Don’t Shoot the Marketer: Yelling Louder Won’t Help

Membership numbers are down or flat. Your signature event that drew 200 people ten years ago now brings in 150. Overall attendance at your educational programs is in decline. Sound familiar? Our first instinct is often to blame our marketing. Insiders proclaim, “If members and potential members only knew what we know then surely they would join and show up.” The inclination is to yell louder or more often. Such thinking leads to one more email, one last push.

However, we err when we define the challenges facing our associations — be it membership or program attendance —as a marketing problem. Such definitions place an unfair burden on the power of communications and role of the marketer. more vibrant colors for the brochures, more engaging copy, and better deployment of Twitter. There are important reasons to look at marketing tactics such as checking for new techniques, cross-marketing opportunities, and ensuring that messages are clear and resonant. However, such tinkering doesn’t answer the crucial question of, “What are we marketing?”

This question is even more fundamental to our assessment of what programs we offer and why. We need to be asking, “whom do we define as the market?” “what’s our program mix?” and “how do we develop a differentiated market position compared with our competitors?” Even more importantly we need to go further and ask, “what is our role in the professional development of our members and how do we deliver it?”