth is a trap associations need to watch out for.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel points to an interesting "FutureLab" experiment Independent Sector is currently undertaking.

- Has your professional development budget been cut? Rosetta Thurman summarizes 11 tips for do-it-yourself professional development.

- Erik Schonher at the Experts in Membership Marketing blog has some tips from a "master strategist" whose association has grown its membership despite the economy.

- Maddie Grant at the Socialfish blog shares some draft social media guidelines; at the Bamboo Project blog, Michele Martin shares another example of such guidelines, focused around "admirable use" of social media.

- Joan Eisenstodt wants to know if you know how your audience learns.

- David Patt responds to Acronym blogger Joe Rominiecki's post on "blowing it up and starting over." (On a somewhat related note, Lindy Dreyer has a great post about ending the quest for perfection.)

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August 21, 2009

Why association marketing stinks

"You need to share with people what they want to hear, not what you want to shout at them."

That was said by Charlene Li in her general session at the annual meeting. If you have just a moment, skip down to the bottom of this post and watch the 2 minute, 41-second video from the last Marketing & Membership Conference.

I used to hold the opinion that just about everyone in an organization was part marketer. I'm ready to abandon that now. Oh, I still believe in the sentiment, but there doesn't appear to be any real change on the horizon. Associations are still supremely guilty of shouting out what they want their public to hear, rather than entering into dialog and informing. The term marketing has a bad connotation—it is the shouting, the blah, blah blah, the interruption, and it all wreaks of desperation. So now I'm ready to jettison the term. Just lose it from the vocabulary. While we're at it, if there is any product or service that needs marketing, then get rid of that, too.

It's time to stop thinking about marketing, replacing it with informing and engaging in dialog. It's what our members want from us. They didn't join to be marketed to; they didn't join to be sold to. They joined to be part of community. If you need more marketing than that, it's time to rethink what you're doing.

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Associations/nonprofits turn to iPhone apps as latest viral tool

I’m seeing more and more associations and nonprofits developing their own iPhone apps to create a mobile forum to educate and engage members and stakeholders. Some apps are for the organization overall and appear most often distributed free through the iTunes App store, such as that of the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and, most recently, the American Humane Association.

Their primary purposes differ. The app for the American Red Cross encourages emergency preparedness, provides on-the-spot CPR guidance, gives emergency updates, and provides easy donation opportunities.

The American Humane Association’s “Be Humane!” app also provides breaking news and donation options through PayPal, but it adds has a brief organizational video, legislative updates, and a wide range of images and program tie-ins. Its Houston, Texas, components/chapter also has its own app on iTunes.

The American Heart Association app fosters self-tracking of heart-friendly activities such as healthy eating and exercise, health news, and event calendars, among other topics.
Whether members will take to these apps, increase their loyalty to the organization as a result of greater engagement, donate more, volunteer, or act in other positive ways that strengthen the association or nonprofit is still a bit early to tell in most cases. But I’m interested in hearing from other organizations that have gone this route. What types of numbers have you been tracking in this regard? What’s been your feedback? What would you advise others who are considering this tool? How focused has your purpose for the app been?

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August 5, 2009

Are marketers killing themselves?

I was driving last week when I heard a commercial for State Farm insurance. What got me to take notice is that the commercial focused on the value of having State Farm insurance and not just on price. As a marketer lots of advertising goes right in one ear and out the other so when I heard this ad focusing on value it got my attention.

There’s a ton of direct marketing testing that shows that focusing on a low price or discounts tends to get people to purchase. I myself have led with price numerous times during my career with varied levels of success. But I have wondered for some time now whether focusing on price and discounts is helping or hurting our long term efforts.

I will use the magazine industry as an example. Magazines used to be a valuable part of people’s lives, and they were willing to pay a fair price. It was not unusual to see some subscription prices in the $100+ range. But over time, smart marketers realized that you could bring in more subscribers by lowering your price, so prices went down and down and down.

In the short term that allowed subscriber numbers to go up, and publishers were able to garner additional advertising revenues based on increased circulation. That was all fine and good when the economy was rolling along, but over time, with the economic challenges and introduction of other advertising avenues, advertisers stopped spending as freely. Meanwhile, we recruited subscribers at such low prices that it will be almost impossible to maintain circulation levels if we try to recoup those ad-revenue losses by raising prices.

An even more important side effect of those low prices is that the perceived value of magazines has been reduced dramatically. When all you hear is that something is only $4.99 a year for a subscription, how can it have any actual value?

If you are a marketer you are under two incredibly large pressures. The first is making sure you market effectively in the short term and meet current goals. The second is to make sure that you don’t undercut your efforts in the long term (as magazines appear to have done). From what I heard the other day, State Farm appears to be taking steps to make sure that consumers know they offer great value, not just low prices. In some ways, this is a risk, because it may only attract a certain segment of the audience and may not attract the many individuals who right now are very focused on price. In other ways, this is incredibly smart, because it should have a much greater impact in the long run.

Are associations facing this conundrum? I am positive they are but would love to know how we are dealing with it.

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July 29, 2009

Why are we so afraid to change?

I have been talking to more and more membership organizations every day and I continue to be surprised at how many organizations have not reinvigorated their membership marketing. We currently live in a world where membership is no longer a given and where more and more is competing for our piece of our current and prospective members. Since almost all of us know this is true, why are so many organizations following the same membership marketing strategy that they used ten years ago?

Here are some of the key things I have noticed:

1. We continue to focus more time and money on recruitment than we do on retention, even though almost all of us have been told at some point that keeping a member is always cheaper than bringing in a new one.

2. We continue to lack a member communications strategy where we use multiple methods and resources to talk one on one with our members on a regular basis for reasons other than asking them to purchase something, register for something, or renew their membership.

3. We continue to send everyone a generic message and a generic list of benefits that requires any given segment of our audience to sort through the list to find what is applicable to them.

4. We continue to complain about our AMS and our databases and/or know that our systems do not allow us to market optimally, yet we do nothing to change that.

Why do we continue to do these 4 things, and more, when there are relatively easy ways to do things differently and potentially get a lot better response without a lot more effort? Is it lack of knowledge (notice I didn’t say stupidity, because I know that is not it), lack of training, lack of proactivity, lack of money, lack of time? Let me know, because once I find the common denominator, I will work on figuring out a way to blast it out of associations forever so we all have the membership recruitment and retention results we deserve.

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July 24, 2009

Quick clicks: To the Moon!

Good afternoon! Some reading material for your Friday:

Several association bloggers were inspired by the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. (Was I the only one who got choked up watching the footage from the first moonwalk on all of those 40th anniversary documentaries?) Jeff De Cagna asks if we've lost our ability to imagine impossible goals like putting a man on the moon. Kevin Holland responds with some thoughts on why the competitive spirit is so important to the creation (and accomplishment) of such goals. Mark Bledsoe at the Association Okie blog also has some thoughts on the moon mission and BHAGs.

In case you've missed it, Tony Rossell at the Membership Marketing blog has been doing a series of posts based on a benchmarking study he conducted on association membership marketing practices. You can access all of the posts so far here.

Peggy Hoffman at the Idea Center blog wants to know why we default toward creating formal structures for groups of volunteers, when they might be perfectly happy as a more informal group.

Cecilia Sepp reminds us that volunteering is a commitment to be taken seriously.

At the Mizz Information blog, Maggie McGary wonders if associations are prepared for the way advertising is changing and will continue to change.

Bruce Turkel at the Turkel Talks blog reminds us that learning is only useful if you actually use it.

At the Association Voices blog, Steve Drake has posted part three of his "Reinventing Associations" series.

Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project blog has some important questions your organization should be asking (and you should be asking yourself, too).

Eric Casey at the Association Unbound blog has a few pet peeves he wants to air out. (If you're enjoying the "classic association blunders" conversation here, I bet you'll enjoy Eric's post.)

Stephanie Vance shares some advocacy advice with an acronym. (Say that three times fast!)

Cynthia D'Amour advises team leaders (and chapter leaders) that you can't expect blind faith from others.

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July 23, 2009

Takin’ It to the Streets

Anyone glued to the Tour de France cycling race during the past two weeks may have seen one of the coolest, newest message delivery systems developed in a long time: Chalkbotting. The Nike Livestrong Chalkbot looks like a streetsweeping machine but instead of cleaning up, it neatly sprays down yellow chalk messages—100,000 in all--onto the thousands of miles of streets that comprise the Tour de France route.

The technique, praised by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and highlighted in Adverblog and other forums, has created tremendous buzz among the millions of fans watching the race on TV and the Internet. Superstar Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has been showcased in particular, since Nike is a major sponsor of Lance and his mission.

The fun is that anyone worldwide can participate: The process collects 40-character “messages of inspiration and support” cancer regarding living from anyone via text or a web site, and then you spend the rest of the time trying to read the road during cycling coverage to see if you catch your message live. When submitting your short message, you’re cleverly shown what your message will look like on the road, and the site is rigged to send you an email when your message is indeed sprayed, so you know exactly on which days to search.

In addition to messages by individuals, countless nonprofits—particularly, cancer-oriented charities, since the campaign aims to raise awareness of cancer-related issues--have made sure their members are engaging with this unprecedented tool, so viewers are seeing an array of nonprofit names, slogans, URLs, etc. You can also follow the fun at Chalkbot’s Twitter stream.

