May Inbound Lunch Bunch Wrap Up: Using Content to Attract
Our May Inbound Lunch Bunch was held on the 14th with the highest reg numbers ever--162 to be exact. Our quest to learn the methodologies of inbound together found us focused on the first stage of HubSpot's spectrum: Attract. In order to really understand Inbound for Associations, there are a few key places where we need to rip the Band-Aid off & face some critical facts about our typical marketing programs:
1) We've Really Been Doing Loyalty Marketing (And Not Doing It Well)
For most organizations, the member population has been extremely steady and while we might have stressed over a few points up or down, the typical association has had high retention rates for the past two decades due, in part, to a very steady Baby Boomer membership base. With this population now shifting, organizations are faced with trying to shift to acquisition marketing, but this is not what has been practiced before in the Digital Age (no, we can't count fax).
But what about email? Email is the Digital Age, isn't it? We're experts at email--we send 10,000 per day per member!
Here's the rub--email is NOT an acquisition tool. Why? You can only use email if you already know the person's email address. Email is the often quoted as the driver's license of the Digital Age. We shouldn't buy emails for a variety of reasons, we shouldn't borrow emails because the fact is, we need to earn emails.
In fact, we've been abusing email for the last few years in the association world. Here we've earned the trust of our members by receiving their emails and what do we do? Smack them upside the head on a constant basis serving up all kinds of irrelevant content because it's good for us and by golly, we have event reg numbers to meet. Sure, sending emails is good for us, but it's very bad for the indivdiual member because we've broken our email vow of a one-to-one value exchange.
At the end of the day, we've been talking to people who already know us and are in our inner circle, but we aren't talking to anyone in the Big Wide World who doesn't know us; therefore, we are mostly newbies when it comes to the first stage of Attract. We've had a good ride with communication focused on our membership, but now we need to shift focus and ramp up our skills & thinking about how to get in front of people who don't know you (while treating the people that do know us as if we know them).
2) We Don't Think or Budget Beyond Email & Our Website:
So we need to grow and find people that don't know us. How do we do that?
- Banner Ads
- Social Media
- Direct Mail (we can still buy direct mail lists--expensive, but a possibility)
Awesome, we have a list. Where's the resources? I hear time and time again that organizations can't change because of resource constraints. Listen, I've taken products to market with Gorilla Glue & duct tape--believe me, it can be done without a big influx of new investment which is unlikely to come in the association world. The answer is we have to practice reallocation of budget and have a flexible budgetary mindset that understands the realities of marketing and technology today. If we can't update our thinking on budget, every association is right--moving to new ways of doing things will forever stay on the Bucket List of One Day because there is no execution without investment (whether time or money or executive commitment).
What I see time and time again (in fact, I went on a rant talking to a prospect yesterday), is a budget that is already spent before the year has begun. The budget is completely taken up by software tools, but zero budget has been allocated beyond the tool to actually build new capacity & capabilities in the organization staff, nor is there room to outsource. That's a bad combo. Basically, you just went and bought the best John Deere tractor on the market, but you didn't save money for seeds, fertilizer, upkeep or an actual farmer who knows what to do with the tractor.
What's interesting about technology budgets is that they've shifted to marketing in many cases, but often, the marketers don't have enough technical know-how to know if they're getting ripped off or what things really cost. Website technology has come way down, professional level social media is no longer free--things have changed and it's important that we're looking at our resources to ensure they've changed as well.
My rant on email & website goes to this--if we are trying to attract new people who don't know you, how can they receive email and how/why would they come to your website?
Right, they wouldn't.
Therefore, you need to employ tools to get people to the website or landing page where you can get their email address through some sort of intellectual value exchange. This is how blogs, keywords, banner ads and the rest come into play. The whole game is to get people to your website and get their email.
If that's the game, you aren't a playa if all your money is in email & your website. (I have a whole other rant on websites, but I'll leave for another blog post).
3) We Can Use the Attract Methodologies for Both Strangers & Ignore Checkbook Members
The Attract methodology from HubSpot speaks to strangers, but isn't always applicable to associations because often organizations have a very defined population that doesn't change in size (e.g. all governors of US states). This is very different than the corporate market. I took the Attract model and applied it to membership to see how we can use the same techniques to focus on members displaying life & move them to evangelists.
You will note that I said to ignore checkbook members--absolutely! Why bother them? They pay and don't participate. If I was a venture capitalist or in private equity, I would love this and call it monthly recurring revenue--the goal of all SaaS companies. Leave the MRR'ers alone and instead, focus on the top 10-20% of members who really display behaviors to let us know they are there such as opening our email, registering for things, participating in the community, etc. Let's focus on identifying that top 2-3% that are evangelists and publicly rewarding them to help ignite the next 8-15% to move them to evangelism.
This, by the way, has the best ROI of anything. In a world where WOM (word of mouth) is the #1 way people make purchasing decisions, getting your evangelists to bring in and excite people is the absolute best way to market. This brings up another typical skill gap for associations, however, because it requires that you understand channel marketing.
(Snarky remark: isn't marketing doing event promotion? Or, as Heather Weddle of NJSCPA just said last week at our NYC HighRoad U Live Innovation Seminar: "marketing is Kinko's, right?" She was being snarky, too. Please note: Gen X'ers love snarkiness because it's self-deprecating humor that is funny).
Back to my corporate persona...here's my funnel that I came up with to move members to evangelists (and remember, not all members, just the top tier that have the talent & intangibles to move to elite status). Yes, this is another Band-Aid rip time: not everyone gets a trophy. We're trying to move a market and grow and grow doesn't happen at the same pace for everyone--it's a very indivdiual journey.
4) Even Simple Efforts Can Have Huge Impact & Make Celebrators
ERA's Megan Becker (watch out for this woman--she's a Top 40 under 40 imho) shared with the Lunch Bunch how ERA took one simple research study, threw it onto a landing page with a form, did a little in social media and got a ton of downloads from people they didn't know. She noted that the landing page or call-to-action (CTA) button weren't even pretty, but the content was authentic and people downloaded it.
Here's another rip the Band-Aid off point I should note: turns out that people are rather impervious to the environment if the perceived value is great enough. No one complained to Socrates about the heat and gnats under the olive trees while he spoke and the weather has never stopped a hard core fan from waiting for concert tickets either. In this case, beauty is only skin deep is true and what's inside is what really counts. This should be great news to associations who have great content---let people experience your real value.
This brings me to my last rip the Band-Aid point:
5) Ungate Your Content & Create Content Flights
We've long gated our content under members-only logins and complicated SSOs that connect our AMS to CMS to whatever-MS. To attract, you need to let people experience your value. There's a reason the male peacock has the plumage and that vineyards allow you to sample. We are in a try-before-you-buy world and we need to allow people to experience our membership value BEFORE they plunk down the dues. Sadly, even getting the discount on events or bundling in membership with conference fees doesn't seem to be working anymore without having any sort of experience. The trust has shifted from brands talking to friends talking which means that your organization needs to listen and facilitate more and "talk" less. Additionally, when you do "talk" across any channel, you need to provide something of true value to that individual.
We are not just in the try-before-you-buy, we are in the true era of i'm-not-going-to-pay-attention-unless-the-content-is-relevant-to-me-right-here-and-now. Consumers get what technology should be able to do in terms of their experience and if you aren't using technology to ensure they have a customized experience, you're just categorized in with the rest of the noise.