Are You Putting The Cart Before The Horse?

horse cart copy

Here’s a little story that demonstrates how to avoid putting the cart before the horse, in a marketing sense, that is.

I was hired by a professional membership association to create a marketing plan. I’d be working under the auspices of the association’s newly formed Marketing Committee. The members of the committee had input into all aspects of the project. At the first meeting, I asked the committee members what they thought the scope of the project should be. Immediately, one of the members suggested they write an informational booklet describing all the good things the association does. She said this would be a great way to ‘market the association.’

I tried, to no avail to direct the conversation back to defining the scope of the project. By this time, the committee was fixated on the idea of producing a booklet and what the booklet should contain. Then, the conversation shifted from the idea of writing a booklet to a discussion of what political ramifications might occur, if the booklet was published. One member was concerned that the booklet should not, in any way, offend any member of the association, or any special interest group. After this discussion went nowhere, the committee moved on.

Then, I bluntly asked, “What’s the purpose of this booklet?” The committee members said that the booklet should be used to:

  • Recruit new members
  • Update active members on the association’s accomplishments
  • Educate the public
  • Influence and educate local, state, and national policy makers on issues important to the association’s membership.

In other words, the booklet would serve the needs of everyone. I said to myself, “ this ain’t gonna work.” If the booklet was written, it would have to address the unique needs of:

  • Prospective members
  • Current members
  • The public
  • Lawmakers 
(local, state, national)
  • Members of the Marketing Committee
  • The leadership of the association (after all, the leadership has to approve the budget for the production, distribution, and promotion of the booklet).

We’re getting nowhere, fast. Towards the end of the meeting, I suggested we break down the committee and form a small working group. They liked this idea. So, here’s what we did:

  1. I asked the work group, Who’s your most important target group? If the committee had selected, ‘the public’ as a target group, which they didn’t, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot (the public is 324 million people). The public has to be broken down by age, sex, geographic area, income, educational level, special interests, buying patterns, etc. They selected prospective members as their most important target group.
  1. Why is this group important? The association has many stakeholders, from the rank and file member to corporations that support the association. Why are prospective members more important than other groups? Because, prospective members will join and provide badly needed dues and non-dues revenue to ensure the financial stability of the association.
  1. What message do you want to convey to this group? Once the target group was identified, the message can be posited. In this case, the message is to inform prospective members of the benefits of joining such as having a venue to connect with other members and develop contacts encourage them to support their profession.
  1. And, last but not least, What’s the best way to communicate your message to this group? Once you know who your target is and what the message is, then select the best vehicle to communicate that message. Here’s where it gets tricky.

In order to select the most effective vehicle to communicate the message, we need to understand the purchasing habits of the prospective members. These prospects range in age from 26 – 35. For example, they prefer to receive most communication electronically. They are skeptical of and avoid traditional sales approaches.

Based on this and other demographic and psychographic data, the committee agreed to:

  • Update their current prospect list (including non-members who have previously purchased books and journals)
  • Request lists of graduate students from graduate schools
  • Update the association’s website to include a section devoted to prospective members
  • Capture email addresses of those visiting the website and those who request to receive the association’s newsletter
  • Send email newsletters to prospects
  • Use website and email to promote a special discount on membership

As of this writing, the Marketing Committee submitted a budget to the Finance Committee for approval. Let’s wait and see if the budget gets approved.

Now you can plan your marketing campaigns in this order:

  1. Who’s your most important target group?
  2. Why is this group important?
  3. What message you want to convey to this group?
  4. What’s the best way to communicate your message to this group

If you follow these four steps, you’ll be putting the horse before the cart.