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Event Technology Delivers When You Know Your Audience

Associations get the best value out of event technologies when they commit to understanding and serving their participants, technology vendors Kevin Jackson, Pindie Dhaliwal, and Robert Thompson told participants during the 2014 Engaging Associations Summit.

Kevin Jackson, Senior Partner with Gormley, Ontario-based Biz-Zone, and Pindie Dhaliwal, Manager of New Media at QuickMobile in Vancouver, both positioned technology as a means to an organization’s larger objectives—so that associations must first decide what they’re trying to achieve, before seeking out the technologies that match their objectives. Robert Thompson of AV-Canada talked about innovative ways to use audio-visual and technology to engage attendees at face-to-face events.

What Do We Mean By Engagement?

Jackson said associations increasingly understand the need for deeper engagement, but the first task is to focus on target audiences: whether a campaign will focus on members, staff, partners, or all of the above. In an era of spam prevention and privacy protection, engagement can be risky if it’s done carelessly. But the rewards are sweet, since genuine engagement is also the gateway to wider reach, greater relevance, and more reliable membership renewals.

While a successful engagement campaign incorporates technology, Jackson said it also depends on skilful execution and a consistent focus on audience and purpose. He said associations can improve their own prospects for member engagement by planning for the changes ahead, spending wisely, paying constant attention to relationships and human resources, and never losing sight of the “minimal viable product” (MVP) that will serve members’ needs, in contrast to shiny new technologies that may not sustain their interest.

There’s Revenue in That App

With 1.4 billion smart phones in use as of the end of 2013, and more tablets sold than laptops, Dhaliwal said it should be no surprise that more than 80% of meeting participants bring their technology onsite. The disconnect, so far, is that only 9% of event organizers use mobile apps at their meetings, according to the annual FutureWatch survey produced by Meeting Professionals International.

Onsite apps can cut costs, while helping organizers measure onsite impact and extend the life of an event. And Dhaliwal listed 10 different pathways to revenue through mobile apps:

  • Sponsored splash pages
  • Sponsor listings
  • Featured sponsors
  • Sponsor icons
  • Rotating banner ads
  • Push notifications
  • Exhibition support
  • VideosSurveys
  • Gamification.

Click here for highlights of the 2014 Engaging Associations Summit and a sneak preview of the 2015 event.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at

One #Association That Has Created Change

This summer, I had the pleasure of connecting with Paul Smith, Executive Director of CACEE (Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers), due to a post I submitted through a LinkedIn Group.

My post in the group asked for an executive to "raise their virtual hand" and want to be interviewed by me on a change they have implemented within their organization.

Paul graciously provided his time, thoughts, and feedback on how his association implemented a major change in their operating structure.

In this article, Paul shares with me that his organization recognized a need to streamline processes, policies and procedures, how he received buy-in from internal and external stakeholders, the time it took to implement the change, as well as challenges and successes that were found as a result of this.

I encourage you to check out our free resources section, where the interview with Paul is located.  Please look for "Associations That Create Change (CACEE)".

If you are interested in being interviewed for an upcoming paper, I would love to hear from you.  Please feel free to get in touch.

#Association Concerns – And What To Do About Them…

In the recently released 2014 Pulse Report, our research found that association executives are working hard to bring their association into the age of engagement.  With 178 responses, we discovered that some of their top concerns are:

  • Misalignment of staff around strategic initiatives;
  • Overuse of marketing lists;
  • Risk-averse, tunnelled organizational cultures;
  • Relevance of educational offerings;
  • Declining revenues or membership numbers.

Amongst others…

What can you, as an association executive consider (or, implement) to help combat these issues? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Regarding the misalignment of staff; is this a misalignment or a strategic plan issue?  When creating your plan, or deciding on the initiatives that you want to implement; were your front-line team members (those who are in contact with your members and other stakeholders regularly) involved in the decision-making process?  It may be time to re-group with your team to ensure that they fully understand the program, or the plan, and get them on board to achieving your organizational goals.  That way, they can properly communicate them to your stakeholders daily.

  2. Your marketing lists – are they overused?  Or over-emailed?  As an executive, you may need to determine the difference… with the Anti-Spam Legislation in full force here in Canada, it has made your job to communicate with prospect members, sponsors, exhibitors and other stakeholders more difficult; if they did not opt-in, you cannot email them.  Have a look at other marketing methods – phone, social media, and yes – direct mail (it will likely make a bit of a comeback)…

    If it is truly overused list – the answer is to research new potential companies and prospects to market to.

  3. If you believe you are working with a risk-averse team, you are certainly not alone.  But there are organizations who have moved beyond that…in a recent article in Association™ magazine (produced by CSAE), Beckie MacDonald, with the Ontario Library Association states “The best thing you can do is try it and fail, because you’re only going to learn how to do it better”.

