It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts are hitting all industries and professions. In a recent Association Adviser webinar, “Growing Non-Dues Revenue in Times of Crisis & Beyond,” Naylor’s Vice President of Digital Operations and Development Laura Taylor and Senior Group Publisher John Bacon talked about new ideas and channels for driving non-dues revenue that associations can adopt today to get back on track financially.
Non-dues revenue is a driving force for your association – it gives you the financial freedom to explore new technology and tools that can help you evolve your communications strategy. Businesses that advertise and sponsor your association’s communications are looking to you for innovative opportunities to reach their customers. You can help them reach their target audience and, at the same time, give your members the relevant education and information they need.
Here are several questions we received from our webinar audience. Because we didn’t have enough time to answer every question, we’re providing many of those answers here.
- expanding your digital communications strategy,
- exploring new tools and channels,
- opening more targeted opportunities for advertisers and sponsors,
- and helping your advertisers and sponsors temporarily shift their messaging.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE & MACHINE LEARNING
How does an AI-powered newsletter work? What are the benefits?
Artificial intelligence-driven newsletters use machine learning technology to deliver customized content based on each reader’s individual behaviors and interests. A lot of associations have industry newsletters that include top news articles. With an AI newsletter, instead of having an editor pick the top 10 articles that are delivered to everyone, artificial intelligence selects and delivers stories targeted to each individual reader.
You start by selecting the sources and keywords for the types of articles that you want included in your newsletter. The AI platform then pulls in any possible stories that fit those specifications during each newsletter cycle. From that pool of stories, the program remembers behaviors captured by machine learning to create a customized newsletter for each reader based on the content they’ve clicked on in the past.
For example, it may know that Laura clicks on a lot of content related to digital platforms and new technology, but John clicks on stories about sales strategy and leadership. Over time, the AI learns and delivers stories based on these preferences.
The technology does offer the ability to include specific content to all readers, but that should be reserved for important announcement and updates. In general, you want to let the technology create an individualized, customized content experience. Because content is more relevant to each individual, we often see an increase in open rates and click-throughs compared to traditional newsletters where everyone receives the same version. These higher rates make AI-powered newsletters enticing to advertisers, who see the potential in a larger, more captivated audience.
SPONSORS & EXHIBITORS
With so many large-scale events canceled this year, some associations are refunding sponsor fees or crediting sponsor fees to 2021. How can association staff convince leadership of the value of working consultatively with sponsors right now?
It is important to remind them that these companies that had sponsored your live events are facing adversity too. They support your association events because they need to get in front of your members – that fact hasn’t changed. They need to continue to market to the industry to ensure they have a business when this crisis is over.
Refunding sponsor fees without providing them other ways to stay in front of your members is a lost opportunity and does not serve their current needs. Holding their fees and crediting 2021 can be one of the options you make available, but some companies may need those dollars to execute their marketing plans for 2020. Take a consultative approach and offer a variety of choices that meet their needs for advertising and sponsorship.
How can we better educate our members on the value of sponsors, advertisers and exhibitors? I’m looking for new ways to show appreciation and share their value.
Your sponsors, advertisers and exhibitors are an important segment of your membership. They don’t just provide financial support to your association; they also lend essential products and services, innovative solutions, and expertise about their industries. Now is a great time to lean on and build better relationships with these members.
In addition to your events, association communications are a great venue for highlighting sponsors. Thank your sponsors by including their logos on your website, or highlight a different sponsor in each issue of your newsletter. Give them an opportunity to share their stories and knowledge through content on your blog or in your print and digital publication.
WEBINARS & PODCASTS
With webinars being an increasingly popular channel for education, do you see a point when we reach “webinar fatigue”?
The effectiveness of a webinar has to do with the quality of content and speakers. If you are consistently delivering that to your audience, even if webinars are frequent, then they will continue to show up and your sponsors will continue see the value in the sponsorship opportunity.
Would you recommend offering sponsored webinars complimentary to attendees? This seems like a logical idea, but we risk losing webinar registration income.
If you are able to secure a sponsor for your webinars, that might help offset any webinar registration income or allow you to lower your registration cost. Many of our client’s webinars are offered free as a benefit to their association membership, but there is a cost to non-members.
Does your podcast audience need to be a certain size before you start offering advertising?
