11 Skills the Modern Association Marketer Must Have

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skills_1280The massive rate of technological innovation is putting a huge amount of pressure on association marketers. Every day there is a new program, software or methodology that bursts onto the scene. For the old skool marketer this is daunting. For the kick-butt marketer it is exciting. Some of us simply need to sharpen our skills or add a few new ones to remain competitive.

Here are my eleven must-have skills for today’s association marketer.

1. Flexibility/Adaptability

Change is omnipresent in marketing today. Marketing software is popping up like mushrooms and we need to be flexible and adaptable to effectively leverage it. The opportunities are endless but we need to get out of our comfort zones – that’s where growth happens. If you simply email your association members ad nauseam, you risk being ignored and left behind. My advice is be flexible and adapt – embrace new ideas – there’s too much exciting stuff happening not to. The Hubspot Marketing Blog is a great resource for staying on top of the latest trends in marketing.

2. Self Disruption

This is my favorite soap box to jump onto. Every day we must re-think what we are doing, be open to new ideas, be curious, and always be learning. This will inevitably lead to self disruption…or retirement. Self disruption happens when we question our current strategy and tactics and look for improvement. It’s when we question the status quo. For more on this topic check out this post I wrote a few months ago… Are You A Marketing Disruptor?

3. Data Analysis

Analytical skills are paramount in today’s marketing world. We must take data, and multiple sets of data, and derive trends and insights from them. If you get queasy around numbers, you might want to look at another profession because the ability to use data to inform ALL decisions is mandatory. For example, are you measuring website visitors daily, weekly and monthly? Are you comparing that data to the previous three months or to the same time last year? Do you know who attends your annual convention every year (your loyalists)? Do you know which new members are at risk of not renewing? Are you cross-referencing all of this data to find ways to improve your marketing and your messaging?

4. Marketing and Sales Funnel

The marketing and sales funnel is astonishingly absent in the mindset of most association marketing folks. As marketers, we need to intimately understand the elements of the marketing and sales funnel and how to measure lifecycle conversion rates. How many visitors do we have at the top of the funnel? How many visitors convert to leads? How many convert to customers? What activities are we doing to increase traffic at the top of the funnel and conversion rates throughout it? Check out this post I wrote to learn more…Conversion is King – Moving from Stranger to Lead.

5. Copywriting

Copywriting is a beast. It’s an artform. It’s really hard to do. But it’s necessary. And if you can’t write, you aren’t a marketer. Think about it. We write copy every day in emails, websites, ebooks, infographics, case studies, etc. If someone always has to heavily edit your work, you are in trouble and may be in the wrong profession. Copyblogger is a great resource for copywriting help.

6. MarTech

It’s the crossroads of marketing and technology (MarTech) that makes our profession so exciting these days. And a new skillset is required to excel. As a marketing technologist you need to think about building ecosystems, integrating software, and understanding what an API is. You need to build the bridge between marketing and technology by understanding what data needs to flow between different systems and how to make that happen. The ChiefMartech blog is a great resource.

7. Website Management

There are two areas here I am lumping together that are actually somewhat different. One skillset marketers need is website design and the user experience (UX). Do you know what a wireframe is? Are you building your association website with your buyer personas in mind? Are you considering the buyer’s journey? The second skillset is understanding how websites work and how to manage the back-end. You may know what a URL is but do you know what domain management and domain hosting are or what DNS stands for? What’s the difference between an A Record and a CNAME Record? Do you what to do with them? If not, go find out now!

8. HTML and CSS

I regularly receive resumes from young marketing professionals who don’t have HTML skills (let alone CSS skills). This one blows my mind. How can you write an email or edit a website without basic HTML skills? If you don’t like the size of your H1 tags how are you going to change them? If you need to build a new landing page today, how are you going to get it done quickly? Please don’t tell me your association has a “webmaster” who takes care of that. Dude, wake up and smell the coffee! Learn HTML and CSS and put yourself in the driver’s seat! Codeacademy is a great resource for help in this area.

9. Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

You must have an understanding of how Google Adwords works and how to leverage PPC advertising – this is assuming you have a budget along with a content and keyword strategy. I spoke at ASAE’s Tech Conference last December with Ed Barrett, Vice President, Membership & Marketing, at the Global Business Travel Association. Some of the stuff Ed is doing with Google Adwords and remarketing is mind blowing. Not only is he an expert in PPC but he’s finding ways to develop and monetize his cookies (and I’m not talkin’ bout chocolate chip cookies)! So ask yourself, do I get PPC? Am I leveraging it for my association?

10. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

When someone is trying to solve a problem they typically go to Google to search for a solution. When they do, does your association show up at the top (or top 5) of the search engine results page (SERP)? If not, you are toast. You don’t exist. And your members and prospects will look elsewhere for help. So prioritize SEO or you’ll be left behind. Check out The Moz for help.

