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Marketing Assessments for Associations: Tools for Improving Effectiveness
A thorough marketing assessment produces information that helps top-level managers understand their current marketing situation and make strategic and tactical decisions for the immediate and longer-term future of their associations. Periodic marketing assessments can help educate or update staff about external audiences, competitors, trends, and other drivers affecting profitability, member satisfaction, and growth. They are also an effective means of providing senior association executives, particularly those new to an organization or industry, with the information needed to analyze internal marketing capabilities. Here are several areas to explore when assessing your association's overall marketing situation.
Inventory existing market data and knowledge
Meet with staff to identify the current level of market intelligence available. Determine what, if any, statistically rigorous market research exists on the interests, needs, perceptions, opinions, and expectations of your members, customers, prospects, and other supporters or stakeholders. Does an annual market research agenda exist? How are research studies prioritized and the findings disseminated to all interested parties?
Ask your staff for executive summaries of research and analyses to "inventory" available marketing data. Also look for staff's use of formal marketing strategies and plans for product lines, service categories, and the association as a whole. Are strategies and tactics thorough, clearly articulated, and shared? Are marketing plans realistic — striking the right balance between expense dollars and revenue projections? Determine whether your association's marketing plans include the necessary tactical roadmaps and production schedules required to bring plans to life.
Ask staff to provide you with member and customer profiles, based on information available in your association's database. You'll quickly learn whether or not you're working with a wealth or dearth of data. Your association's database is possibly your greatest asset — or worst albatross. Investigate how staff employs the database to target audiences, reduce promotional expenses, develop new products, analyze purchasing behavior, and monitor trends among key market segments.
Examine membership recruitment and retention strategies
Does staff possess the information and research needed to truly understand why people or organizations join, renew, or drop membership with your association? How does the association interact with members after they submit the first dues payment to help ensure renewals in the future? What efforts are made during the critical first and second years of membership to educate new members on the benefits of your association? What steps are taken to encourage use of products and services, increase awareness, and build loyalty? Similarly, find out how members "exit" your association. Understanding the full cycle will help you identify opportunities for improvement.
Define the macro environment
Determine how well your association understands the external market dynamics affecting your ability to grow and prosper. Identify levels of competitive threat and the related impact on your association's ability to achieve marketing and business objectives. Become familiar with the top five competing organizations, including a thorough assessment on how your association compares. Likewise, look for a genuine understanding of industry trends shaping the lives of your members and customers — and how your target audiences are likely to relate to your association today and in the future.
Evaluate marketing communications and promotions
Your association's marketing promotions should be well crafted, strategic, targeted, cost-efficient, and effective based on industry response standards and your organization’s historic response rates. Feedback from your members, either research or information garnered on application forms, should help you determine the communication channels of most interest to individual members. Be sure you are utilizing a full range of promotional channels and tactics and not relying too heavily on just one or two formats, such as direct mail and fax. Is an organizational promotion and communication calendar in place to safeguard against over- or under-saturation of specific target market segments? Do your web site and other electronic channels figure prominently into promotional plans? Look, too, for implementation of promotional coding systems that track response and test the value of outside lists.
Review brand management processes
Who is tasked with the responsibility of increasing awareness of your association as a whole - its mission and the contributions its members make to society? Can staff explain how your association is positioned in the minds of stakeholders? Is there a clear, research-based positioning strategy in place? Does brand-related market research exist and does staff understand basic steps to transforming the "desired" image into reality? With the right types of research in hand, marketing staff should be able to speak easily and accurately about the barriers preventing your association from communicating a unified and competitive brand.
Measure customer interaction and service
It is important to view your association from the outside in — through the eyes of customers and prospects. Does staff fully understand what customers see, hear, and do when they interact with your association — regardless of how they make contact? What types of tracking procedures or contact reports are available to management to help identify interests, suggestions, complaints, or compliments? Are procedures in place to cross-sell products and services, collect marketing data, provide high-level customer service, and reinforce your association's brand and reputation? An effective association marketing assessment should provide a baseline service measurement as well as insights and opportunities to improve service performance.
Analyze staffing and resource allocations
Someone among your association's senior management should have a clear understanding about how your organization defines "marketing" — where it begins, where it ends, who is responsible for what, and the types of marketing activities that are currently missing altogether. They should also have in mind a prioritized wish list of new marketing-related expenditures should additional resources become available. Look to industry benchmarking studies for help in comparing your association to others of similar size and scope, such as the ASAE Policies and Procedures in Association Management and the Operating Ratios Report. Whether the marketing function is centralized or decentralized, you should understand the pros and cons of each approach for your association. Is your association properly staffed with the right mix of marketing positions filled by qualified and effective people in each role? A thorough association marketing assessment will identify the gaps in marketing responsibilities and expertise.
Before launching an assessment, be sure you or others who execute your marketing review understand the full scope of your association's marketplace and the "full picture" of competing demands for limited resources of people, time, and money. Spend your energy exploring the areas that matter most — as defined by your members, customers, and other stakeholders. A well-executed association marketing assessment can reveal immediate opportunities and business processes needed to help maximize your resources for best results.
John Gunn is the CEO of John Gunn Marketing Partners,