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Marketing Automation for Associations
By Stephanie Kusibab, Director, Marketing & Communication Services, SmithBucklin

Marketing automation — software platforms and technologies designed to enable more effective marketing on multiple channels online — can help associations interact with key audiences in more meaningful ways by efficiently delivering messages and information that are better targeted and timed to suit recipients’ needs.

In basic terms, marketing automation allows an organization to do more through online vehicles like social media, email, blogs, websites, etc. It can make staff functions that may have otherwise been performed manually — such as sending member emails and putting up social media posts — more efficient. It can also help an association to reach larger groups of people with very personalized and targeted information. Think of how online retailers like Amazon seem to know you, and can even anticipate what you may want. The ability to offer personal, specific and well-timed information to key audiences can go a long way toward achieving better engagement and attracting new audiences.

But, like any technology, marketing automation can be complex and take time to implement well. It takes a dedicated team or partner with a reasonable degree of know-how to implement the functions and get the most from the investment. Results do not come overnight, and solutions take time to establish, test and maximize, but with a well thought-out plan and a little dedication, marketing automation may help your organization meet its objectives.

Here are the stories of two organizations using marketing automation to support important goals.

Reaching Moms-To-Be

Lamaze International is a not-for-profit organization that provides an array of resources to women in different stages of pregnancy and parenting. Lamaze also connects mothers-to-be with its members — over 2,500 Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educators (LCCE) and consumer advocates — for localized, one-on-one perinatal, childbirth and early parenting education.

Maria Brooks, BSN, RNC-OB, LCCE, FACCE, president of Lamaze, noted that the organization has three important goals: consumer education, member support and brand awareness.

“Millions of expectant moms go online every day to learn about all kinds of pregnancy topics, and our goal was to create a more sophisticated way to engage them,” said Brooks. “Our automation tool lets us understand what stage of pregnancy an expecting woman is in and what topics interest her in order to target content and build a relationship with her. Lamaze provides her a broad range of educational information she may need for the duration of her pregnancy — from first trimester concerns to labor-pain management all the way to breastfeeding and bringing baby home.”

According to Brooks, the automation functions are a more efficient way to connect women with Lamaze members. As she explained, “Lamaze educators meet with expectant women in person in local classes and form a relationship that will guide the woman and her family through the childbearing years.”

For example, through an automated campaign that offered an online educational class for free, Lamaze’s reach among pregnant women in the United States is up by as much as 25 percent, according to Linda Harmon, chief executive officer of Lamaze. In addition, Harmon said, revenue from its suite of online educational classes is growing.

“We are seeing some very positive outcomes,” Harmon reported, and said that her team is constantly tracking results and monitoring engagement through the website, email and social media. Lamaze is also exploring other areas in which marketing automation can be used. “This is just the beginning,” Brooks said. “We are just starting to tap into all the methods of utilizing this investment to strengthen our brand and advance our mission.”

Addressing Diverse Needs and Interests

The membership of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) is highly diverse. Members perform a broad variety of marketing and business development functions, focus on various legal specialty areas, and serve firms ranging in size from 20-25 practitioners to the largest firms in the world with thousands of attorneys.

According to Betsi Roach, LMA executive director, the association uses marketing automation to support objectives such as member acquisition and professional development. “Because our member needs and interest areas are so diverse,” Roach said, “LMA offers a wide range of information in the form of research, legal trends and industry coverage. Marketing automation enables us to maximize that content more efficiently with our prospects and members for whom it is most timely and relevant.”

In its acquisition efforts, for example, rather than sending a membership solicitation to a potential member, LMA shares an article, white paper or other educational piece, and then prompts or responds to subsequent requests for information from that person — not unlike Amazon’s method of sending you suggestions for items similar to those you’ve searched for. LMA’s membership has grown on average 8 percent for the past three years.

Another of LMA’s principal goals is to provide members with vital and timely education on a wide variety of issues. Marketing automation has enabled the organization to communicate better with groups of members — LMA has seven Shared Interest Groups — by function, interests and specialty areas with a much higher degree of precision. In addition, attendance at an event aimed specifically at legal professionals who focus on project management, pricing and process improvement has increased by 31 percent since that conference debuted in 2012.

Considerations for Associations

While it is important to understand what marketing automation can do for your association, marketing experts agree that it is important to weigh all the pros and cons. Bearing that in mind, here are some important things for boards and their teams to consider:
  • The investment in most marketing automation programs can be significant, and systems can be complicated to integrate with existing efforts at first. Association staff members — from the executive director to the marketing and membership teams — have to be on board and knowledgeable.
  • Over time, certain automation functions will take less time than they do currently, but most companies and associations agree that — like integrating any new technology or platform — there is a learning curve in the beginning. Patience is required.
  • Finding the right combination of text, format and calls to action is a matter of trial and error. Associations need to be prepared to effectively test and troubleshoot by performing beta campaigns and experimenting with smaller member subsets before launching membership-wide communications.
  • Having sufficient content is imperative. Automation enables consistent streams of information to be set up and sent out regularly, but messages are not created by the program; the information coming from your association must still be generated by knowledgeable and skilled people.
Finally, before beginning any type of effort, it is helpful to outline both specific and general objectives, and how your association can establish its own benchmarks over time. Having objectives and associated metrics will help you evaluate the performance of your efforts and make sure you get the most from your marketing automation investment.


  Stephanie Kusibab has more than 20 years of experience directing integrated marketing, branding and strategic planning initiatives for associations as well as product manufacturers and financial institutions. Kusibab is also a principle in the consulting practice of SmithBucklin. She holds a Bachelor of Science in organizational psychology from Loyola University.


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JULY/AUGUST 2016 EDITION
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for more than 60 years.

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