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Is it too late for Inbound to Help Chambers of Commerce?

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 8/1/13 11:30 AM

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 Or is their outdated business model too burdensome to lead the way for their communities?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:

Topics: inbound, market research, inbound networking