The fundamental marketing challenge for associations is this: you’re competing for a share of your member’s time. Since this blog’s focus is professional development, I’ll be more specific. Your professional development programs are competing for a share of your target audience’s time.
How do you win the competition for their time? How do you convince them to commit time to professional development?
Here’s how: prove your programs are a wise, valuable use of their time in both the short- and long-term, and help them take the first step.
Nudge people’s good intentions into action
People think they don’t have enough time to invest in professional development. Probably because they’re wasting way too much time in meetings, chats, and emails. New studies show that people spend one to two full days a week on emails and meetings. Read that again—that’s insane!
It’s not much better at home. We may have lofty intentions for bettering ourselves with professional development, but never act upon those ideals. We complain about fatigue after a long day at the desk, but we have enough energy to watch a hockey game and scroll through InstaFaceTwitTok.
Modern life is mentally disruptive. You can’t assume people will do what’s best for their own professional interests. They’re too exhausted and distracted by literal and figurative crying babies.
But your association can help. Provide the nudge and support people need to think about their goals, values, and purpose. They may not get a nudge from anywhere else, so help them out with programs and worksheets.
Then help them put a plan in place, or at least take the first steps on a learning pathway. An increasing number of online education providers now offer coaching services—we published a whole post about that recently.
Address why people do and don’t commit time to professional development
Design an evergreen marketing campaign that promotes the value of and need for professional development. Sure, everyone already knows that, but they don’t always act on it.
Explain what committing to professional development says about a person. Describe how it will make them feel. Paint a picture of what a career looks like for people who pursue professional development versus for those who don’t.
But also address what everyone knows to be true about professional development but isn’t always expressed. Committing time to education is a scary decision. What if you can’t manage it? What if you don’t do well?
Everyone worries about that, but the impact of education is worth taking the risk. Change how people see the role of professional development in their lives. It’s not a nice-to-have some day; it’s essential now. A better future depends upon it.
Provide social proof of the value of professional development
People know that whatever you say about a program or course is marketing messaging. They assume it’s probably true to some extent, but they wonder how valuable it would really be to them.
But do you know whose program description has more weight? A peer. Gather testimonials from alumni of different audience segments about the impact of the program on their job, career, or business. Personal stories stick with people.
For the boss, who approaches the purchasing decision with more logic than emotion, share data relating to outcomes too.
Rethink your marketing strategies
Play favorites. Every employer can invest in the professional development of their employees. The opportunity is there for all of them. So, shower positive attention on those who do. On your website and at events, highlight the logos of companies in your Winner’s Circle—the ones who purchased corporate learning subscriptions for their employees. Let everyone in the industry see which companies believe in supporting their employees’ growth.
Take an outside-in perspective. If members aren’t opening emails, maybe it’s because you’ve been talking about yourself too much. Read your emails with a critical eye—or have someone else do it. Make sure it’s not all about you—the association. Instead, address their problems and the impact their participation could have on their lives.
Become known for valuing their time. You want members to know you’ll always respect their time. Little gestures help, like not spending more than five minutes on “housekeeping” and association promotions at the start of a webinar.
Only send relevant emails, otherwise they’re a waste of time. Use message segmentation so you’re only sending content the member is interested in.
Design programs that pack value into every minute
Learning science. We’ve all spent time in educational programs that weren’t designed around the learner experience. When possible, have an instructional designer develop your courses. If not, whoever designs sessions, webinars, and programs must understand and apply the principles of effective adult learning.
If you want to deliver real value, learn about action mapping. You don’t want learners to just walk away with pages of notes. You want them to actually apply what they learn on the job and report back, so you have stories of transformation to share in marketing copy.
Realistic time commitment. Find out how much time you can realistically expect learners to dedicate to professional development. Several hours a week might not be possible for all of them.
Microlearning. Accommodate a busy person’s schedule with brief—less than ten minutes—chunks of learning: short videos, audios, and text.
Relevant. Allow people to take self-assessments and test out of modules that teach content they’ve already mastered.
Interactive and relatable. Put learning into context with real-life examples. Make it interactive too. Intersperse passive listening with breakouts during live instruction, and with quizzes and exercises during on-demand programs.
Microcredentials. Promote stackable microcredentials that learners can earn after a few weeks or months of study. Acquiring one new competency after another is motivating, especially when rewarded with digital badges.
Community. People want to be part of something, even when learning. Consider cohort programs where they can develop relationships while mastering content. Give access before and after courses to an exclusive community where you host special events, like AMAs with VIP speakers.
The only way to successfully compete for your audience’s time is by providing something they can’t do on their own. Delivering the best content isn’t enough. What else can you include in the learning experience that they can’t find anywhere else?