11. Recognizing Good Design

This is a toughie but every marketer needs to understand design – what looks good and what looks like crap. You must work with professional designers (don’t accept anything less) and you need to know where and how to guide them. You need to be able to recognize what good creative is. Some people recognize good design easily. Others don’t. But it can be learned. So consider a course in creative design for marketing and put yourself in the driver’s seat.

So that’s it. My eleven skills every modern association marketer must have. What do you think? Did I miss something?

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  • Sarah Lawler ,

    The continual changes in association marketing make my job so intriguing and challenging to me. I was recently in a job search and many of these things came up in job descriptions and interviews. It is so important to keep up the best you can. I am in my mid-career (15+ years) so keeping relevant is vital.

  • Chad Stewart ,

    Dave, very good list.

    I agree that the skills required of a marketer are certainly changing and so critical to many types of organizations including nonprofits/associations.

    Having grown up when a landline telephone, direct mail, and knocking on doors was one of the few means available, It’s amazing to see what has transpired in terms of technology for marketing and sales in the last 20 plus years. No doubt, it’s a very exciting time and there are a plethora of marketing technology options for various needs and strategies.

    I have worked with many small to midsized associations over the years. And, I believe that it’s important to note that it is difficult to be able to ask that one person can be expected to do it all at the highest level required. Yet, I see that often times that is what is desired/required. I believe that it’s important to realize the need for the skills above and yet seek the help of an outside marketing firm or technology provider which specializes in some of these areas rather than just being “good enough” in the various skill sets required.

    It’s actually taking the argument expressed by many in the AMS technology space often times these days. We expect an “all in one” solution to be as good as a “best of breed/need” solution. Rather, perhaps we should be thinking of how to “integrate” the specialists (in this case marketing people) together into one best of team which a CIO and/or CMO manages.

    For some, an “all in one” person (or technology) is exactly what you need. But, for others, going the best of breed/need is more appropriate.

    Finally, if an association (or any business) can find someone who has all these skills and does/knows them well, executives need to come to grips with the reality that they will need to pay them very well. In my opinion, the demand for these “Must Have” skills in one person’s profile is going to command a premium which nonprofits will have to compete for in the for profit talent pool. And, this like many other competitive fields may be the ongoing challenge faced by many associations to come to grips with in the very near future as a result of these very skills needed.


  • Dave Martin ,

    Thank you Sarah for your input! I agree it’s so exciting and challenging today to be in marketing. Keeping pace the best that we can is reasonable – and this requires that we spend some time every day to read and learn. That’s a huge challenge but necessary. I spend my morning and evening commute (about 30 min each direction) listening to podcasts…although I do blast hip hop pretty often! 🙂

  • Dave Martin ,

    Chad – you have some interesting points here. I’m not saying we have to be experts in all 11 skills but we need to understand them and be working toward success with them. This may be the team or the individual. In my team our responsibilities are broken down by the stages of the funnel (see this post I wrote for more details http://inboundmartech.com/how-to-create-an-inbound-marketing-team/) so not everyone is an SEO expert but we all need to understand it and be involved…giving input…and teaching each other. We have daily huddles to do just this. We also work with an inbound agency to help supercharge our efforts in inbound marketing. Nevertheless, even small associations (I came from the Electronic Retailing Association with 12 staff) need to have an understanding and invest in marketing…partners may be a really good option for this but if you don’t get SEO…and simply outsource it…how will you know if your agency is any good? So I think associations need to invest more in marketing staff (through hiring and training) and take on more of these 11 skills than outsourcing them. It’s as much an investment issue as it’s a skills issue. Not sure I answered your question very well but it’s a great discussion!!

  • Chad Stewart ,

    Dave, thank you for the reply. I agree with you that all the skills are pertinent. And, certainly, these skills outlined are important in order to be effective in the marketing of a product/service etc. in this day and age. You hit the nail on the head with that comment. As an organization or as an individual, investing in your skills (individually and/or as a group) is paramount in order to keep sharp. We should all strive to always be learning more each and every day in order to stay informed so that we remain relevant. The mere fact that there are so many new concepts, technology tools, and approaches is exciting. But, it’s also for many the scary thing too because there is so much out there (noise) in order for us to absorb and be good at too. A team of players is a must have. Thanks again for the post. I love marketing and technology so it’s enjoyable.

  • Sarah Lawler ,

    What podcasts do you listen to?

  • Dave Martin ,

    Sarah – Here’s a link to a post I did recently where I shared my top podcasts, blogs and books. http://inboundmartech.com/are-you-a-marketing-disruptor/ Let me know what you think!

  • Dave Martin ,

    Chad – it’s great, as always, to hear your perspective! The noise is definitely the scary part. Some days (including today) I’m mentally drained by the end of the day with all the info and processing that’s happened. But as long as we remain curious and challenge ourselves to try new things and be willing to fail we’ll be ok!

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