The Anatomy of a New Association Marketing Ecosystem

Marketing Technology Landscape

Marketing Technology LandscapeOver the past few years the marketing technology landscape has blown up. There are now over 2,000 marketing technology vendors (from SEO software to attribution modeling to cloud integration to CRMs, databases and big data software). It’s fascinating and daunting. So much so that Scott Brinker, with ion interactive, started the Chief Marketing Technologist blog where he discusses how marketing technology is changing marketing strategy, management and culture. His 2015 Marketing Technology Landscape (right) says it all.

The explosion of software and platforms has also led to increased demand in system integrations to better leverage data for marketing and analysis purposes. Companies like Zapier have popped up with new, ingenious models that facilitate integrations making them easy to do, quick to setup, and inexpensive to run.

An Outdated Model

For association marketers this new reality is daunting and many new opportunities seem out of reach. Why? As an industry we are wedded to an outdated model where the Association Management Software (AMS) reigns supreme. It’s the one-thousand pound gorilla and it’s grumpy. There, I’ve said it!

AMS’s are the antithesis of speed, flexibility and optimization. They typically present a trifecta of obstacles.

They are:

  1. Complex to integrate
  2. Expensive to integrate AND maintain
  3. Time-consuming to integrate


To top it off there is little-to-no developer community creating apps or plug-ins or modules to expand AMS capabilities. So you end up with a walled garden in the age of open source software. That ain’t good for anyone.

At the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) we’ve been fighting against this model for years. We’ve banged our heads against the wall too many times to remember. However, there is hope.

A New Marketing Ecosystem

In June 2014 ERA implemented an inbound marketing platform (Hubspot) for an integrated approach to blogging, landing pages, email and marketing automation. It has been a great experience and has totally revolutionized our marketing approach. Hubspot (like many marketing automation platforms such as Marketo, Eloqua, or Act-On) is super easy to integrate with other platforms. Within minutes we integrated our Content Management System (WordPress), Survey Monkey, and our video platform (Wistia), all of which have native integrations with Hubspot (meaning that functionality of these systems is built directly in to Hubspot which improves data flow between the two systems).

Thanks to the efforts of Hubspot partner HighRoad Solution, within a few weeks we integrated our event registration platform (eShow) and after about five months we integrated our AMS (Abila netFORUM). We’re currently looking at GoToWebinar as our webinar platform which also has a native integration with Hubspot.

The only monthly recurring cost to ERA is the integration license required by our AMS (why are you not surprised to hear that?!). Sigh. By the way, Hubspot recently launched a CRM solution and we are investigating whether it can replace our AMS entirely (or at least in part). I’ll discuss this new reality threatening AMSs in a future blog post.


So what is the result of this new ecosystem? It means that we have moved to a marketing platform-centric technology ecosystem (not an AMS-centric one) where data can be easily shared between systems and resides in one place (the marketing platform). It means that we can integrate systems quickly, easily and inexpensively. It means that we can use near real-time registration data to market to our event attendees (and to those not yet registered). It means that we can market and message specifically to prospective or lapsed members through automated campaigns. The opportunities are endless.

The key, however, is acknowledging that the effort to store association data in one place using the AMS is NOT the solution. The solution is to investigate marketing platforms like Hubspot, Marketo, Eloqua or Act-On and use the developer communities around them and the existing integrations to create your new marketing ecosystem.

What do you think? Am I on to something here or am I missing something?


Other Posts You Might Enjoy

Inbound Marketing Technology


  • Monica Bussolati ,

    Great article, you’re spot on. Today there does not exist a business which needs only one technology solution. This places extraordinarily high value on the technology’s ease of integration with other needed solutions. And guess what, the end user should not have to pay for the technologies to integrate.

    We are HubSpot Partners and rarely does a week go by when we are not listing the other technologies that HubSpot is integration-ready with (at no cost…) Go To Webinar, SalesForce, ReadyTalk, PayPal, SurveyMonkey, Wistia, Shopify, Zerys, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and many, many more. And all of their competitors integrate too.

    I would go so far as to say that any technology today that requires the user to burden the cost to integrate is a dinosaur and should be avoided at all costs.

  • Dave Martin ,

    Great points, Monica. It shocks me how the AMS vendors have been very slow to react to this new reality. And, more importantly, I see and hear more and more chatter within the association community about CRM options. A year ago there was some discussion but it seems to have picked up just recently!

  • Wes Trochlil ,

    Good stuff, as always, Dave. And you’re right about the CRM discussion in the association market. A large part of that discussion IS because of the ecosystem of plug-ins that exists around Dynamics CRM and

  • Dave Martin ,

    Thanks for the input, Wes! I agree that Microsoft Dynamics CRM and are driving the ease of integrations as well – along with the other platforms like Hubspot (which now has its own CRM module). and the AMS plug-ins/modules like Nimble AMS and Fonteva (MemberNation) are really exciting and compelling new solutions for associations!

  • Comments for this post are closed.

    Leave a Comment

    Previous reading
    Is the Traditional AMS in Trouble?
    Next reading
    5 Must Have Marketing Podcasts