Innovative and Inexpensive Member Marketing Techniques

There’s a hotbed of ingenious email activity going on, and it’s not happening in the places you’d expect: the Fortune 500, dot-com survivors, or big technology leaders. It’s going on fast and furiously, without a lot of fanfare, at the professional associations to which we belong.

Why? Seasoned association marketing executives, who have always had to “squeeze a nickel until the Indian rides the buffalo,” know a good thing when they see it. They’re committing to email marketing, making it work overtime to achieve amazing results.

We spoke with a number of email-savvy association marketers, including:

  • Sandra Ardis, marketing manager at the Project Management Institute (PMI), the leading nonprofit professional association in the field, with nearly 100,000 worldwide members

  • Lynn Schlesinger, director of marketing at The Bond Market Association (TBMA), representing the world’s largest securities market — the $17 billion debt industry
  • Lesa Semaya, VP of marketing, and Leslie Benjamin, event marketing director, at the Direct Marketing Association, the leading trade association for direct, database, and interactive marketing

You don’t have to be at an association or a nonprofit to benefit from their business-to-business (B2B) marketing techniques. These people talk to the same top executives and managers we all need to reach. Below we offer advice from the pros.

Pre-Populated Forms Boost Response

A long-standing direct mail principle is the less information requested on a form, the better the response rate. For the DMA, it’s a no-brainer to send pre-populated (already completed) registration forms to past conference attendees to lift response. The challenge: Often, assistants sign up their bosses for conferences. When you send a pre-populated form, you could be registering the wrong person. Anybody have ideas on how to get around that?

HTML Versus Text: Depends on Who You Want to Reach

  • The DMA’s second voiceover email featured a brief video clip of President and CEO H. Robert Wientzen delivering a message to encourage attendance at the organization’s recent annual meeting. The exciting approach did exceptionally well. Generally, the DMA uses short HTML ads over text.

  • PMI is creating a more branded environment for its email with HTML templates. Back in the days of print, we used letterhead. It’s the same concept. The challenge for a global organization such as PMI is the ability of members in less technologically advanced countries to receive and read branded email. PMI is phasing out making PDF files of conference materials available on its Web sites. Instead, an email directs prospects to designed and branded conference microsites that feature agendas, speaker lists, and registration forms.
  • TBMA finds HTML doesn’t generate an appreciable lift in response rates compared to text email. What makes the difference is an offering’s content. For conferences, names of keynote and panel speakers spark registrations.

Forwarding Requests Build Mutual Self-Interest and Loyalty

Most organizations have a core constituency, internal and external, with a real stake in its success. These people will go the extra mile for the group:

  • The DMA sent a letter with an attachment promoting its annual conference to speakers, local chapters, and local associations to expand reach.

  • Attendance increased dramatically at a recent TBMA golf outing. The invitation included a “forward to a colleague” request.
  • PMI knows intuitively that pass-along boosts its response rates. It’s seeking a way to track the forward rate.

Halt Email Overload With a Communications Calendar

Most organizations have multiple departments: membership, publications, education, and conferences, to name a few. All frequently send information and invitations to members. To prevent complaints about overstuffed email inboxes, most associations, including PMI and the DMA, plan a communications calendar.

At TBMA, the marketing department has its own calendar but cannot control the volume of messages from other departments. As an advocacy group, TBMA is in constant contact with members on a number of important issues. Those emails are sent independently of marketing messages.

The Consensus: Email Events Marketing Works

All three organizations claim to enjoy exceptional results from email marketing.

  • Ardis reports PMI’s 2002 annual conference experienced a 20 percent attendance increase — well above industry standards. The campaign took an integrated marketing approach, including brochures, Web site, and advertising. Email was a major component. Almost 10 campaign emails were sent over two months, each one focusing on a different facet of the conference, such as keynote speaker, awards, and agenda. Ardis believes “frequency is as important in email as in any other marketing medium. You just can’t expect one email to do the trick any more than you can expect one print ad to generate brand awareness.”

  • Semaya appreciates email’s immediacy. “Every aspect of an email campaign is streamlined, from development to deployment and tracking. Email allows for relevant, timely communication with members and prospects.” Benjamin agrees. “As an event comes together, there may be time-sensitive opportunities for late-breaking changes. With email, we can get the word out instantly.”
  • Schlesinger was originally skeptical when TBMA began an email-only conference promotion campaign last year. She’s delighted with the results. Members tell her they prefer email over other communications for conferences. Now that direct mail is out of the picture, print advertising has taken on a bigger role in generating event awareness. Trade publications barter subscriber lists with TBMA in exchange for print and online ads. Schlesinger believes email gives her department more agility to identify and respond to member needs. “The ease of sending an email lets us target more strategically than we have ever been able to before.”

Keep sending us questions and inquiries. In future columns, we’ll have an email tech Q&A session with the VP and GM of email development at Grey Direct, to address the list and tech issues you’re asking. Also, expect more on everyone’s most pressing need: building a responsive opt-in list.

Stay tuned, and keep those questions coming.

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