From a marketing-themed issue of the Harvard Business Review: when it comes to marketing “most organizations are stuck in the last century.”

The article kicks off by pointing out that with the possible exception of IT, they can’t think of another discipline that has evolved as quickly as marketing.

They are not the only ones saying this. Even if you are not reading about marketing, you can’t miss how general commerce is almost unrecognizable from its past. Like how we go about buying books. Or music. Or locating a doctor or lawyer. And a different buying process demands different marketing processes.

And yet too many associations are doing their marketing the sameish year after year. In defense, I can see why: association niches are well defined, they deliver value and that along with the membership model enables associations to keep doing each year what they have done the year before, albeit with incremental improvements.

But in the world that HBR is describing, competition is high. I keep screaming this from the rooftops, if you’re not working in a contemporary model you’re leaving room for forprofit businesses to step in and become preferred providers to your niche audience for something you also offer.

Like e-learning for example. You need to make it convenient for your learners, position it to have something to offer them everyday not just when they are looking for CEUs, and monetize it. Don’t do all of these well and you’ll quickly see that there’s someone who would love a chance at making the money that’s possible.

We still see RFPs for communications plans that focus on tactics. The same tactics that the organization is already doing. And if the RFP is vague on details, the follow up conversation is all about tactics with lots of “we usually do this’s.’

There’s a time to strategize and talk tactics. But where in the year-in-year-out cycle do you make room for innovation and planning room for innovation?

The time when an RFP might be issued is ideal to pause the cycle, adjust and resume with a new course of action.

If you’re planning your marketing and communications for a nonprofit in 2017, here are a few things to consider

• Data

Nothing new that data is a big area of opportunity, but even if you’re not a data scientist, there’s certain data that is indispensable to you.

–       Data about what members or attendees. What made them decide to ‘buy’ from you, what was their process to getting to that decision, and what they expect to get out of their decision? In marketing terms, that’s a buyer persona. I know associations know their members and have many opportunities to stay connected. But with the shift that’s happened in how almost anything is purchased you need to know certain specifics that relate to the ‘buyer’s journey.’
Would it be useful to know if there was a pattern in your members’ expectations from their decision to join?

–       Integrated behaviors of individuals. I bet you know who opens which emails and which links that person clicks on. But in order to understand what marketing efforts of yours are working, so you can do more of it, you need to also know their behaviors on your site and how or if they are related to your emails. For example, if when your organization sends an email for a premium advertising opportunity, it’s useful to know that within the hour many recipients then go review the list of last year’s attendees and then sponsors on your site. Integrated information about the behaviors of an individual from email to website fills in more details about what your audience really wants. And it will inform you about what marketing is working.
Would it be useful to you to know that 10% of your first-time members all came to your site through one channel to a certain content asset?

• Technologies

The big acquisitions announcements like Facebook buying WhatsApp, or LinkedIn buying Bizo are becoming more frequent. And the ticket prices tell you that technologies bring a lot of value to the table even for the world’s biggest companies. They are also imperatives for nonprofits, you need to keep up or get left way behind.

So, you may not be a technology expert, but there are many free sources out there to help you. You can stay current about technology trends so that you can get them into the budget or, if they’re free, into your resources plan.

  • Crunchbase is a free dataset about startups. Many of the technologies that are popular have new companies jumping into the space, so this is a great resource.
  • You might also try Mashable, or a marketer’s blog.
  • Much of your marketing is email marketing, so check out HubSpot’s killer email marketing.
  • And you’re doing a lot of content marketing so check out the Content Marketing Institute.

There’s also this, Bussolati’s ebook, The Epic List of Tools of Content Marketing. It’s free, click on the graphic below to get it. (We keep updating it so check the box to get automatically notified when a new version is available.)

So, Data and technologies.

A lot falls under those two topics. And just looking at those two areas can help you figure out if your response rates from direct mail are an acceptable ROI or if it is time to explore newer tactics. Or a combination? A new solution that costs you less and gets you more, meaning higher ROI.

I am not suggesting that newer is better or that tactics that you have used for a long time no longer work. Simply, there are a lot of options available to you, the worst thing you can do is to do-it-as-you-always-have. It’s one thing to measure the results from same tactics year after year, it’s quite another to explore new solutions to discover what really is bringing your members or attendees in the door.

Here’s a buying tip: Want a new pair of big name brand running shoes? If so, go to Ama.zon, put them in your shopping cart and leave them there. Sign back in and remove them. Maybe look around at shoes again on Ama.zon and place the same shoes in your cart. Now, wait. Soon enough, anywhere you go online, ads for the shoes or that brand will start following you around. Eventually, you will get an offer for a discount. That’s when you can decide if you want to buy it. Don’t believe me? Try it!

By Monica Bussolati

Epic List of Content Marketing Tools eBook