An Epic Failure of Leadership and the Impact on Association Marketing

Inbound Martech Heads in Sand

There is an epic failure at hand by association leaders and it’s having a huge negative impact on association marketing. A November 2014 benchmarking study by Demand Metric validates what I have believed for many years…many associations lack senior-level marketing staff and many are woefully under-budgeted. In the digital age, where marketing is more central to an organization’s success than ever before, this crisis in leadership is simply unacceptable. Wake up association leaders!

So I wasn’t surprised when I read the Demand Metric study entitled The State of Association Marketing: Benchmark Study Report.

Let’s take a look at some of the key findings

  1. 82% of associations have Director or below as the most senior marketing title. This means that marketing does not have a seat at the table. It means that strategic decisions are made without input from marketing. It also means that most junior-level marketing staff do not have marketing mentors.
  2. 58% of associations have an annual marketing budget under $100,000. You can’t do a whole lot to market the varied programs that most associations sell with less that $100,000. It means that existing marketing staff do not have the necessary funding to do their jobs in the digital age. Can you say #frustrated?

So what’s the impact on associations?

Generally speaking, marketing is unsophisticated and amateurish. Plain and simple. Don’t believe me? Look at the data…

  • Only 41% employ blogging as part of their marketing portfolio. That’s a sad lack of thought leadership by industry associations that should be advocating new ideas and presenting new solutions for their members.
  • Roughly one-third (36%) use landing pages with dynamic content. If you’re not using landing pages, you’re not really selling. If you’re not really selling, you’re leaving money on the table.
  • A mere 20% use paid keywords. This means that 80% of associations are not optimizing for search in a world where the consumer’s first step in researching anything is to visit a search engine. That’s scary.
  • Only 20% use marketing automation. This means that 80% are not nurturing prospects along a buyers journey and are not making sales people more efficient in the process.
  • And the kicker is that only 55% use email marketing software. Really? What the hashtag are the other 45% of associations doing to market themselves? Not much is my guess!

If your chin didn’t hit the floor at least once based on the above findings then you’re probably six feet under (how’s the wifi down there anyway?).

The Blame Lies with Association Leaders

The blame doesn’t lie with the marketing staff (or whichever staff has had marketing added to its job description). The blame lies with association leaders who lack vision and courage. Because in order to effectively sell membership, attendance at events, sponsorship, research or any other association product you need smart and senior marketing peeps and you need money to do it!

Some may say they just don’t have the dollars in the annual budget. I say hogwash. There’s always money. It’s a matter of prioritization and reallocation.

So what do we do next?

We need to start a dialogue. We need to educate association executives. We need organizations like ASAE to lead the charge and we need it now! If we fail to act, associations will continue to lose relevance in the digital age. Period.

What do you think? Does this make sense?

Other Posts You Might Enjoy

Blog Inbound Marketing Keyword Research SEO Technology


  • Aimee Stern ,

    To see exceptional marketing in associations you have to look at the award winners. Our ASAE Gold Circle Committee has been writing profiles of award winners and I have been very pleasantly surprised at the degree of sophistication and success in marketing campaigns. But they are the exception. I have many theories about why association marketing is so far behind the for profit and advocacy world, but the main one is that associations in DC in particular, are a very insular community. Many believe that the only people who can market for associations are those that work mostly for associations. Some hassociations ave hired CMOs from corporations which can be tough at first but can also help point them in the right direction. New ideas come from new people and new disciplines. and a Board that is forward thinking. It’s that simple.

  • Dave Martin ,

    Great input Aimee!

  • Sue ,

    Alas Dave this is the wrong focus.

    My industry benchmarking studies show that by a mile the most effective way to recruit a new member is recommendation.

    A much much better question is… why are membership organisations not developing a core competence in word-of-mouth marketing? (Offline and online.) This would mean facilitating/encouraging ‘natural and authentic’ conversations that introduce membership and the association.

    This is the conversation that the membership professionals need to focus on. Better quality thinking and actions. Not seniority or budget.

    Sue Froggatt

  • Dave Martin ,

    Sue – you raise an interesting point about word-of-mouth marketing. I would argue that “quality thinking and actions” would more likely come from experienced, senior-level marketers. Also – if marketing does not have a seat at the senior management table then it is less likely to happen. I’m not saying junior staff are not smart or creative. Simply that senior staff would be more likely to bring more experience and more strategic thinking.

  • Comments for this post are closed.

    Leave a Comment

    Previous reading
    6 Observations from ASAE #MMCCon
    Next reading
    5 Observations from Inbound Lunch Bunch