Viral Business Starts at Home

I attended a general session presentation by Johnny Earle, of Johnny Cupcakes, who by the way, doesn’t sell baking goods.  They sell T-shirts!

It was a fascinating talk and his remarks were delivered in a rapid fire way.  The following were my notes.

His overarching theme was “Everything is an experience!”

He talked about:

  • Failing - fail fast - think of it as experimenting;
  • Experimenting is how you grow;
  • Sell memories, stories and themes;
  • Social media giveaways are a way to connect;
  • Collaborate to grow - it gives other folks a chance to learn what you do; and
  • People like new experiences - what are you doing is this arena?

He went on to say, what makes you unique?  You want to stand out from all the other chambers in the neighboring towns, his insights:

  • Testimonials sell - it creates trust;
  • Events foster real relationships;
  • Good design is inviting;
  • It’s all about human to human;
  • Write notes on your business cards; and
  • Customer loyalty - you must be loyal to them.

He ended with your brand is your story!  For a past blog post on What's Your Brand go HERE.

Using Design Thinking to Solve Problems

I recently attended a session sponsored by Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship (ACE) on problem-solving using the design thinking method.

The session led by Garth Jordan, senior vice president, corporate strategy at the Healthcare Financial Management Association and Arianna RehakCEO and co-founder of Matchbox Virtual Media.

Many say that design thinking is a powerful process for problem-solving, and has tremendous potential for associations.

It’s human centered, learn by doing, team based approaches to maintain organizational speed and flexibility.  Have a core group of people go and ask additional staff questions to get a since of what is going on in your organization.

You need to get information from the end user, the member. Ask them what they want.  Solve their problems making them a hero in their office.

It's all about the member.  You need to get your staff to think that way.  Everything we do is helping our members grow their business.

They discussed the different stages of design thinking:


Understand - research, gain insight, empathy, define.  Less people x more time in understanding = lots of insights.  Find the powerful themes to be able to ask the right questions.


Create - brainstorm for ideas, ideate.  Asking the right questions to the right people is key.


Deliver - prototype, test.  Learn and grow from feedback.  Think fail forward.

And finally, when these different stages come together - feasibility (technology), desirability (user), viability (business), where they intersect, that is innovation!

For resources on design thinking go to:

Email Marketing Techniques that Drive Results

I attended a seminar recently on the title of this blog that was led by Jay Schwedelson, Worldata, on email marketing.

The following are my notes based on his presentation and you may be surprised by some of his suggestions which is based on recent research in the email marketing sector.

Email Marketing - how much is too much?

  • 92% who unsubscribe haven’t opened that email in a year.
  • Delivery to the inbox is the key - engagement from a previously sent email!
  • Studies say open rates go up if you’re sending at least 5x a month.
  • Don’t send emails about your keynotes or registration info.

You Must Be Relevant

  • FOMO is the key to email marketing.  Fear of missing out!
  • Offers that expire have a 62% overall respond rate for BtoC and 55% for BtoB.
  • An offer must have urgency to it!
  • Subject lines.  Go to subject line dot com.

Top Words to Use

  • Free, limited, exclusive, tomorrow, today, last chance.
  • Free is the number one word for the subject line for emails.
  • 38% open rates increase if you use the word urgent.

Quick Tips

  • Half sentence subject lines...
  • “The most valuable...” - People will open to learn what it’s about.
  • “Our keynote is...”
  • Title casing - capitalize each word in your subject line...
  • Use brackets or parentheses boost open rates by 31%
  • Inbox rate is key, not deliverability rate.  The difference is showing up in spam filters.
  • Subject lines that start with a number “5” has a 21% increase in open rates.  Think listicles.
  • Pre-headers - the words after the subject line will increase your open rates by 24%.
  • Single offer emails work.  One email, one offer.  Don’t send an email with multiple offers.
  • Use light box to get emails - it’s a pop up on your website.

He went on to talk about auto opens and auto clicks being done by companies and associations to protect their networks.  Think of it as a different version of your current spam filter.

Tools and Free Stuff

  • If you're looking for a great resource on evaluating your email "subject lines" go HERE.
  • For a great resource on when to send emails based on days and times go HERE.

Good luck with your email marketing campaigns!

Make Your “Wow” Message Repeatable!

Bill Graham, Graham Corporate Communications, offered the following comments and suggestions at a recent seminar he led at a membership and marketing conference that I attended.