Naturally, Livestrong remains the most popular, though, and you also can join the 1.5 million followers of the Twitter stream by the Man himself, Lance Armstrong, at http://twitter.com/Lancearmstrong, as he tweets about the Chalkbot, his foundation (he speaks daily with the foundation’s executive director), the tour, the media, and more. You’ll also find an article in a future Associations Now about what kind of boost in donations and awareness was generated by Armstrong’s participation in the tour.

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July 3, 2009

Quick clicks: Virtual fireworks only

For those of you in the United States, have a great holiday weekend! Here's some reading material to take with you:

Jamie Notter challenges associations to try for truth.

Bruce Hammond shares his experience on "the other side"--as a volunteer--and the lessons he sees for associations.

Tony Rossell is hosting an interesting discussion on incentives and membership recruitment. Elsewhere, Ellen Behrens at the aLearning blog is also thinking about incentives and how to make them effective.

Ann Oliveri at the Zen of Associations blog has some ideas about how to better engage association employees.

Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog asks whether trade associations can be truly global.

NTEN's blog lists 10 disruptive technologies your organization should be thinking about.

Michele Martin has a helpful post on making social media and learning more accessible to people with disabilities.

Peggy Hoffman shares an interesting picture of how a for-profit company is interacting with and engaging its customer community.

Harvard Business's Conversation Starter blog has a recent post on three ways to make conferences better. It's interesting to see what someone outside the association field sees as radical suggestions to improve conferences and meetings.

Here's an idea you can easily apply in your work: the Signal vs. Noise blog suggests that changing your writing instrument might help you focus on the big picture.


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June 25, 2009

Good marketing or just deceptive?

I have recently become aware of organizations (associations and for-profit organizations) reaching out to popular bloggers in their industries asking them to endorse/promote a product, service, or event. This has really got me wondering about morals and ethics and how social media plays into these two areas that are truly critical for an association to maintain.

Here is an almost actual example......The meetings department of the ABC Association is struggling to reach their attendance goals for their annual conference, despite several new features planned for the conference that should be of great value to their members. Their marketing budget was also cut, so they are thinking of creative ways to get people to attend. To really start some buzz and not spend a lot of money, the meetings marketing manager contacts several industry bloggers and personally asks them to post something about the conference on their blogs. Over the next couple of weeks information on the conference starts to show up on many of the blogs written by people the meetings manager has reached out to personally. The posts are very similar and nowhere does it say that the information was posted because the association reached out to the author and asked for it to be mentioned.

All I keep hearing is that one of the keys to being successful in social media is to be authentic and then your audience will spread your message for you. That means you need to be honest, truthful and ethical in what you do in these areas. To me what the association did in the example above flies right in the face of authenticity. I agree that it is a very smart marketing tactic but is getting an endorsement without a disclaimer saying the mention was requested really the best way to promote something? Isn't it slightly, if not completely, devious and underhanded? What would happen if word got out this was done? Would the reputations of both the meetings marketing manager and the bloggers be tarnished?

What is your opinion? Is this just good marketing or is it, for good reasons or not, something that should be reserved for other marketing mechanisms? Please reply with your thoughts or suggestions on how an organization could do something like this but still have full disclosure.

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June 22, 2009

9,000 E-mails? Association E-Marketers Face Tough Competition

E-mail marketing has never been so popular, thanks to the weak economy and increased use of the Internet by consumers and members. What stopped me cold as I skimmed a press release about a new report from Forrester Research Inc. was the company’s prediction that “in five years, consumers will be deluged with more than 9,000 email marketing messages annually.”

More broadly, the report predicts spending on e-mail marketing will jump by almost 11% annually to $2 billion by 2014.

But gosh, am I seriously going to have to delete or respond to 9,000 e-mail pitches a year? The vision of my graying self, hips wider than a boat from camping out in my desk chair trying to empty an in-box exploding with don’t-ya-want-it e-mails, is very depressing. Life is too short.

And that’s just the receiver’s viewpoint. What about us as the senders? Many associations are already taxed with complaints from members about sending them too many e-mails. How will we compete against 8,900-odd other messages?

“By 2014, direct marketers will waste $144 million on e-mails that never reach their primary target,” says Forrester Research Vice President and Principal Analyst David Daniels. “Successful direct marketing pros will alter their tactics to overcome inbox clutter and increase relevancy.”

So there’s the challenge. It’s not a new one, but now it seems more urgent than ever. Association marketers, not to mention the entire staff, must explore new ways to showcase our products and services through memorable, persuasive language and vehicles that make clear their true value.

And it’s not a one-step process. The Forrester report also predicts that so-called “retention emails”—those that consumers have agreed to receive—“will account for more than a one-third of all marketing messages in consumers’ inboxes by 2014, representing increased competition for marketers.” That means we have to first keep ourselves on the permissions list of our people and stop annoying them with e-blasts in which they have no stake or interest.

And we have to be more assertive about training our staffs in the art of using social media as a legitimate business tool. Several recent conversations I had with members reminded me how tentative our sector can be, even about piloting something such as a conference Twitter stream, a CEO blog, or an education session held in Second Life.

According to Daniels, “The use of e-mail in social networks will be one of the biggest challenges for direct marketers. Over the next five years, marketers must bridge the gap between social and traditional inboxes with social sharing tools.”

So let’s keep the conversation flowing about how to ensure that our members keep us on their “permissions” list for our marketing materials—and then act accordingly. Ideas?

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June 19, 2009

Quick clicks: No whammies!

Some links for weekend reading:

- David Gammel argues for benevolent dictatorships, at least when it comes to website design.

- Blue Avocado has an interesting article on the portrayal of nonprofits in popular culture, with a number of comments providing additional examples. (Although I can't think of many pop culture references to professional or trade associations. Can anyone else think of some?)

- Tony Rossell imagines what he'd do if he was building an entirely new membership marketing program from the ground up.

- The Nonprofit University blog talks about survival, sustainability, and the differences between the two.

- Frank Fortin was inspired by Jim Collins' new book.

- The Busy Event blog shares what your exhibitors, attendees, and sponsors are thinking--and not telling you.

- The Vanguard Technology blog has four reasons why mobile matters to associations.

- Jeff De Cagna has a podcast interview with Alan Webber, co-founding editor of Fast Company magazine and author of the new book Rules of Thumb: 52 Principles for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self.

- Cindy Butts reminds us all to be kind.

- Ken Zielske at the Association Media blog asks if your association has a "whammy bar"--something really cool that sets it apart. (Clearly I don't know guitars, because all I could think about as I read the post was that 1980s game show where the contestants would yell "No whammies!")

- Peggy Hoffman asks, "What's the difference between social networks and communities?"

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The cost of free

Free is an attractive word; it gets attention. But it can also be a dangerous word; one that should probably be avoided much more often than it is.

Researchers led by Michael A. Kamins (Stony Brook University-SUNY), recently published an academic article on the effects of bundling products together and calling one of them free. (You can access a press release or purchase the article here.) The basic findings: consumers devalue anything that is labeled free. They found that if you bundled two products together without using the word "free," then any devaluation is significantly less.

Something to think about as associations bundle products and services together as a revenue-generating tactic in a tough a economy.

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May 29, 2009

Quick clicks: Straight talk

Happy Friday! Here is your weekly roundup of interesting posts from the association blogging community and elsewhere.

Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog asks if you’re still the right person for your job.

In a guest post on the Socialfishing blog, Leslie White offers some straight talk about risk—specifically, the risk of lost opportunities, specifically relating to social media (although what she has to say can certainly be applied elsewhere).

The Signal to Noise blog has some equally straight talk about planning: “The only plan you should make is to plan on improvising.”

Wes Trochlil points out what I’m going to call the “office kitchen conundrum”: “That which no one owns, no one will care for.”

Tony Rossell continues to explore the question “What is one thing an association marketing team must do, if nothing else?”

The Challenge Management blog muses on the strange profession of association management (and hiring people who can be successful at it).

Kerry Stackpole at the Wired 4 Leadership blog has some thoughts on exclusivity, inclusivity, and social media.

Sherry Jennings at the Sound Governance blog has posted a case study on how a nonprofit can work to avoid a crisis if a major source of funding dries up.

At the Forum Effect blog, Doug Eadie shares some insights on the role of the CEO as chief board developer.

I love this: Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project blog has a great story about how a professor energized his class by lying to them (no, really). (She also recently posted a great roundup of resources on accessible learning.)

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May 25, 2009

Beauty School Dropout

Writing this post, I’m reminded of the song “Beauty School Dropout.” You remember it, right? If you close your eyes—just for a few seconds—I’m sure you’ll recall the stripped down set, the low-budget costumes and the bad choreography. I’m also betting you’ll remember at least some of Frankie Avalon’s infamous lyrics.

Like Frenchy, I’m looking for some direction. After months of planning, programming and editing, I’m happy to report that our new web and audio conferencing services are up and running. It was the first significant project I managed in my new role as director of member relations, and it was a tremendous learning opportunity.

