By Dana Plotke
Even after two decades of working in marketing, promotions, events and B2B communications, I have to admit that I still look forward to a good educational opportunity. At best, you have an “ah ha!” moment while hearing others in your profession talk about their experiences; at worst, you walk away with a reminder of how it all boils down to a few fundamental principles that are the same in 2012 as they were in 1992. The recent Marketing, Membership and Communications conference in Washington, D.C., fulfilled the latter for me.
If there is one thing that is constant, it is change
Sarah Sladek, opening keynote speaker and author of The End of Membership As We Know It: Building the Fortune-Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Next Century (2011), offered sage advice and fair warning that change is afoot. Why? According to Sladek and others, Baby Boomers are retiring, Gen Y doesn’t care about paying money to join anything unless they see what’s in it for them and Gen X … well, we’re supposed to be the change agents for fixing what ails the association world. For those of you who heard the MM&C keynote, did I get it right? (Let me know at @danaplot.)
As a marketer and a member of Gen X, the “time for change is now” message caught my attention some years back. Marketers and communicators have been required to change our approach to remain effective and relevant. Sladek gave the same wake-up call to associations. But, what caught my attention wasn’t so much the news that things are changing, but rather the realization that some things never change.
Media, in new forms and old, will proliferate
This was one of the predictions highlighted in a 1990 New York Times article that explored media and advertising in the 1990s. Companies such as Hallmark and IBM were talking about the increase in choices that consumers would have and the increasing complexity that went along with reaching those consumers as the market became filled with more clutter and media choices for the end user. Although it was still too early to be talking about social media and the impact it would have, the basic concern of ensuring that your message is being heard was as real then as it is today.
Brand loyalty only gets you so far
For someone to buy your product or service, they not only have to know who you are, what you stand for and like those things, but they also must know that what you are selling is going to meet their needs. Pretty basic, right? Yet, some of us appear to be stuck on the idea that longevity is more important at cultivating brand loyalty and neglect to take a benefit-driven approach to marketing products and services that their association offers. I would argue that it’s not an “either” “or” proposition and both are assests when looking at ways to grow and retain members.
A happy customer is your greatest brand attribute
Before social media, marketers spent an awful lot of time analyzing logos, making sure color pallets were in check and defining what it meant to be brand “X.” At the heart of this exercise, was the desire to make the customer experience consistently positive. Social media has been a real wake-up call. Not to say the visual experience isn’t still important—when approached in a strategic fashion, it’s more important than ever. But, the real goal of ensuring a consistently positive customer experience was getting lost. So, how do you maintain your brand’s visual integrity while also keeping one eye on the customer experience? Just listen and follow what members and non-members say about your brand on social media and you’ll find out in short order. Then, it’s up to you to make sure your staff and volunteers aren’t single-handedly tarnishing your brand by giving your members a negative experience.
Change is here, people. The tools and technology that we use to champion our causes will continue to change, but the fundamental principles of what will make someone stand up, take notice and decide to spend their money or time with you instead of someone else … well that remains well intact.
Are you rolling with the changes or getting back to basics? Go to the association executive roundtable discussion on LinkedIn to weigh in.
Dana Plotke has worked in B2B marketing and communications for more than 15 years, with a focus on association media and events since 2002. She leads the marketing efforts of Naylor, LLC.
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