Really, it’s both.

Associations create quite a bit of marketing. If you work at one then you might be thinking, yeah a lot… for membership, for conferences, for certifications or CEUs, for volunteer recruitment. There’s the direct mail, the brochures, the programs. The eblasts, the banner ads, the micro sites, the website, the display ads. The amount would be a welcome account for almost any agency in the world.

As you know, when you hire an agency you gain from their culture of interchange; all the tactics that they have used successfully for their other clients inform the winning strategies for you. Plus, they comfortably toss around terms like sponsored content, contextual marketing, programmatic, RTB, retargeting, native advertising. They have to be early adapters of technologies, they likely employ analytics tools galore and they must be masterful with social media.

Agency expertise runs deep and it isn’t necessarily all inhouse. In order to best serve their clients they know where their sweet spot is and they know how to identify experts to fill in pockets of demand to deliver results for their clients. When you hire an agency you gain access to all of that depth of knowledge and experience.

Marketing directors at corporations know how to tap the agency as a service provider, an educator and a partner. This chain of knowledge and collaboration is linked together by this inhouse marketing team – otherwise if they choose to go it alone they would need to be as knowledgeable as any ad agency, which is unlikely. It’s a strong model, one that leverages the power of many minds and experiences.

Is This Happening at Associations?

I don’t know the answer. I can add that in 2013 and in the first quarter of 2014 we spoke with several marketing and communications directors and most were basically going it alone. While a few were looking to break their loyalty to that old model of marketing – and they were asking some very smart questions.

For those relying largely on their inhouse resources, they were not looking for relationships with marketing firms that brought them knowledge, success stories of their other clients, expertise of new technologies. Most were not looking to augment their teams with an expert partner – they only sought out a firm when driven by a project need. They continue to think in campaigns in a world that sees campaigns losing traction while newer tactics, like contextual marketing, are gaining.

And whether you are ready for the sophistication of contextual marketing yet is not the issue; the issue is that the marketing landscape is changing, are you evolving with it?

Association Content Marketing

What is it about the association model that makes their marketing director look so different from its corporate equivalent? Is it the association model itself? Budgets? Culture?

Marketing, advertising, technology are a blur of disruption and evolution. In the face of that environment, more than ever, doing things the way they have always been done is a surefire recipe for failure. Or mediocrity.

And that is not even the worst of it. Microfailures, like weaker than possible campaign results over and over – which is mediocre marketing – open up opportunities for the for-profit companie$ to wedge between you and your audience. They compete for your members’ dollars. And they compete for your members’ attention; it is usually hard to measure if someone else is tapping that precious commodity.

There’s a Content Marketing Universe Out There

The tool of choice these days for new competition is content. For example, they may become the leader in providing online CEUs to your niche. And next they may find another service that can be quickly delivered; because their program creates great content, which also allows the users to create content, they could easily start a superb publication. (When would your association take notice? What would they do about it?)

The bottom line is that association marketing teams need to look beyond their doors for expertise to help them perform like world-class content marketers. Forgive me for using Bussolati’s own positioning here, but there’s a reason we use it. We see a growing divide between what was standard fare marketing and marketing that is in step with the reality of the information-sharing economy out there.

Content marketers are busy building engagement and a fair share of it is on rented media, like Facebook or Twitter, which is painfully outside of our control. But what is within your control is your own marketing hub – how well your website performs in measurably delivering marketing value and how well you do at identifying technologies and tools to help us achieve more. How much measurable roi you get from your content marketing.

You can always do more to get better results from your content marketing.

Most associations enjoy higher open rates from their eblasts than email research benchmarks. But really that’s only a vanity metric. What matters is how many sales you can measure that you are getting from your content marketing efforts.

Are you easily identifying the roi of your content marketing? Are you measuring deeper than vanity metrics? Are you tapping the right tools and experts?

There’s a content marketing universe out there and many companies would love to grab the attention and dollars of your well-defined niche audience. Don’t leave room for that to happen.

Instead do this:
• However you need to do it, ensure that you have the best processes and technologies for your needs.
• Identify measurable roi for your content marketing. Do this for your association and do it for your own career.
• Make it a priority to know what you need to know and what you need to learn from others.

PS: And the answer to your burning question is about $75,000.-$100,000 a year. That range is how much it costs to partner with an agency.

Fees are dependent on scope of course, but that is what you can expect to work with agency with expertise in helping you up your ante on your content marketing results. An entire agency for the price of a full time position. What are you waiting for?

If you are interested in knowing more about the Tools of Content Marketing, there’s a LinkedIn group for that now. And here is a (free) ebook.

May the ROI be with you.

By Monica Bussolati