Seven Keys to Marketing Success

Recently, on ASAE’s Collaborate Community, someone asked for examples of other Key to successassociations’ marketing plans. The things is, marketing plans are less about taking some other organization’s plan and swapping your acronym for theirs and more about answering some key questions:

  1. What do you know about your audiences? Who are they, who are the key decision makers, what and how and when do they buy, etc.? (Capture EVERYTHING you know and always look to be adding.)
  2. What are you trying to market to them? Make sure you’re clear about your program, product, or service and can describe it in benefits to your audience, not in features you offer.
  3. What are your goals? Remember, they should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely).
  4. Do you have any competition? If so, what do you know about them?
  5. What assets do you have at your disposal (website, email, direct mail, social media, in person events, etc.), and how do you plan to use them? This is the place where you set your strategies and match tactics to them.
  6. What’s your budget? Don’t forget to think about staff time as well as money.
  7. How will you know you’ve been successful? What will you be tracking and monitoring, and how will you do it and report on it, and to whom, and on what interval?

Image credit: Dr. Mommy

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The Whats, Whys, and Hows of Brand Identity Guides

A number of clients have been working on various branding related issues lately, so I’m so pleased to be able to share this guest post from my colleague Sharon Bending at Rx Creative Lab on the keys to putting together effective brand identity guidelines:

A set of brand identity guidelines (also referred to as brand standards) is a part of every rebrand. It documents the whats and whys of a brand’s look and feel, including color and font specs, overall guidance on tone and message, and layout rules. These guidelines are important to maintain consistency, making a stronger impact with your materials.

Who writes the guide and who has input?

The brand identity guide is generally written by the designer who created the identity, because they can best articulate the thinking behind the design. The guide also spells out why adhering to it enhances the organization’s brand.

Is there one document for all purposes or different guides for different purposes (such as poster sessions, website, publications, eblasts)?

There is usually one master brand identity guide that covers the main areas. Specific websites, journals and publications would generally have their own set of guidelines.

What do you do when people either disagree with or don’t understand your guide?

Being written by an outside source has the benefit of eliciting a sort of respect that these are the rules put in place by an expert, and they are there for a reason. A good guide will help people understand the benefits of sticking to the guidelines.

What if my organization was last branded many years ago and we don’t have any standards in place?

At the very least, have your designer create a one-sheet brand guide to include at a minimum the color specs (CMYK, PMS, RGB, and hexadecimal) and the fonts used. Having one place to document this information is helpful to refer to when working with other vendors.

If you’re ready to take on more than a one sheet but are not interested in rebranding, perhaps the time is right for a communications audit. A communications audit is an objective review of all of your materials to see how well they reinforce your organization’s invaluable identity and branding assets. The audit may find branding inconsistencies that could be addressed in a basic style guide. During audits we sometimes find the branding is all over the place, and the report we create helps generate buy-in for a brand redesign or refresh.

Sharon Bending is the President and Creative Director of Rx Creative Lab, specializing in focused, holistic communications for medical associations. View their work at

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Matching Your Channel to Your Audience

One of the most important principles in creating successful multi-channel hands reaching for a red phonecommunications is to match your channel to your audience and your purpose.

  • Are you sharing information about something that’s open to the public? Use public channels like Facebook, Twitter, and unprotected areas of your website.
  • Are you sharing information about something that’s for your members only? Use member-only channels like your member enewsletter and member-only areas of your website.
  • Are you sharing information about something that’s available only to a sub-set of people? Use email or direct mail to target them precisely.

Remember, of course, that you always want to have a call to action, but it’s really important that the audience you’re talking to be able to answer your call.

(You might think: “This is totally obvious! Why are you posting this, Elizabeth?” You would not believe how many times I see associations posting links to login restricted information and resources on open social media channels.)

Image credit: moneypenny

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Explaining Marketing to a Kid

A few years ago, the association that I was working for had probably the best “bring your Pink my little ponykid to work” day I’ve ever seen.