He also happens to be a faculty member at the Institute for Organization Management program.

His opening statement - communications is not speaking, writing, debating, meeting - those are activities. Communication is a result - did I get an idea in your head?

Communication is not a two way street.  It’s one way!

"Wow" messages have/are:

  • New information: What’s new?
  • Emotionally connected: Who cares?
  • Actionable: What now?

Memorable messages - what are your six words that you use to make a memorable message?

Repeatable messages:

  • If they remember what you said, they may join.
  • If they repeat what you said; they are recruiting for you.

Memorable vs Repeatable - memorable is good, repeatable is better...think buy vs market for you, join/recruit.

Elements of a repeatable message:

  • Sensory - help them, see, hear, taste, touch or smell
  • Profound - memorable, desirable
  • Engaging - tease, awaken, surprise
  • Emotional - make them care
  • Data-driven - use verifiably human info
  • Story-based: testimonials, examples

How to create a story in 5 Steps

  1. Set up the high-stakes situation
  2. Know what the main character wants
  3. Make your audience care
  4. Have a life-changing “wow” moment
  5. Explain value: How does it help?

At the end of the day, are your people remembering your messages and better yet, are they repeating your message?

Good luck in creating your memorable and repeatable messages!

Managing Your Sponsorship Opportunities

I recently participated in a webinar on sponsorships hosted by ACCE and conducted by Sydney Doctor and Alana Turner of Greater Louisville, Inc.

Here are my notes from their talk in no specific order.

Centralize - think about centralizing your sponsorship activities under one person so you can provide a consistent customer experience throughout the conversation with all potential sponsors.

It’s more than an event, it’s a revenue generator and you need to think about it that way.

Less is more!  Focus on what events work best for your chamber and has a positive revenue impact on the bottom line.  Get rid of the rest.

A couple of thoughts on the process:

Do you offer a first right of refusal to those sponsors from the previous year?  If not, you must.  That’s just good business.  And you should ask that question right after the event is done when they are riding high.

Do you have an investor pool - create a list of possible companies who might want to sponsor an event?  Please know that not all investors will take that additional step to sponsor an event in addition to their normal support.  That’s ok, but let them know they always have the opportunity to do so in the future.

Do you have a brochure with a list of sponsorship opportunities with dates, times, and a description of the audience that will attend?  This packet of information needs to be digestible for any potential sponsor.  And you must share it with your members and non-members alike.

When to ask?  I’m a fan of working on a calendar year vs a fiscal year basis.  Start asking in October for the following year and this will allow you to finalize any sponsorship deals by January.

Once you’re in the new year you can always backfill at each event with possible new sponsors to meet or exceed budget.


Do you promote your events around themes?  Technology, Leadership, Finance, B2B just to name a few!

You can pitch sponsorship deals to companies who care about that subject matter and are thought of as thought leaders in those sectors.  That’s a win win!

How about content generation from potential sponsors?  It allows you to showcase your sponsor as an expert in the field and create content for the newsletter, magazine, website for the coming months.

They mentioned that your sponsorship fee should at least cover the cost of the event.  Registration fees should be all profit.  And remember, always load all your costs, not just the price of food/beverage and the rental of the room.  You must include staffing, marketing, etc.  It’s called program-based budgeting.

For a previous blog post on that subject matter go HERE.

And don’t forget about trade-outs for your bigger events.  Think AV costs that could run into the tens of thousands of dollars that you could trade for a sponsorship.

Final thoughts and suggestions:

Ask your potential sponsors what they are looking for from the sponsorship. Make a list.  Delivering on that promise will help you retain that sponsor for next year and the years ahead.

Don’t be afraid to customize your opportunities to get that sponsor.

Do you recap your events with pictures to showcase your event and sponsors on social media?  That’s a great way to also promote the sponsor at the same time.

At the end of the day, the sponsorship should work for both of you. Think partnership not just a transaction.

Good luck!

How to Increase Your Retention Rate

Are you communicating what your member’s value?

Once you know what your members value, communicate that throughout all your communication vehicles (website, newsletter, magazine, social media, etc.)

Go HERE for an article by Cathy Hight on the 10 reasons why members renew based on her many years in the industry.

Do any of her 10 reasons ring a bell with you?  Members renew for different reasons.  It’s not a one size fits all but the list she has set forth is a road map for your chamber.

And by the way, don’t guess what your members value, survey them. This is where your annual member assessment survey plays a role in your strategic plan.

