The Successful Outsourcing of Association Marketing
What is marketing?
Many people are confused about the difference between marketing and selling. The difference between the two is vital to understanding if you have a marketing problem and if you are to develop workable solutions.
Marketing focuses on the system not the task, on the member, not the association.
How is Marketing different from Selling?
Marketing is a member driven approach to creating a package of products and services that solve member problems. Selling is an organization driven approach designed to convince your audience to purchase what you have to sell.
Marketing is externally focused, selling is internally focused.
The marketing mix is traditionally defined as being made up of the familiar 4 p's: Product (or service); Price; Promotion; and Place (delivery channel). A fifth "p" is sometimes added to account for the politics involved in developing marketing decisions and focus.
The following are my definitions of the 4 p's for purposes of this analysis.
||The association's "product" is the total combination of conferences, publications, services, bulletins, etc. that help the organization achieve its mission. Too infrequently do we review this package and ask ourselves if we still solve the problems facing our members.
||The association's "price" is twofold. First, it is the distinct price in dollars for the receipt of a specific service or publication. Second is the dollar amount of member dues. Every member and potential member compares the total dollars and time commitment to their perceived value of belonging. If your membership is dropping or your member participation is dropping, these people no longer consider their membership a value for the time and/or money.
||Promotion is the means and channels by which you educate your members on the features and benefits of your product/service package and its overall value through membership. Traditionally, this is the component mislabeled as "marketing."
||The "place" or delivery channel is the means by which you provide your product or service. This is traditionally identified as conferences or publications. These are mechanisms through which a "product", association information, is provided.
How can marketing help my organization?
Marketing provides you with the tools, processes and insight to fundamentally solve your members' problems through accurately produced programs/services provided through the desired channels at a price equal to perceived value and reinforced through successful communications.
If you are struggling as an organization, it provides you with the tools to survive.
How do I know I need marketing help?
There are several indicators of marketing problems. They include the following:
- Declining membership
This indicates that current members no longer feel their problems are being solved by your organization.
- Declining volunteers or difficulties in recruiting volunteers
This indicates that your most capable actual or potential leaders no longer see their commitment of time and energy in your organization as valuable.
- Declining conference registration
This indicates that your conference is no longer providing needed information to your members or is not worth the time or effort to attend.
- Lack of Board commitment to new or existing programs
This indicates a fundamental lack of consensus that these programs are of value. If your leadership is ambivalent about your programs and services your normal member has probably written them off entirely.
- Declining subscriptions
Similar to conferences, this indicates that the information contained is no longer worthwhile or no longer worthwhile at the present price or location.
Many association executives have already identified that they have a marketing problem with statements like the following:
"We have the same old program every year, we just can't figure out how to revitalize our education."
Or the following:
"It's hard to find volunteers, they are just too busy to work with us."
"The membership will never go for a dues increase."
If you have heard these or similar statements in the past, you have a marketing problem. Your membership, either as attendees or volunteers, no longer see the value of the organization because the organization is no longer solving their problems.
Why should I out source marketing assistance?
- Renewed creative focus
Creative talent and energy is fleeting, everyone loses their touch. Outsourcing allows a shift in creative talent without major management changes or infrastructure adjustments.
- Increased staff utilization
Many marketing programs are seasonal with wide shifts in workflow. Ootsourcing allows more flexible staffing to meet these shifts.
- Increased expertise
Some components of a marketing program may require very specialized expertise that is beyond the scope of most associations. Outsourcing allows access to this expertise without the related human resources, salary and benefits costs associated with hiring.
- Objective expertise
Too often it is difficult to look objectively at the problems and opportunities facing your organization. A marketing company does not bring this baggage to the table and can provide more objective and creative analysis as a result.
- Increased business focus
When you assign an internal project it becomes a "task". When this same activity is assigned to an outsource company it receives much greater attention and focus because it represents the primary work of the company.
- Transfer overhead and related dollars to outsource company
Many indirect costs can be associated with a marketing program. They include human resources, staff training, benefits administration, space costs, etc. By selecting an outsource organization for the planning and execution of your marketing activities you shift these costs to the outsource contractor.
- Avoid reinventing the wheel
Marketing organizations bring a broad depth of experience from many types of industries and sizes of organization to the table. They have experienced a wider array of marketing challenges and the recognition of marketing opportunities. By hiring this experience you avoid making otherwise common marketing mistakes.