Dozens of long-term care professionals will be speaking in the coming weeks. Their knowledge and expertise will provide our members with valuable education in a convenient and cutting-edge format. There’s only one problem: our members just aren’t visiting the association's Web site to sign up for these innovative, new programs. And while I wear many hats, I’m once again reminded that I’m not a marketing professional.

So, my question to you is this: What clever marketing strategies have you used to increase traffic to your association Web site? How can I attract people to our flashy, new registration site when it’s one of many things competing for attention on an out-dated, disorganized, content-heavy association Web site?

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May 5, 2009

The wrong way to renew

If you read Cynthia D’Amour’s blog you will have seen multiple posts on a series of renewals that she has been receiving from a group she used to belong to. She was nice enough to share her reaction to their efforts, and in a sad way it has been pretty funny. I recently had a similar experience.

I had been a member of a local association on and off for over 15 years and recently decided not to renew. From what I recall their renewal marketing started 3-4 months before my membership lapsed, with a letter telling me to renew my membership. Pretty simple and straightforward, but it obviously did not get me to reconsider my decision. Over the next few months, I got an email or two along with a few more letters. The one that got me to write this is what I will call the “expire” letter.

The letter was all about them and nothing about me. It inferred that if I didn’t renew I would no longer be a member of the cool kids club. It told me about all the great things happening at the organization—events, my subscription to their publication, my complimentary listing in their directory and lots of discounts. Nowhere in the letter did it tell me anything about how membership would solve any of my needs or address any of my challenges yet it told me how I would value my membership all year long. To put icing on the cake there was a sentence in there that I didn’t even understand: “You won’t want to miss from free subscription to any more issues of our publication.” Huh?

The mailing also included a renewal form. The renewal form did have my name lasered in at the top with my member number and my expiration date, which was good. Unfortunately it also included a rehash of all the products and services they told me I would miss from the letter. Again, nothing telling me how I would benefit from my membership. The topper: At the end of the form it told me to keep my benefits flowing. What benefits? They didn’t tell me what they are.

I have 3 points here:

1. Do associations, or any organizations for that matter, no longer understand the difference between features and benefits? Benefits sell. Features don’t. Do members care that you sell a book? Or do members care that the book will help them go further in their career, or do their job better, stay up to date on all of the latest information or even make more money?

2. Are we doing the little things that we need to do to appear professional? Someone should have proofread the letter that I received. If I was on the fence with my membership, as I was, a bad impression can be the last impression.

3. Are we taking advantage of technology? The letter and renewal form I received was not customized to my needs; it was totally generic. They know my purchasing history so they should be able to tailor a piece of their renewal effort to me as an individual. I am not asking for true one to one marketing but something closer would be nice.

I am not writing this to beat up this one organization. I am writing this because I think that with everything else association staff members have to do on a daily basis, renewals sometimes get dumped into the “have to do,” not the “want to do,” category and are not given the attention they deserve. Retaining members is critical for the majority of associations. If we are not doing everything we can with our renewal series to get members to retain their membership, then we are not doing our jobs.

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April 30, 2009

Getting to the real answer

Any association executive can tell you it's important to know why those members who have left the organization did so.

At her general session at ASAE & The Center's Membership and Marketing Conference, Terri Langhans said there's only two answers to that question:

1. The right answer. And,

2. The one that sounds good.

You know what she means. For a long time, the king of the hill was "no time," perhaps superseded recently by "can't afford it."

It's an answer, it's easy, and it usually closes the topic.

As Langhans would say, don't even bother asking the question if you're going to allow those kinds of answers to close the topic. You have to dig deeper. You may or may not get to the real answer, but without the real answer, you have no new information to help you help your organization.

Langhans' suggestion--follow up with this question: "I hear you, but is that the real reason? What is that you know that I couldn't possibly know that, if you were me doing this job, you'd want to know?"

Not sure how well this will get to the real answer -- I'm curious to know how others think they get the real answer.

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January 30, 2009

Another nonprofit coughs up the money for Super Bowl ad

Add one more nonprofit-sponsored Super Bowl ad to the mix expected this Sunday: ClearWay Minnesota‘s "Cash Register." The spot, which will air only in Minneapolis, Duluth, and Rochester before going statewide in Minnesota, emphasizes, "We all pay the price for tobacco." We won’t know whether the anti-tobacco ad keeps its promise of being "fast-paced" and "provocative" until game time, but folks outside of Minnesota can see it January 30 at www.weallpaytheprice.com. The spot kicks off a campaign that includes a Web site and print, online, and bus ads.

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Super Bowl Is Super Time for Associations to Show They’ve Got Game

Only days away, the Super Bowl match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals has provided a welcome chance for an eclectic assortment of associations and nonprofits to rack up some big points with the public. You wouldn’t think a football game would have impact much beyond sports associations and maybe some snack-food, pizza-making, beer-selling trade organizations, but here are just a few of the creative activities and news related to Super Sunday that I’ve seen, starting with the most obvious:

--It’s all about the ads, really, isn’t it? You’ve probably heard, read, and laughed about the big PepsiCo commercial, which has garnered rave reviews from countless associations involved in representing people with disabilities, such as the National Association of the Deaf. For those few who don’t know what I’m talking about despite extensive press coverage, PepsiCo has created a funny 60-second ad called “Bob’s House” that is based on a longtime joke amongst the hearing-impaired. I won’t ruin the punch line, but you can already watch it on Pepsi’s “Ads” section on its Web site. Apparently, while most companies keep Bowl ads top secret, Pepsi—whose employee network EnAble created the silent, captioned ad—decided a pre-release was well worth the fabulous publicity. Look for the ad to air in the pre-game coverage.

--And who will be critiquing these $2-million pitches? Aside from you, of course. The San Francisco Chapter of the American Marketing Association continues its tradition of hosting an animated panel session of ad experts for a post-game thumbs up-down session to determine “which ads made an impact on our national psyche.” This year’s melee is titled “Super Bowl XLIII—Buzz or Bust in a Down Economy.”

--And what about the food? Myriad trade associations are tying in their products and services, ranging from the National Pasta Association with its Game Day manicotti enchilada recipe to the National Retailers Association, whose annual survey determines the estimated viewership (167 million adults or 73.3% this year) and its impressive monetary outlay ($57.27 each on food, merchandise, team apparel, electronics, and even furniture).

--And don’t forget the halftime possibility of getting off that couch and actually tossing a ball. The National Football League and the American Heart Association have teamed up for “NFL Play 60,” a “Super Bowl Challenge to inspire Tampa Bay students to get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity — in school and at home — and help middle schools become places that encourage physically active lifestyles year-round.” The campaign provided curriculum resources and materials to teachers to promote the program during the pre-game hysteria. You also might recall that AHA ran an amusing 30-second Super Bowl ad in 2007 called “You Gotta Have Heart”. The ad is running online now as part of Spike TV’s “Top 25 Super Bowl Ads” feature.

--But did ya have to bring in the lawyers? Apparently. Members of the Christian Law Association were involved in that messy business of the past few years in which the NFL threatened to prosecute churches that used the event for fellowship purposes by showing the big game in their facilities, rather than in a personal home. This year, though, the NFL relented and created special regulations around such events, which are shared in a video on the CLA site.

Now let’s kick off!

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January 12, 2009

Got 5 minutes to spread the word?

As you may have seen, there's a great conversation with word-of-mouth expert (and three-time association CEO) Andy Sernovitz of GasPedal in this month's issue of Associations Now. (Thanks are due to Lindy Dreyer for proposing the article and doing excellent work on it.)

While we were putting the issue together, I asked Andy if he might be willing to share some additional advice with our readers: If you have only five minutes today to get people talking about your association, what can you do? Andy kindly provided a few ideas:

"1. Email tip sheet. Nothing forwards faster than an email. Create a new newsletter with a single tip of the day. Keep it to three sentences. People will talk about you every day--and forward it to their friends.

"2. Make it easy. Get rid of every way you stop members from sharing. Are your emails unreadable when they get forwarded, do too many pages require passwords? Do your downloads have complicated forms?

"3. Turn everything viral. Dig out all those old reports, PowerPoints, and PDFs and turn them into viral communications. Post one every week on your web site and encourage people to share.

"4. Create after-event sites. When a conference is over, create a Facebook page where people can share photos, stories, and re-connect. Get them there by posting all the presentations and audio.

"5. Have fun. Your mission and message are important--but not fun to forward. Give people something silly, cool, and simple to share with their friends."

Could you find five minutes in your schedule to try one of these ideas out today?

(For more of Andy's insights into word of mouth, you can read his blog, Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That, or his book Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.)

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October 23, 2008

Am I overdoing it? Or is the association community?

Over the last two weeks I have attended the following presentations:

1. Lindy Dreyer of SocialFish on Social Media at an ANEX brown bag lunch in Columbia

2. Ben Martin on Marketing of a Conference vs. an Unconference at DMAW Association Day (I could have chosen to hear Andy Steggles talk about Social Media during his session, but the times conflicted and I have heard Andy speak a number of times already).

