4 Steps to Level Up Your Association’s Marketing Plan

Digital & Influencer Marketing

Branding, Content & Communications

Association Solutions

4 steps to level up your association’s marketing plan


Association marketers are no strangers to executing big ideas using limited resources. But it can be a challenge to make marketing magic while determining how to maximize the budget, team bandwidth and volunteer responsibilities. How can you make every dollar count? How can staff hours be allocated in the most efficient and productive way?  

It is possible to create exceptional experiences and increase engagement with members and nonmembers within budget parameters — as long as you have the right cost-effective tools and strategies. Taking these four actions will help you plan your next marketing campaign, allowing you to deliver maximum impact with minimal investment.  


1. Outline your marketing goals. 

Marketing goals should always be designed to help achieve your organization’s business goals. For example, if you’re planning the annual conference, setting strategic event marketing goals requires alignment with the overall goals for the event, which could be anything from increasing revenue and registrations to bringing in more first-time attendees. 


Jemilah Senter, vice president of marketing and communications at MCI USA, suggests starting this process by brainstorming a list of ways marketing can advance the business goal. Once the list is developed, narrow it down to the activities that can realistically be achieved, given time and resources available. Draft your marketing goals around the items on that short list, ensuring they are specific, actionable and achievable. 


Tip: Keep the longer list of marketing activities handy, as some of these items could be used to help make a case for increased marketing investment in the following year, if necessary. To keep track of activities, Senter says project management tool Trello offers a free version that can help you get started.  


2. Conduct audience (and competitive) research. 

Knowing your target audience is crucial to creating messages that resonate and encourage action. Having demographic information such as age, location, income, etc., is a good starting point for developing a picture of who you’re trying to reach, but also dive into their interests, challenges, media habits and pain points. It’s important to understand your audience and what speaks to them, as well as the areas they're interested in. Spend some time researching member data, as well as attendee data from your past events. 


In addition, it's helpful to look at your competitors or other organizations in your space to see what offerings and events they have coming up. At a minimum, a simple list of competitors can be useful in this research process. 


Tip: One audience research tool Senter uses is SparkToro. There’s a free version, and users can find out the websites their customers go to, the social accounts they follow, hashtags they use and other online information. She says Similarweb and Semrush offer similar capabilities as well. 


3. Create audience personas. 

Using this audience research, develop personas for your target audiences. A persona describes, in detail, the ideal person you want to reach in your marketing, helping create more personalized messaging and engagement opportunities. It provides a profile of one individual who represents your membership base, although you may have multiple personas that describe the various segments you’d like to reach. Your persona could include the following details: member age, job title, personal details (marital status, income, etc.), personality and behavioral traits, motivations and needs, challenges at work and more. 


Tip: Give your personas names. This will help you humanize your target audience, allowing you to think about the actual person you're going to be communicating with and better understand their pain points. You can also design these personas so they’re easy to visualize, using free design and stock photo tools such as Canva, Pexels and Pixabay. 


4. Complete a content audit. 

Taking inventory of the content that’s been published over a period of time allows marketers to not only have a catalog of what’s been created, but it also provides an opportunity to analyze what pieces have performed well (or not so well) and identify where the gaps are. Ideally, an audit should be completed before new content is created, as there may be pieces that can be repurposed or updated and, perhaps, some that should be sunsetted. 


Tip: Use the content audit to see where you could improve SEO by adding relevant keywords to headings, updating links where necessary and removing outdated, irrelevant content. Google Analytics can be helpful in seeing what content has performed the best (and the worst) and Ahrefs, a free SEO tool, can help generate keywords. 


To learn more about how you can maximize your association’s marketing budget this year, download MCI USA’s on-demand webinar, “Small Budget, Big Impact: Affordable Ways to Level-Up Marketing.”