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Feature they can’t live without: Contact list segmentation
The majority of us spend our lives in a built environment. We live in apartments, condos, and houses. We work in office buildings, urban settings, communities, and from the floor in our studio apartments. Where we dwell, both on a personal and professional level, exists because of design. A person, a team, and a whole community are responsible for building their environment. Sometimes you have standouts who take on that responsibility and artistry and turn it into a career — taking their ability to craft space and using it to support others; they’re called architects. AIA Seattle is an organization that supports the architects of the Seattle community — providing educational programming, resources, and examinations. The team uses digital marketing tools like email marketing and event planning to inform their audience and organize programs.
Bray Hayden serves as the Senior Communications manager of the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Bray came to AIA Seattle with a background in design, architecture, and a passion for storytelling, saying, “I have worked in communications in the built environment, as well as being an architect. I’ve done both, and this is a great organization for me to be able to talk about architecture.” Bray helps to inform and inspire AIA Seattle members and nonmembers to seek and share knowledge about design within their community.
Building community through events
AIA Seattle supports architects working to build functional, beautiful, and sustainable environments for the Seattle community. They do this through their regular programming and events like happy hours, exhibitions, site visits, and committee meetings.
The team uses Constant Contact’s events tool to craft event invitations and collect and manage event registrations for their regular programming events. “My first impression was that visually it looked great,” Andrea Aguilera, AIA Seattle’s Senior Programs Coordinator remarked. Not only did the aesthetics of the update impress, but the increased level of customization provided AIA Seattle with the features they required to design registrations that worked better for them. The events tool “allows us to customize the experience a lot more by ticket type or how we want to apply certain promo codes, or just visually what we want the experience to look like. It feels like there’s just a lot more control on our end on how we manipulate those aspects,” said Andrea.
Outside of the regular programming AIA Seattle hosts in conjunction with the national AIA organization, AIA Seattle also maintains its own separate nonprofit membership organization and operates the Seattle Design Festival. AIA Seattle has worked to assemble the Seattle Design Festival for the past twelve years. The festival, formally known as Design in Public, hosts 30,000 attendees of all ages each August and serves to “celebrate all the ways that design makes life better for Seattle, and to nurture relationships among multidisciplinary designers, civic leaders, business innovators, community organizers, educators, artists, and activists.” (Seattle Design Festival) The festival is the AIA Seattle program Bray enjoys most, saying “the festival is where we reach out to the public and talk about the benefits of design. We try to demystify design and how everyone can be a part of that.”
A grand design
AIA Seattle’s team hosts 20+ committees addressing design, advocacy, and architecture practice issues. A couple of examples include committees on “Adaptation & Resilience,” an “Urban Design Forum,” a “Diversity Roundtable,” and “Women in Design.” Their goal for their members is to “be each other’s resources to make sure that their firms are being more equitable or that they are being more sustainably minded,” said Bray.
AIA Seattle wants to highlight the impact of designers on the community while also helping them grow professionally. “We provide continuing education, opportunities for architects and people adjacent to the architecture industry, like engineering and construction,” said Andrea.
Email marketing, surveys, and list management
Besides events, Andrea, Bray, and the rest of the AIA Seattle communications team use additional marketing tools from Constant Contact, like email marketing and surveys.
Email helps AIA Seattle to inform its audience and keep them updated about events. “We get the most return on investment from our email marketing,” said Bray, later noting that “a lot of our members are engaged on Instagram and LinkedIn, for example, but we know that they actually ultimately engage with us more in emails.”
The team uses digital surveys to collect vital feedback to help them improve their programming over time. “We mostly use surveys to get feedback from the attendees of specific programs, but we also use them annually to get a more holistic few of how we are doing and ask about specific things we are planning around. We also use surveys for our board votes,” said Bray.
Finally, separate lists provide the specificity they need to maintain communication channels with multiple groups (like organization members and sponsors), making reaching the right people with the right message easier. “We are leveraging [Constant Contact] multiple ways beyond events,” said Andrea.
As a membership organization with educational programming, AIA Seattle depends on maintaining and growing their member base. This means they need to regularly review reports that help them understand who their target audience is and how it changes over time or across event types. “We use insights. Not only from the surveys but simply from looking at who’s attending our programs, where they’re from, looking at their firms. Looking at their zip codes — things like that — just to get an understanding of how we can maximize our impact in our programs,” said Andrea.
By using analytics to better understand their audience, the team is also able to improve their communications, providing more valuable information through their email correspondence and creating programs that are more appealing. And it’s working. Since Bray joined the AIA Seattle team six years ago, she has seen a dramatic increase in the engagement of the organization’s members. Bray said: “We’ve jumped. Pretty significantly, I would say, like, 20% open rate over the last five years.”
Meeting their audience where they’re at
One of the biggest challenges for any business or organization is figuring out how to reach and engage its audience to yield the best results — whether that’s through purchases, sign-ups, event registrations, or completing surveys. It takes time, testing, and analysis to determine what marketing channel(s) work best to garner your audience’s attention — not to mention the cooperation of outside forces like environment, economy, etc. AIA Seattle knows this type of challenge.
After coming out of the pandemic, the organization is now faced with different levels of involvement from their members, making its biggest challenge keeping people engaged with organization events and programming. “It’s harder since we’re a membership organization; on the AIA side, we generally like to know the trends and what’s affecting our members, and if they’re going back to work, if they’re doing hybrid, but all of that is very fluid right now in a way that it wasn’t pre-covid. It just makes targeting things to them a little trickier,” said Bray.
While experimentation is primed for times when an organization is thriving and stable, most organizations will work with methods they know will yield the best results in trying times. For AIA Seattle, this means leaning on email marketing to reach their audience. “They’re at work and they’re thinking about their professional development; they’re going to what’s in front of them: their email,” Bray remarked.
Creating sustainable connections
A healthy and functional interior team means that AIA Seattle can do their best to provide value to their organization’s members and sponsors. By centralizing their marketing communications into one system, the AIA Seattle team brings transparency and ease to their marketing challenges and collaboration efforts. “I think that’s really important for nonprofits,” said Andrea.
“Constant Contact really helps to simplify the process. It helps connect whoever your communications team is, whoever your sponsorship team is — your programs team, and have everybody working in one place. It allows you to look back and reflect. I think that’s really key, having all that documentation in one place.”