3. An ASAE Marketing Idea Swap on Viral Marketing and Social Networking facilitated by Shelly Good-Cook of CTAM.

Today I went to a lunch at The Center for Association Leadership put on by Avectra. Maddie Grant spoke and the topic is … you guessed it, social media. The good news is that if I haven’t got my fill of social media by the end of the lunch on Thursday in November I can sign up to attend the following events:

1. ASAE Technology Idea Swap on Integrating Web 2.0 Tools to Your Association’s Web Site
2. ASAE Membership Idea Swap on Building Your Membership Community Using Web 2.0

And these are just the social media focused events that I remember. Am I the only one who is kind of frightened that social media is one of the only things that association marketers want to learn about right now in a time when direct recruitment and retention could be critical because of the downturn in the economy? I am not trying to say that social media is bad in any way, just that it is just a piece of a marketing puzzle. It is one that is growing more and more important, but in times like today we have to also really understand the more traditional methods as well. I would love to hear opinions.

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October 22, 2008

PR campaigning in reverse

The content might make some readers a little squeamish/angry/indignant, but the methods described in this article are, I think, worthy of note.

The article by Kevin Sullivan in today's Washington Post describes a plan hatched by writer Ariane Sherine, and later endorsed by the British Humanist Society, to respond to Christian-themed advertisements on London buses that talked about the fiery fate of nonChristians with an ad campaign featuring slogans such as "There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

prbus.jpg

Before the angry emails and comments start flying, I'm not writing this post about the merits or demerits of Christianity, humanism, atheism, or any other set of beliefs. I admit, the audacity of the slogan caught my eye and made me read the story, but if it was just the work of an organization, I wouldn't consider it particularly noteworthy.

What is interesting is that it is a campaign that was planned and then grass roots funded. They came up with the idea, the slogan, the look, and the placement plan, and said: "Here it is, if this is something you would want to support, send us a donation and we'll make it happen."

I think the traditional model is (1) conceive of the need or write the case, (2) solicit donations, (3) create campaign based on donations received. By creating the campaign first, it's a more powerful ask.

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October 9, 2008

How do you render authenticity?

In the latest segment of This Week in Associations, the second with Jim Gilmore, author of Authenticity, Gilmore makes the claim that everything an organization does is contrived and making anything seem authentic takes action on the part of the organization. I'm not sure I agree with that - how about you?

Update: Due to a vendor's player change, the video cannot be embedded directly. To access the video in this post, please choose it from the playlist in the video player below.

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Quick clicks: Member service and unspoken truths

Here are some links for your Thursday morning (assuming it's already not Thursday afternoon where you are):

- Please join me in welcoming Kerry Stackpole and the Wired 4 Leadership blog to the association blogging community! Kerry's sessions at the last two Annual Meetings were some of my favorites, and I'm really looking forward to seeing his upcoming blog posts.

- Kevin Holland is sharing a series of "unspoken truths of association management" that pack a lot into a single sentence. My favorite so far is this one, but I highly recommend checking them all out.

- Rosetta Thurman at the Perspectives From the Pipeline blog shares her thoughts on "We ARE Nonprofit Culture, or Diversity Is Everyone's Business."

- Lindy Dreyer has an interesting breakdown of the lifecycle of an online community member, to help associations with social networks support their members as they move from being "lonely explorers" to active participants in the community. (The Find and Convert blog has a related post from an online marketer's perspective.)

- Renato Sogueco shares his association's experience with using the book Wikinomics to change their approach to member engagement.

- David Patt has a challenging post on excuses your members should never hear. On a related note, Matt Baehr says that your member service should never be reminiscent of the DMV.

- Jeff Cobb has posted a three-part series on the keys to selling more e-learning on the Hedgehog & Fox blog.

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August 16, 2008

Free Social Marketing e-Books

With so much interest in the Social Media Lab here at the ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting, I pass along a link to a list of 20 e-books -- all of them FREE--about social marketing, per the always practical Word of Mouth Marketing Association e-newsletter.



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July 23, 2008

Quick clicks: The survival of associations

Lots of interesting discussions are going on this week:

- If you like controversy and are interested in the future of the association sector, you should definitely be following this debate: Ben Martin at the Certified Association Executive blog wonders if associations are really the best solution to the needs they currently are filling, and predicts, "As long as people don't really care, associations will survive." Matt Baehr agrees, at least in part; Tony Rossell disagrees; and Jeff De Cagna strenuously disagrees, while Lindy Dreyer has a slightly different take on the issue. (Be sure to read the comments on each post for additional thoughts and discussion.)

- On the Beaconfire Blog, Elizabeth Weaver Engel shares a wonderful story about a visitor to her tradeshow booth at the AMA conference.

- Jake McKee at the Community Guy blog shares an interesting chart that summarizes the drivers of brand credibility.

- Lee Aase shared seven steps to help nonprofits get the most out of YouTube, which reminded me that I mean to link to Jamie Notter's post on the value of online video. Elsewhere, Cindy Butts shares a cautionary tale about an association that ended up on YouTube without meaning to.

- David Gammel offers three reasons that online communities often fail, while Michael Gilbert at Nonprofit Online News has some thoughts on what nonprofits are doing wrong with their own online communities.

- If you're coming to Annual Meeting, you may be interested in Maddie Grant's list of 10 things she plans to do while she's there.

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July 21, 2008

50 Ways to Use Social Media for Better Marketing

I am a longtime fan of the interesting e-newsletter by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) , and one reason is because of its practical how-to and trends coverage. Check out this succinct piece titled “50 Ways Marketers Can Use Social Media to Improve Their Marketing” by Chris Brogan from the July 14, 2008, WOMMA newsletter. This would make a great education session sometime, now that I think about it. Feel free to post other tips.

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July 7, 2008

Listening and Loyalty

Sean O’Driscoll, general manager of community support and MVP for Microsoft, has a helpful blog called Community Group Therapy with a recent post about top takeaways from recent social media workshops he has been giving. Among his points are that “features are not user experiences,” that consensus is just a “nice to have” in terms of cross-functional participation, and that “‘participating in the conversation’ is hollow advice for a large” organization.

I found interesting O’Driscoll’s differentiation between listening systems (feedback + organizational understanding + responsive action + communication about that action back to the feedback giver=listening) versus hearing systems (feedback + responsive action, no communication to original feedback giver).

It immediately reminded me of a recent brand advocacy study by ExpoTV that found “55% of consumers want an ongoing dialogue with brands.” The firm concluded that “the willingness of a company to engage with consumers directly impacts loyalty and can even lead to increased purchase intent. In fact, 89% of respondents would feel more loyal to brands that invited them to participate in a feedback group, and 92% of those who have a positive experience communicating with a brand will recommend purchasing a product from that brand to someone they know.”

Also interesting is that almost 50% of respondents “expressed a desire to share their ideas on new products and services” and to communicate about brand efforts to “improve existing products and share positive experiences.”

Researchers said that news is especially encouraging for smaller, perhaps newer brands or brands entering new areas because consumers were just as keen to communicate with less-familiar brand.

I wondered, not for the first time, if associations are as good at dialoguing with and listening to customers and members as many seem to assume. I’m talking about metrics beyond the speed with which an individual receives a response back from a staffer, beyond the murky satisfaction ratings of members, who rarely are asked to judge feedback quality in specific. Have we set up processes and cultural norms to ensure good listening or just good hearing? And do staffers and leaders understand the importance of that difference to the potential levels of loyalty within our members?

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June 24, 2008

Quick clicks: Program killers, campaign thinking

A few links for your Tuesday afternoon reading:

- The Association Marketing Springboard blog has been on fire lately--if you don't subscribe, you should! My favorite quote this week: "But in a realm where member evangelism is our highest goal, campaign thinking just doesn't cut it." Read the whole post here.

- Kevin Holland at the Association Inc. blog talks (in a very inspirational way) about how associations should be giving their members something to aspire to.

- Should the person in charge of your association's strategy also be in charge of killing things that don't work? David Gammel has some interesting thoughts on this.

- Association Meetings posted some stories from readers about wild and wacky requests from meeting attendees and speakers.

- Wes Trochlil is posting some intriguing case studies on association business intelligence efforts on the Effective Database Management blog. The latest one is here.

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May 28, 2008

Quick clicks: Stand ups, co-creation

A few links and recommendations for your Wednesday morning:

- Hugh McLeod of gapingvoid.com posted a valuable thought to his blog (originally something he posted on Twitter): "Word of mouth is not created, it is co-created. People will only spread your virus if there’s something in it for them."

- Jeff Cobb of the Mission to Learn blog has launched a second blog, focusing on business and marketing strategy: Hedgehog & Fox.

- Jeffrey Cufaude talks about the value of stand-up meetings. (I remember reading somewhere that the best way to have an effective meeting is to remove all of the chairs from the room ...)

- A bunch of other association bloggers have already linked to this, but I really feel like Acronym should as well: Seth Godin tells us that the bar has been raised for meetings and conferences. "And here's what a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement." Do your association's meetings deliver on those expectations?

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May 13, 2008

Quick clicks: Advice for young leaders and more

- If you've enjoyed Virgil Carter's insights on Acronym as much as I have, be sure to leave a comment in his farewell post. Virgil, we'll miss you!

- Lindy Dreyer at Association Marketing Springboard has posted a passionate argument for opt-in, versus opt-out, listservers.

