9 Horrible Mistakes You’re Making with Your Association Marketing


9 MISTAKESWe all make mistakes with our association marketing efforts. But are you making too many? Take a look at these 9 common association marketing mistakes!

1. Spray and Pray Email Marketing

Do you send emails to members and prospects without segmenting? How many of your email communications are sent to “everyone” in your database? I have to admit that at ERA we did this for many years until we embraced inbound marketing. Stop spraying and praying. Get smart and embrace inbound!

2. Emails and Websites Not Responsive

This is a no brainer. All of your marketing must take a mobile first approach. There is no excuse for not having your emails and websites designed responsively. That is, designed to render properly on any sized device. Sound intimidating? Don’t sweat it. You don’t have to rely on tech-savvy coders to get it done. For email, simply purchase templates for under $20 from Theme Forest, Campaign Monitor or Stamplia. For websites, consider themes from Theme Forest or StudioPress. I’m a big fan of StudioPress WordPress websites (this blog is based on the Genesis Framework) and Copyblogger in general. They are design experts and their sites are beautiful!

3. Ignoring SEO

The first thing your members do when researching a topic is visit a search engine (and, according to Stat Counter, about 88% use Google). If you don’t rank among the first five results for specific keywords or phrases no one will find you. If you are ignoring SEO entirely you’re missing out on new members, new attendees, new sponsors and new donors. So wake up and learn more about SEO. Here are a few SEO resources that all association marketers should read:

4. Buyer Personas

Personas can be challenging to develop but the more I work with them the more important they become to my marketing. Personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customer. They provide insight into your buyer’s business challenges, what keeps them up at night and identify common objections to your products and services. Once you understand your buyers you can develop content that helps solve their problems. Do this and they’ll keep coming back for more!

Below are a few buyer persona resources:

5. Creating Irrelevant Content

If you don’t understand your buyer personas you’re probably creating content that is irrelevant to them – or doesn’t resonate as well as it should. That is, your content doesn’t help them solve their biggest business challenges. So develop personas and create relevant content that solves problems.

6. Ignoring Keyword Ranking

If you’re not identifying and tracking your industry’s most important keywords your content is probably much harder to find online. In a world of content overload you’re in serious danger of becoming irrelevant. For ERA, we identified keywords (and phrases) like “direct response marketing” or “era d2c convention” and make sure we create content regularly with these keywords. We track our ranking for these keywords weekly and are always looking for ways to improve.

7. Your Blog Stinks (if you even have one)

Do you have a blog for your association? If not, start blogging now. If you have one, are you methodical about your approach to blogging? Do you have an editorial strategy, calendar, and meeting? Check out my recent post Your Blog as a Pillar of Inbound Marketing to learn more.

8. Not Collecting Data from Site Visitors

Do you know who is visiting your website? Are you collecting information from your visitors? If not, you should be. Using landing pages and forms to collect visitor information is a great way to better understand who is interested in your content. It’s a great way to help develop personas as well.

9. Pouring Money Down the Drain with Direct Mail

For most of us (not all) our members have moved online. So why are you still spending HUGE amounts of money on direct mail. Why aren’t you re-distributing your marketing dollars to content creation, SEO and digital advertising? Call me crazy but at ERA we are NOT designing and mailing an Attendee Brochure for our annual convention this year. We are developing more content and shifting over $15,000 to Facebook and LinkedIn advertising. Why? Because we can attribute registrations directly to our marketing spend. With print, we just can’t do this.

10. Using an Old Skool Email Engine

Yeah, I know I said 9 horrible mistakes, but here’s a 10th. Are you using an old skool email engine that doesn’t have marketing automation capabilities like drip email campaigns? If so, you’re in the dark ages. Consider moving your digital communications to a platform like Hubspot, Marketo, Act-On or Eloqua. You’ll be amazed at what you can do with these platforms and how smart your marketing can become!

What do you think? Did I miss anything?

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  • Wes Trochlil ,

    Dave, I’m with you no most of these (especially 1and 5) but I’m not sure I agree completely with 9. Just like email, if the direct mail approach is shotgunned, it’s wasted money. But eliminating print completely is probably an unwise choice for many, too. Good targeted print mail can be effective, but targeting is key.

