The Ultimate Guide to Marketing and Communications for Associations

The Ultimate Guide to Marketing and Communications for Associations

When running an association there are many different factors that make it successful. One of the most important keys to a thriving not-for-profit organisation is effective marketing.

Marketing is the way you get your association out there. It helps you to build a large membership base, to promote your goals and drive traffic to your website. It is also a tool for developing a strong brand identity that will enable you to connect with potential members, sponsors and more.

Learning to use marketing to your advantage is no easy task. That’s why AES has taken the time to compile the following tips that we believe all associations should embrace as a part of their marketing strategy.

Clarifying your purpose and building a strong brand

If the purpose of your association is to deliver services to your members (enabling them to operate better businesses), your first instinct might be to market your association to members only. Taking this stance can be problematic; your members expect your association to be recognised by the general public, by their potential clients, and by government bodies. This makes the branding of your association critical.

Take, for example, some of Australia's most well-known associations—they all possess recognisable brands that we're all familiar with. There's the RACV, the AFL, Scouts, Rotary, Lions Club and CPA. A Certified Practising Accountant (CPA) is a well-known brand which presents itself to its members as being professional, honest, and efficient.

You must get the branding of your association right before you start any type of marketing. Your logo and branding should be recognisable and relevant. If possible, it should reflect your association's vision, as communicated in your strategic plan.

Make sure your branding and logo is present and on view to the public. You may wish to make your logo available to members to display on their own websites, premises, vehicles or business cards. This could be alongside wording to the following effect: “We are a proud member of XYZ Association”.

Building a connection with your community

Members often have an emotional interest in their association. As such, while the services that an association delivers need to address member needs, the emotional connection to the association can be more influential. Association leaders must combine their knowledge of brand development and marketing with consideration for their members to ensure the emotional needs of members are met. Plus, while retaining existing members is vital, association executives must carefully monitor (and learn from) why members leave the association, and why membership grows.

Building a sense of identity within your membership base will naturally lead to an increased intake in new members and brand awareness. Engagement and communication between you and your members and between the members themselves is vital. The internet can be an invaluable tool for this as the use of online forums, webinars and the sharing of other content will help create a feeling of community. It is important to know how to use online platforms effectively, however, as without care it may end up having the opposite effect.

Using social media within your association

Social media is a powerful tool that both associations and businesses are using to increase their membership base and promote their brand. It is a particularly powerful tool for not-for-profits to gain new members, sponsors and more.

Associations are always looking to grow their membership. There are some fortunate associations that do not need to implement membership growth campaigns because their members cannot practice unless they are a member of their professional association, such as those in legal and health related professions. 

However, most associations actively seek to recruit new members. They rely on marketing strategies and their value proposition to entice new members to join. This is where social media comes into the equation.

The main social media channels utilised by not-for-profit associations are: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Which platform should you be using? This is a very difficult question to answer, as each social media platform covers the interests of different groups. Possibly the most effective for business-to-business associations or community associations are Facebook and LinkedIn. Associations can set up their own private member-only groups, which is another value member benefit.

What’s more important than just having profiles on these platforms is ensuring that they are maintained and are active. Your brand identity should be clear across your profiles so that the content you post is recognisable and you are reaching the right target audiences.

One of the challenges for all associations (and businesses) using social media platforms to promote and market their products or services, is that the owners of these platforms regularly change the conditions and infrastructure. This is in response to their commercial interests, but also due the pressure of government and threats of litigation.

Managing your online presence

The main goal of social media is to direct traffic to your website, which stands as the main source of information related to your association and directs potential new members on how to join, along with any other relevant information that they might be looking for.

A website will keep new and existing members connected to your association by providing regular updates to the ongoings of the organisation, information about your objectives and any other recent news.

As we all know, a website is comprised of two main components: design and layout, and content. All too often, associations focus solely on design and aesthetics and fail to put in as much hard work and dedication when it comes to their content. While website design is vital (it is a huge indicator of how professional your association is), website content should be given at least as much attention. There is no point in having a beautifully crafted website if your content is full of typos, technical jargon, or just doesn’t make sense. 

The following are our top tips for managing content on your association’s website:

  • Keep content simple. Your association website could be accessed and read by all sorts of people; people whose first language is not English, people who have no knowledge of the technical jargon that might be second nature to you, and people with no background in your area of expertise. Keep this in mind when writing website content.
  • Use the Inverted Pyramid Writing Style. It’s sad but true; the average attention span is dwindling. So, write every page (or article, or post) in an inverted pyramid style. This means including broad coverage of your chosen topic first, followed by increased specificity and background information.
  • Put a big red line through ‘fluff’. It can be difficult, but I urge you to resist the temptation to write in marketing-speak. People are much more consumer-savvy than ever before. We can all recognise marketing-speak from a mile and tend to avoid it like the plague. Instead, provide value in every website page; give your website visitors a reason to keep reading.
  • Keep your website pages short and sweet. Your website should not double as a textbook, an industry guide, or even as an e-book. Website content should be short, sharp, and punchy. As a rule, keep static page content to approximately 400 words and blog posts or news articles to around 800 to 1,200 words.
  • Write for the web. It is not ok to simply copy and paste the content from your most recent brochure, flyer, or annual review onto your website. Website copy should be written specifically for its intended purpose.
  • Focus on Your Website Readers, not on the Search Engines. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is important to boost the ranking of your website within the search engines (like Google). However, when it comes to content, do not focus all your attention on the search engines and forget about your human audience. Make sure your content is engaging and readable – not just filled with buzzwords for the search engines.

More questions?

This is just a quick run-down to getting started with marketing and communications for your association. AES offers a comprehensive marketing and branding service that will set up your association for success. Click here for a look at all that we offer and how we might be able to assist your organisation.

About the Author: Nick Koerbin (Executive Director, AES)

With over 30 years of management expertise, Executive Director and Founder of AES, Nick Koerbin is one of the most experienced NFP leaders in Australia. He has held positions as the CEO of Materials Australia, the National Parts Code, as well as senior positions in the Institute of Insurance, Australian Quality Council, the Financial Planning Association, the Australian Human Resources Institute, and the Furniture Industry Association of Australia. Nick created AES with a vision of creating a set of management practices that could be consistently followed to ensure success. Over his 30 years in the industry, he noticed that inconsistent management practices often impeded delivery of services to members, which in turn created issues with membership renewal. By establishing AES and creating the NFP Association Best Practice Self-Assessment, Nick has been able to assist leaders in becoming more confident and informed decision makers so that they can create more effective strategies and implementation plans.

Disclaimer: The articles on our website are intended to stimulate interest in the subject matters. All comments and articles are for information purposes only. Professional advice should be sought on specific matters, and with lawyers under Costs Agreement and to which Legal Professional Privilege (LPP) applies.