- For emerging leaders and those with an interest in encouraging them: Bob Wolfe has thoughts on how non-senior-management staff can promote innovation in their organizations. Kevin Holland has a great post on growing your association career. And Bill Taylor, author of Mavericks at Work, has a post for those who are taking that step from non-management to management-level work: “Memo to a Young Leader: What Kind of Boss Are You?”

- The Non-Profit Marketing Blog hits the target with six great steps to social media success. In contrast, Sparkplug CEO has 10 social media blunders that can destroy your brand.

- The Association Forum of Chicagoland’s blog, The FORUM Effect, is adding new guest bloggers each month. This month’s guests include Claire Darmanin (on teaching members the business of associations), Mariana Toscas (on retaining Gen Yers), Mark Dominiak (on getting the most out of advertising), and George Rounds (on successful meetings in a weak economy).

- “Make big promises; overdeliver.” A recent post from Seth Godin that says it all.

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April 25, 2008

Unlocking cool

If anyone knows innovation, it’s Jeremy Gutsche, founder of TrendHunter.com. He makes a living studying it. His online magazine follows the newest trends and tells the world what will be cool in six months, a year, or five years. He spoke this morning at the 2008 Digital Now conference.

Gutsche is a sound-bite seeker’s dream, so here are several of his snappy bits of advice on finding and fostering innovation and "unlocking cool," with some thoughts added in italic:

“Situational framing dictates outcome.” What you believe may be blinding you to reality.

“Complacency will be the architecture of your downfall.”

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Don’t try to fight culture or the world around you. Accept it and adapt accordingly.

“Innovations must often fail.” This is perhaps the most important point he made. We have to accept the bad with the good and have faith that every failure is an opportunity to learn and increase the likelihood of future success.

“Create opportunities for failure.” Great example that Gutsche shared: the BBC established a “gambling fund” to develop programs that very few people thought would work. The Office, one of the BBC’s most popular shows (and now a popular show in the United States) was a gambling fund idea.

“Innovation starts with observing your customers.” Put yourself in their element. Visit them in their places of business. Create open online environments for them to interact.

“Senior people need to be crazy.” Aren’t they already? (Sorry, bad joke from a millennial). What Gutsche meant is that senior-level leaders need to encourage, accept, and foster wacky ideas. Too many great ideas from all levels get killed at the senior-leadership level.

“Relentlessly obsess about your story.” i.e. stick to your mission and reinforce it consistently through your marketing.

“Simple, direct, and supercharged.” According to Gutsche, these are the qualities of “infectious” marketing.

I followed up with Gutsche after his session and asked him about his emphasis on embracing any crisis as an opportunity. He even promoted declaring a crisis so as to bring that opportunity out into the open. “When you are in a crisis, regardless of how you got there, you get good ideas,” he says.

TrendHunter.com prides itself on finding the “next big thing,” seemingly in contrast with the previous day’s keynote message about the long tail and the death of culture-wide blockbuster hits. Turns out the next big thing for any organization is just a matter of scale. “So many things can be a success,” Gutsche says, “but that doesn’t mean everyone in America buying a toaster.”

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April 24, 2008

There is no average member

So says Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail. In his opening speech at the 2008 Digital Now conference Thursday, Anderson said associations must let go of the notion that members all share common wants and needs.

(The Long Tail was published a few years ago, so no need to go into detailed explanation of it here. If you're unfamiliar, check out the Wikipedia entry for it or Anderson's blog, titled (what else?) The Long Tail.)

Anderson cited a variety of media and corporate examples, but he related the principles of the long tail to associations with one key idea: an association’s core constituency is the vertical portion of the curve, and the long tail represents everyone else (read: mailbox members and/or nonmembers). Seems obvious, but here’s what he said about “everyone else”: they might be interested in what your association has to offer, but they just don’t have enough reasons to join or become overly engaged.

These are people who might be only partially related to your profession or who might not have the financial resources to pay for a membership or who may just not be the “joiner” types. But there’s opportunity in appealing to them. They may, in fact, never join, but maybe they’ll buy a book, or maybe they’ll download an education session recording, or maybe they’ll lurk on an open listserv or virtual community and connect with a member with similar interests.

Is your association ignoring these people? The dilemma here, of course, is that the measurable return to your association of one person finding a useful article in your web archives is next to nil, and these types of long-tail interactions will never explode into blockbuster returns. But with new technology, providing these options also costs next to nothing, and if they spread out over 1,000 or 100,000 interactions, the returns gradually add up. You just have to be patient.

The associations that are finding success in appealing to the long tails of their markets are finding creative and cost-effective ways to broaden their products and services or to broaden the audience those products are available to.

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February 20, 2008

Conference marketing tactics

I'm a bit late in referring to the article, which ran before Valentine's Day, but Shankar Vedantam had another excellent article in his Washington Post column "Human Behavior."

This one talks about the differences between people who are last-minute shoppers and those who are not. The gist: For people shopping well in advance of a holiday, the most effective marketing tactics are positive references. In the case of the column, buy this to enhance your loved one's beauty. For the last minute shoppers, negative marketing is more effective; in the column, buy this so you won't be in the doghouse.

I thought the best implication in the association world was the marketing for the annual conference. Most associations start the marketing cycle 6 or 9 months out. Perhaps there should be a focus on the positives at the beginning of the cycle—come catch up with old friends and make new ones—but as the event nears, a shift to more negative messaging—miss this conference and you miss the single best networking event of the year.

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February 13, 2008

Virtual Book Signings--Where Did I Put That Pen Again?

For the second time this week I've run into a nonprofit and association that is offering its members a "virtual book signing" as part of a marketing campaign for a new publication. A virtual book signing (see examples on www.virtualbooksignings.com, but others are around) is an interactive "book signing experience." The author speaks online about his or her book, answers e-mailed questions from viewers/listeners, and offers signed books--or signed bookplates if you already own the book--for sale. The signings are originally held live, but they are retained on a designated site (such as an organization's online bookstore) for future potential buyers.

I'm a huge reader, but I have never experienced or heard of a virtual book signing before. It's nothing fancy, looking generally like someone propped a video camera on a tripod and let loose. However, it does create intimacy and does allow folks to interact with an author whom they may not have the chance to hear otherwise. And, hey, we all like signed books.

Wouldn't it be great to have the authors of your new publications pilot such an experience online? Think of how attractive that might be to your top-name conference speakers who are touting their books to your members anyway.

I'm sorry I have no revenue figures to share with you in terms of book sales generated by this type of activity, so if anyone else has offered this marketing tool, please post details of your experience.

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January 24, 2008

The Super Bowl: Are Associations Ready to Get in the Game?

What does the Super Bowl have to do with associations and nonprofits? You’d be surprised. Almost 90 millions Americans are expected to watch the Patriots-Giants game February 3, so I’m hearing buzz about the involvement—current and past—of associations in everything from cool messaging for lucky ticket-holders (Mothers Against Drunk Driving and cab wraps), to those super-popular, ultra-expensive TV ads (let me get out my list).

Recently, for instance, I ran into online speculation about whether any of this year’s $2.7-million, 30-second ads either from old-timers (Federal Express, Pepsi, Gatorade, etc.) or newer-comers (GoDaddy.com, Victoria’s Secret) would prove as controversial to associations and nonprofits as in 2007.

Last year, the National Restaurant Association was noisily unhappy when a “demeaning” Nationwide ad depicted singer-now-more-famous-for-short-marriage-to-Brittany-Spears Kevin Federline as a fast food cook fondly recalling his glory days as a rap singer. The post-airing ruckus about Federline’s apparent unhappiness with a fast food career upped the online viewing of Nationwide’s ad by an estimated 12%, according to market researchers, and has piqued interest in the company’s advert this year.

Likewise, America’s beloved Snickers bar got in trouble when its marketers created a Super Bowl ad that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation accused of promoting prejudice and violence against gays. In the ad, two mechanics sharing the candy bar accidentally kiss and then “try to distance themselves from any perception of being gay by ‘doing something manly,’" said HRC in a press release. In addition, one of the three alternative endings to the commercial shown on the Snickers Web site depicted the men “violently attacking one another – which sends a dangerous message to the public condoning violence against gay Americans.” Parent company Mars Inc. pulled the entire campaign the day after the game.

And, finally, who can forget the General Motors ads with that appealingly pathetic factory robot that was fired from its job for making a mistake? The resulting “suicide” via a leap off a bridge in a dream sequence sparked immediate reaction from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which was furious about the “inap­propriate” use of “depression and suicide as a way to sell cars.” Surveys showed that the public appeared to agree the nonprofit.

Click here for a fascinating free abstract from an article published in “Measuring Word of Mouth Vol. 3” by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association that further details the influence of controversy in building brand awareness via Super Bowl ads.

This year, nonprofits and associations might have greater concerns because of the increasing sophistication of marketers, who now create elaborate and engaging cross-media campaigns aimed at building excitement and brand awareness well before kick-off time. According to Peter Hershberg, managing partner, Reprise Media, “Unlike many lost in the previous years, marketers are expected to finally use search and social media sites to capitalize on the excitement and brand awareness generated by their ads in the big game.”

Continue reading "The Super Bowl: Are Associations Ready to Get in the Game? " »

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January 18, 2008

Your Meeting - The Soundtrack

One way to make your meeting more memorable is to consciously brand your event via all of the senses, including sound.

