Jack McGrath: Hi and welcome to another in our series Ask the Experts. My name is Jack McGrath and today we’re talking to Deirdre Reid who is a copywriter for the association space. Deirdre, welcome and thank you.
Deirdre Reid: Thank you.
McGrath: Couple of questions for you. So, as a freelance writer for associations and vendors, I imagine you learn a lot about industry trends and issues facing associations before a lot of the rest of us do. So, what do you think are the biggest issues that are facing associations today and how do they differ from, say, five years ago?
Reid: I think the main issue hasn’t differed from five years ago, and that’s really providing value and being relevant. That hasn’t changed. But the world that we live in has changed a lot. And granted, we’re always changing. If you asked somebody thirty years ago in associations they would say they had a lot of change. But, I think it’s the frequency of the change now and the different tools that are coming in and also the new skills that everyone has to learn. There was a great article in Fast Company a few years ago, by the editor, and he talked about generation flux. And that’s not an age generation, that’s a generation that’s defined by learning new skills, changing jobs, changing careers, but always having to learn new skills. And I think that’s a bigger challenge to associations to identify, “What are those skills and how can we provide that?” So, that’s a huge change. Also, another one is something that I have a particular fondness for, and you don’t see a lot of copy about it. And that is participatory culture. And that becomes from both the digital world that we’re in now as well as a little generational influence. Younger folks are more used to being online and working together, playing games, you know, together with strangers across the world, and also having the opportunity to have a voice and make a difference. They’re not really going to sit back and wait to climb a thirteen year old year leadership ladder to get to make a difference. So, I think associations have to find ways to bring in more voices, more perspectives, and not just the ones on the board. But to really cast a wider net and that, I think, will be a challenge to the traditional governance structure as well.
McGrath: Yeah, I think we’re hearing that a lot too.
McGrath: I think that’s so true to get engagement going. So, many association partners that we work with they report that marketing is a huge challenge for them, whether they have a small staff and they’re wearing many hats, there’s a lack of technology or skills, or maybe there’s a limited budget, (joking) that never happens.
Reid: (joking) No, I’ve never heard of it.
McGrath: But, let’s say there’s a limited budget. So, what is the most cost effective marketing tools that associations can use to help engage their membership and promote their product offerings?
Reid: Now that’s a tough question, because I don’t think there’s just one tool. I think first of all, you have to know your audience, your members, your prospects, how they behave. Really get an understanding of their habits, where they read, where they hang out, you know, that type of thing. And I think that starts with listening. So, maybe your ears are your- and your eyes- are your best tools. Not free, because time is money, but I think we can’t really rely on the every three year membership survey. You have to be listening in all kinds of ways, like listening in the broad sense. And then you have to collect that and so maybe your tool, a lot of tools here, maybe your tool is your Association Management System or your Content Management System so you can take the data that you collect and maybe create a personalized experience. It’s a little, that’s a little out there right now for associations but it may- the technology’s going to get cheaper and cheaper and our members’ expectations- you know, you look at Amazon, I mean no association is going to be an Amazon anytime soon but I think we’ll become more Amazon-like as far as how we present a web platform to our members.
McGrath: Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot too, the whole idea of a customized, tailored experience-
Reid: Experience, right.
McGrath: -definitely. Yeah. So, an idea we see catching on with the associations is that they’re not just in the membership business. Like, you’re saying that too, they’re in the education business as well: educating members on industry changing, personal development, providing opportunities for growth. How can quality content, whether it’s a magazine or a blog article or an online course, how do you think it can create more value for that member? I mean, is there a way that associations can do that?
Reid: Well, I- personalizing. I mean it’s really- I think we’re far away from the potential there. I think that associations are just really now learning how to target and segment. We collect data, maybe we’re not collecting the right data. Maybe there is more we have to collect, really understanding your member and creating experiences for them and targeting. Not sending everyone the same e-mail. I mean, that’s some basic stuff. But as far as education, I’ve read a lot about personalized education, different people have different names for it. Great people to follow in the space are, I know you know, Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele at Tagoras. They talk a lot about that type of thing, the new learner and adult learners who are learning throughout their life. So, we’re not just teaching the new professionals, but to keep building on those skills. I think it comes back down to data again and to really knowing your audience and being able to target them with specific things. Whether they create tags and keywords on your site and then they come on and then they see a personalized choice of different things. It’s a little pie-in-the-sky right now, but I think that will be our reality, maybe even in five years.
Reid: It’s exciting!
McGrath: It is. Well, it sounds like it’s going back to that idea of flux.
McGrath: The flux generation.
Reid: Definitely, we are the generation flux. I mean, I am. I hope you are too. (laughter)
McGrath: I hope so. I don’t know, sometimes I feel flux-ier than others. (laughter) So, thank you so much for your time today.
Reid: Oh, you’re welcome.
McGrath: We appreciate it. And thank you and look for other videos in the series.