One of our activities was a “career scavenger hunt,” where the kids had to find the people who were participating, and then each of us had prepared some sort of activity to help the kids understand what we do.

Mine was a marketing activity, and got me thinking: what’s the simplest way to explain marketing? After all, I only had about 5 minutes to explain this to kids ranging in age from 5 to 17. Here’s what I came up with:

Marketing is about telling people what your company makes and helping them understand why they would want or need it.

For the little kids, that’s where we stopped. And that’s relatively easy for things that are tangible and desirable, like Hot Wheels cars or My Little Pony up there.

But what about things like buying (and eating) vegetables or buying (and wearing) sunscreen – things that are important, helpful and valuable, but not as fun and sexy as, say, an iPad?

That was the question I posed to the older kids, and I think it’s a critical question for association marketers, as we think about how to market what we do to our members and other audiences.

Image Credit: Friendship is magic wiki

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Five Ways NOT to Brainstorm

Four cartoon people with a lightbulb over their headsBrainstorming has come under fire recently as being a crummy way of coming up with new ideas. Perhaps it’s because people are doing one or more of the following?

  1. Inviting as many people as possible – the more, the merrier! (Of course, that means most people won’t have a chance to speak, but too bad for them, right?)
  2. Only the Very Important People get to contribute ideas. (Everyone who’s not Very Important is just a spectator – after all, she’s not Very Important, so how could she have good ideas anyway?)
  3. Start picking at any idea that’s raised immediately. (We don’t want to waste time on things that are impractical, right?)
  4. Please think only inside the box. (See above about wasting time on wild ideas and REALLY BIG thinking.)
  5. We only want GOOD ideas. (And of course we can immediately identify them, so stop offering new ones.)

Sound terrible? It is.

But you *can* do brainstorming right – and effectively. These sources can show you how:

And for more on what NOT to do, check out this post by Lifehack.

Image Credit: Langevin Learning Services

Posted in Friday Top 5, innovation | 1 Comment

Five Tips for Success with Ad Hoc Volunteers

Thanks to ASAE’s 2008 Decision to Volunteer study, we know that our members are eager to volunteer. But thanks to generational trends and research, we know that our volunteers are looking for different volunteer experiences, more of the ad hoc or micro-volunteering type.

many hands raised to volunteer



When you’re used to working mostly with standing committees, though, it can be tough to figure out how to create good ad hoc volunteer work. The top five tips to success are:

  1. Make a specific ask. Bad: “We need some articles for upcoming association enewsletters. Contact (generic email address) if you’d like to be considered.” Good: “Mary, you’ve demonstrated expertise in (specific topic). That’s the theme of our upcoming December issue of Association News Monthly. Would you be willing to write a short piece on that topic for us? Thanks, (your name)”
  2. Provide clear instructions. Let’s assume Mary says yes. You should immediately let her know how long you want the piece to be and when it’s due. Tell her who she’ll be working with in case she has questions. Let her know if you’re after a particular editorial “tone” (more or less formal, first person/third person, case study, secondary research review, etc.). Ask her if she has a particular angle or question she wants to address, and be ready to suggest some if her answer is “no.”
  3. Provide a defined timeframe. Micro-volunteers need to know not only when things are due, but also approximately how much time it’s going to take. Before they commit, they want to know: is this 15 minutes? An afternoon? A few weeks? A few months? And don’t assume that just because Bob picks a 15 minute task this time, that’s all he’ll ever want to do. Next time, he might be up for a task force that will stretch over a few months. Or vice versa.
  4. Recognize! You probably do a pretty good job of recognizing and thanking your Board members and standing committee members. Micro-volunteers want to be recognized, too. You probably don’t need to parade them all across the stage at your annual meeting (if you’re doing a good job of engaging people, that could take FOREVER), but you need to find ways that are meaningful to them to shine a little light on them and thank them.
  5. Mission. I probably should have started here, because this is the most important tip for success. Even small jobs need to clearly relate and contribute to your mission.

