OMG, How on Earth Do I Come Up with a Digital Strategy?

I recently participated in a meeting where I was asked to help explain 365 engagement platform options. This team asked great questions.


  • How can we better engage our exhibiting partners?

  • Will our members want to leave LinkedIn and join our conversations?

  • How can I leverage data from a community platform?

  • How much effort will this require from my organization?


I could have easily answered each one, but in the course of this conversation I redirected their questions back to them. In fact, I had a few questions of my own that I was eager to hear their responses to.


  • What are your exhibiting partners looking to achieve from a partnership with you?

  • Why do industry folks join your association? Attend your annual show?

  • What types of business questions do you get asked today from senior leadership? Can you answer them effectively?

  • What’s the pulse among staff members in terms of your organizational value proposition to all of your stakeholders? What are examples of white space opportunities your organization could tap into but hasn’t?


This conversation took a turn from tactical execution of a digital solution to a strategic dialogue to help this organization determine where they stand, what their stakeholders expect, and their appetite for change.


The trade show and association industry has been put through the wringer. Naturally, we are all looking to keep moving forward as fast as possible, but the truth is solutions that exist today may be able to compensate for the need to remain remote, but they may not. Virtual events, digital marketing platforms, 365 digital communities, and digital marketplaces can serve as that ‘Hail Mary’ pass to generate revenue and engage all of your stakeholders but only to the extent that your organization has a strategy to command and support that solution.


You may be asking…Ok, so how do I create my digital engagement strategy?


This is no small feat. You can hire a strategy consultant to come in and lead your annual, community, or event strategic planning process or you can start the process yourself in-house. The purpose of this piece is to help guide you along this process. There are four key steps to commence the crafting of a thoughtful strategic plan.


1. Stakeholders & Consumer Journeys: The very first step should be identifying who are your stakeholders and what their journeys look like. This is a pivotal component of a strategic plan. Your organization must know who they serve, why they serve them, and the route your stakeholders take to accomplish their goals with your organization. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach as you likely have multiple stakeholders including members, students, affiliates, corporate or sponsoring/exhibiting partners, faculty or institutional partners, political partners, ancillary groups who aren’t members yet but could be, and even your staff. Plus, needs change over time. Even if you conducted research a few years ago, you may need a refresh.


Start by

  • Identifying your key segments and their needs or goals for participation. Be sure to include the capabilities & needs (tip: don’t neglect your data needs!) of your staff

  • Outlining each segment’s journey with your organization. Use AMS or CRM data to understand the typical behaviors of each segment

  • Articulating which of these segments intersect with one another. Understand the importance of each intersection

  • Defining how each segment views ROI – even members place a value on their spend with your organization


2. Organizational Goals: Most well-run organizations can clearly articulate their goals which often include financial, data, engagement, sustainability, and DEI among others. If you have not written this out, I highly recommend that you do because you’ll want to be able to align your goals to the needs of your stakeholders. If this is your first time drafting formal goals, a few common examples include revenue targets, attendee or membership YoY growth, growth from within the industry vs external ancillary industries, attendee to member conversion, and revenue from corporate/exhibiting partner support.


3. Trends: It is worth spending time looking at trends within the association or trade show landscape, within your specific industry vertical, and importantly outside of your industry. When I worked for MillerCoors I was tasked with coming up with a new way to sell Miller Lite. It is cheap beer; how much can you do outside of partnering with a celebrity or discounting? As I started studying what was popular in other industries, I learned that ‘old timey’ trends were coming back in style. So, what did we end up doing? We brought back a retro can and sales increased. Anything is possible when you step outside of your box (or can!).


4. The Intersection of Organizational & Stakeholder Goals: Determine how your organizational goals marry up to stakeholder needs & behaviors. For example, if your data suggests that member participation grows every year, and your organizational goals suggest that you would like to experience a 20% financial growth from educational seminars, you should confirm that you are offering more educational opportunities each year. Start looking for patterns of where your organization shines and where white space opportunities lie based off of the intersection of your goals and your stakeholder goals. This is where you will craft your strategic imperatives.


Once you have a solid understanding of your business, your audience, what you stand for, and what your staff has an appetite for, you are ready to determine tactics that will help you achieve your strategic goals. At this stage, this is where you can decide if a virtual event will work for your stakeholders or investing in a 365 community or marketplace will be appropriate solves. You can even use your strategic plan as your True North to vet tools and technologies to be sure you are spending appropriately.


Implementing digital tactics that drive your organizational goals will yield revenue, engaged stakeholders, and happier staff. What are you waiting for?


Written By:

Erica Bishaf, Founder & CEO of CampfireSocial

You can reach Erica at erica.bishaf@campfiresocial.io.


Erica Bishaf is the Founder & CEO of CampfireSocial, the first-of-its-kind private professional networking and commerce platform designed for trade & professional associations and trade show organizers. She is a 20+ year award winning strategy & insights veteran who has worked for consumer packaged goods companies such as Kraft, Nestle, Kimberly-Clark, & MillerCoors. In 2015, she started her own consultancy where she worked with Dude Wipes, Weber Grill, Pharmavite and she worked on strategy projects for associations & event organizers including Freeman, GES, the American Library Association, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA), the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), the National Retail Federation (NRF), and more. Did you know that CampfireSocial also offers engagement consulting to help your organization better tap into the needs of your members, show attendees, and exhibiting partners. Contact our strategy team at strategy@campfiresocial.io to learn more.