One last thing to remember, when conducting surveys, you should always send to non-members too!

They may become members in the future and it might give you some insights on what they value if they become a member.

Target Marketing by Generations

I read a fascinating article recently that referenced a study by the Zenith agency on target marketing to generations.

And I connected with the idea that we need to stop thinking about target marketing by generations and start targeting based on what individuals want.

I bet you’ve been in those sessions on the characteristics of each generation and then the person next to you says, “that’s not me” and "I hate being labeled."

Well this study talks about basing your target marketing on income, attitudes and mindsets.

For the article by Zenith the ROI Agency go HERE.

It’s worth a read and should be factored into your annual marketing plan.

Auditing Your Social Media Strategy

What social media outlets are you using to connect with your members?

Do you have an official review process in place to make sure you’re spending your resources wisely, based on where your members are spending their time online?

Don’t guess, do your homework and get the analytics to make the right choices.

I recently came across a great article that talks about this subject matter and basically states if you’re not using Pinterest, your members might be missing out on a great opportunity to grow their business.

As mentioned in the article, most folks are spending their resources on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

For an article on the Top 7 Pinterest Categories go HERE

For an additional blog post by Hubspot on the Ultimate Marketing Guide to Pinterest go HERE.

I think it’s important to keep our eye on the trends, study what works best, and implement that strategy, based on a yearly review.

As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of less is more!  At the end of the day, go where your members are spending their time online.

For a great resource on conducting a social media audit for your organization by Hootsuite go HERE.

Storytelling: Connect and Engage

I recently attended a seminar, on the title of this blog, conducted by Carol Buckland with The Communication Center.

This blog post are based on my notes from her presentation.

She started with the six powerful words – let me tell you a story!

Telling stories affects different parts of your brain and that’s why they are remembered.

Studies suggest 90 percent audience retention using stories

An old adage but is still true today

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Tell them again

Crafting messages using key facts/statistics – or said a different way, proof points is a sound way to go when shaping your story.

The following "Story Formula" was handed out by Carol and is a great tool to use when constructing your STORIES.

  • Select - a compelling story from your personal or professional life
  • Tailor - it for your audience
  • Offer - useful content: a lesson, inspiration, etc.
  • Relate - it to the main message of your presentation
  • Illustrate - your point with unique details
  • Edit - fiercely keep it clear and concise
  • Seal - the deal with a strong takeaway

What is the purpose of your story? You must have a purpose!

You must also know your audience – their knowledge, attitudes, expectations, in order to tell a story that will connect and engage.

Expectations is key, you must deliver on this – think of the radio station we all listen to, WIIFM – what’s in it for me!

The Story - can your audience relate?  Does it reinforce your goal?

Imagine is a great word to start a story!  Fill in with details.  Talk about senses (smell, sound, etc.), sequence (start at the end) and always edit your story.

Storytelling is a performance – be engaging, be expressive, be passionate and be memorable.  Her final comment:

  • Start strong;
  • Finish strong; and
  • Connect the dots

For a resource on storytelling go HERE.

Good luck!

Communicating Your Chamber’s Value

I've written on this subject before and the following are tips from a breakout session I attended recently led by Shari Pash.

What is your messaging? What are you known for? What is your Brand?

Go HERE for a past blog post on that subject.

Are you known for advocacy, knowledge, community leader? Are you a connector?

That’s where you want to be.  Most people have come to the realization that you can’t just be a chamber that does events.  She even mentioned the following:

  • Are you a chamber who does events?; or
  • Are you an event company who has members?

I suggest you want to be in the business of advocacy and helping your members solve-problems.

What are your doing after a new member joins?  Don’t overwhelm them with everything in one email or mailing.  Do the Amazon approach.  Dribble marketing.  Think a 30, 60 and 90 day marketing plan to engage your new members.

Learn how to tell the story of your advocacy work because that’s a great reason for members to join who don’t come to your events.  That is something they will see as real value.

She spent some time on how to respond to the "I don’t have time to be a member" conversation we've all had over the years.  She offered up the following responses:

  • Tell them how you highlight members on your website - maybe a job announcement, highlight a good story of the member;
  • List things that you’ve done on their behalf (things you’ve done for the entire membership);
  • Perks while you work (talk about the things you’re doing for them while they are running their business - attending council meetings, research, etc.).

Start communicating your value!

The First 90 Days as CEO

Take it in increments!

