For the past several years, we’ve been making the trip to Washington, D.C. for the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference (MMCC). Since we work with a fair number of professional and trade associations, it’s an opportunity to get inside their world and learn more about what’s keeping leaders up at night, how others are solving common challenges, and how we can best support our association clients.

This year’s conference featured 17 sessions with titles ranging from the expected, “Leveraging Technology to Sharpen Your Association’s Research” to the provocative, “Tipping Sacred Cows” and “What We Learned From the 2016 Election.” The closing keynote by William Epsey, the man responsible for Chipotle’s brand voice, was a crowd favorite and one of many examples of how associations are looking to consumer brands like Chipotle and Warby Parker for business best practices, strategic direction, and marketing inspiration.

Here’s a peek at Epsey talking about brand experience at the CMO Digital Summit earlier this year.

While MMCC was specifically for associations and nonprofit professionals, there were plenty of great marketing takeaways that could apply to B2B organizations and consumer brands. Here are a few we thought were especially share-worthy.

Know Thy Members

Topics from rebranding to member recruitment all started with the same rallying cry— Learn everything you can about your members. Research and data dominated the session topics, and while there was still plenty of love for interviews and surveys, we were excited to hear more about emerging trends in research like video capture and bulletin board focus groups. As more and more people experience survey fatigue, we’ll need more creative and engaging ways to ensure research participation.

Clean Up Your Act (or Whatever Database You’re Using)

Judging by all the sessions on data, it’s a fair prediction that database administrators are about to get popular (and very busy). The marching orders were simple—start by cleaning up your data. Then do some basic benchmarking so you can measure year over year and visualize trends.

Additional sessions included discussions on database management, data integrity and governance, and data security. A simple first step we recommend? Identify and document what kind of data you have, where it lives, and who is responsible for it. Then get busy cleaning.

Tear Down That Wall!

Data is all around us. The event folks have data (registrations, app downloads, attendance, and sponsorships). Professional development has data (enrollment, log-ins, accreditations and certifications, and course evaluations). Membership has data (dues, volunteers, renewals, subscriptions). Marketing has data (website traffic, surveys, focus groups, likes, follows, CTRs, and email opens). Breaking down silos and sharing data across departments will help you gain perspectives that give context to the data. It’s time to jump in the sandbox and play nice together.

Members Are The Media

If you’ve ever used a site like Yelp or Rotten Tomatoes, you understand the power of peer reviews and referrals in decision making. Leverage social media to build community and encourage peer to peer engagement. Consider launching a colleague or member referral campaign using Facebook or Linkedin.

There Will Always Be Haters

For those of you considering a rebrand, regardless of the reasons, be prepared to meet these three folks at launch—cheerleaders, cynics, and protesters. You can’t please all the people all the time, but you can at least prepare them by planning an internal brand launch before you go public. Make it interactive and fun, share your research findings and revisit the brand values that informed your positioning. After that, let the haters hate, but stay committed to the new brand.

Get A Human

Attendees learned about the different types of content curation (aggregation, distillation, elevation, mashups, and chronology), and tools like Digg and Reddit. But the key takeaway was that while machines can aggregate and social groups can populate, expert curation requires an actual human being who can make reasoned judgment calls about what content is worthy and why it matters to your members. Look for one with subject-matter expertise, an understanding of your audience, and an editorial voice that aligns with your brand.

And here’s our favorite nugget from the conference.

If your organization uses volunteers to help your members or customers, consider upping their name. The fact that someone works for free doesn’t mean they don’t bring considerable knowledge and experience to the table. And it’s not the reason that others value their help. So why not give them the credibility, respect, and title they deserve? One association decided to start calling their volunteers “experts.” We thought that was a stroke of genius, and the experts agreed.

Dawn Sparks headshot

Written by Dawn Sparks

“My icon should have probably been a giant question mark. With maybe an exclamation point right after it.”