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Converge Marketing and Technology to Transform Membership

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices


An executive from technology research firm Gartner recently said, “Every company is a technology company; every budget is an IT budget; every business leader is becoming a digital leader.” 

cmo and cioAnother Gartner prediction: by 2017, the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) will spend more on technology than the CIO.

Gartner quotes like these are passed from conference to conference, blog to blog. They’re grand statements, but important to heed because they show us the near future.

Associations aren’t market leaders. Although usually slow to react to changing market conditions, they can’t ignore what’s happening around them now. Watch how businesses are transforming and you can see where you might need to go. One thing is obvious, technology can help associations remain relevant (a low bar to be sure) and meet the needs of members, maybe even delight them.

In their book, Converge, Bob Lord (former CEO, now CEO at AOL) and Ray Velez (CTO) of Razorfish, one of the world’s largest digital marketing agencies, say:

“Marketing and technology have been two separate worlds, speaking different languages, using different processes, and valuing different kinds of talent. For businesses to succeed today, this has to change. Marketing and IT must “converge” in order to create rich, technologically enabled digital experiences that engage, delight, and serve the consumer.”

Replace “businesses” and “consumer” with “associations” and “member.” Makes sense for associations too. The authors call for the merging of technology, media and creativity, or, as I see it, data, content and a combo of creating and marketing membership experiences. Their book is built on five principles:

  • Customer centricity
  • Rejection of silos
  • Diversity
  • Start-up mindset
  • Brand as service.

What does this look like in an association?

Customer/member centricity

Consumers are empowered with more choice, control and voice than ever before. They have high expectations that brands and associations will be focused on their needs. Doing this at an abstract level, for example, with personas and segments, is no longer enough. “Data-driven means you’re listening to your customer,” or to the real people and communities with whom you interact.

The authors recommend structuring your organization around the customer (or member) journey, instead of traditional departments, so you can understand and respond to every consumer (or member) touch point. Imagine organizing an association around awareness, recruitment, onboarding, engagement and deeper collaboration — volunteering, leadership and advocacy. Or would it look differently?

Reject silos and embrace diversity

Convergence requires big changes in organizational culture. Traditional departmental silos would have to come down so cross-functional teams could work together on providing member-centric experiences and facilitating member relationships. Diversity in staff and leadership will provide the perspective and knowledge needed to understand the interests, behaviors and needs of all membership segments.

“Friction is natural and required to be successful.” Can we handle that? The authors specifically call for the collaboration between staff with data and technology skills and staff with the creative and business minds if convergence is to succeed.

The start-up mindset

“Think like a software company.” Startups leverage the technology needed to get their business up and running quickly – Cloud software and hosting services, social media, and the latest website technology. It’s time to invest time and money in the technology that can move you forward and outsource the functions that others can do better, like network infrastructure.

The authors say that marketing managers will need to get a firmer grasp on technology. I’d say that everyone in the association needs that grasp. “You always need to be able to react to changes and the consumer voice.” Nimble, agile organizations have the speed required to adjust to market conditions. They can adapt business processes so they can keep up with and take advantage of rapid technological change. They constantly test, learn and try again.

Brand as a service

We’ve got this. “The transaction is now the center of a cyclical and continuous brand experience.” Associations have always been in the business of filling members’ needs by facilitating relationships and engaging experiences, not so much by selling products, like brands.

The authors say that business is shifting from “one unique big-brand message that’s packed up into a set of ‘matching luggage’ to multiple ideas for multiple audiences based on a single coherent brand platform.” Associations are going down this path as well with new membership models and types.

Making a digital transformation as Lord and Velez suggest is a huge undertaking. Maybe you can’t control or direct an organizational transformation of this scope, but you can work some magic in your area. Start in your office or cubicle and see where you might be able to put these principles to work.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who looks forward to the day when we’ll look back on silos as just a memory.



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Deirdre Reid

Deirdre is a freelance writer, blogger and copywriter. The association community remains her professional home after spending ten years at national and state associations overseeing membership, vendor programs, marketing, publications, chapter relations and more. Away from her laptop, you can find her hiking, doing yoga, cooking new recipes, volunteering at the history museum, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and glass of wine or craft beer.

Comments (1)

  • Laurie Stevens, CAE, CMP


    Well said!


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