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Guessing vs. Knowing When Engaging Members

Brianne Wheeler
April 27, 2021

Thinking back on my decade plus of association marketing experience, it's clear to me the instances when I felt most impactful as a marketer. I was most connected when I communicated directly with members, whether it was at an in-person conference, on a webinar or on the phone.

When I returned from our largest client's conference every year (I worked for an AMC), I felt like a new marketer. Invigorated and accomplished. I had just spent the week face-to-face with thousands of members, listening to what they had to say, observing what worked and seeing what moments brought them joy. It made me a better marketer, and more prepared to shift strategies for the following year. But undoubtedly, as time passed and I was farther away from the up-close inspiration of members, I felt like my knowledge of the attendees faded. And it had.

As time passed and we geared up for the next year's event - it was basically a year-round process - I would start to feel like I was taking guesses about what members wanted to hear and what drove them to action. My team, under pressure to get members to register for the event, would spend 6+ months throwing everything at our community: keynote hype videos, session highlights based on the member's practice setting (personas!), emailed video appeals from the president and ED... you name it. We left no broadcast opportunity unturned.

Guess what we weren't doing? Listening.

What hot topics had come up after the call for papers closed that registrants wanted education on? Did registrants want some extracurricular activities, like yoga? (We took a guess on this one - I taught two morning classes and it was a winner.) Would they prefer a coffee break or happy hour with wine and beer? Were they even interested in the event at all? Honestly, we had no idea, because we never asked. And the post-conference survey from the year prior, while some indicator of general wants and needs, was outdated and irrelevant already.

Listening to members isn't an opportunity only at an in-person event; it's a year-round responsibility. It seems obvious and intuitive that this would be the case; however, in practice, we often fall into the old trap of blasting out what we think members need to hear.

When associations do a better job of listening to and conversing with members consistently and often, they know their members better. And in return, members start listening back. It's the knowing, not the guessing, that really makes the difference in true member engagement.

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