6: Explaining Marketing to a Kid

pile of legos

Coming in at number 6 in the all-time list of top ten Spark blog posts: Explaining Marketing to a Kid.

The original post was inspired by a fun activity the association I was working for at the time created for “take your kid to work” day: a career scavenger hunt. The kids had to find the participating staffers around the building, and each of us had prepared a short activity to help them understand what we did all day.

I was director of marketing & sponsorship at the time, so I went with marketing as the easier topic. And I knew I couldn’t hit them with a bunch of b-school blather about what marketing is (“exchanging offerings that have value”? YIKES), or I’d lose them in 30 seconds or less.

I’m still proud of the short definition I came up with:

Marketing is about telling people what your company makes and helping them understand why they would want or need it.

I then presented them with two toys (which we used as prizes later in the day) and asked them what they would do to show other kids why they might want those toys. As I recall, they came up with some pretty clever ideas.

In my original post, I posed the challenge to association marketers that it’s easy to market something fun and tangible (like those LEGOs up there), but much harder to do with the often intangible benefits of association membership.

One problem that repeatedly trips up association marketers is the features v. benefits thing, and I think it’s related. We talk about joining to get “networking” or “education” or ask people to come to our conferences because we have a certain number of exhibitors and sessions being presented over a certain number of days or because the conference is in some fabulous location.

The thing is, nobody wants “education” or “networking” or a certain number of sessions or exhibitors.

As association marketers, it’s our job to figure out what members and attendees are really trying to accomplish or fix, and then create a clear through-line from what the association is offering to those goals and challenges.

I don’t care about “education” – I want to land a job, get promoted/get a raise, or land a BETTER job.

I don’t care about “networking” – I want to meet a mentor or a protégé, find someone who will hire me or find someone to hire, meet a colleague who can answer my questions to help me be better at my job, make a friend.

I don’t care how many exhibitors you have – I need to find a particular vendor for a particular challenge I’m facing, or learn what the options are in case I want to replace my current vendor, or learn about new products in my industry that could make my business more money (either by reducing expenses or increasing revenue) or make my life easier.

(Although a fabulous location may be a pretty big draw all by itself – then again, if attendees are coming mostly for the location, I would call that a conference #FAIL.)

The questions you need to answer every time you’re thinking about marketing any program, product, or service are: WHAT are your members and other audiences’ biggest goals and challenges and HOW, SPECIFICALLY, is your education or networking or trade show or session or fabulous location going to address them?

Photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash