Inbound Marketing for Associations: 7 Myths...Busted

[fa icon="calendar"] Jan 17, 2017 10:21:56 AM

"It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change."

 --Charles Darwin

Change is hard. But change is good. As the modern member changes, so must the way we engage them. Inbound marketing offers a unique opportunity to change the way associations engage with their members as well as their prospective members. It is one marketing strategy that when implemented sees positive return across multiple business segments, yet it’s it has been slow to be adopted across the association industry.

Here are some of the most common myths we hear in regards to inbound marketing from association executives and a few ideas to combat those objections.

"Our organization isn't ready for inbound marketing"

Do you use email? What about social media? I’m assuming your association has a website...If these things are true, then you are ready for inbound marketing. It’s just a matter of getting from the idea stage to implementation. Which I realize is no small feat and may in fact be for many organizations where “good ideas go to die”.

Avoid this urban legend and set yourself up for success with a few of these things in mind:

  • First, make sure you go into the process with very specific goals in mind. This way you can measure your progress and tweak the aforementioned tactics to ensure they are aligning with your stated goals.
  • Second, you can’t be successful if you are only leveraging inbound for one business segment of your organization. You have to be all-in. Which means optimizing your website, consistently creating great content via blogging and social media, and creating crafting/drafting just so it doesn’t say “create” twice personalized emails.

"We don't have the budget to expirement on marketing technology"

Investing in technology that allows you to maintain and grow a presence online is table stakes these days. And in this age of SaaS, there are tons of tools out there that even the most budget conscious organizations can leverage to implement inbound.

Also, the efficiency that you gain in some of these marketing automation systems allows time to be spent in other areas that provide more value to your members. Not to mention the potential for non-dues revenue via sponsored content - leveraging inbound could actually open another non-dues revenue stream for your association.

"The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change."
--Bill Clinton


"We don't have the bandwidth to blog regularly or create content"

Admittedly, this is one of the biggest challenges to implementing inbound. Great content takes time and effort to create, and regular blogging can be a time suck for your staff who are that is likely already swamped. But this is also a great opportunity to engage with your membership. Most professionals are more than happy to promote themselves via blogging or creating content in some way, shape, or form.

For instance, Rachael Bell of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants (NJCPA) shared with us that creating enough content for their website is always a challenge, but they’ve had some initial success reaching out to the marketing departments of CPA firms. The firms are always looking for opportunities to promote their staff, and writing for NJCPA provides a natural symbiotic relationship where both members and the association benefit.

Get creative with your content. Repurpose longer content for a few short blogs, make a blog an infographic, an ebook a slideshare. Like many things, the more you create the easier it integrates into your daily routine and team processes, it’s just a matter of getting started.

"We are too busy planning and running events"

Yes - your annual conference is huge! It’s likely your #1 revenue generator outside of dues. Even more reason to leverage all of your online channels to their greatest potential to promote the event. With a comprehensive inbound strategy, the promotion of your events becomes an integrated component, not a siloed marketing plan to implement in addition to your traditional marketing.

The same can be said for your CLE offerings, networking events and foundation activities. Inbound can and should touch all aspects of your business.

"Our board doesn't understand inbound marketing"

If you think having an online strategy and leveraging inbound marketing will make an impact at your association - become the champion. Learn everything you can and spread the word. Take the time to educate your board on why it is a crucial direction. Bring up your current initiatives that have diminishing returns as a reason to try it out. You can also bring in some experts, if not to your meeting, leverage inbound marketing agencies and their teams for some good stats that could add to your presentation.

"We should spend our marketing efforts personalizing and optimizing our email campaigns"

It’s true that email works for most associations. It’s also very predictable. Because it’s been implemented for years on end, there is a ton of data. For the most part, you know that if you send X amount of emails you will get Y return. There is even plenty of research indicating the value of email with the millennial generation.

But email as a stand alone channel can only go so far, and without an inbound effort to go with it, your email is only going to affect your current membership or list. What about all of those potential members searching for organizations like yours and coming up empty handed, or moving forward with one of your competitors instead? It’s critical to pair your already curated and personalized email campaigns with concerted inbound strategies leveraging content, social and SEO.

"It's not part of our strategic plan/we need 6 months to build a comprehensive plan"

Change is uncomfortable for everyone - even more so for associations. But without change and risk, how can you expect to grow to meet the needs of a changing base?

Develop a few specific and achievable goals, implement your strategy around those goals, and watch the data pour in.  As you find success you can broaden your approach, add more goals, and refine your processes.

Inbound is the perfect opportunity to take an agile approach to your marketing efforts. Implement, test, iterate over the 6 months you typically use to build a plan and you will have come so much further in your marketing strategy just from what you’ve learned about your members.


The common dilemma of associations is how difficult change is. But it is a critical component of business, and necessary to continue to move your association forward in a changing world.

No one said it better than Benjamin Franklin:

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

To see an example of how inbound marketing could make a difference for your association, check out the Webinar by Dave Martin: Inbound Marketing and Why it Matters for Your Association.

Inbound Marketing Webinar



Topics: content, inbound marketing, inbound

Stephanie McGehee

Written by Stephanie McGehee