As I write this, I am listening to the soundtrack of a three-day event I attended last March. The first track, Red Hot Chilli Peppers' "Hard to Concentrate," triggers all of the positive memories and feelings I have for that event, the people I met, and what we accomplished together. If this music was delivered with the email promoting the next event, I would register again in a heartbeat.

Each of the three days had its own playlist, building on the theme. At the time, I am sure I was barely conscious of the music, much less the lyrics, but now listening again, both combine to reinforce the intellectual and emotional take-aways.

Although I have frequently heard music at meetings, loosely themed to the city, I can't recall another event where the organizers planned an event, conscious of all five senses.

Do you score your meetings? Do you make the playlist available to participants?

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January 14, 2008

Small Rant Re: No Way to Sell a Meeting

I have been invited to a AMA conference for "medical communicators" - seems like a great opportunity to network with my counterparts from around the country, and it's even on 'my' coast - which heightens the appeal. So, I've told them I'm planning to go. In fact, I've told them four times, and counting.

Three separate sources in the organization have sent me emails inviting, then prompting me to reserve a spot. The first message, from someone I’ve met, wrote "Respond to this message to let us know you're coming, and you'll get a discount." So, I did, and he confirmed it, twice.

The next message, from someone else, sent two weeks later, said "Respond by the early-bird deadline to get your discount."

Confused, I wrote my contact to ask whether I needed to pay by that early-bird deadline, or just reserve a spot, which I had already done. Twice.

He apologized, and assured me that my place was held, and I had nothing more to do – real registration wasn’t open yet, anyway. Fine. A bit miffed, I waited to hear when *real* registration was open.

Except then I got another "Early Bird Deadline Extended!" message from the original contact on January 9, telling me about the new 'pre-registration deadline.' Which, thinking I've already responded, I skipped, until this weekend when I looked more closely at the message. This one actually links to a registration site. And the language has changed!

Suddenly I'm confused and a touch panicky - have I just cost my employer money by assuming I was all set? 'Pre-registration deadline' sounds like the date by which one must *pay* to get a discount.

So I go online this morning to register, though I may be late. Better to get it done, anyway. But there is no program, there is no fee to pay, and aside being forced to RSVP for a luncheon identified by acronym I don't know and that is not defined, there’s nothing specific at all.

I think all I’ve just done is tell them I’m coming. For the fourth time.

This is no way to market a meeting. For all their outreach, I still have little idea what I’m in for.

I don’t know yet: when is the housing deadline? When will real registration open? Now that I’ve pre-registered through their system, will it let me register again when it’s time to choose my itinerary and pay? And when exactly might that be?

Lessons: 1) ‘Save the date’ marketing is great, but keep the number of messages at that end limited – to one or two. 2) Know what the right and left hand are doing. It confuses and alienates people when they get duplicated messages that don’t acknowledge what they’ve already done to respond. 3) Don’t aggressively market the event until you’ve got the program, deadlines and details set. 4) If you want people to pre-register, make it *real* pre-registration, so that it’s possible to pay at that time. We don’t want to register twice.

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November 29, 2007

“The Membership” Doesn’t Exist and Other Thoughts

Recently, Scott Briscoe wrote a thought-provoking membership article “Should you be serving or leading your members?” As we think about the future of associations, the wants and needs of membership deserve critical consideration. Hopefully some of our respected marketing and membership folks will weigh in, since they have important insights. Here are some thoughts which I hope will further discussion:

Thought 1: “The membership” is a myth. We can’t generalize about membership. If “the membership” means a homogenous, unified, like-minded body, then it doesn’t exist anymore than “the electorate” or “the consumer” exists. What exist are various member, electorate and consumer segments. Each segment has its own common or shared interests or aspirations. For example, there are association members whose primary interest is expanded knowledge. Among the electorate are red-dog Republicans. And there are consumers for whom “green” is more than a color. Point is, while these are important segments, they hardly represent the entire spectrum. Success in membership and marketing depends on identifying and understanding your markets and the voices of the customer. Membership success, like the success in any market, is seldom achieved by thinking and treating everyone like they are a size 6.

Thought 2: Volunteer vision frequently is a 12-month window. Our active volunteer members often see things in short term, annual perspectives, particularly if they have a one year leadership position. Governing boards, even with 3-year terms, often have difficulty focusing attention beyond one year at a time. The “project oriented” Millennials may have an even shorter attention span. So this leaves the staff to see and deal with the longer term strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the association—if is to be done at all. Since volunteers often define success as 12 months of smooth sailing (no problems please), is it any wonder that the natural tendency is for volunteers to focus on (this year’s) wants rather than (longer term) needs? Beyond membership, how do you suppose the 12-month window influences successful strategy, operational execution over time and other cross-enterprise and intra-enterprise performance?

Thought 3: Traditional models may not match emerging membership challenge. My association model will hardly surprise long-time observers of associations. Many older associations, like mine, were founded for “higher purposes” (ASME was founded in 1880 for public safety, property protection and growth/access to the engineering body of knowledge). We tend to be about engineering, not engineers. Our thinking for 127 years has generally been that what is good for engineering is good for engineers and others with technology interests.

We have a culture where volunteers “mature” their leadership by volunteering for increasingly more responsible roles, over extended time periods. Our members self organize into common interest groups, often working together for many years, to build and share knowledge, community and advocacy. I regularly give out 15, 20 and 30 year pins to staff. We are a fine organization with great traditions.

As a global association, in a rapidly changing world, we are increasingly required to be an agile, innovative and performance-oriented enterprise. Here’s the emerging challenge: Members and volunteers who may: 1) be primarily motivated by their individual, personal interests; 2) have less disposable time, resources and patience for “leadership ladders” and extended, time-consuming volunteer commitments; and 3) identify with their peer interest group rather than the enterprise. Can the challenge be successfully resolved in the old, traditional membership models? What’s the definition of insanity: doing what you’ve always done, the way you always have, and thinking you’ll get new and different results?

Where are the new membership markets, voices and models? How do we reconcile wants and needs?

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November 27, 2007

Hanging Up Your Brand

I was in Hallmark at Tysons Corner last night and on the wall covered with ornaments that sing, move, spin, blink, talk, crack jokes and wield festive light sabers was a brand I recognized immediately: UNICEF. How many people worldwide must recognize its colorful trademarked globe encircled by children holding hands?

It made me ponder the power of a brand that makes people feel so positive and happy that they want to hang it on their Christmas tree. Look at the booming business that Starbucks does with its annual line of “perk-y” ornaments. Hershey, too. And Coca-Cola, Disney and many more.

As I unpacked my own decorations that night, I saw ornaments issued by my church, my children’s schools and—I admit it—Starbucks. Not one ornament represented any of the myriad associations to which I have belonged for years, none for the organizations that have most influenced my professional and personal life.

Now, I don’t expect associations to leap into action and start mass-producing holiday décor, but it would be interesting to ask ourselves if we were 100% confident that if we did, our members would (1) recognize our brand right away, and (2) feel warm and fuzzy enough about it to consider showcasing us among the items they hold most dear.


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October 4, 2007

Narrowing the membership focus

I encourage folks to read Noel Capon's article in the October issue of Associations Now: "Picking Markets That Matter." (And while you're there, please give it a rating and/or review -- we'd love to know what you think.)

Here's a small quote about one of the things he says membership organizations have a tendency to do wrong:

They stretch themselves too thin. The organization tries to satisfy too many diverse needs but has insufficient competencies to do so. As a result, rather than serving some defined set of needs very well and having satisfied customers, it gives the same lousy service to all and no one is satisfied.

I think it's similar to my growth post from a few weeks back, I get concerned when associations pursue increased membership roles by defining their audiences more broadly. I'm sure it's been done in the past with great success, and can still be done. But I see a serious danger of diluting your message by broadening your audience. I like the idea of being absolutely the best in a niche. It may not lead to astronomical member numbers, but I bet you'd find a highly engaged membership that truly values what you do.

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September 21, 2007

Another potshot at marketing

So when I touched on marketing earlier this week it was so popular (see Lisa's comment about the people taking me to task for it) I thought I'd try again.

On the Membership Marketing Blog, Tony even had the nerve to point out an annoying habit I have of introducing topics with "I'm not such a big believer in..." whatever it is. (Just kidding, Tony -- thanks for keeping me on my toes.)

In that spirit, I offer this: I'm not such a big believer in associations marketing at all.

It's actually the use of the word "marketing" that sticks at me. I may be getting too wrapped up in semantics, but I've been thinking recently that I'd rather inform members than market to them. I'd rather let them know of something great that I think they'd find valuable, rather than try to motivate them to action. I like to think of an association model where people are linking together to accomplish something and to participate in something that would be impossible to do alone. I don't like to think of an association as a captive member-market for products that an organization produces. To whittle it down even further: I like to think of all members as creators (or potential creators) rather than consumers. Getting back to marketing, it's not so much that you're marketing a product or program as you are informing members of opportunities to participate.

With that approach, does the work of what is currently called the marketing department change? Or perhaps it goes back further in the process than that--the types of things that the organization works on and develops may change.

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September 18, 2007

Tipping points, evangelists, sneezers, mavens, etc.

I started to add my 2 cents to Jason's excellent post below as a comment, but it got too involved.

