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Start Marketing Like It's 2008

We’re eight years in to the 21st century. Can association marketing pros finally get with the times? If you’re frustrated with traditional marketing tactics that just don’t seem to resonate any longer, then consider these new strategies that target the importance of relationships with generations X and Y.Think for a moment how much the world has changed since the 1950s.

Article published by American Society of Association ExecutivesMarketing Insights, January 2008

We’re eight years in to the 21st century. Can association marketing pros finally get with the times? If you’re frustrated with traditional marketing tactics that just don’t seem to resonate any longer, then consider these new strategies that target the importance of relationships with generations X and Y.Think for a moment how much the world has changed since the 1950s. The average annual salary then was $2,992, a loaf of bread cost $0.14, few women worked, civil rights were non-existent, Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states, and the first domestic jet airline passenger service began flying between New York City and Miami. And people received their information from the only information sources available to them: newspapers, magazines, direct mail, black-and-white televisions, and social events. Here we are today, a half-century later, and I continue to be amazed by how many associations are still marketing and relaying information exactly as they did in the 1950s. In the middle of the last century, associations relied on direct mail, advertising, and events as their primary means of marketing because those were the only means available. Today, there are numerous options available to associations, but few associations are using these tools to their advantage. In just the past few months, I have spoken with many association leaders who are frustrated either because the association’s direct mail responses have plummeted, advertising revenue and response rates are nonexistent, or event attendance is at an all-time low. What to do? Start marketing like it’s 2008! The concepts of direct mail, advertising, and events are hopelessly outdated. Your association and every other association out there has been there and done that. In 2008, the world of marketing has no limits. Your association now has the opportunity to reach its audiences through blogs, podcasts, word-of-mouth marketing, YouTube, text messaging, social causes, media relations, webinars, public speaking, instant messaging, peer groups, and Facebook. While the list of options may seem overwhelming, there is a common theme. In the past, marketing was focused on the concepts of product, place, price, and promotion. Today, marketing is focused on one thing and one thing only: relationships. Unlike their baby boomer predecessors, generations X and Y didn’t grow up in the 1950s. Marketers have been pitching to them since infancy, which for these later generations spans 1966 to 1995. They grew up with technology and expansive media, observing corporate layoffs and mergers, divorce, terrorism, school shootings, and political leaders who lied and failed to deliver on their promises. As a result, they are savvy and skeptical consumers. They have a strong need to trust and they are loyal to those associations, companies, and brands that establish their trust and form meaningful relationships with them. To gain the trust of the next generations of members, volunteers, and leaders, your association will need to think about marketing with a constant focus on relationship-building.

Here are some tactics not to be overlooked:

  • Peer groupsXers and Ys prefer connecting with their peers for professional development. Young professional groups, as they are often called, are most effective when there is a defined call to action, value for getting involved, access to exclusive benefits, and numerous involvement opportunities, all at an affordable price. Peer groups are an effective way for an association to encourage relationship building among young professionals, and to demonstrate the association’s commitment to their professional development. Startup costs are minimal, but the return can be significant.
  • StudentsAssociations often overlook students as a viable membership base, but forming relationships with aspiring professionals and helping them launch their careers is a relationship-building effort of tremendous significance. Students have an interest in finding mentors, and an association can be a great vehicle for the formation of those relationships. Be guest lecturers, attend career fairs, or publish a student e-newsletter. Invite students in and this relationship-building effort is certain to generate ongoing growth for the association.
  • Social causesGeneration X and especially Y choose their employers and brands based on a company’s commitment to community. They want to know that their contributions are making a positive difference, which offers a meaningful way for associations to connect with members. Associations can tout their support for an industry or community or cause, and the can also promote their scholarships and foundations. Or, start up a new giving or volunteer effort to benefit others. Social causes influence change, increase the public’s awareness of the association through publicity, and often increase membership―all as a result of establishing an emotional connection through relationship building.
  • Blogs and podcastsFew associations (about 300 in the United States) are taking advantage of the ability to communicate with their audiences via these technologies. Blogs and podcasts have the power to personalize an association and give it a voice. Whether you are interviewing members on a podcast or blogging back and forth about a hot topic, these relationship-building tools increase an association’s visibility through search engines and viral marketing, and they position the association as an expert and trendsetter in its field.
  • WebinarsPresenting information or meeting online cuts expenses and makes meeting and collaborating easier for presenters and attendees. Webinar software allows presenters and attendees to interact and collaborate through live polls, question and answer periods, and document sharing, making it easy for attendees to participate in and learn from the event.

Your audiences are searching for new, different, and innovative approaches to connect with your association. Will your association stand out from the crowd? Will it meet their expectations? It’s much easier to do both today than it was in 1950.

Sarah L. Sladek is the president and CEO of Limelight Generations and was a presenter at the 2007 Great Ideas Conference. Email: ssladek@limelightgenerations.com

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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