What can be outsourced?
Some of the key components that are traditionally outsourced include the following:
- Market research
- Strategy development
- Marketing plan development
- All aspects of execution including creative development and program management
Understand your own strengths and weaknesses then engage your outsource partner appropriately.
How do I select a firm to provide outsourced marketing services?
The first step in selecting a firm for marketing services is to understand that you have a marketing problem. Look at the characteristics outlined previously. Do they exist in your organization? You must understand the internal symptoms that drive your concerns so that you can communicate effectively and accurately with a qualified firm.
If you agree internally that a problem may exist, you must select a firm to help you study the nature of the problem, develop workable strategies to address the problem and, if necessary, carry out the execution of these strategies.
The following are key characteristics of a qualified marketing firm.
- Association management expertise
The dynamics of a trade association or professional society and the politics and processes of decision-making are unique. Your marketing firm must understand these dynamics. As in marketing, a good firm will understand the practical realities of decision-making in an association and have practical experience not just theoretical models.
- Comprehensive experience
A good firm will have experience and expertise in all major aspects of marketing plan development; Research - strategy - planning - testing - execution - evaluation. Since marketing looks at the entire system, knowledge of the entire system is vital.
- Strategic objectivity
Understand the biases of the firms you have identified. An advertising agency will tend to recommend strategies that use advertising, a direct marketing firm will want to change your brochure, a PR firm will want to send out press releases. Different firms have different preconceived notions of what you should do. Look for unbiased firms or take pains to correct for the inherent bias of specific marketing firms.
- Execution experience
It's one thing to recommend changes, it's quite another to actually implement them. Does the firm have experience living with their decisions and making them work on a practical, daily level? A good firm will have experience/expertise with the execution of all aspects of the marketing mix.
- Stake holder dynamics
A good firm will understand the unique political/stakeholder dynamics of your organization. What type of members do you really want? There is more to many organizations than simple growth. Growth may be secondary to perceived value. Growth may only be desired in certain areas. Your marketing outsource firm must understand and have experience in managing these dynamics.
- Comprehensive organizational knowledge
Marketing affects the entire organization. Your firm must have expertise and experience in all aspects of association organization. For instance, they must know how by-laws might effect member selection. A good firm will have experience in analyzing the entire organization, not just promotional activities.
- Leadership and consensus building expertise
Marketing, by definition, entails change. It is vital that consensus be developed so that this change can occur smoothly and effectively. A good firm will have demonstrated experience in building and maintaining leadership/staff consensus.
- Ethical reputation
The development and execution of a marketing plan involves an intimate understanding of the organization. You must have faith that you can trust the firm to act responsibly and ethically at all times.
Once you have selected a marketing outsource vendor. The focus must shift from selection to management. The following are key management success criteria. By keeping these in mind, you create an environment that will allow your relationship with this organization to prosper and improve their chance of success in marketing your association.
While your new firm may be extremely experienced in marketing, they are strangers to the unique culture of your association. Help your new partner shorten the learning curve on your organization: by explaining its history, goals, objectives, and culture.
- Identify and agree upon management and control issues
As manager you will want more or less input at various points in the process. Communicate this to your new partner. Discuss how you want to be kept informed and on what issues.
- Agree on objectives
You must be able to measure if your programs are successful. Discuss your objectives with your new partner. Try to reach a consensus on measurable objectives that allow you to evaluate your contractor's performance.
- Manage your partner
You can't simply hire a marketing outsource vendor then ignore them. You must discipline yourself to work with your new partner just as you would a new employee. In this way, they quickly become familiar with your goals and understand how to meet your needs.
Discuss and agree in advance on the mechanisms and frequency of formal communication. This allows your new partner to be prepared when you call so that your questions can be answered. If also helps you understand how frequently you will need to follow-up.
- Conflict management
Identify means to handle conflicts and make decisions. If mistakes occur what will happen? Your new partner cannot operate effectively in a climate of fear. Address problems, not symptoms, discuss issues objectively and allow for correction.
- Trust! Trust! Trust!
If you do not let your new partner do the job for which they were hired, and trust them to do it effectively, then you have wasted your time, money and energy and still must face the original problem you identified.
By taking some time and following some simple steps you can create a valuable organizational asset for your association.
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