March 19, 2020   |   Vol. 19   |   Issue 4
By Rick Whelan, CDM, MGI President

Marketing in Uncertain Times

Amid the pandemic and roller-coaster stock market, it’s more important than ever for your association to stay the course, keep calm, and keep marketing.

Having talked to dozens of clients and prospects in the last several weeks, we know that as COVID-19 has spread, many associations have had to cancel or postpone their annual meetings, regional workshops, in-person certification testing, and more. Add the volatility of the stock market and warnings from several noted economists that a global recession is near, and you can be certain that the pressure to save money by postponing or canceling vital marketing programs will increase in the coming weeks.

At MGI, we have survived and thrived in the wake of at least three major downturns in our 40 years, and we know that the membership and marketing budget line typically gets cut or marketing programs delayed when times are tough. Three words of advice: don’t do it.

History shows that organizations that stay active in the marketplace in bad times and during economic turmoil are among the first to emerge when the economy improves. And in most instances, they emerge with a stronger market presence and increased customer share over their competitors.

Yes, it’s tougher to market and results are not necessarily as strong as before but you can still sell memberships, conference attendance, certifications, publications, and more. Don’t believe us? Then believe studies by authorities such as the Harvard Business Review, American Business Press, McGraw Hill Research and Fortune magazine.

Now is not the time to curtail marketing but instead the time for your association to redouble its efforts with messaging and offerings that support, enhance, and enable your members to meet the very real challenges that they and their organizations are facing. It’s time to take advantage of your competition’s disarray or silence by gaining both share of mind and share of wallet.

Tell the prospect or member how your association and its benefits and products can help them through these tough times and help them thrive when everything settles down—and it will.

First, know that while association professionals may not be able to travel, they will still be working—many remotely for some time. Look at what products and services your association can serve up online through interactive websites, podcasts, and virtual meetings. Are there parts of delayed or canceled meetings (keynotes, lectures, exhibits, etc.) that you can move online and make available for a fee? Homebound prospects and members still need to stay informed and still need education along with opportunities for engagement that your association provides.

Look to strengthen your email messaging and graphics, and be sure to include easy-to-navigate links to encourage interaction and purchases.

Second, it’s essential that membership acquisition, renewal, and reinstatement programs go on uninterrupted. In fact, special emphasis and funds should be diverted to ensure your prospects and members recognize your association as the “go to” source for information in their field.

Third, don’t forget to look for non-dues revenue selling opportunities. Make an effort to promote non-dues revenue generators such as your certification programs, store merchandise, or online education offerings. Running “Spring Special” discounts and premiums can help drive traffic to your site. Keep messaging simple and to the point.

Lastly, now is the time to re-energize your engagement series. Engaged members are more likely to remain members and will look for additional buying opportunities when their budgets allow. Again, you want to be first in line when the virus subsides and the market returns to normalcy.

Want to discuss or brainstorm marketing opportunities that could benefit your organization in the next quarter? I invite you to contact me: Rick Whelan, President, MGI, or 703.706.0350.

As current events unfold, watch for more tips and information on crisis marketing in the coming weeks and months from Marketing General Incorporated.

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