There have been many articles on the subject and I’m a fan of those who suggest segmenting your course of action.

The first week, the first month, the first quarter might be something that works for you.

The key is to have a strategy.  Internal and external (staff vs members), starting with your board.

Think of it as a listening tour.  Almost everything I’ve read starts with a listening tour of your members, in their environment, not your office.  Your members will appreciate it!

Once you’ve completed your tour, now it’s time to show your leadership, in sync of course with your board, and set a course for the chamber. Remember, it’s their chamber not yours.

And don’t forget to possibly engage a professional coach whose been in your shoes.  They could be tremendously helpful to you!

Don’t rely on the previous CEO.  You are the new CEO and there probably was a reason for the transition to new leadership (retirement, new direction, etc.).

Don’t get stuck in the old way of doing things.  You have a window of opportunity to chart a new course for the organization.  Make the best of it by getting the right tools in your toolbox, and a professional coach might just be the best thing, at least for your first year.

For more information on professional coaches go HERE.

Good luck!

Membership Growth

I recently attended a seminar where Shari Pash, a membership and sales strategist, outlined what you should be focusing on in your membership development.

What is your member’s “Why?”  Do you track that information for each of your members?

She challenged each attendee to have a strong data management system so you can track member and prospective member interactions.

You must record and document member touches and interactions.

Think building relationships.  That statement has been said many times on this blog in the past and go HERE for a post titled Never a Transaction: A Relationship.

She went on to talk about prospect levels (A’s, B’s and C’s) and how you might treat them in your recruitment pipeline.  It’s important to spend your time wisely in recruiting new members.

You need to give a definition to each so you can track progress and again spend your time wisely to grow membership.

Focus on the A’s and B’s, your retention levels will go up.  The C’s are the ones that will drop their membership and drive your retention rate down.

Don’t spend too much time chasing the C’s.

Define your goals.  How many new members per month do you strive for?  How much revenue?  I hope you have goals for both and that you’re tracking both.

Transaction vs Relational - selling a renewal or sponsorship vs how can we continue to be part of your strategy of growth.  There is a big difference.  Again, build relationships.

Intentional Recruitment - move from chasing and convincing to motivating. Tell a story, use testimonials, maybe in your email signature line.

Overcoming the objection of no time, I don’t attend any events.

Respond with ways for a member to get exposure without attending an event:

  • Share how many hits they’ve gotten on your directory;
  • Participate in our social media - like, share with our 10,000 followers.

She recapped with a review of moving away from chasing a prospect to motivating your prospects to join.

Build your pipeline, keep and active sheet that you can track your calls, communications, etc.  Do you have a 30, 60, 90 day forecast?

For more information on Shari and her program of work go HERE.

Final thought, you must have a strategy and data to be successful!

Podcasting: Is it Right For Your Chamber?

Do your homework first.  Find out what technology will be needed that you currently don’t have.  The good news is that the price point barrier in the past has come way down.

What is your goal of the podcast - is it another communication from the CEO?

The content should be consistent with your other communication vehicles (i.e. newsletters, website, white papers, etc.).

Decide on a frequency (once a week, once a month) and stick with it! Just like your blogs you need to build an audience and the best way to do that is by a consistent schedule and don’t forget to archive your podcasts.

Once you’ve decided on a frequency let’s think about how long they should be.  They need to be digestible.  For a resource on deciding what might be right for your chamber go HERE.

Questions to answer:

  • Frequency - once a week or once a month?
  • What kind of content do you want to cover?
  • Advocacy?
  • A new regulation?
  • Highlight a new member?
  • Is this the new ribbon cutting so many chambers are involved in?
  • Who’s responsible?
  • Who’s the voice?
  • Does it change?
  • Lecture or is it an interview with a member?
  • How do you select the member without upsetting those who are not picked?
  • Should you set-up criteria for selection?

Now let's talk about selling sponsorships to fund the podcast and the vendor/partner gets a commercial at the front end - sponsored by “you name the company.”  I suggest you only sell quarterly sponsorships and make sure you have a full years worth before launching.

Remember, you want people standing in line to sign-up!

This could be a great new revenue stream while also delivering real-time content in a timely manner.

For examples of chambers who are podcasting go HERE, HERE or HERE.

And finally, for a great resource to podcast right from your iPhone go HERE.

Good luck!

Good Board Governance

Is your board strategic versus operational?

Board meetings should be used to have strategic discussions on big issues facing your chamber and community - a shrinking main street, workforce, economic development or infrastructure projects, etc.

Use your consent calendar for all operational reporting - reporting on membership, annual meeting, etc.

And if I could add an additional thought, pick board members with an eye towards their intellect, passion and money (put another way, a decision-maker within a company).

Communications is key from CEO to Board - setting expectations, weekly or monthly calls or communications is a great way to keep your board informed of your organizations activities. I would definitely have a weekly call with your Chairman of the Board.

Getting the right mix on the board - skill set, diversity (gender, race, age, size of company, geography, etc.) and experience with issues you may tackle in the future (i.e., buying a building, embarking on a capital campaign, deciding if you want to start a PAC). 

Trust - you must have trust or you have nothing.  We all know how CEO’s get fired, they get cross ways with the board and it generally starts with a trust issue!

New Board member orientation - set the expectations!  By the way, you should already have a set of criteria that your nominating committee uses to select board members.

I recently read an article that described selecting board members should be conducted like a search firm - you go out and get what you want, not like an HR shop where you’re picking from who raised their hand to volunteer.  Something to think about?  That’s probably the best way you can take your board in a strategic direction if you’re not there yet!

And one additional thought.  Are you surveying your board members after each meeting?  This would be a great way to reemphasize the role of the board as being strategic not operational.

Always remember, it’s about relationships.  Build one with your board and board chair for a successful partnership!

Building a Next Generation Association for a Next Generation Workforce

Seth Mattison, Chief Movement Officer, Luminate Labs gave a presentation at ASAE's Annual Meeting last year that I attended.

What a fascinating presentation and subject matter.

Below are my notes that I thought I'd share.  Change is inevitable.

Relevance - your individual relevance and your chamber's relevance.  You must think about this everyday!

We need to adapt and change from time to time to stay relevant.

What are the "best of the best" doing to stay relevant - future proof yourself and your chamber to bring relevance to our organizations.

Three Characteristics:

  1. Past, present and the future;
  2. Leaders are always thinking about this and understanding the value of what has made you successful without holding on too tight that you miss what's coming next; and
  3. Leaders can keep their feet in the now and execute and continue to evolve to find out what's coming around the corner.

The future is being defined by two forces:

  1. Hierarchies - how we grew up in the workforce; and
  2. Networks - the current generation, no lines of authority, they grew up on the web, they don't know anything different.

Most of us grew up in the hierarchy, think staff organization charts.  No debate, no discussion.  You never go above your boss!

The future

Study generational shifts, study the youth, personal empowerment!

Are you moving away from hierarchies to a networked team-based organization?  Studies say that's the #1 thing in today's work moving forward.

Seth says you need both, you need balance.  You can't have winners and losers.  Hierarchy provides security and stability and clarity but very little freedom.

Networks allow for freedom but ambiguity and uncertainty as things move and change very fast.  Freedom brings responsibility and accountability.

What does the future-maker look like? The new leader leads from the center of the network.

Five key shifts I took from his presentation:

  • Technology shift - you upgrade your tech tools.
  • Process-shift - you need to change the process, think "that's the way we always do it."
  • Experience-shift - it's about your members experience.  Do you remember the term the experience economy?
  • Skills-shift - half your skills will be irrelevant in 5 years. How to future proof yourself, having the ability to collectively take input and be able to give a clear vision of the future for your chamber.  That's the skill every leader needs.
  • Inner shift - the inner person of you must first change for your chamber to change.  Otherwise, your organization will not change/shift unless you and your staff do it internally first.

Technology has hijacked our minds.  Instagram has a one second delay before your notifications post.  They do it on purpose.

Be present in the moment with your staff and members at the chamber.

We are always competing for our members attention. That's why our experiences for them need to be the best!

Three employee experience shapers:

  1. Culture;
  2. Workspace design; and
  3. Technology.

High performing jerks - they're toxic!  They are culture killers.  What values do you have in your organization?  Are they simple to understand?

Studies show that when values are known and understood employees are 39x more likely to be engaged.

Drivers of talent engagement:

  • I have confidence in senior management;
  • I can own and develop my work; and
  • I have confidence in the future of my organization.

He ended with four things so we can future proof yourself:

  1. The future is not fixed;
  2. Contemplate where order/freedom can and should live in your chamber;
  3. Commit to create remarkable experiences our customers and employees deeply value; and
  4. Find your way back to yourself so that you can access your greatest source of wisdom - you!