Binging On Email: Associations Are Filling Inboxes And Ignoring Other Channels, Survey Shows

Are associations boldly using email? Or are they merely stuck in the channel? A new survey by the Association Research Board and Bob & David James, suggests the latter.

Of 100 associations polled, 62% use email compared to 27% for direct mail and 12% for telemarketing. And this over-reliance on email is hurting these trade groups. .

“The problem is we all get 300 or 40 emails a day,” said David James, vice president of Bob & David James, a Bethesda, Maryland-based list management-brokerage company, in an interview. Because of this, associations are plagued by “low inbox rates, dismal email response, and over-digitalized members,” he added.  

At the same time, associations are missing the massive shift in members’ buying habits, and failing to move into social media, James argued.   

The survey found that only 18% of associations use channels like social media and face-to-face interactions to market products and services. At the same time, associations are relying too much on their house lists, with only 25% ever renting or buying outside files, the survey found. And this is resulting in list fatigue.



“They’re overdoing it on the house list and not attempting to reach out to people who are not on any of their promotion files,” James said. This is risky because of the dwindling memberships at some associations. 

In addition, many groups have challenges reaching Milennials. However, “some of the small local associations have started doing gamification, and are trying to get students to join, and hoping they can keep them on board,” James noted.  

Associations tend to engage in what James calls “DIY marketing.”

Of those polled, 47% outsource no marketing services at all. Less than 10% seek outside help for marketing research, strategy, list management, email marketing, telemarketing, digital advertising or social media 

In addition, 38% outsource creative and design, and 16% turn to outsiders for help with direct mail. 

James observed that staffs can be close-minded toward marketing channels they have not tried in which they have no skill sets.   

Bob & David James isn’t the only firm to spot this trend. In recent survey of 240 association marketers, Demand Metric found that 99% use email, trying the channel with event and content marketing.  

In addition, email was rated as the most effective channel by 75%, trying it with content marketing. But there was a slight decline in terms of email effectiveness from 77% in 2016 and 81% in 2014.

Oh, here's one more fact about Bob & David James. They're not related.  

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