Want more? Check out the recent Spark/Mariner Management whitepaper The Mission Driven Volunteer.

Image Credit: Open Briefing

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What I’m Reading

Quick list – there’s been lots of good stuff lately, but I’m sharing most of it via my Twitter feed these days.

  • Great post from John Haydon about the human factors that influence email open rates (hint: it should be all about THEM, not all about YOU).
  • I’m usually not a fan of “10 tips to be more productive” articles, mostly because those lists tend to be comprised of SERIOUSLY OBVIOUS stuff, but this one isn’t and it’s quite good.
  • Jeffrey Cufaude shares 10 volunteer engagement crimes – which are you guilty of?
  • What does your association do to truly evaluate the impact you’re having on your mission?
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Membership Marketing on a Shoestring Budget, NAHB-Style

I had the opportunity to present Membership Marketing on a Shoestring Budget for the National Association of Home Builders’ Association Leadership Institute earlier this week. As usual, when I deliver this session, I solicit great inexpensive marketing ideas from the participants as well. Here’s what the chapter leader smarties at NAHB came up with:


  • Swap a trade show booth for an association need (like decorating or landscaping for your new office)
  • Trade a membership for ad space, or a service (like with your local Better Business Bureau to handle conflict mediation for your members)
  • Give a firm a sponsorship in exchange for reduced rent, or for providing incentive prizes for a membership contes


  • Automate your blog content posting into an e-newsletter – for bonus points, let your members set their preferences for topics they’d like to hear about, and send PERSONALIZED e-newsletters
  • Run email contests to inculcate a culture of paying attention (like old radio contests – everyone who responds by a certain time will get a certain prize) – this one led to a 45% open rate on all association blast emails, which is damn impressive
  • Pay attention to your open rates, and send emails when your members are receptive to them


  • If you have a great member program that saves them a significant amount of money (maybe even more than their dues?), ask members to share their stories
  • Create member discount reminder cards like you get for becoming a member of your local public radio or TV station
  • Create your association’s TV channel on YouTube, and interview members (short, sweet, interesting) for it – they’ll tell their friends
  • Generate some excitement around your Member Get a Member campaign with outstanding prizes and public recognition (nothing like a little competition/peer pressure)

Customer Service!

  • Educate and train your staff
  • No passing the buck – if you don’t know the answer, find out
  • Remind people that the best thing to do if the problem is your fault is admit it, and move to solutions
  • Educate your members to share information
  • Show appreciation for them

Your Tips!

  • Use YouTube creatively – do member on-site visits, get them to provide short how-to videos
  • Engage students in your field – they might have a service they can provide in exchange for a free membership
  • Engage students NOT in your field – could you work with a marketing student on new collateral, save money by paying her at a lower rate, and help her get experience in the process?
  • Visit your members, ask for their feedback ALL THE TIME (and do something with it) – create a REAL relationship
  • Educate yourself about your members’ operating environments


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Adopting the Mission Command Mindset

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post ran an article about some of the latest developments in military leadership, and, as part of it, they shared the idea of the Mission Command Mindset.

At its simplest, Mission Command dictates that senior leaders provide guidance and intent — the what and the why — and that subordinate leaders have maximum latitude to design the how. It embodies deep trust between senior and subordinate.

In other words, senior leadership sets the vision, and all the details about how that vision is executed are pushed down to those closest to where the activity is taking place, like so:

Mission Command graphic

All I can say to this is: YES!

Associations NEED this approach, because far too often, we go the opposite way, with senior staff micromanaging every detail of every thing.

Our Executive Directors/Chief Staff Officers are supposed to be the bridge to the Board. Like the Board, they should be focused on the 30,000 foot vision and strategic direction, but often they don’t, and they end up dans la merde, losing their focus on where the association is trying to go overall, and in the process, working a million hours a week.

“But I can’t trust my people to do a good job if I don’t insist that they let me review every single marketing email before it goes out!”

