Six Trends Association Marketers Are Watching

By: Apryl Motley, CAE

A new report spots the top trends showing up on marketers' radar screens.

If your association's marketing professionals are managing more information and dealing with increased competition, they are in good company. That's a key finding of "2012 Association Marketing Trendswatch" [PDF], the first annual report by ASAE's Marketing Section Council on trends that shape the marketing practices of association professionals.

"It's a great awareness tool," says Heather McNair, vice president of marketing, membership, and strategic technologies for the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination (AANAC) in Denver and chair of the Marketing Section Council's Knowledge Subcommittee. "The report is helpful to association marketing professionals in knowing that we are not alone and in keeping trends on our radar."

The trends highlighted in the report were identified through an online survey of Marketing Section members conducted in January and February. While the reach of the survey was limited and the data collected may not represent the entire association marketing sector, it still offers valuable insights about six trends (listed in order of importance as ranked by survey respondents) that association marketers are watching closely and negotiating daily:

  1. It's harder than ever to capture the attention of our audience.
  2. We're managing more information and more channels than ever before.
  3. We rely on technology.
  4. Competition is fierce.
  5. We're working to earn trust.
  6. We're going global.

By far, audience engagement was the top concern of survey respondents, ranking 4.7 on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being "very important." This trend resonated with McNair and her association marketing colleagues.

"It's a challenge to stand out in that sea of emails from competitors and others," she says. "We're trying to get that right mix of communications together that stands out without overwhelming members, but that gets their attention."

McNair says association marketers need to "spend more time doing analysis and looking at members' actual behavior— what they actually did versus what they said they were going to do. Analysis is more important than ever."

"We have been living in a sound-bite society for a long time, but the average length of that sound bite continues to shrink," says Charlie Baase, director of the division of marketing communications for the American Osteopathic Association in Chicago. "How do we make our messaging tighter and more concise?

"While this may be easy when working within the obvious arenas like Facebook and other social media, it is not so easily accomplished using the more traditional media," he says. "The brochure you are mailing to your members now gets less attention, and your e-alert open rates are falling."

Email marketing in particular faces intense competition for attention, notes Betty Whitaker, CAE, director of member services and marketing at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy in Alexandria, Virginia. "We are concentrating on making our messages short and to the point, being careful to not be repetitive. It is about quality, not quantity, given the volume [of email people receive] today," Whitaker says.

Association marketers recognize better than anyone that their members have more and more choices about what information they receive and pay attention to. McNair hopes that identifying this trend and the others will "help drive development of more tools and resources to help with these challenges."

Apryl Motley, CAE, is a writer, editor, and communications consultant based in Columbia, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

Apryl Motley, CAE