I put myself in Jason's camp: I'm not such a big believer in associations and traditional marketing. I've often wondered what would happen if the 50-gazillion dollar flashy 500-page annual meeting brochure were replaced with three reminder postcards? Could you take the money saved and plow it into other efforts, efforts that would build WOM marketing?

One of the first articles I researched and wrote when I came to GWSAE (that's premerger, folks) was on Seth Godin's Ideavirus. I liked that article a lot, I think as much because I got to use the word phlegmatic, and it had always been an ambition of mine to use the word phlegm in my professional writing without it being a huge stretch. (Tee hee, see how I did it again?)

One of my line of questions to Godin was going to be on how associations as a perfect for cultivating what he called the sneezers (those early adopters that spread the ideavirus—McConnell and Huba called them evangelists; Gladwell called them mavens). I mean, unlike for-profit businesses in a sea of marketing chatter, association members chose to be members. They chose to associate. Shouldn't ideas spread fast in such an environment. No, not really, he said. He didn't think associations had much of an advantage.

He killed my line of questioning. To this day I disagree with him—mostly. Associations should have an advantage. (Here's where you can groan appropriately) but because we're busy measuring the number of members and the number of butts in seats, we don't try to develop measures that will tell us who our sneezers/mavens/evangelists are. We go by reputation and our own knowledge instead, and subsequently we must miss gobs of potential sneezers who slip through the cracks.

Of course, the next step is figuring out what sorts of things will make these people feel special so that they want to continue to come back again and again. But that's another post for another time. (And apologies for all the Godin from me today.)

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Word-of-Mouth Un-Marketing

I bought a copy of ASAE's Decision to Join book back at the annual meeting. It's a worthwhile read and I was happy to listen to Ben Martin's praise of the book in his audio review.

What shocked me was Ben divulging that he's not a big believer in word-of-mouth marketing. This is odd coming from such an advocate for social/participatory media. Hmm...

Conversely, I'm not a big fan of "regular" marketing. In fact, the IGDA hasn't had a marketing budget - ever (we don't even have a line item in the accounting system for it). We haven't put out much in the way of official press releases in the past two years (besides getting tons of media coverage). We've not done any marketing campaigns or membership drives in the traditional sense. We've haven't bought any magazine ads or web banners. Really, nothing.

Yet, the IGDA has enjoyed a massive amount of growth over the years (from less than 500 members in '99 to 13k today (oddly enough, who's average age is 31, but that's a whole other discussion)).

Now, certainly, there are many variables at play, not least of which that we are a relatively new association in the booming video game industry. But, we've been so deliberate about not marketing, that much of our focus has simply been on doing "meaningful stuff" - or rather, facilitating/enabling members to do "meaningful stuff" via the IGDA.

My guess is that the "meaningful stuff" comes with built-in marketing. Admittedly, I've not looked at WOMMA for insight, so perhaps they have some sophisticated models/theories for how "meaningful stuff" = free/word-of-mouth marketing.

Also, to some extent, it means that there's not much for the Bens of the world to do or control from a marketing plan point of view (hmm, do I smell a hint of protecting professional turf). That is to say, the marketing plan is really the overall plan to ensure that your association does "meaningful stuff". (Though, there are probably lots of little tactical things to do like ensure that each web article has an "email this to a friend" type link, etc.)

Decision to Join, word-of-mouth, the Net Promoter Score concept, social media, etc, etc, really do require us to do a complete rethink of what we mean by marketing. I, for one, can vouch for the success of not doing any!

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How do they not know?

Wow... what a great post on Seth Godin's blog. Turns out, not only do we need to figure out what our members don't know, we need to figure out in what way they don't know it.

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August 12, 2007

More blogging tips from smart association bloggers

  • Keep up with other blog posts that mention your association (through Google Alerts, Technorati, etc.) and comment on those posts. The bloggers will be honored by your presence and will become your allies.
  • Decide on a posting schedule, and stick to it. Choose a schedule that's manageable -- quality is better than quantity.
  • Reinforce the idea that your blog is a discussion: If there is a smart comment, paste it into its own post, which will invite more interactivity.
  • To be an effective blog writer, read many blogs -- not just in your own area of interest, but more broadly as well.
  • Choose a voice and a topic, and stick to it. Your blog might be a personal reflection, or a news sharing vehicle, but it's hard for it to be both -- and your readers will notice when the voice isn't consistent.
  • Read your own archives – you might be surprised at what you find.
  • Your blog could include more than just text -- video, audio, photos. A great source for audio interviews are authors promoting their new books. And if you shoot photos of an event, send a link to the post with those photos to the people pictured in them. They are likely to send the link to others, and to comment.
  • Post idea: Read what your readers what to read and summarize it.
  • Know how many people come to your blog, and where they are coming from.
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January 28, 2007

Simplicity makes ideas stick

I just got out of the general session where Dan Heath described the six principles of sticky ideas (from the research that led to the book he coauthored with his brother, Chip, Made to Stick).

I’ll post more after having a little time to reflect, but the first principle really hits close to home: Simplicity.

The story he relates to illustrate is from Southwest Airlines. Just like you, I’d like to have a nickel every time a consultant used Southwest to make a point, but if you can take just a little more, I’ll be brief.

Heath says Herb Kelleher (Southwest CEO) is famous for simplicity. When asked what makes Southwest different from other airlines, Kelleher can tell you in 30 seconds: Southwest will be the lowest fare airline. When customer survey shows that on Southwest’s longest flight, they’d enjoy something more substantial than peanuts, the idea is shot down, because it does not help Southwest be the lowest fare airline.

Here’s how Heath summarized: “We’ll have the lowest fares even if it means we deliberately ignore customer preferences. By being that clear, [Kelleher] helps hundreds of people throughout the company make decisions.”

Heath spoke about another way to look at the point (and this one doesn’t talk about Southwest). He noted the practice in Hollywood of providing the high-concept pitch. Examples:

Lost alien befriends boy to get home.
Jaws on spaceship.

Heath then challenged the audience of association leaders: what would the high concept of your next meeting be?

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January 27, 2007

TED

Do you dream of an annual event that sells out the following year before staging the current year’s program? Impossible? Not if that conference is TED.

Hatched by Ricky Saul Wurman in 1984, the architect who morphed into the first information architect, TED was an event that embodied the merger of technology, entertainment, design into a high tech, high touch experience—an idea we now take for granted.

And now, that unique cultural experience and gold standard of meetings, TED, is morphing into a membership organization. Rather than charge a $4,000 registration fee, participants will pay 50% more for a year-round experience. Owned by the 501( c)(3) Sapling Foundation, Donor Members paying $100,000 will qualify for an extraordinary collection of privileges. The membership options are tiered by the level of access to the people who are attached to TED.

Over the years, this extraordinary event expanded to include: “…scientists, philosophers, musicians, religious leaders, environmentalists and many others. Those who have spoken at TED include Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Billy Graham, Herbie Hancock, Murray Gell-Mann, Larry Ellison. Yet often the real stars have been the unexpected: Li Lu, a key organizer of the Tiananmen Square student protest, Aimee Mullins, a Paralympics competitor who tried out a new pair of artificial legs on-stage, or Nathan Myrrhvold speaking not about Microsoft platforms, but about dinosaur sex.”

So, is your organization an association with an annual event or are you really an event with a year-round membership?

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December 13, 2006

Lessons from the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society

The light-hearted World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society (WRPSS) is an extraordinarily successful experiment in viral/word of mouth communications. Although delightfully silly, WRPSS offers up some valuable lessons for those of us who--perhaps--take ourselves too seriously

WRPSS founder and managing director Doug Walker was the luncheon speaker this week at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit in Washington, D.C. Doug's day job is Interactive Strategist at an ad agency TBWA\Toronto. He identified four keys to their success: authority; mutation; participation; and, "accretion."

The WRPSS is the authority quoted by the New York Times when the childhood game of rock, paper, scissors is invoked to resolve gridlocked decisions by art auction houses and state court judges. How did they become the authority? They said they were. Interestingly enough, visitors attracted by word of mouth added their strategies and experience to a long threaded message, which in turn became a book. And, as we all know, publishing a book makes you an authority.

The idea quickly mutated, adding more of the trappings of an association, including paid memberships and meetings. What the founders learned was that they had to quickly mutate to keep up with their members' fantasy. Last year their annual world championship made all the network and cable news shows with the winner featured on every late night night talk show. Check out the NPR story on their mythological history.

Participation was key to their success. At the meet, they treated competitors like athletes and groupies like special interest groups. But the most telling lesson learned was "accretion." Walker said that participants grew the mythology, identifying with the group, and each step of WRPSS' development layered on the last. He said you could have never launched it as it now exists, but each activity led to the next or "accretion."

"A few people played their roles (leaders) and we attracted more and more people," Walker said. In fact, they were so successful a producer from Fox News covering the championship launched a competing organization.

The lessons from social media not only make for a powerful fable, but also a game plan for any start-up associations, lessons not unlike those now being learned by WOMMA.

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November 22, 2006

Crowdsourcing

The latest issue of Wired magazine features an article on Chevy’s experimentation with consumer-generated ad campaigns, a technique known as crowdsourcing.

