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Managing through the Marketing Sea Change

Meredith Low provided this guest post.  She is a management consultant, focusing on helping organizations and companies understand how, when, and where to grow in the context of fast-changing environments. Her work with associations includes leading strategic and tactical planning, performing assessments to position conferences and meetings for growth and durability, and assessing the needs of members and other stakeholders.

Marketing is undergoing a radical shift, from qualitative to quantitative. The characters from Mad Men would be completely befuddled in a modern marketing department, and not just because of the computers, but because of the fundamental approach to marketing has changed.

But we don’t even have to go that far back. I have a good friend who got through her entire marketing MBA, in the early years of the 21st century, without ever once opening Excel.

These days, that doesn’t sound remotely feasible, nor would it be at all smart. (It wasn’t then, either.)

It’s projected that within the next few years marketers will drive more technology spending than the IT department. Companies like SAP (an enterprise software company) and IBM are shifting their focus to sell to the Chief Marketing Officers, as the CMOs grapple with both their information generation and demand.  Notice in this video series that not only is SAP the sponsor, but the CMOs are focusing on the impact of new technologies and social changes not just on their target market but on their own operations as well.

Associations are facing the same fundamental shift in membership marketing and engagement, but on a different timeline. Because many associations are addressing relatively constrained markets within specific industries or professional designations, they’ve been relatively insulated from the speed of change in the marketing world.

This may turn out to be an advantage, since associations then have more time to see the changes coming and adapt intelligently. However, this change is so radical, this still means a rapid and possibly difficult transition.

So, how can we be effective in managing membership marketing and engagement in this new context?

Are we asking the right questions?  
We should be figuring out our priorities at the marketing level based on our fundamental strategies. Do we want more members, a deeper relationship with our members, or both, or something else entirely?

New technologies can make different things possible (e.g. scaling up an intense member engagement model with fewer resources), so those innovations should be uncovered and understood in the strategy-setting process. But innovation can’t take place in a vacuum, either. Without understanding what’s desirable, we just get lost in what’s possible and run the risk of pursuing the latest shiny object.

Are we getting all the answers we can?  
There are myriad sources of data that associations aren’t taking full advantage of already. As Associations Now points out, building member tracking into design means we can understand how they engage with us and what they think of us without having to survey them.

Are we keeping track?
As marketing gets more data-driven, this raises the question of reporting. Consider whether a comprehensive dashboard would be a useful task, so that people can see how things are going on one page or screen. Often we’re going to one source for one piece of information, and another source for another, which can be time-consuming and makes comparison very difficult. A dashboard can free up time and mindshare for bigger-picture items. It takes time to pull together, but is often worth the investment.

Are we buying too many black boxes?  
As with anything we’re unsure of, it’s tempting to let others – employees, but especially vendors – take care of the problem for us, without delving too deeply into the guts. There are those who believe that everyone should learn to code. This may be going a bit far, but given that many of the new marketing tools involve new platforms, new technologies, new ways of working, it’s important for those making decisions about them to at least take a look at them.

If we find ourselves getting a bit vague about something that’s taking on increasing strategic importance, it’s time to get our own Twitter account, or have the vendor really walk us through how the database really works, or ask our analyst exactly how they decide who gets which email. A vendor or employee who can’t explain what they’re up to can create huge issues down the road. 

    The no-new-normal new normal 
    The marketing revolution is far from over. For all of the changes that have happened in the broader world of marketing in the past decade, the next decade shows no signs of being any less turbulent. It’s a challenge for organizations but also for individuals to keep adapting and learning. What’s exciting about it is the broader scope of opportunity to make marketing more effective, relevant, and integral to the success of the organization.