In college, I took many marketing research related classes. In one class we had to help a small business determine their market, the size, demographics and marketing plan. Not surprisingly, my satellite campus had many entrepreneurs taking that class to help them figure out their business plan. The teacher had us break into groups and do the assignment together. We had only a few weeks to put our findings down on paper. For one local entrepreneur, her small business was new to the area. She didn't know where to start. I went to the local chamber of commerce web site and found demographic data on the area, places she could rent for office space, even events that would connect her business to others in the community.
She had never even considered asking the Chamber and using its resources and data, she just thought of them as a visitors center. This was several years ago. The business environment has changed dramatically. So are the Chambers keeping up, are they still a resource to new and growing businesses? Or is their outdated business model too burdensome to lead the way for their communities? And is retention down because they are not telling their story, or is it because no one else is telling their story? Are their members not telling their story because they don't see value? How does a Chamber prove ROI of membership? What do members expect from their Chamber membership?
Some have told me that it's too much work and too much of a challenge to change the Chamber business model. But I don't see their challenges as any greater than ones I hear from start-ups, and small business owners. Even the poised-for-growth-but-not-sure-which-direction-to-focus-on-first-mid-sized companies have similar challenges adapting to and adopting inbound. In fact I am starting to think that there are some advantages that Chambers have that other organizations don't. But first let's start with where things seem to be at right now, at least according to the ACCE attendees I spoke with.
Highlights, Insights, and Vents from the American Chamber of Commerce (ACCE) Convention
A disclaimer: I had more than one reason to attend ACCE. First, it was to help a start-up client work a trade show, do some market research to update their pricing model, and interact with their customers to get a better understanding of their buyer personae.
Second, as an advocate for the Chambers and a member of my own local Portland, Maine Chamber, I wanted to take something home to my community that might help.
Third, after reading the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark report, it occurred to me that there might be some valuable feedback for the ingagements book.
Here are some of my public (Twitter) and private (Evernote) thoughts:
Value is in the eye of the beholder.— (@minetmarketing) July 25, 2013
Think Tank Session notes:
How is your chamber documenting, demonstrating and communicating your relevance in your community?
The good answers I heard:
-testimonial campaign. Hired a writer to write the reviews based on what the members said. (But how did she uncover the testimonials I wonder?)-video marketing. Posted on both the website and tv, create member minutes to spotlight member businesses. An intern interviews members, goes on website as a video.-document referrals by using Google Analytics to see how the Chamber is referring traffic to member websites.-candidates forum events to link relevance to government relations. Help members determine if their government respects what they do.-connecting with economic development. Bring in new resources and infrastructure for incoming and growing businesses. From office space to a skilled workforce.The biggest question asked: How do we tell get our story of membership value out there? How do we adjust the business development and membership sales approach and follow up?note: I may have miffed some in the room when I said that today's new member doesn't care about golf tournaments and award ceremonies. I also said I feel pretty confident saying that as a member myself. How many in the room have asked a member why they joined and what they expect (beyond sending out a form letter or survey).Tips I offered for those in the room:
- Be the connector, the matchmaker, the facilitator both offline and online. For example, if you are trying to attract attention to your members businesses, do it not just through in person events, but virtual events like webinars, LinkedIn groups. List the partnerships that have happened between Chamber member businesses to grow the community.
- Curate quality information and content to your members. Use your social media accounts to share news and information that educates them on the issues that will affect their business. Highlight aspects of their businesses and share their content as well.
- Give your members access and a voice. Establish a blog and open it up to members to contribute educational (not sales pitchy) content to. Have your team and executives also contribute to the blog. By being a curator, you raise the Chamber's visibility in search engines and your individual members.
- Leaders are scarce, there are a few who are willing to step up and be influential and active Chamber members. Support and collaborate those that are willing to, don't try to control and squash it. Take on an inbound networking mindset watch word of mouth scale.
- Talk about business value. If your business development people are talking about golf tournaments, and candidate forums, and networking events, it's no wonder they are getting deaf ears. Talk instead of how 80% of buyers choose businesses that are Chamber members, how many leads you drive to members through the website, and how much business that represents.
- Advocate through members and to members. Show how you have affected public policy through the voice of the local business owner to create an environment that is agile and adaptive to facilitate growth.
An Inbound Success Story for Chambers That You Likely Haven't Heard
The first night of the convention, I sat across from Todd Shimkus, President at the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. We got to talking about engaging members and their community and he shared this video and the story behind it with me.
Todd had wanted to create this video for a year, but the price tag was too much for the budget and the amount of time involved to do it would have been a strain. As he sat down with a new member company to give them some advice, he asked them if they would be willing to do it- granted at a much lower cost.
The Modern Mix Marketing company readily agreed. They needed their first customer evangelist, and what better one than the Chamber? Of course, after the video was produced the company's growth took off and they are still growing today. But that's not the only good part of the story, according to Todd. It was what happened before the video was published.
Understand that the above video was shot in one take. The Chamber put it out to the the community that they would be filming on this day and time, and invited everyone to showcase their Saratoga style. They made it fun and as a result more connections were made between the businesses and their community. The video production made their community come together in a way that was both in real life, and virtual.
This is the opportunity for Chambers today, to create an environment that brings their community together and then helps them connect that to the world and attract other like minded people to visit, live, and work in their region.
I don't know about you, but I'm adding Saratoga to my travel list.