by Sherry Budziak
Digital Strategies Deliver the Goods
If an abrupt pivot wasn’t part of your previous business experience, it’s on your radar now. One of my personal pandemic resets taught me that sometimes a sudden challenge is also an “aha moment”. Of the many shifts in strategy .orgCompanies made over the last year, .orgCommunity’s approach to sponsorship held one of those epiphanies.
When the pandemic drove our signature events to a virtual platform, like everyone else, we had to rethink how we could offer value to the partners who help make our conferences possible. We found success in a new sponsorship equation. Instead of looking at how sponsors could contribute to .orgCommunity, we began considering what our partners could offer our members and how we could use digital strategies to deliver that value.
Even before the online migration, it was clear that sponsors were searching for new kinds of relationships with associations. Logo placements and exhibit booths are one-and-done events. The for-profit world understands that technology puts a continuous stream of communication and value within reach.
Although visibility will always be important, thought leadership and education take brands to a new level of recognition. Companies realize that by creating their own expert content, they can bypass the gatekeeper and step into a new and more influential role.
In the past, it was not uncommon to view the associations/sponsor relationship as a minefield of potential conflict of interest. Interaction was primarily transactional and, at times, adversarial. There were more barriers than enhancements to communication.
This shift in perspective may seem like a threat. But when associations take the initiative to utilize their partner’s expertise, it becomes an opportunity. .orgCommunity’s Solutions Center is an example of how we’re delivering on the new sponsorship equation.
The Solutions Center is a hub on our website where our preferred partners post up-to-the-minute information about their products and services. Video case studies, testimonials, and a host of other materials allow the viewer to self-educate. Members have a 360-degree view of multiple providers that is searchable in a variety of ways. The information is available 24/7, maintained by the sponsors themselves, and offered in a variety of formats.
Video is prominent on the Solutions Center platform. We give the medium pride of place because it is a gateway to deeper engagement and a preferred communications vehicle for younger generations.
Dan Stevens, and his company WorkerBee.TV, helped .orgCommunity maximize our video capacity. WorkerBee.TV specializes in making video accessible for associations. Their Virtual Videographer technology and service lets any group create professional productions. Dan is an authority on all things small screen, an expert at multimedia marketing, and is always at the head of the pack on technology strategy.
During a recent webinar, Dan and Doug Coombs, WorkerBee.TV’s Director of Client Solutions, shared five of their most innovative ideas. These are strategies that offer value for both members and sponsors. This post recaps highlights of our conversation.
Serve What Your Members Want
When we offer the menu members are looking for, everyone wins.
“Members want three things,” Dan advises. “They look to the association to be informed, educated, and inspired. Sponsors are seeking to position themselves as thought-leaders and share expertise. Integrating sponsorship goals with your content model is a good strategy to ensure that these interests intersect.”
Each of the five strategies Dan presented fulfill these criteria:
- Benefit both members and sponsors
- Generate non-dues revenue
- Are a proven success
- Offer a lifetime of at least one year, and often longer
These are powerful ideas because, although they begin with video, there is the potential to repurpose and restructure in a variety of mediums at a wide range of price points. This flexibility aligns well with what I call Association 4.0™ leadership and the digital marketplace.
1. Reimagine the Magazine
When was the last time you purchased a magazine? These days, it can even be hard to find one in an airport. A video-zine gives the old-school format a truly contemporary makeover.
“The idea,” Dan advises, “Is to produce lively or thought-provoking content on a consistent theme over a determined time period. The topic might be best business practices, member profiles, or an exploration of a professional innovation or challenge.”
This format provides opportunities for multiple partners to contribute content and sponsorship at varying levels. You can structure your video-zine to deliver premium, midrange, and lower-priced solutions. Just like a print publication, you can offer a full-page ad, a front or back cover, or a range of alternatives. The options are only limited by creativity.
2. Make Your Best Content Better
Whether the event is in-person, virtual, or hybrid, associations invest precious resources in producing conferences. That content is too valuable to sit on the shelf.
“We tend to firehose our members with content. That’s not a good digital strategy,” Dan cautioned. “Facebook and the other big online platforms release content at a continuous slow drip so users keep coming back. You can do the same thing.”
Members don’t want to consume all their content in one bite. An ongoing stream of quality information gives your brand and your sponsors continuous visibility. Review your best offerings and consider how you can repackage them to meet users where they are at a given moment.
For example, you might consider turning a full-length presentation into a two-to-three-minute microlearning video or even a social media post. Or create a multipart podcast series or a Video-Zine based on your annual meeting.
3. Promote the Pundits
Your members aren’t the only experts out there. Sponsors have access to cutting-edge information and research. Find out who the pundits are in your corporate community and give them the thought leadership they are seeking. They can help you create an entire portfolio of learning materials with minimal effort and resources. Just be sure that the topics are timely and of interest to your constituents.
When your sponsor posts the video on their website, everyone gets double points. The association maximizes its brand reach, and your partner gains the credibility that only a professional organization can offer.
4. Provide Solutions
“Exhibitor portals at virtual events typically had a poor result,” Stevens observes. “That’s because they were a temporary solution. After the event, finding your way back to that information is a challenge. Also, gatekeeping sponsor exposure based on a company’s level of support isn’t helpful to members who want to educate themselves and shop online. Members are looking for more than a logo.
A Solutions Center, similar to the site that .orgCommunity created, is a strategy that exemplifies both the new sponsorship equation and a digital perspective. Members can filter, find, and search vendor offerings on their own time. And sponsors receive continuous exposure to the largest possible audience.
5. Distribute Broadly
Omnichannel distribution is an idea that WorkerBee.TV is piloting with a new docuseries on the future of work, called “Jobs of Tomorrow.” Dan believes the rate of change in the workplace, compounded by a talent shortage, will be a hot-button issue for associations and their members.
“Each episode is designed to tell the story of a member’s changing career,” Dan explains. “We’ll explore how their profession is being transformed by technology, industry, and culture. There’s the opportunity to feature a member or a student in every segment, and highlight experts and sponsors who are helping make these jobs better, faster, safer, and perhaps, greener.”
The series will be promoted in a multimedia campaign. But WorkerBee is also taking distribution a step further by planning to launch the documentary on OTT (over-the-top, or streaming across different devices) distribution, such as Amazon Prime.
“This more public-facing exposure builds awareness about the profession and is a pipeline into organizational pride for today’s members and perhaps for tomorrows too,” Dan observes. “We sold out season one in the first 10 days.”
Successful sponsor relationships depend on proving that you can deliver a return on investment. A significant benefit of being digital is the ability to provide those results. When I interviewed Dan for our book Association 4.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation, he made this observation.
“Today, you can measure engagement, satisfaction, and revenue. But many associations are still asking sponsors to support activities where success can’t be evaluated. It’s impossible to count the sales leads you received from having your logo on a lanyard or a sign on the door. When the 60-year-old chief marketing officer retires, the new 35-year-old executive is going to say, ‘I can’t buy it, if I can’t measure it.’ Associations that are empowered to change are seeing incredible gains.”
Whether you try one or all of these ideas, it’s important to remember that in the new member/sponsor equation, digital strategies deliver the value.