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10 Things You Can Do Today to Boost The Effectiveness of Your Marketing Program (Part 1, 1-5)

Aug 18, 2007
It is human nature to try and improve upon the conditions around us, and as humans we are hardwired to be curious and to strive to improve our lot in life in ways large and small. For organizations, there have been many theories expounded over the years about quality improvement, continuous improvement, conscious improvement and a slew of others - clearly getting better at what you do as an organization is a key component to success.

If you think of your outreach marketing program as the volume control for the information reaching prospective members or customers, it would be a simple impulse to turn up that switch when you needed more members, or wanted to launch a new program - improving your communication quality, focusing the message, boosting the frequency and breadth of the media carrying it to increase sales or membership in one simple motion.

Unfortunately it's not really that simple. However, there are lots of small things you can do to increase the effectiveness of your outreach marketing - some of them as easy and inexpensive as turning up that volume control. Some may seem obvious, but in aggregate, they should boost response, increase participation, build membership and loyalty, and increase retention in your organization.

1) Get To Know Your Audience
Primary research among membership-based organizations is more rare than most would care to admit, and good research into your members' preferences, needs and desires can really provide you with a good, solid foundation for basing creative and strategic decisions going forward. The more you know about your members and prospective members, the more your marketing messages will resonate, the more likely your offers will be found relevant to their lives, and the more value they will find in the programs designed for their benefit. Phone research, in the form of in-depth interviews with members, either individuals or representatives of organizations, can provide eye-opening insights that can drive your strategic marketing efforts in a new and more effective direction. There are several highly reputable research organizations and consultants that can help guide you through the process to be sure you get accurate, actionable results.

TO DO: From your in-house database, select 20 members, and 20 prospects, with a good selection of large and small (trade only), or for professional societies, a good mix of member types. Call the list using a short 1-page, 5-question script devised to elicit in-depth responses, not one word answers. Use questions that rank priorities as often as feasible, so you have some quantitative data as well as general, anecdotal information. Note the differences between members and prospects - that gap is where to focus your efforts.

2) Refine and Use Your "House" List for Direct Mail
Your member database is the heart of your organization. Is it healthy? Is there plaque build-up of bad information, outdated addresses, prospects that have no relevance to your offers, or need of your services? Is it unwieldy to use, complex to navigate, cumbersome to work with? Is it structured the way your organization works so that it mirrors your efforts, or does it fight you every step of the way? Do you find that it takes an inordinate amount of time and effort to extract what should be simple requests for subsets or quick lists like committees or sub-groups? If the answer is "Yes" to any of these questions, it's time to evaluate your database software, structure and use in light of how your organization uses and needs access to data.

If you can't easily extract and manipulate your own in-house data, it will be extremely difficult to compare it to prospect data so you can make intelligent selections for focused, targeted, personalized mailings. Bad data does more damage than good data used ineffectively, especially in membership-based organizations where every member needs to be treated like gold, let alone executive committees, board members, special-interest groups that need some extra attention.

TO DO: Select a random list of 40 members from your database, however your normal procedures allow you to do that. If it takes longer than about an hour, you need to develop new processes at a minimum, and at worst you need to revamp your entire database, starting with new software and converting the data, after you clean it up and verify each piece. One quick way to do this is with a database dump postcard. Craft a postcard that explains what you're trying to do - clean your data. Ask the members to update the info on the label on the front in spaces on the back if need be and mail it back to you. The first 200 that return the card will receive a small gift as a "Thank You". You should receive less than 2% bad addresses. If not, time to do a major overhaul of your data.

3) Re-Evaluate Your Benefits and Offers - Are They Still Relevant?
The question running through any prospect's mind when they think about membership is "What's in it for me?" If the benefits of membership are not delineated in crystal clear fashion in your prospecting and membership materials, you've lost before it ever gets opened.

Presenting a compelling reason to join and stay a member has everything to do with knowing the audience and crafting benefits statements that resonate with that audience. They should be strongly worded, clearly written and explained, and demonstrated as a benefit that solves a known and widely understood "problem" within the homogenous group.

If you're the Paint and Stain Manufacturers Association, and your biggest issue of concern for members is EPA regulatory compliance, one of your benefits should be something like "Close monitoring and strong, regular member input on all regulatory and legislative issues that could negatively impact manufacturers of all types of paints and stains." While that activity ultimately benefits non-members as well, the key is "member input" - they get direct access to legislators, through correspondence and website access, etc. Direct benefit - strong statement.