This all varies on the appetite your potential sponsors have to reach your audience. If their target audience is your top 20 members and you can confirm they are regularly downloading or listening to your podcast, that might be enough. We would recommend you reach out to a few of your biggest advertisers/supporters to get their feedback about what type of audience would entice them to sponsor your podcast.
TARGETED ADVERTISING & SPONSORED CONTENT
We haven’t had much advertising in the past, so we’re worried offering too much too quickly will turn off our members. How can we make sure advertising doesn’t take away from our communications?
For associations, your message and the content you provide to members come first. That said, all of us in our day-to-day lives are used to advertising. It’s just part of the world today, and audiences are savvy when it comes to the difference between content and advertising. As an association, if you can make sure that what is being provided is useful and informative, even if it comes in the form of advertising, your members won’t necessarily view it in a negative light.
For example, if you’re looking to offer a series of sponsored content email, make sure that it provides valuable to the members and that it’s not just company logo. Encourage your advertisers to include relevant content about how their products and services move the industry forward, and use it as an opportunity to educate your members on new research and technology. Advertisers and sponsors need to be able to engage with industry professionals, and this is just another way to do that.
Now, you may well come up against a member that is frustrated by the increase in advertising. But, a lot of times, the fear of that in advance of rolling out a new offering is greater than what the actual response from your members. It’s good opportunity for associations to really listen to their members though. If you start getting the feedback of it being too much, have a conversation and pivot if needed.
Can you vet advertisers in your programmatic network to make sure they are aligned with the association mission?
One of the things that Naylor has talked a lot about over the last couple years is relevancy. With programmatic advertising, while you can block certain categories or types of companies, you want to be careful not to do that too often. It’s important to remember that it’s all about the relevancy of the ad to the user, not necessarily the relevancy of the ad to the association or industry. When you consider opening up programmatic advertising on your site, we encourage you to keep restrictions to a minimum so you don’t limit your non-dues revenue opportunity.
However, when it comes to programmatic retargeting, you can vet every advertiser that participates in that offering. Those are all sold based on an agreement signed with a sales professional – much like a traditional display ad. However, retargeting ads aren’t showing on your own website, so you may even feel comfortable opening that offering up to some advertisers you wouldn’t have allowed on your website otherwise to generate more revenue.
CAREER CENTERS & JOB BOARDS
How can we maximize non-dues revenue on our career center when the job market is in such chaos at the moment?
You can start by talking with some of your largest members companies to see how they’re recruiting today, given how your specific industry is dealing with the economic impacts of COVID-19, and make any adjustments to your career center to provide the most value to employers and job seekers. Then make sure that you’re marketing your career center prominently within your other communications. While career centers across many industries have a lower total of open job postings at the moment, you still may be seeing increased traffic from those looking for jobs at the moment. To be a resource to those career site visitors, include valuable content about how to improve their skills and job-readiness, including articles on best practices for interviewing virtually or how to improve their LinkedIn profile.
On the advertising side, you can utilize programmatic retargeting like we talked about earlier on your career center. On Naylor’s Boxwood job boards, for example, we offer a programmatic advertising enhancement for job postings. The ads retarget people who have visited your career center after they leave the site. This draws these job seekers back to job listings by showing them display ads to remind them about the exciting opportunities they saw on your career center.
MEMBERSHIP & COMMUNICATION BEST PRACTICES
Some of my members are still uncomfortable with digital. How can I move them online?
Begin to introduce small, quick pieces of content for them to consume. It could be a short video, newsletter or website articles. Everyone is used to email, so delivering content through a newsletter that sends readers to your site to consume the full article is a great way to get started.
We have opted to postpone our dues renewal due to COVID-19, but we depend on dues for advocacy efforts. How best can we be sensitive to the strain on members’ finances while also asking for renewals?
Look at options like delayed invoicing or payment plans to show that you understand the challenges your members are facing, but also use this time as an opportunity to educate your members on the full value of their membership. Highlight the benefits that your members need most right now so they know what they truly get when they pay membership dues.
How much communication is too much?
Daily communication is standard for readers/subscribers for top publications. I would encourage you to consider the frequency of your publications/industry news communications separate of member update communications. Look at ways you can consolidate your news and publications communications to be efficient, and listen to what your readers are telling you through your analytics – the actions they take will tell you what you need to know about how they want to consume content. Focus on effectiveness of communication over arbitrarily capping number of emails.