Combined with an episode of The Apprentice, the results were astounding, but at a price. “On its own Web site, the Tahoe now stood accused of everything but running down the Pillsbury Doughboy.”

“At first, everyone assumed it was just another case of a big corporation not "getting it" about the Internet. Then, when the ads weren't yanked down immediately, they figured Chevy was too clueless even to notice what was happening on its own site. Only gradually did it dawn on people that Chevy had no intention of removing the attack ads.”

Chevy’s ad agency exec Ed Dilworth said, "You can either stay in the bunker, or you can jump out there and try to participate."

Instead of the usual member-get-a-member campaign, what if you sponsored a contest asking visitors to create their own membership ad on your website?

Odds are you would tell the next generation they are welcome and you would get some powerful messages about belonging, replacing those tedious lists of benefits.

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November 14, 2006

The power of PR

I've long been a believer in the importance of public relations for associations. For trades, it would seem to be a major reason for their existence, especially as it is tied to government relations (the more important your industry is perceived by the public, the more important it will be perceived by government officials). Member education likely trumps PR in most professional societies, but in so far as the missions of these organizations usually point to the profession as a whole, PR is important. For both, it has the potential to increase membership roles, increase clout, and increase the sale of all products and services offered by the association.

I’m often surprised at the lack of attention PR gets in associations. There are many exceptions to this, of course; many of the food industry associations have really strong efforts, and the American Chemical Society comes to mind. But even for associations with large staffs, PR is often relegated to a single staff position and a measly budget.

I have a theory that I’d love to test out, but when I think about the sheer amount of research needed to pull it off I push the idea pretty far down on the old article list. The theory is this: If a CEO truly embraces the importance of PR, then the organizations he or she leads will be more successful. To research it would mean looking at CEOs who have led at least 2 or 3 different organizations. Develop criteria to measure “truly embracing the importance of PR,” such as increased PR budgets/staff, increased PR activities, and the organizational mindset and culture about the industries or professions they serve. Then, see how the organization has fared overall across some quantitative and qualitative objectives, such as membership numbers, budget, government relations goals met and the ambitiousness of those goals. Finally, look for possible explanations other than the PR focus.

Fortunately, I’m not an academic, so my research could end there. I’d think academics would want to look at a control group of CEOs and see how they have fared on the same metrics. In any event, while I think the research would be fascinating, and you should never say never, I can’t imagine ever going to that length. I’m afraid it will have to remain a hunch and, whenever in the appropriate discussions, I’ll push for the increase of PR activity.

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October 26, 2006

The baby bottle measure

ASAE & The Center recently published 138 pages that started to define what being a remarkable association is (7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don't).

If you think his schtick is insightful—which I do much more often than not—then you'd have to agree that Seth Godin is a remarkability maestro. His Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (my edition is 142 pages) should be at the top of the list for anybody aspiring to be anything other than mediocre.

In case you don't have time to read those 280 pages, check out this 33-word post on Seth's blog, "What it means to be remarkable." He left of off eight words: "If not, then why do you do it?"

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September 14, 2006

The marketing trap

I attended the Greater Washington Network's Communications Idea Swap earlier this week, which brought back a notion that's been mulling around in my head for a while.

At the swap, the discussion went to a place where we were talking about e-mail newsletters, then marketing in e-mail newsletters, and finally marketing e-mails. If you're like most membership organizations, you've probably had, oh, about 1,000 internal discussions about the amount of e-mail you send to your members. What gets me a little riled up is the notion that associations marketing their products and services are intruding on their members.

Don't get me wrong, I think many association members do look at such things as intrusions. But I think we need a shift in mindset. I prefer to think that associations need to "inform" members of the organization's products and services, not "market" product and services to members. I like to think of it in the context of working toward a desired outcome. The informing mindset furthers the mission of the organization, which is to deliver products and services that will improve members in some way. The marketing mindset has a desired outcome of putting butts in seats or eyeballs on publications or (insert your own measurement here).

In more practical terms, assume that by joining your association your members want to know about the products and services you offer. How do you do so in a way that most respects their time and participation? The answer is going to vary by organization, but I think it's unlikely to be dozens and dozens of e-mail notices. This is one of the times when traditional measurements—butts in seats, number of members, books sold—get in the way. Those are certainly important financial measures, and they can even help measure how effectively an association is serving its mission. We broadcast thousands and thousands of messages because they do increase these numbers. But I think we're overlooking the costs. When your members see you as little more than marketers of products and services, then your organization is heading in a dangerous direction.

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August 3, 2006

Long Tail wagging the dog?

Thank God for people like Jeff De Cagna who elevate the level of discourse in the association community beyond the simple concepts. In comments posted to this blog, Jeff suggests that association executives need to fully consider the ramifications for our organizations of an emerging economic theory called the Long Tail, not just dismiss it out of hand. I read the article written by Jamie Notter and Jeff when it first hit Associations Now back in February 2006 and posted a few thoughts about it back then. In the time since I jotted down those thoughts, I've considered this more fully, and in my view, the Long Tail doesn't translate well to associations for these four reasons:

1. In order for the economics of the Long Tail to be fully realized, there has to be a sufficient number of consumers to take advantage of the myriad products and services being offered. I would venture to guess that an association would need an audience of about 100,000 or more in order to begin to see results from a Long Tail strategy. Pragmatically, associations' audiences are their members, and I concede that every association has the opportunity to sell to nonmembers as well.

2. Related to the first point, the Long Tail can't be fully harnessed unless there is a sufficient diversity within an audience. The blessing (and the curse) of associations is that our audiences are very homogeneous groups. How diverse can our Long Tail products and services really be if we want to sell them to an audience with relatively similar needs?

3. Association executives are accountable to their organizations' tax exempt missions or purposes. Any association executive that wants to pursue a long tail strategy will have to determine if such activity falls within the scope of their association's objectives. The task of developing a diverse line of products to satisfy a Long Tail strategy may very well fail this test.

4. The Long Tail seems to run contrary to another economic principle that seems to work quite well for associations. It's the principle outlined in books like Blue Ocean Strategy and Purple Cow. Do something remarkable and something that no one else is doing, and charge a lot of money for it. This is a strategy that, in my mind, stands a far better chance of generating a high rate of return than a Long Tail strategy.

Even if your evaluation of the Long Tail strategy suggests that your association should pursue it, there's still the problem of actually developing the thousands of products to fill your inventory. Who will do it?

Staff? How many staff would it take to develop thousands of new products and services? And aren't we all struggling with what programs to cut?

Volunteers? Are you finding enough committed volunteers to undertake projects like these?

Will your association become a reseller of other companies' products?

There is lower-hanging fruit out there. More targeted segmentation, better member service, more innovative products and services that carry a higher value and a higher profit. If you want my advice, go after those.

And here's a deep thought: The association industry itself is the long tail.

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August 1, 2006

Who defines a movement?

Rob Walker is the engaging writer of the "Consumed" column in The New York Times. His article in Sunday's magazine is a highly engaging read that looks at developing the idea of brand from an unusual perspective. There is one (and only one, in my opinion) less than brilliant passage -- not bad considering the article clocks in at almost 7,500 words. But when I think about the article, the passage is what I think about:

"A-Ron sees himself as part of a 'movement,' a brand underground. And maybe there is something going on here that can't simply be dismissed just because of the apparent disconnect between the idea ofa 'brand' and the idea of an 'underground.' After all, subcultures aren't defined by outsiders passing judgment; they are defined by participants."

It is precisely the outsiders passing judgment that defines the subculture. The participants are taking the actions that are being judged, but by definition most of us are not in a particular subculture, so how we see it very much defines it.

Perhaps it is an insignificant little quibble, but to me it's a classic branding blunder. Your brand is not what you say it is, it is what others think it is. We like to talk about the extraordinary reach and power of associations. While I don't deny that, I also think as a sector we have some extremely tough branding issues to overcome. When was the last time you heard someone describe special interests as empowering the people? No, special interests -- according to the general public -- are blights that have developed in the course of American democracy. There is truth to both sides of that argument, though I would guess the public sees it overwhelmingly in one direction.

When it comes to branding, the same is true for your profession or industry or hobby or cause. What you think you are doesn't matter; you are defined in your market by what others think of you.

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June 27, 2006

Attention Economy Unsession Reports

Ben Martin and I facilitated an unsession today on attention economics at the Marketing & Membership conference in Bethesda, MD. We had about 25 people in the room after lunch, yet it was a lively group! We have created this post as a place for attendees to add their notes and comments on what they took away from the session. Ben and I will also add our thoughts as the comment thread grows.

If you would like to learn more about unconferences (the model we used for the session) or attention economics (what we talked about), follow the links.

Update: Ben has posted some pics from the unsession on Flickr. Also, Jeff De Cagna has added some links in the comments to his notes from the discussion we had. Keep 'em coming folks!

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Please Speak Like a Human

I'm at the Marketing & Membership conference this week, whose theme is buzz marketing. I heard in each and every session yesterday that you must talk and listen like a human when marketing to your members. Sounds pretty basic but it would not be repeated as much if everyone were already doing it. This all goes back to the Cluetrain Manifesto which posits that markets are conversations. So are associations, in my opinion!

Drop the press release speak and hyperbole and engage in the conversations your members are already having about you.

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