What's the Answer to Associations' Cash Flow Struggle?

"Associations once performed the important tasks of advocating on behalf of their members with regulators, providing technical training and certification, aggregating content, and creating opportunities for members to network while they scarfed down bacon-wrapped scallops," says Elizabeth Williams, Director of Brand & Communications for ADP Canada.

"But those days are rapidly drawing to a close. Association membership has been in steep decline for years and it seems likely that soon we’ll have only a handful of truly national organizations with more than a few hundred members."

Associations, once high and mighty, are confronting membership decline by cutting expenses and, with them, member benefits.

In that regard, their descent into irrelevance is reminiscent of the gradual decline of newsstand magazines, as described by renowned editor Terry McDonnell in his new memoir The Accidental Life.

Editors were a complacent and arrogant lot in the 1960s, "70s and '80s, says McDonnell, when magazine publishing was enjoying a golden age. But the rise of the web in the late '90s forced editors to convert their magazines into "stores," according to McDonnell.

"Many editors were already working on turning their magazines into stores," he writes. "That was fine with me: let them become stores, righteous stores in service of readers and users, stores that were not for sale. I said I would shop at those stores."

But the world wasn't having it. The "information superhighway" was disrupting a 200-year-old business model.

"It was like the cautionary allegory of being in the railroad business instead of the shipping business when public works projects were laying down the national highway system, " McDonnell writes. "To stretch the metaphor: if you were in the news business, you needed to jump off the traditional tracks. What we did instead was cut costs."

McDonnell watched magazines' editorial and printing quality reduced and good staff people throughout his industry laid off or forced into early retirement. "Every firing reflected the lack of business leadership," he writes. "It felt like a great library was burning down."

As with magazines, associations have watched for-profit organizations scoop up market share by providing home-grown professional certifications, online training courses, e-books, newsletters, research reports, white papers, and proprietary trade shows.

Some associations are reacting by re-branding. The Consumer Electronics Association is now the Consumer Technology Association; the Snack Food Association is now SNAC International; the PCIA–The Wireless Infrastructure Association–is now the Wireless Infrastructure Association; and the American Society of Training & Development is now the Association for Talent Development.

But rebranding may in most cases represent "a little too little, a little too late," says branding consultant Denise Lee Yohn.

Rebranding "misses an important opportunity for associations to rethink their roles as well as their names, and consider how a new name might help advance a different purpose and achieve a different impact," she says. Associations could "unleash the full potential of a rebrand" and use it to "present a bold vision for the future of their industries and position themselves as instrumental to getting to that future."

That vision might recast associations as values-centered communities, advocacy groups, or lobbyists; or even as providers of new technology.

But even the unveiling of a new vision won't bring much-need cash in, cash needed to operate and fund member programs. That requires a return to basic best practices, or what we like to call "the lost art of marketing."

5 Bodacious Tips for B2B Direct Mail

As a part of your multi-channel marketing effort, business-to-business direct mail can build brand recognition and pinpoint purchase-ready leads within a target audience. But getting a contact's attention is never easy. Here are five B2B direct mail tips to make your next campaign more attention-getting.

1 – First, Find the Ideal Audience

Before designing the campaign or coming up with the offer, you need to choose your best opportunity for generating leads. This group of companies or executives must have qualities in common that you can exploit, so you can create a direct mail piece and deliver an offer they cannot ignore. These so-called “firmographics,” at a minimum, include industry, company size (gross annual income or number of employees) and location.

Also, consider where each contact on a list resides within the “sales funnel.” Everything from the type of physical mail you send to the call to action may differ based on where a contact resides within your funnel. A brand-new contact who has never heard of your company should get a very different mail piece than one with whom you have an established business relationship.

2 – Send Only Relevant Messages

Once you establish who your target audience is, create a message that speaks directly to their needs and interests. For B2B direct mail, the offer must clearly convey the benefits in an instant. Tons of stuff crosses ours desks every day. In order to be noticed and remembered, your piece must deliver what readers need an obvious manner.

Besides offering only meaningful content, the mailer itself must be relevant in terms of how business mail is handled inside a company. Postal mail should look dignified, open easily, and be addressed clearly to the right person.

3 – Know What to Spend to Get the Best Return

Although business people prefer email for communicating, postal mail remains not only a viable option, but one with a substantial ROI. Some marketers shy away from it, due to its initial cost. But, instead of focusing on the price of printed paper and postage, put the focus where it truly belongs: the cost per acquisition of a high-quality lead.

And before going all out with a huge postal campaign, consider a test to see whether and how a campaign aligns with your lead-generation goals. Finding out if you can afford postal mail can be done in such a way as to minimize your risk. You might learn you need to send letters or brochures, but you might find just as well that the most cost-effective format is a simple postcard. Who knows? You won’t find out, unless you test.

4 – Exploit Size and Dimensions

While postcards may be less expensive per unit, larger or bulkier mailings may deliver a greater ROI. Remember, the number one goal of any mailer is getting attention. Sometimes, a flat mailer will not do this effectively.

Your target industry or niche may dictate the size and shape of the mailing piece you use. But that’s unlikely. So, consider testing oversized mailers and envelopes with a three-dimensional object inside. They get much more attention than standard, flat mailers. Arousing curiosity helps get your foot in the door.

5 – Explore All Facets of Multi-Channel Marketing

B2B direct mail's high return on investment and flexibility makes it a smart choice. However, one postcard or envelope cannot carry an entire campaign or get the results you need to succeed. Instead, direct mail should be just one part of a multi-channel marketing effort that uses all necessary methods to attract and keep prospects’ attention.

