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Lisa Campo

By: Lisa Campo on April 17th, 2015

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Dear Associations: Stop Sending Email

Email Marketing | Association Industry Commentary | Lead Generation & Growth Strategies

That's right, I'm looking at you, association marketers. Stop sending all those emails right now, before someone gets hurt.


This idea might sound hypocritical coming from someone who works for an email marketing and automation company. It's not. We want you to be able to reach your members, but we don't want you to spam them. We want you to use email only after you've come up with a good reason to do so, and only if that email has a specific purpose.
Here are some bad reasons to send an email:

  • My CEO/executive director/manager/boss/other important person thinks we should send an email.
  • We always send emails. (Note: false. The internet has not existed forever.)
  • We haven't sent an email this week yet.
  • It's the easiest way to reach people. (Note: probably false)
  • It's the cheapest way to reach people. (Note: nope, not true either.)

Because some associations tend to have smaller staffs and, therefore, smaller budgets, association marketers seem to cling to email like it's the last available lifeboat on the Titanic. Even in HighRoad & DemandMetric's 2014 State of Digital Marketing Report, email is considered the most highly effective marketing tool and is therefore the most used. But email is not your only option, and to be honest, it shouldn't always be your go-to.

First off, think about your own email inbox, either personal or business. My personal Gmail account, which I've had for more than 10 years, is a wreck. I get everything from electric bills to online shopping coupons to the occasional real email from a friend. Would you like to take a guess at what I do to most of my emails? I delete them. I'm guessing that you do, too. Or maybe you're one of those crazy people who have 10,000 unread emails. You're still not getting those messages.

Now think about the emails you get that you actually read. For me, I only open and read the following two kinds of emails:

  • Receipts
  • Personal (friends or family)

But wait! There is one other type of email I open. It's a monthly email newsletter from a sewing website called ColettePatterns.com that includes tons and tons of brand new content. And I only open that email because I pay $5 a month for that content.

Did you hear that? I not only open an email, I PAY Colette Patterns to send me the email. It sounds crazy. But I trust the website so much that I will pay for their content.

You want to aim to be the association that is so well known for its content that people will seek you out. This is one of the central tenets of content marketing (also called inbound marketing).

Instead of sending out a weekly email newsletter that you think your members want, here are some other options you can try:

  • Do a survey and ask your members what they want from your association (Chances are they'll say "Fewer emails, please!").
  • If your members are lawyers who are clamoring for white papers on specific topics, why don't you put a white paper on your blog and then send out a message via Twitter or Facebook with a summary and link to the white paper?
  • If your members are educators who want to be made aware of new grading software, write a blog review of the software.

Then sit back and wait. They will come to you.

It isn't a fast process, and you shouldn't expect overnight success. But association marketers need to get better at identifying what their members want, not sending out a bunch of emails and hoping the 23rd time's the charm. It's not.

Do the work, check out your analytics, and stop shooting in the dark.