Association marketing: The wonderful paradoxes

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Association marketing: You can link to a pdf copy of the original SMPS Marketer story by clicking on the image

It may be ironic that the SMPS Marketer magazine published my story about association-related marketing, just as I travelled to Kitchener, ON to conclude my first sale that can be traced back to my extensive five-year Society for Marketing Professional?Services?membership and participation. And this is the same southwestern Ontario city where I attended the national Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) convention, reliving more association-related marketing paradoxes.

You can link to the online version of the story here, in the last issue of Canadian Design and Construction Report. And, if you would like to see it in a PDF format, you??should be able to link to it by clicking on the page image to the left.

Here, in the article, are my key advice take-aways:

Determine if the association makes sense for you.

You should attend a few association events and functions to find out for yourself. Matt Handal at Trauner Consulting Services in Philadelphia, PA, says: ?The litmus test I use is: Is this an audience that can say ‘Yes’ to our services or an audience that could introduce me to someone who can say ‘Yes.’??

Don’t go looking to sell (though many may buy).

If you are insincere, if you fail to give your best efforts to the association without worrying about return, you’ll likely encounter a less-than-positive reception. The goal is to build your relationships and reputation first.

Look where others aren’t going.

Your ideal association will have plenty of plenty of potential client decision-makers, and not too many direct business development competitors. However, even if you cannot escape the competition, you can (through effort and commitment) be accepted for an association directorship, executive or other leadership role, and thus out-play your competitors (though if the competitors are already in these positions, you may find they are well-entrenched with a succession plan of their own.)

Contribute, speak, ?do? rather than just attend meetings.

If you passively attend some association functions, you’ll probably achieve limited results. One idea: Volunteer for committees or activities that reflect your interests, passions and values. You may be able to suggest programs and ideas that both appeal to you personally and allow you to make many new association friends. (One of my colleagues doesn’t golf, but he volunteers to help out with the registration and after-golf programs at the association’s golf tournaments, meeting and connecting with all of the participants in the process.)

Think long-term.

If you are satisfied the association will connect you with the right people, prepare for a long-term relationship. In this regard, successful association marketing reflects your overall business. Associations, in fact, provide the ideal environment to develop and maintain lasting relationships, even between projects.

In our situation, much profitable business arises from association participation and support, but there are contradictions. Consider CSC for example. I’m the current Ottawa-chapter chair and have sourced worthy business (worth thousands of dollars in revenue) from local chapter colleagues and events. However, when I attend the national convention, I must recuse myself from certain key meetings because a well-entrenched (and totally reputable) competitor “owns” the relationship with the association and won’t let go anytime soon.

In the case of SMPS, many members inquire through group forums about our competitors’ business practices, and receive stern warnings to avoid doing business with them. Although I don’t want to be tied to the same rope as these businesses, brand perceptions relating to an industry (think time share practices) almost burn bridges before you try to cross them. ?So we’ve received virtually no business — until today — from the SMPS connections. Yet my article shows some people who have done very well through the association relationships.

When you’ll read the article, you’ll discover some of the complexities of association participation in your marketing strategies. I welcome your comments either below, or by email to

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