  4. If you have concerns on the relevance of your educational offerings – take a look at your suite of programs.  You already know that something isn’t right – look at program purchase history and determine popularity.  Don’t forget to ask your members – it may not be the program at all – it could be timing, location, etc.  Ask them as members what programs they would like to see offered to enhance their professional lives; and determine if it is feasible to offer it to them.

  5. And of course, to complete many of the areas above, it takes time, members and money, which was also a concern listed.  To retain members, you have to be engaging ongoing, and delivering value (in a way that means something to the individual; not the organization).  Retention efforts could be an issue – and I suggest having a second look at your process to see if there is anything else you could be doing at renewal time.

    If these boxes are checked, and you still are not clear on why your membership is declining – then it is likely time to find out.  A comprehensive lapsed member survey to uncover reasons for departure, their experience as a member, etc. will not only give you a sense of why they left, but it may bring them back.  It will also provide you with some fantastic insights on what could be changed to help eliminate this issue in the future.

The 2014 Pulse Report is now available online for download.

How to set your association apart from the rest

As an association, you want to be known as the best. You want everyone in your industry to think about you as the go-to source for information. You want to be different. To stand alone. To be great.

To successfully set your association above the rest, an understanding of your differentiators is key. Those differentiators can be found by defining your target market (which in many cases comes down to the specific industry you serve), competition, niche and position.

Getting noticed through all the other noise and resources available to your members (and potential members) can be daunting. Prioritizing your marketing efforts will help. To start, ask yourself a few questions:

Who’s your target audience, really?

Your target market is not “everyone” and it may not even be everyone in your industry. Think about who you struggle to reach and who you have an easy time reaching. For your association to be successful, who are the most important audiences? If you struggle with member retention but have no problem with new members, your focus should be on identifying how to communicate with those members who are leaving your organization. If you are full of Baby Boomers but struggle to engage younger generations, your focus needs to be on marketing your association in a way that is appealing to younger members.

Identify your top target and some secondary targets for your association and get to know who those people are. These are the people you’re going to need to engage and build relationships with.

Find out what they care about, what’s important to them regarding your industry and your organization, and what makes them tick in general. You need to understand who they are and why they would considering joining your association (or why they are a member already). Narrowing down and understanding your target markets will help you craft better messages that solve your audience’s specific problems and meets their specific needs. This is what will get you noticed.

Who’s your competition?

Before you can stand out, you need to know what you’re up against. Take some time to research your other associations and see how they compare. Think outside the box here. Don’t just look at associations that are in your industry, look to those that are doing is well and who you’d love to emulate.

What marketing tactics and tools they are using? How can you utilize similar concepts in your marketing strategy? Do some comprehensive research to figure out who your competition is and why they matter. Everyone has a competitor. Get to know them.

What is your niche?

Once you’ve researched your competition, get a solid understanding on what makes your association stand out. What can you offer that is unique? That no other association is offering? More than likely, you’re doing things differently already; identify what those things are and what sets you about. Then talk about it!

What’s your position?

Establish who your association is and what you want it to be known for; set your position. What are the essential qualities that set your association apart? Your position should distinguish you from other companies like yours. Your position will be reflected in your brand, but it’s a tool you should use internally.

For example: Home Depot’s position is that it’s the hardware department stores for the do-it-yourselfers. Their brand reflects this in their tagline “You can do it. We can help.” Home Depot has positioned themselves as the store for everyone, not just contractors and professionals. They’ve set themselves apart by being the place to go for DIY home improvement. The spirit of that position is clearly reflected in their brand’s tagline and the types of content they post online. This same exercise can be executed for your association as well.

Be consistent in your messaging

Once you have answered the above questions, spread a consistent message across all your marketing channels. Use your website, print media, social media, video to show your target market who you are. Repetition of a meaningful message will grab your market’s attention and help build your association’s brand awareness. Be consistent, but don’t be afraid to monitor and tweak the message based on what’s working for you and what’s not.

If you want your association to stand out, you need to start with what your members and potential members want and then establish who you are. Understanding your competition, your target market and what makes you unique are the first steps in getting noticed. Building your association’s brand based on market research and self-awareness will help you stand out in the marketplace. Now, go get ‘em!


This guest post was submitted by Melissa Harrison, founder and CEO of Allee Creative, LLC, a content marketing and branding firm in the Twin Cities. Melissa has more than a decade of experience in content management and strategy, branding and design, working with organizations to build strategic social media and online content strategies. Listed as one of the “Top 36 Content Marketers Who Rock” by TopRank and Content Marketing Institute, Melissa believes that organizations must adapt to what customers want, which includes using social media and creative online content to provide relevant, consistent information, in order to survive. 

Melissa is also a four-time recipient of the Hermes Creative Award and a regular speaker on the topics of branding, content strategy and social media. Melissa is also certified by Google Analytics Academy in Digital Analytics Fundamentals. Follow Melissa on Twitter

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /