Stephen Sears is a strategic marketing executive in Washington, DC.
As associations attempt to recover from the economic morass of 2020, budgets are tight, but marketing is important. No matter what the size of your budget, these seven steps can help organizations create effective marketing campaigns.
Many people assume marketing is synonymous with advertising, but it is actually a discipline that requires significant effort to attain results. With 25 years of experience in marketing for multibillion dollar software clients and a national trade association representing bricks, I found that following similar steps lead to marketing success—regardless of organization types and budget levels.
While not every effort will contribute to results like a reported 39 percent increase in popularity of a 3,500-year-old product, the following seven steps can help organizations get the most out of the dollars they invest in marketing.
Articulate the strategic focus. Although people tend to discuss tactics, it is more important for stakeholders to agree on the marketing program’s focus. Creating general awareness about an industry’s aesthetic qualities takes a different marketing approach than encouraging members to respond to an offer.
Determine where things stand. Since associations and societies are led by people who have their own viewpoints, programs should be based on comprehensive, credible data. While larger organizations routinely perform market analyses and determine the elements of the marketing mix (e.g., product, place, promotion, price, customer, company, competition), all organizations should do this. Obtaining this insight does not require extensive resources. The chart below uses a small selection of this data to show how manufacturing industries differ from each other in terms of advertising and promotion expenditures. For an association representing one of these industries or its competitors, this kind of insight can be extremely valuable for planning purposes.
Champion the value of effective marketing. In tough economic times, decision makers frequently cut marketing resources to improve the bottom line. Yet experience shows that marketing contributes to organizational success—even in recessions. In the August 2020 Harvard Business Review article, “Don’t Cut Your Marketing Budget in a Recession,” the authors state that “companies that have bounced back most strongly from previous recessions usually did not cut their marketing spend, and in many cases actually increased it.” Note: As I experienced first-hand during my time at the Brick Industry Association (BIA), industry marketing programs always have a better chance of staying in place when key members voice consistent support for them. Without a doubt, member support proved to be crucial in launching and sustaining the industry advertising campaign.
Successful marketing messages bridge the gap between customer desires and the organization’s value proposition in a compelling way.
Gain consensus with stakeholders. Setting expectations prior to materials development is critical. Before spending marketing funds, make sure colleagues, members, and external vendors are on board with the following: organizational goals, program objective and metrics for success, situation analysis, timetable, budget, and target audience, geographies, and markets.
Assemble a dedicated team. When selecting an outside vendor, it can be helpful to involve other departments and members in the evaluation process. Wider participation can elicit buy-in and long-term support. At the same time, association staff should never abdicate strategic leadership. External firms are communications specialists—not experts in clients’ business goals, strategic objectives, and association politics.
Test new tactics. Successful marketing messages bridge the gap between customer desires and the organization’s value proposition in a compelling way. Because achieving this combination is easier said than done, major marketers routinely conduct testing (focus groups, surveys, test marketing, etc.) as a form of “marketing insurance” before a major program launch. Testing is also important for smaller organizations because they can ill-afford to run an ineffective program. During my time at BIA, pre-launch research helped sharpen digital advertising. A brief summary and examples of the advertising campaign can be found at the ad agency’s website.
Monitor and revise as necessary. The COVID-19 pandemic proved the importance of monitoring and optimizing marketing efforts during my time at BIA. While government closures shut down much of the economy in March 2020, most construction-related industries were considered “essential” and continued operating.
Given this situation and the continuous analysis of user data, members agreed to continue advertising unabated. BIA’s campaign exceeded expectations; the launch video has garnered over 3 million views since 2018. Consistent with the timing and scope of the industry advertising, Home Innovations Research Labs confirmed that more builders were using brick on two different occasions. Builders reported brick increases in back-to-back years in the Annual Builder Practices Survey. In a separate study commissioned after I left BIA, 39 percent more builders reported an increase in brick usage. In fact, Professional Builder highlighted this finding in “Brick Is Back: After Years of Decline, the Exterior Material Returns.” Along with members’ own initiatives and support, the industry advertising clearly played a role in brick’s increase.
These outcomes prove that one does not need to be part of a large organization to attain great marketing results. One just needs to understand that marketing is a continuous process that works best when following steps like the ones described here.