TO DO: Using the data gathered in item Number One, trot out your membership selling brochure and verify that the benefits of membership there still match up with the recently gathered data surrounding member needs and desires. If they don't, it might be time to re-evaluate the use of that piece of collateral.

4) Review Your Media List - And Use It To Raise Your Profile
Trade media should be the marketer's best friend. Good relationships with publishers and editors of various magazines, newsletters, websites, and blogs that serve your industry, including your own publications, is essential to crafting a cohesive view of your organization and branding the organization accurately and effectively. Strong relationships with those key individuals allow you to:

* Craft and release your statements at leisure
* Gives you early warning of other's perceptions of the organization from a neutral source
* Can tip you off to impending PR crisis
* Gives you heads up when there are going to be controversial stories written that involve your organization
* Allows them to readily contact you to get your point of view before it's published

. . . in short, it keeps the media fair and reasonable, and allows you better access to your audience, which consists of both members and prospects.

TO DO: Review your media list, and call the Managing Editor, and the Publisher, of the top 10 publications, websites or blogs covering your industry. Ask some simple questions about how your organization is performing based on what they've heard from their advertisers and readers.

Let them know that you've got some exciting new initiatives coming in the near future and you'd like to get their take on them before you launch them, since you value their opinion so highly. Not only will this reconnect you to them with the call itself, but give them something to gossip about and talk to the others about, speculating about your next move. Suddenly, you may notice that your next press release will get a lot more attention than it might have otherwise.

5) Show How Exciting Your Meeting Is, Not How Great The City Is
Meetings as a function have changed and evolved significantly, especially in the last few years, as travel has been curtailed for budgetary and security reasons. Your meeting marketing must show compelling reasons for your members to:

* work their way out of the office for a few days
* go through the trauma that is today's airport security
* get set up for three days of meeting, greeting and eating
* reverse the travel home,
* foot the entire bill themselves for the airfare, hotel, meals, seminars and the rest.

That needs to be some pretty convincing marketing. The meeting must look like they'll be at a grave disadvantage if they miss it, by presenting unequivocal benefits for attendees, tangible benefits that you can clearly see the advantage in receiving. That fact that it's in Cleveland, or Orlando, or Seattle, or wherever, is of minimal benefit, unless you live near the convention hotel in those cities. For the other 90+ percent of your members, it poses no compelling reason to attend.

As hotels become more homogenous and hotel brands are imposed more rigidly on individual locations and select properties, there is even less to differentiate the location for the meeting attendee - when one looks much like another, there's not even any benefit to the hotel choice, let alone city destination. At the end of the day, attendees will have seen a ball room or two, a generic restaurant, possibly the parking garage and their generic room. If not their hometown, it may as well be anywhere - unless you make it a special, memorable experience.

Make your meeting memorable with solid content, outstanding speakers that really know your industry and are exciting to listen to, and after hours activities that really showcase the destination, its history and culture. Focusing on the destination in your marketing materials is a crutch, is not effective, and can easily be avoided with some creativity, some teamwork with your meetings department and committee interaction in the planning stages.

TO DO: Pull out the collateral and registration materials used to promote the last five meetings you hosted for members - examine them under the cold light of day, and see if you used any of the destination crutches to create "excitement". Examine the program as a hard-working, time-starved, cash-strapped member might, and see if you'd attend this meeting if it were up to you to pay for it. Show them to your neighbor, and ask them "if the meeting were intended for their industry, would they pay to attend?" If not, time to re-examine your meetings goals and the approach you use to market them.

The above tips touch on many different aspects of non-profit and organizational marketing programs, but they are by no means complete or inclusive. They should at least be recognizable within your organization in some form, and will hopefully get the wheels spinning as you relate each to how you currently market the organization, and how some of them might fit into your current plan.

Some are free or inexpensive to implement, other require a greater investment in time, money and energy but pay off significant dividends in the longer term in increased member participation, boosted meeting attendance, bigger member rolls, more active committees, greater visibility for your organization and increased operational efficiency going forward. Anything you can do to increase visibility, build awareness, encourage members to join, participate and stay members is worth investigating.
About the Author
David Poulos, Chief Consultant at Granite Partners has been offering marketing guidance to firms for over 25 years. Specialties include non-profit marketing and full-scale strategic marketing campaigns. He can be reached at http://www.granite-part.com, or 410-472-4570.
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