How Can Associations Catch Up?

According to David James, "multichannel marketing is eluding associations."

A new survey by the Association Research Board reveals that associations favor email over other marketing channels, including direct mail, telemarketing, and social media.

The survey found that 62% of associations rely on email to market products and services. Only 27% use direct mail; and only 12% use telemarketing.

The survey also found that only 18% of associations use some additional channels to market products and services, including social media and face-to-face.

“Associations are oblivious to the massive shift in members' buying habits that's underway," David says.

"They're failing to use the many channels members use, and to understand how members move from one channel to another."

By favoring email over other marketing channels, David says, "Associations are plagued by low inbox rates, dismal email response, and over-digitalized members."

How can associations catch up?

Associations need to go all-in on multichannel to catch up with changes in members' buying habits, David says.

First, they need to recognize that the audiences for their goods and services have expanded. Businesses have become more collaborative in the past decade. Hierarchical structures and decision-making have given way to "flat" organizations that resemble networks. Multi-member buying teams, comprising a diversity of job functions and seniority levels, now make all the buying decisions. Often these teams are temporary. So, there's no longer a single point of contact, or a single demographic, you can target. The contacts are many, diverse, and temporary.

With an increase in decision-makers comes longer purchase cycles, greater scrutiny, and higher expectations. Your messages have to survive months for your offering to be considered.

Meanwhile the start-up sector is exploding, bringing another new mindset to B2B buying. Decisions are personal and decision-makers consider how purchases reflect on their brand and values.

And decision-makers are no longer largely Boomers. They aren't even Gen Xers. Your buyers are Millennials.

Next, associations have to learn how to speak to larger, more diverse audiences.

You need, among other things, to personalize messages for specific people in specific environments. You also need to reach them across multiple devices and channels. And, while B2B audiences seem to be "always on," there are in fact certain days, times and places where you can engage them more reliably. Pinning these down is important. You'll often find audiences checking the daily news on their phones first thing mornings; viewing personal and lifestyle content on a desktop over their lunch breaks; and eyeballing social media accounts on a tablet or laptop during he evenings.

Lastly, associations have to discover content marketing.

More precisely, they have to learn what content works, and what content doesn't.

Traditional association marketing content is long, dry, and product-focused. But because decision-making has expanded and audiences grown more diverse, traditional content could well be backfiring.

A mix of non-traditional content makes better sense. Blog posts, articles, podcasts, videos, webinars and short-form content (such as direct mail and social media postcards) can be much more engaging and accessible, especially at the early stages of the buying cycle. You can use these formats to provide insights and trends instead of nitty-gritty details; and do so in a more digestible, friendly, and entertaining way. By being a little less talkative, serious, and self-absorbed, and a little more humane, you can cut through the clutter of sales messages that are engulfing today's super-busy buyers.

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