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by Mark Cremer, KCSAE Allied Director

What is marketing? The definition and meaning of marketing according to Business is: The management process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer. It includes the incorporation of four key elements called the 4 P's of marketing:

(1) identification, selection and development of a product or service,
(2) determination of its price,
(3) selection of a distribution method to reach the customer, and
(4) development and implementation of a promotional strategy.

Marketing is based on thinking about your association or company in terms of what a customer needs and how you can satisfy that need. As I used tell my new sales managers, Selling is finding a need and filling it, and just as important, is marketing which creates or finds a desire and then satisfies it.
In other words, marketing has less to do with getting customers to pay for your service or product, as it does developing a demand for your product or service and how you will satisfy your customer's needs.

So what is marketing strategy? It is your organization's plan, that combines all of your marketing goals (member retention, new membership, association growth) into one all inclusive plan. A good marketing strategy should be drawn from market research and past knowledge, and new focus on the approach and mix of information and ideas which will then achieve the maximum result to increase membership base, loyalty/retention, and profit and improve your association or business. Your marketing strategy is the base on which to create the action you desire.

Marketing is a much broader concept than sales. It relates to forward looking strategies to understand a person's needs, influence their perceptions, and identify how your organization can capitalize on that. The end result of the marketing process, and what it directly supports, is making growth and sales easier. Marketing techniques and strategies are really based on what it takes to identify the right product/service mix, the prices for those products or services, and what needs to be communicated to target past and new potential customers (through advertising and promotion) in order to ensure successful growth. One of the key aspects of marketing strategies is building a brand identity for what a company is offering and this varies from organization to organization. For example McDonald's obviously brands and markets their food and advertising far differently than a luxury steakhouse would do. Remember, while sales is really the 'push' to buy the product/service once the customer is there, marketing is the 'pull' that gets the customer to you in the first place. When marketing is done effectively it can also make sales a far easier job for a company, as the customer can already be convinced and ready to buy (or join) by the time they actually enter your store (or website). Sales can still succeed without very effective marketing but it certainly makes the job more difficult.

Think of a marketing strategy as the blueprint to reach your annual objectives. The strategy helps you to create your story, guides your plan, and then helps you deliver that promise to your members AND your Board of Directors. How do you develop an effective marketing strategy? First, spend a little time thinking about a few key areas of your overall business. This will create the groundwork for an effective Association marketing strategy. Combine this with member feedback and focus on your annual objectives to complete your mix. Analysis is your starting point.

1) MARKETS. You know a lot about your association's market; BUT, do you know just as much about your current members and their generational, age and cultural differences? What do your members want? What do they need from you to support their success? Are there segments of your membership that you are overlooking? To start, ask them very specific questions. Consider a member study that will help identify key areas to add real value to the members’ experience. Then use the results to build your plan for delivering improved services and member support.

2) COMPETITION. Is your competition other Associations (nearby, state, county or local)? Are you in competition with other educational providers? Evaluate your competition and determine what you offer that is unique. If you think you are the lucky one with no competition, do you realize you are in competition for your members’ attention? To be seen as truly valuable, you want to promote what you do that is unique and exceptional to your members.

3) DISTRIBUTION. How do you effectively distribute your messages? When did you last sit down to look at every piece of material that leaves your office to ensure your members receive the best organized and prioritized mail! Stay abreast of new technology that will engage new and young members. Many associations are blending hard copy with electronic formats to appeal to all generational segments.

4) POSITIONING. This is also called "Branding". Branding is key. It’s hard to find and then establish, but once you do, you hit the prize for building Association value. Branding is the promise you make to your membership. It’s the way interact with every member, affiliate, and the public. Branding helps bring attention to your unique strengths. Your brand shows your expertise, that you are authentic and consistent in what you deliver. To accomplish this, first, fully understand what you do well, and not so well. Find your unique qualities – every Association has them – then tell your story to deliver your brand promise.

5) PROMOTION. Be clear, concise, and be careful how many times you hit “send”. Create a magazine, write a newsletter, but think about what you are sending. Create the boundaries for what you send to your members (too many luncheon reminders is simply annoying to the member). Do you use your website effectively as your storefront? With the increased availability of web services (Google, YouTube) and listing websites (Craigslist, Google Base) be sure your site is up to date, easy to use, and link to other useful information. Show your members you embrace these technologies.

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