Four Digital Marketing Challenges Facing Today's Associations

As member expectations change, associations need to adapt their digital presence.

The changing demands and expectations of members continue to reshape the way associations think about their digital presence, member engagement, and demand generation. Associations that have adapted their digital and marketing strategies have forged paths to continued growth and relevance with their audiences.

Here are four digital marketing challenges that associations must solve if they are to evolve:

1. Standing Out from the Crowd

Challenge: Barriers to entry for smaller groups and associations have been lowered. Associations can communicate inexpensively with audiences worldwide, causing the number of associations competing for like-kind audiences to skyrocket. Increased competition with similar value propositions makes it increasingly difficult for associations to connect with their target audience in meaningful ways.

Opportunity: Focus on the differentiators of your association. Define and refine the specific niche where the organization excels, and build your marketing content and communications around that competitive advantage. This will differentiate the organization’s identity and provide the core of the marketing strategy.

2. Communicating Value to a Multi-Generational Audience

Challenge: Longstanding members become accustomed to a way of interacting with associations that still may include printed newsletters or outdated site architecture. Relying on legacy marketing tactics to drive new member acquisition with Millennial and younger audiences may deter new prospects. Younger generations are digital natives and expect an organization’s digital presence and brand to reflect that.

Opportunity: To increase engagement across all segments, associations should take a persona-based approach to marketing communications. Personas are composite representations of the key segments (usually between three and five) of an organization’s audience used to group individuals around shared characteristics including demographics, individual needs, and user expectations. Segmenting members and prospects into groups with common traits is the best first step to personalizing and scaling an association’s communication strategy. It customizes engagement for different groups with different traits rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

3. Inefficient Marketing Process

Challenge: Established associations struggle with entrenched processes that bog down marketing and communications. Associations often require multiple approvals from individuals or departments for small changes. Organization-wide involvement can make sense for big ticket marketing initiatives and strategy. However, a marketing process that is not nimble and flexible enough to rapidly implement and re-orient tech and data-driven digital communications will limit an association’s ability to grow.

Opportunity: Reset the process. Enable digital marketing teams to be nimble and responsive. Involve stakeholders from the larger organization as needed in quarterly digital strategy discussions. Empower select digital team members to make decisions in real time that service the agreed-upon goals. Create a cadence for feedback opportunities from other stakeholders, but encourage the digital marketing team to make the necessary smart decisions based on their experience. By freeing up the digital marketing experts to make decisions, the team will discover new and exciting opportunities for the association and improve its ability to respond quickly to external factors and opportunities.

4. Competitive Intelligence

Challenge: Surprisingly few associations implement a competitive intelligence strategy. Not investing in competitive intelligence leads to wasted marketing spend and missed opportunities and forces an organization to learn everything the hard (and slow) way.

Opportunity: Paying attention to what other marketers are doing gives your team a decided competitive advantage and the ability to stay abreast of trends, learn from other’s successes and mistakes, and adjust strategies during a campaign. Carve out dedicated time weekly for competitive monitoring and analysis. Follow and learn from your direct competitors, similarly sized associations in other sectors, large well-established organizations, and for-profit businesses whose marketing you admire. All provide the potential to inspire innovation, hone and reposition your brand and message, and improve overall marketing performance.

Finding solutions to these dynamic challenges provides the opportunity for associations to evolve into forward-thinking organizations. Smart associations focus on creating differentiation-led messaging, embracing a persona-based engagement strategy, creating modern marketing workflow and cultivating a robust understanding of the competitive playing field to remain competitive and future ready.



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