If you’re a member of TSAE, you play a key role in your organization’s future. But, you’re not the hero of this story (more on that later!).
For now, let’s focus on three challenges that almost any association professional faces:
- How to generate strong revenues to deliver the quality benefits your members deserve.
- How to keep up with ever- changing marketing technologies, especially online.
- How to make sure your members and prospects remain engaged with your organization.
There’s one marketing tool that can help you address all three challenges, and that’s the power of story. Think about it. In a world where we’re bombarded with more than 3,000 commercial messages every day, what still holds our attention for hours at a time? Movies. Books. Stories.
In 2017, Donald Miller wrote Building a StoryBrand. In it, Miller shares a framework that allows anyone – from associations and nonprofits to small businesses and corporations – to create messages (stories) that connect with the target audience. There are two reasons why this works: the psychology of human behavior and the ancient tradition of storytelling.
What the Latest Blockbuster Can Teach You about Marketing
In its most basic form, almost every movie is structured like this: A hero meets a guide who gives them a plan to achieve success and avoid failure. Miller offers examples of numerous movies that follow this format, including Star Wars, The Hunger Games, and even Tommy Boy. Each story features a reluctant, and occasionally inept, main character who is the hero of the story. And in each case, they are supported and coached by another essential character: the guide.
“Alfred Hitchcock defined a good story as ‘life with the dull parts taken
out,’” says Miller. “Good branding is the same. Our companies are complex, for sure, but a good messaging filter will remove all the stuff that bores our customers and will bear down on the aspects of our brand that will help them survive and thrive.”
Here’s the Secret
So what does this mean for associations? It means that when you tell your story, your organization is not the reluctant hero. You need to play the part of the knowledgeable guide. It may be human nature for associations to want to share messages like, “Join us! We’re the best!” or to offer information about when, why and how you were founded on your homepage. But that makes it all about you, and it positions your organization as the hero. The truth is your members just want to know one thing: How do you solve my problem? And the way you answer that question will mean the difference between membership growth and decline.
Three Things You Can Do Today
- Analyze your marketing materials. Do you clearly state how you help them achieve success and avoid failure? You probably put your members first every day from a customer-service perspective. But chances are you aren’t doing that in the copy you use on your membership materials or on your website. Sometimes, simple tweaks are all it takes to reconnect. Make your members the heroes.
- Write a clear elevator speech that’s designed to answer the question, “What problem do you solve?” It will take practice, but the next time you hear the question, “What do you do?” be ready to instead describe a problem, share how you help solve it, and paint a future vision of success. A clear message like this can stretch your marketing budget like nothing else.
- Here’s an example. “Learning to use the StoryBrand framework has completely changed the way we talk about our organization,” says iWRITE founder Melissa Murphy. “We used to answer the question, ‘What do you do?’ with a simple phrase like, ‘We run a literacy organization.’ Now, we say, ‘You know how education is becoming more standardized each day … yet kids aren’t? We run iWRITE, which is a nonprofit that uses writing and publishing to help kids love learning again. Students in our programs become more creative and confident, which opens the door to opportunities they never had before.’” According to Murphy, the new message is a conversation starter that quickly connects with educators and donors.
- Put your new message to work. Be sure you and your staff consistently use the same language to describe your organization and its mission. Then, share that message on your website, on your business cards, in your membership materials, and in email marketing. When you and your staff speak as one voice, with clear messaging, you’re on the road to membership growth and stronger partnerships.
Just remember: When you’re telling your association’s story, your members are the heroes and you are the guide. Show your members that you understand their challenges and that you have a plan to help them succeed. “When we empathize with our customers’ dilemma, we create a bond of trust,” says Miller. “People trust those who understand them, and they trust brands that understand them, too.”
Elaine Acker is a TSAE member, Certified StoryBrand Guide and CEO of Sparx360, a marketing agency that helps associations and nonprofits be seen, heard and understood. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.