(That’s an actual recent example from a $100M annual revenue association client.)

Look, if that’s really the case, then you either:

  • didn’t hire the right people
  • didn’t get them the right training
  • don’t understand that just because someone does something a little differently than you might doesn’t mean that they’re wrong

I’ve written about this before around the concept of being willing to unplug, but the point is that your staff members know things you don’t by virtue of being close to the situations they’re dealing with on a daily basis. Which the US military apparently understands, and their situations are often life-and-death. Don’t you think you can trust your staff to send out a marketing email without getting five layers of approval first?

Image credit:

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Three Keys to Inspire New Ideas from Staff

What does it take for associations to succeed at innovation?

I’ve been doing some research on innovation initiatives in associations for a client and had written a bit about it for the Spark blog a few weeks ago. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mark Athitakis from ASAE about what I’d learned in a little more length, and he wrote the following piece for Associations Now. They’ve graciously given me permission to share it.

The best ideas for your association may come from your employees, but how do you get those ideas launched? Money matters, but so does trust and support.

Your staff has ideas about new services your association can provide for members. Some of those ideas may be very good ones. Problem is, how do you help get those ideas organized and tested?

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, has recently been interviewing leaders at associations that have launched internal innovation and new business development programs. “We talk about innovation in the association world a lot,” Engel says. “I wondered what was happening. Is anybody doing this well?”

The answer is yes, though not without some serious effort. Engel’s research uncovered three common elements of successful programs.

1. It needs its own funding. Success here, Engel says, requires “paying attention to opportunity and then being able to do something about it now, not in 24 months when you can finally make room in the budget.” The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, for instance, maintains a $500,000 fund that’s used annually to invest in new ideas from staff. That includes hiring people dedicated to working on it, as opposed to burdening current staff with new duties.

2. It needs a clearly defined process. A marketing staffer may have a brilliant idea, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she has the financial know-how to put together a business plan to show how it might work. The three associations Engel studied each had a clearly defined process for staff to propose an idea, institutional support for making the proposal, and a clear set of benchmarks for it. “They’re asking, ‘What criteria do you need to meet in order for this thing to continue passing the test?’” Engel says. “It can be a revenue criteria, but it doesn’t have to be. It has to be clear what standards you’re going to need to keep going.”

3. It needs institutional support. This can be trickier than it seems. Chuck Cochran, CAE, ASHA’s chief staff officer for operations, says the association launched its own program in 1997, during a reorganization. ASHA was in silo-smashing mode, looking to flatten hierarchies, make board activities more transparent, and involve staff in more of the decision making. “The culture change in the organization was huge,” he says.

That kind of hard-won trust and transparency encourages staffers to come forward with their ideas. “I can’t imagine what [the program] would be like if there was distrust,” Cochran says. “People would be afraid they’re going to be zapped.” Cochran estimates that today about 80 percent of the ideas proposed via the fund are successful—that is, proved themselves financially viable after three years and became part of the regular operating budget.

You don’t get to that point, Engel says, without leadership endorsing the concept. “The CEO or executive director has to be supportive of the decision,” she says. “Senior leadership has to say, ‘Yes, this is a good thing.’”

But practically speaking, you also don’t get there without money, and not every association has half a million dollars available to road-test a new idea. Cochran encourages associations to look at the status of their reserves; if they’re in excess of 50 percent of annual unrestricted operating expenses (the typical target for reserves), those excess dollars may provide the start-up costs for a fund.

Because new ideas may require dedicated staff, the amount of money matters. But Engel suggests that even a smaller-scale effort is worthwhile. “It’s a lot easier to find a spare $500,000 set aside for your innovation budget if you’re ASHA than if you’re a $2 million association,” she says. “The raw amount of money doesn’t scale. But the concept—if all you can set aside if $5,000, even if you can get 5 percent time, that part of it is scalable.”

Does your association have a program to encourage staff to propose new ideas, and how do you make it work? Share your experiences in the comments.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, July 2014, Washington, DC.

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