5 Budget-Friendly Marketing and Engagement Techniques for Associations

5 Budget-Friendly Marketing and Engagement Techniques for Associations

By Carly Bartman

Marketing requires investment, and it can be scary to try new tactics and take risks. But, when the same old techniques aren’t bringing in the same old revenue, it’s time to change things up. Try using strategic, data-driven, and evergreen techniques that will reinforce your brand and give you measurable results to guide your next move.

It all starts with a robust engagement plan.

Recruitment is a good goal, but ultimately, without a good plan for follow-up engagement, you may sink hours and money into one-time purchasers who never interact with your organization again.

Instead, start by developing a strategic, measurable, and repeatable experience that creates a cohesive story using your brand and your value proposition as the primary drivers of your content, and deliver it from the first moment customers give you their money. You need to demonstrate the value of their purchase, time, and consideration to earn their loyalty.

Rather than focusing on recruitment or retention with your marketing efforts, make engagement the focus of your strategy. Then recruitment and retention can serve as metrics that gauge return on investment. Ideally, your strategy should encompass all of your channels and touch points, and account for your audience personas and segments. Additional considerations around what specifically they’re purchasing and engaging with can help to personalize your communications and make an impact with the end user.

Here are 5 tactics you can use in an engagement plan in order to create a strategic, measurable, and repeatable experience for your customers, members, and prospects.

1. Targeted E-Mail Campaigns

Deploying targeted, multi-touch e-mail campaigns with different outcomes based on user activity (such as opens or clicks, or even clicks on specific links) is a great way to create an evergreen engagement tactic. If you’re able, automating the campaign can take a heavy lift off of staff and continue engaging your members and customers at regular intervals with a strategic, measurable, and repeatable campaign.

Make it strategic: Tie the purpose of the campaign to your business goals, and then follow the user during the course of it:

  • What happens if they don’t open your first e-mail? Open but not click?
  • What happens if they click your contextual hyperlink versus your call to action?
  • What messages follow up the user’s action and interest level?
  • How does the message change based on who they are?

Make it measurable: Tie your goals to a measurable outcome of the campaign so you can determine your return on investment and whether you need to make tweaks to the campaign format or content. What does “success” mean? Is it purchases? Engagement? Depending on your strategic goals, success could look like increased click rates and web engagement, or it could be that more users renew their membership early or reply favorably to a satisfaction survey.

Make it repeatable: Using the metrics you identified for success, you can tweak and improve your campaign, but overall you should be aiming for a repeatable experience that really engages your audience. Something like this requires a lot of Big Planning Up Front but pays off; you may spend 30 or so staff hours on the front end creating the e-mail flow and setting up the campaign but then spend very little time making minor adjustments as it runs. Many times, if you create and optimize a campaign format, you can use it again for different campaigns, making the time investment even more valuable.

2. Utilizing Your Committees or Shared Interest Groups (SIGs)

Sometimes, the same words have more impact when they come from a peer rather than an entity. Build expectations into committee or shared interest group guidelines around content creation, contribution, and distribution. Use your most engaged members to create content and spread your efforts.

As a Trusted Voice

Your members will engage with content that comes from their trusted peers. If you need to push a certification, launch an educational product, or drum up registrations to an event, word-of-mouth is the most effective communication platform you have. Because of the passion your volunteers have for their work and field, the leaders in your organization can be your best asset to drive engagement and revenue.

As Social Media Agents

It’s not uncommon for associations to use Social Media Ambassadors to live tweet events, but what if you engaged a committee of social media users to populate your hashtags, engage your membership, and create the conversations that build up your industry and your brand? Tweet chats, hashtag campaigns, social media challenges, and more are excellent methods of free marketing, but they require participants to be successful. Drive some of that conversation with the help of your volunteers, and you can create value that people actively want to be a part of.

As a bonus: being involved in and keeping tabs on the conversation online can help identify topics of interest that would help you create relevant products for your audience, drive the programming at your meetings, and give you insight into the issues your membership is most concerned about right now.

As Content Creators

Your volunteers are an important asset in your communications and are typically better able to speak on topics of interest to your membership or potential customers. Tap them for content that can add value to your organization, and then get their help sharing it.

You could create the expectation that each SIG writes a blog post or hosts a webinar each quarter, or generates a product pitch every year. This not only gives your SIG members more ways to engage with your organization and build their CV, but it also increases the value of your brand to members and potential customers. Creating value for your volunteers and really using their time to the fullest also gives them more stake in your organization and turns your volunteer opportunities into coveted roles with a real impact on the profession you serve.

3. Community/Industry Outreach

The association space is filled with complementary and competitive groups that serve the same markets and have some overlap in membership. These groups can be amazing allies in developing content and sharing each other’s successes and offerings. We’re all working together to serve our members and customers, and if we can partner with congruous groups, our reach extends and we’re able to provide more value for more customers.

Some ways our clients have collaborated across organizations include

  • cowriting guidelines that cross medical specialties
  • cosigning public statements on legislation or topics of high public interest
  • swapping ad placements or exhibit booths
  • copresenting or cosponsoring content at each organization’s events
  • sharing relevant education opportunities on their websites, newsletters, or social media.

4. Remarketing

Sometimes customers and prospects need to be reminded of you. They travel all over the internet, away from our content, every day, checking the weather, reading the news, playing a mobile game, or watching their favorite creator on YouTube. The only thing missing is your content—but it doesn’t have to be. Remarketing is a relatively cheap way to follow your warm leads and meet them where they are, providing a quick nudge that reminds them of something they were already considering.

Additionally, with a large enough e-mail list, you can target users based on their e-mail addresses. About 40% of your e-mail list will be targetable by remarketing (based on users with privacy settings or ad blockers that can black out contacts from this method), and you can use this channel to remind users to renew their membership, submit proposals, apply for certification, and more.

5. Boosted Social Media Content

Social media is a mixed bag for many groups: some posts perform magnificently, and some garner almost no visibility. The Algorithm is a strange and confusing beast that always changes, but with a little investment and strategy, you can increase your visibility.

Boosting your posts ensures that more of your audience sees your content. So, if you have a post that has good engagement, consider using $5 or $10 to give it a little boost. More engagement means your posts will be more likely to appear in users’ timelines later on. Facebook event pages particularly benefit from boosting and can increase the visibility of your events as well as give you another channel to talk directly to potential registrants who have expressed interest in attending.

Summing It Up

Creating a great member and customer experience is a multi-touch effort that requires strategy and planning across all channels. Invest the time and tap all of your resources and you can create an amazing experience that will get your members and customers talking, prove the value of your organization and its offerings, and keep them coming back for more. With the right plan and measurements in place, you can create a strategic, measurable, and repeatable plan to guide you through your customers’ journey and give your organization the boost it needs to retain members and customers.

Carly Bartman, multimedia and marketing project manager in the Creative Media Services department at 911, is a champion of data-driven decision making and goal setting. You can connect with her on or for more info or general conversation.

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