It’s Not About You—Put the MarCom Focus Where It Belongs

by Sherry Budziak

Are you using binoculars or a mirror to create communications? It’s more than an understatement to say that we have the tools to focus on our members. The ability to know our customers down to their preferred publications, favorite conference destination, and hot button issues has never been easier.

The information at our fingertips is a little scary; but in the right hands, this knowledge is golden. It helps associations to do what they should do best—position their members for professional success.

Even with all the available resources, it can be hard to break the habit of looking in the mirror. As keepers of the brand, there is a tendency to turn toward ourselves and away from the audience.

Recently, I had a conversation with .orgSource senior consultant, Amy Williams, about the value of giving members what they want instead of what we think they should have.

Amy draws on 25 years of marketing and communications expertise to support .orgSource customers. She creates clarity out of confusion, tames tangled websites, and gives users a five-star experience. Plus, Amy has the magic that people who are passionate about their work bring to every job. I wondered about the source of that special enthusiasm.

Watch the Good and the Not So Good

When I asked Amy who inspires her, without hesitation she replied, “First and foremost, my dad. He is one of the hardest-working people I know. He gave me a strong work ethic. And his approach to problem-solving is so creative. It has influenced me in many aspects of my life, including work.

Reading keeps you on top of a fast-moving profession.

“Professionally, I follow brands that are doing it right like Amazon and Virgin, as well as the ones that are doing it wrong. When you pay attention, you learn from both ends of the spectrum. Like Amazon or not, the smile logo is instantly recognizable. As for Virgin, look at the diversity of the product portfolio. Having worked in the nonprofit sector for about 15 years, I’ve seen an assumption that we need to operate differently from the for-profit world.

“That’s unfortunate, we can benefit from watching the corporate sector. We may not have their budget, but look how Amazon has redefined customer experience. When members join an association, although they may lower the bar a bit, they are expecting an online platform that will have many similarities to Amazon. One confusing or unpleasant encounter is all it takes for them to leave. Associations should watch customer experience at every touchpoint.

“I also love to read. My Zoom background is an enormous bookcase. It’s filled with information about business strategy, marketing, copywriting, advertising, influencers, and leadership. Reading helps me keep up with a profession that has experienced significant change in the last 20 years.

“Right now, I’m creating a marketing plan with an association launching a new membership model,” Amy noted. “Member categories are changing, and it’s critical to communicate those updates in a format that is easy to understand.

“I’m also helping another client rebuild a partner microsite. Every decision is being made with users top of mind. We are redesigning the platform to present a content page that is customized to how visitors are logged in. And we’re rewriting the copy so that it’s skimmable and engaging for online readers with headlines, subheads, and lists to add interest. My job is exciting because it evolves along with this rapidly changing marketplace.”

Consider New Formats

Change has been the predominant business theme over the last two years. I was interested to hear Amy’s thoughts on how the pandemic has impacted communications.

“In the beginning, the goal was to protect the core and retain staff,” Amy observed. “The pandemic was unlike anything we’ve experienced. We didn’t know how long it would last or how businesses would respond. It was reassuring to see organizations go to great lengths to protect their employees. For a time, some associations thought they could press pause and ride it out. Then, there was a tipping point. Businesses realized they needed to move forward, or they would fold. That was a catalyst that shifted thinking.

“The pandemic was a disruptor. It’s been fascinating to watch organizations respond. We’re looking at screens so much now, marketers are forced to think more about content format. Podcasts, for example, offer a welcome break as well as valuable information.”

Embrace Evergreen Concepts

Some advice is evergreen.

Despite a fast-moving market, some advice is evergreen. I asked Amy what three ideas she wishes association communicators would embrace. These are her recommendations:

One —

Now, more than ever, the focus should be on meeting consumers where they are with the information they want. This is a big change for organizations. The best strategy isn’t promoting what you want to share, it’s giving customers what they need and preparing them to address the challenges they face. Marketers have many tools available to take the online pulse.

Two —

A sound content strategy focuses on quality over quantity. Creating one piece of highly relevant content is a better investment than six to eight pieces of information that is already in circulation. Figure out what others are doing and do it better. Marketers and subject matter experts should ask themselves what is being omitted from the conversation? Was there an idea they didn’t agree with? Can they share another perspective? That approach disrupts and adds value. It creates content that’s highly consumed and shared.  

If you are duplicating information, reviewers on LinkedIn and other platforms will intentionally limit your reach. But if your content is unique and people are engaging, you’ll find it organically garners a larger audience.

Three —

MarCom is not a business service. It is a critical, strategic function that directly impacts your brand and your bottom line. In the past, marketing teams were seen as the ones creating brochures, updating websites, and sending emails. Strategic marketing and communications are so much more! Organizations that think simplistically, are missing major opportunities.

MarCom is the one business unit with sightlines across the association. Leveraging that awareness is an advantage. Brand management, customer and/or member value, revenue growth, and corporate culture are all tied to communications. Marketing teams are (or at least they should be) scanning the environment and responding. All of this information should influence strategic decisions. 

The lack of a MarCom leader to set the organization’s strategy could result in flat or declining revenue. “I’ve seen lots of marketers who are ‘idea people,’ but if those ideas don’t align with goals, it’s wasted time, money, and resources,” Amy observed. “Projects that move the needle the most, whether they impact mission, revenue, or market share, should have the highest priority.”

Teams that are overwhelmed and reactionary may not be critically evaluating their tasks and deliverables. Initiatives that aren’t having a big impact, should be eliminated and new tactics tested.

Eighty percent of marketing and communications work should be scheduled, leaving 20 percent of the time available for the team to respond to urgent needs.    

Monitor Trends

Follow trends to see what’s next.

Once in a while, we all wish we could dial up a psychic, but following trends is an easier way to try (because that’s all you can do) to predict the future. These are developments on the MarCom horizon that Amy is watching.

Social Media

“Social platforms are continuing to innovate to remain relevant. For example, Instagram is doing more video to keep up with the likes of TikTok.”

Copywriting

“Copywriting will play an increasingly valuable role. You can’t have a sound content strategy with weak copywriting. To validate this claim, just look at the power of clickbait. Strong writing drives engagement. Not everyone with a keyboard is a copywriter. Honor the art of copywriting. I can’t pick up a crayon and call myself a designer.”     

AI

“What’s happening with tech is amazing. Tools like the Hemmingway editor ensure writing stays at the (sad but true) 7th-grade level that works for most readers. If you aren’t a grammarian, apps like Grammarly correct spelling, punctuation, usage, and more. Software, like copy.ai, will even do the writing for you.

Additionally, there are tools to help you find keywords, blog topics, and understand what people are searching for on the web. These resources generate stronger engagement. But remember, well-written, compelling copy converts. Never underestimate the power of a great copywriter. I can’t say this enough, trained copywriters are worth their weight in gold!  

Analytics

​While most of these advancements are helpful, others can hurt. Apple rolled out its Mail Protection Policy in June of 2021. Mail protection triggers opens automatically on all messages going to Apple devices. This makes it impossible for marketers to accurately assess a key metric. Now we’re all figuring out how to adjust. And vendors are exploring how to create add-ons that will come at a cost. Marketers will need to assess which tools deliver the greatest benefits. 

Use Experts

Finally, to create content that grows an audience and keeps them wanting more, reach far and wide. Amy advocates identifying and cultivating subject matter experts across various disciplines.

“Strong relationships between the marketing team and the subject matter experts are critical. I recommend marketers interview each SME. Learn what industry terms should be used as part of the SEO strategy. Understand what’s happening in their space. Ask if disruption is on the horizon. Determine whether the organization is well-positioned for the current environment.”

Remember, it’s not about you. To put the MarCom focus where it belongs, ditch the mirror, grab the binoculars, and take a look around.

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