When you use more than one channel for B2B relationship-building, don’t use the same message repeatedly. A quick email campaign can introduce your organization and alert recipients to future contact by postal mail. The follow-up postal piece can reveal your offer and cement your corporate identity in readers’ minds. The piece should also include a call to action that focuses on driving readers to a landing page with more compelling details about your offer. In turn, the landing page can encourage readers to dial you, for additional assistance, clarification, or to set up a meeting with you. This kind of multi-channel marketing leverage the power of B2B direct mail, but doesn’t make it the be-all and end-all. When multiple channels are in play, your contacts will find it impossible to ignore your message.

Are Associations in a Hole?

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

— Will Rogers

A new survey by the Association Research Board shows most association executives lack urgency and direction in their search for non-dues revenue.

The survey found only one in three association executives is “very committed” to tapping new non-dues revenue streams in 2017; the rest are only “somewhat committed” or “not committed.”

It also found one in four executives never discusses non-dues revenue-generation with her board.

While one in two association executives tapped a new revenue stream in 2016, the survey says, only one in four describes her revenue-generating activities as “highly successful.”

Association membership and dues revenue continue to decline year over year. So why do most association executives give non-dues revenue-generation so little priority?

Don't they see the only other way to dig out of the hole is to trim expenses—and members' benefits?

Journalist Michael Hart recently hosted a webinar exploring some alternative ways out of the hole.

Take a peek, if you're interested.

How Can Your Exhibitors Increase Traffic?

Despite the popularity of Internet marketing, B2B companies find enormous value in trade shows and conferences (in fact, 60% of their budgets are spent on event marketing). While shows easily attract target audiences, each individual exhibitor can still struggle to maximize its ROI. If you want your exhibitors to receive full benefit from your trade shows and conferences, you need to help them develop a marketing strategy.

The majority of foot traffic that wanders past a trade show booth comes from your marketing efforts, not the exhibitor's. It shouldn't be that way.

The exhibitor's task should be to make the right person stop, explore, and take action. To that end, these seven ideas will help your exhibitors boost attraction, retention, and conversion of visitors.

1 – Your Exhibitor Must Create a Well-Designed, Eye-Catching Display

Just as readers judge a book by its cover, attendees will judge a company by the display its sets up and the message it shares. In order to grab the attention of visitors and build foot traffic, a booth should have a focal point or overall theme that is impossible to ignore. Every inch of a display should communicate why the exhibitor is participating in your show.

2 – Your Exhibitor Must Use Direct Mail 

While many businesses focus on email marketing due to its affordability and ease, direct mail still commands readers' attention and receives high open and response rates. With the right, highly-targeted list, a company can actually realize a higher response percentage than with email (much higher). This is partially due to the ease with which emails are deleted and ignored. Another benefit of physical postal mailers lies in the fact they provide an opportunity to use them as part of "rewards system" for readers, who follow up by coming to the company's booth.  For example, an envelope mailed to a specific B2B demographic can include a coupon redeemable for a gift or special discount available only at your show.

3 – Your Exhibitor Must Send Pre-Registrants Invitations, Not Ads

Advertising will always be an important part of attracting attention to any offering, but today's focus on professional relationship-building and networking makes personalized invitations more effective than ads. You should enable every exhibitor to send personalized booth invitations to your re-registrants; and the invitations should include a special reason to visit, not just a booth number. If in-booth talks or demos are planned, the invitations should specify the days and times, and include a description of what will be presented or offered to visitors. If show specials will be offered, the value and terms should be stated.

4 – Your Exhibitor Should Start Marketing Early with Both Email and Telemarketing

Even if a business sends out direct mail, email will still be its primary mode of communication. Although designing electronic marketing campaigns can help get the word out about an exhibit, there are simple ways to introduce the idea in routine communications as well. The easiest way to do this is by updating staff members' email signatures on all outgoing mail. A simple mention of the event's dates and location and a "Visit us at" call to action help cement the idea into contacts' heads. And, given the glut of email today, an outbound telemarketing campaign inviting pre-registrants to visit the booth isn't just smart, it's mandatory. 

5 – Your Exhibitor Should Design an Ad Campaign in Conjunction with Your Event

In the months leading up to your event, the exhibitor should run advertising specific to its participation. At a minimum, the exhibitor can add a page to its website that shares information about the dates and location. Because you'll be advertising your event, the exhibitor can also piggyback on your keywords to drive impressions. Whether the exhibitor runs Google Adwords campaigns, relies on LinkedIn ads, or dabbles with Facebook ads, event-specific advertising improves booth traffic.

6 – Your Exhibitor Should Create Teasers on Its Blog and in Social Media

At regularly scheduled intervals before your show, the exhibitor should share blog posts about the event that give visitors reasons why they should stop in at the booth. Besides general information, the posts should give introductory information about an in-booth talks or demos, profile the company's representatives who'll be staffing the booth, and highlight gifts or special offers available only to visitors who come to the booth.

7 – Your Exhibitor Should Gamify Booth Visits

Trade shows should not only allow attendees to learn about new products; they should be fun. The "style" of fun provided, of course, will vary by industry (a corporate law firm, for example, wouldn't focus on Hollywood-style entertainment the same way a video marketing company would); but fun should be provided nevertheless. Games are the answer. Games satisfy attendees’ innate needs to compete, win recognition, and bring home swag. The good news? With today's array of event apps, gamifying every booth visit is easy. The keys lie in keeping  the game simple and tying it closely to the exhibitor's brand. You can learn more about game designs here.

PS: Want to help your exhibitors generate hot leads at your shows? We have a system you can offer! Ask us about PLAYBOOK.