  • Dave Martin ,

    Wes I agree that it may not work for some but the majority I would argue it doesn’t really make sense. Obviously, it depends what the direct mail collateral is and what it’s used for. In our case, for events, many times the info is old by the time it’s designed, printed and mailed. And…we can’t really measure its efficacy. In the end, you need to know your audience and it’s true that for some moving away from direct mail may not be the best solution – but for many…their members and prospects are moving online and we need to shift our resources there to be effective.

  • Wes Trochlil ,


  • Maggie Brescia ,

    What should be first on the list is not paying attention to results and determining what works for you and your audience. As bad as everything on the list above is, each association, each industry is different and is going to see different success with different methods. You have to understand what works for you and continue to improve on it. Blindly marketing using the best of methods isn’t going to get you anywhere if you don’t understand your conversion and response rates.

  • Eric Casey ,


    I’m curious as to why you think thers really no way to measure the efficacy of direct mail.

    BTW, Nice article.

    DM is a necessity for my assn. Nearly 40% of my conf registrations and product sales come via fax, believe it or not.

    Eric Casey
    Exec. Director
    National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Assn.

  • Dave Martin ,


    Great input and I agree 100%. Obviously, my list is not exhaustive but measuring and reacting to results is critical. Also, knowing what works best and focusing on it make a lot of sense. Thanks for your input!


  • Dave Martin ,


    I think my first point above should have been “know your audience,” as Maggie suggests, although creating and implementing buyer personas essentially does that. For you, direct mail works. There’s nothing wrong with that. In a multichannel environment, however, for most associations it is much harder to measure the ROI of direct mail since it relies on the end user to use a specific tracking code. At ERA we found that happens infrequently. Lastly, direct mail can be expensive and slower to implement than many digital initiatives. Thank you for your input!


  • David Caruso ,

    Great post Mr. Martin!

    One thing I would add is using the data you collect in a constructive way! To many times the data is there, it is just not being analysed or acted upon. Analyzing things like engagement, frequency, preferences, behavior activity and building a strategy around how the content is being consumed in my opinion is #10!

  • Eric Casey ,


    Thanks. We’re generally in agreement. In prior positions I never found tracking print to be a problem. Obviously, hardcopy registrations were easy to track. For online registrations, we did it one of two ways. For projects where we didn’t need to be too granular, it was simple enough to set up a required field where we asked the user to select the single source which drove them to the website. Not perfect, but over time the numbers were quite consistent. When we needed to track codes, we did that internally (you’re right; it’s hard to get folks to enter codes). We set up an internal database keyed to membership number or another unique identifier. Post event, we ran reports comparing registrations with that database. While it is often difficult to tell which marketing touch prompts someone to act, audiences which received DM as part of the promotional mix always drew a better response than those with whom we only connected with electronically.

    I do think online and socmed channels are increasingly effective and smartphones have completely changed the paradigm since I ran a marketing shop. And while I respond well to online appeals, peers in my age group (I’m 57) don’t respond as well. I’ve noted that on an anecdotal level, but have also seen ample data to confirm my perceptions.

    As we both know, marketing is an art as well as a science. And everyone’s mileage varies.

    The foregoing notwithstanding, I learned several useful tips from your excellent article, including your buyer persona descriptions. Thanks for sharing it.


  • Dave Martin ,

    Great feedback, Dave! You and Maggie both reinforce that analyzing and understand your consumers is paramount. Thanks for the input!

  • Tony Rossell (@TonyRossell) ,

    Hi Eric — You hit the nail on the head. Direct marketing by definition is suppose to be measurable and therefore able to be adjusted to meet the desired ROI. The challenge comes with not putting in a system to track responses. For example, our benchmarking data from 2014 highlights that only 52% of associations measure the response rate from membership promotions. By the way the same challenge exists with Inbound Marketing. We spend a lot of time with our clients helping them set up precise tracking mechanisms so they can determine what key words, ads, and sources produced new members and sales. Tony

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