Why Your Association Needs to Market its Position

By Association Adviser staff • July 12, 2022

Associations must engage with their members in order to grow the membership base and drive revenue. So how can a marketing strategy help associations accomplish that?

Let’s use the last time you personally bought a new product as an example. It can be anything. For our purposes, let’s say it was a smartwatch. You made a series of decisions that led you to the purchase. But here’s the interesting thing — who first told you those deciding factors were even possible? Someone in the marketing department, that’s who. They did their market research and developed a clever marketing strategy. They decided exactly whom to target in their advertising — whether directly or indirectly through influencers — and released an idea out into the world that your life could actually be easier and better with a smartwatch. That idea found its way to you through strategic marketing campaigns and landed a watch on your wrist. And it all started with a strategy. 

So, you might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with my association?” In a word, everything. Associations, in theory, are no different than the smartwatch company. Rather than stagnate and passively collect membership dues, associations need to take a proactive position if they want to expand their scope of influence and boost their bottom line. This begins with an effective marketing strategy that energizes members and attracts new ones.

Many associations simply lean on their existing members to stay alive, but implementing a marketing strategy has the capacity to strengthen and enhance their brand as an industry leader, as well as increase engagement with members and industry stakeholders. Don’t worry if marketing is not in your wheelhouse — we’ve laid out some pragmatic insights to get your marketing strategy up and running. Spoiler alert: It’s not simply making TikTok videos or throwing out a random tweet once a quarter.

The First Steps for Putting Together an Association Marketing Strategy

As with any business endeavor, a goal without a plan is a wish. Your first steps are where you define key elements so that your marketing strategy lands on its intended target. 

Here are the three easy steps to putting together a marketing strategy:

  1. Define your business goals: What is your end goal? Is it to attract new members or boost event attendance? Are you in need of more non-dues revenue? You’ll first need to align all of your teams with common objectives and define which tactics will be used to achieve these goals. 
  2. Define your why: “People don’t buy what you do or how you do it, they buy why you do it.” — Simon Sinek. Keeping your company’s why front and center will help facilitate decision-making and produce better results. This is the mission and vision of your association.
  3. Define your target personas: This crucial task enables you to identify each persona (members, non-members, industry folks) and communicate their specific needs, reach them where they are consuming information and engage and communicate with others. 

The Must-Have Components for a Great Marketing Strategy

The playbook for a great marketing campaign strategy is rooted in the fine-point details and honing in on how to reach your audience. There are many missteps you can make along the way, but here are four items to focus on to keep your marketing on track.

  1. A holistic approach: A great marketing strategy considers every aspect of an association’s business and brand — it’s holistic. It should utilize each element of marketing in concert together to achieve the goals of the business and move the brand forward.  
  2. Strategy before tactics: A great marketing strategy works from the association’s goals first to develop a plan to then meet those goals — not the other way around.
  3. Success metrics: You’ll first need to know what your success will look like, which can begin with a SWOT analysis. This dovetails into how you position your association and its key benefits. 
  4. Details matter: Taking an omnichannel approach is important — don’t pigeonhole your message. You’ll want to make sure you stick to your timeline and your budget and also have a detailed messaging and communications plan.

Leveraging Social Media the Right Way in a Marketing Strategy

Social media can be rife with landmines for associations, but used correctly there can be excellent, tangential benefits to strategically using LinkedIn and other forms of social media.

Used effectively, associations can generate new members or non-dues revenue, as well as create greater brand awareness. Your association should leverage social media to communicate key messages to its relevant audience. Finding your association’s social media voice is key to finding your relevant audience. (Check out this article on how to do just that.) With social media, your association can reach both existing and potential members — where they spend, on average, 147 minutes per day — to create awareness for products and services. You can also parse out the posts to share about new products and special offerings like membership discounts and loyalty programs. Creating posts to highlight events is also a great way to leverage social media. Perhaps most importantly, social media should be used to educate your members about the value of your association, and your position as a thought leader  — authenticity is the key word to remember here.

Unique Benefits of a Marketing Strategy for Associations

Outside of the obvious benefits of a solid marketing strategy, like attracting new members, driving more non-dues revenue and gaining higher member engagement, there are some benefits associations may not have previously considered, including:

  • Organizational impact: Having a formal strategy means everyone at your association knows what they’re working towards and why they’re doing certain activities. Departments will also work better together knowing they are all working from the same plan.
  • Appropriate and effective allocation of budget: A marketing strategy can actually provide a blueprint for making decisions regarding budget and activities.
  • Streamline product development/offerings: Your association’s marketing strategy can help you create products and services with the best chance of success, profitability and an increase in the bottom line.

Should Your Association Launch a New Marketing Strategy? 

In the digital age, every association should be striving to connect with members and non-members alike through a marketing strategy in order to drive member growth and non-dues revenue. Your marketing team should be supporting member engagement and your association’s overall growth objectives, but many associations struggle in this department — sometimes due to simply staff shortages. Your association should be getting ample visitors to, and engagement through, the association website and content assets but if it’s not, then it might be time to consider reaching out for marketing help. 

At Naylor, we know associations better than anyone. Naylor Association Marketing Services considers every aspect of an association’s business and brand to develop a holistic and strategic marketing and communications plan. We bring each element of marketing together to achieve the business’s goals and move the brand forward. Increase your marketing bandwidth today and let us help launch your marketing strategy.