Marketing Perspective – Joining a Chamber of Commerce

In my years as a marketing consultant, I am often asked the age old question “should I join the local (insert city here) Chamber of Commerce?”. I wish there was definitive answer to that question that I could post and put everyone’s mind at ease. However it is not that simple. Like any marketing investments, you need to research your market area, check the reachability of your target market, look at the effectiveness of the chamber in your area and research the values of the chamber. Contrary to popular belief, they are not the end all, be all, you join and you will be profitable and live happily ever after kind of marketing investment. The vast majority of businesses survive without ever joining a chamber. The Chamber of Commerce is not for everyone. So let’s break it down:

  1. Research your market area: as a marketing consultant this a no-brainer. However to a business owner this is one of the most overlooked steps in determining a marketing strategy. For example, print media is proven to more effective in rural area than urban areas. Television commercials are proven to be more effective urban areas than in rural areas. Same thing with the chamber. Are you in a larger metropolitan area with multiple chambers or in a small area with one? How many people visit the local chamber?
  2. Reachability of your target market: There is an old school approach to marketing called the “church and pew”. To reach your target market, you need to be in the right church and right pew. Does a chamber fit that? If your target market is teenagers and young adults, find out how many teenagers and young adults visit the chamber. If you target is adults or seniors, then find that out for them. You can not expect your audience to come to you, you need to go to them.
  3. Look at the effectiveness of the Chamber: In some areas the chamber is very effective and involved in the business community. In other areas they are not. Knowing the effectiveness of your local chamber is a key element in determining whether or not it is a good investment for your business.
  4. Research the values of the Chamber: This is more important than people think. Every chamber runs different. They all have a different board of directors, a different executive director or president, and different policies. It basically comes down to whether they go by the concept of “what can the chamber do for you” or the concept of “what can you do for the chamber”. Too many times I have seen it to where the chamber is more interested in what you can do for them, that what they can do for you. So knowing this is important. One key element to look at, is their package. What do you get for your dues and what do you have to pay more for? Those are the questions you should be asking them. If the amount of items you have to pay more for, is more than the items you don’t, then you really need to consider the value of your membership.

When it comes to joining a chamber, one of the first things that I recommend is to call some of their members at random and ask them what they think of the chamber. I seriously mean “at random”. Do not call the chamber and as them who you can call. They will give the members that are the most involved and a guaranteed to give you the best review favorable to the chamber. Look at their membership guide online, select 3-5 of the members and call them yourself.

Start-up or New Area Businesses:

If you are a start-up or moving your existing business into an area, then usually the chamber is a good investment, at least for the first year, regardless of the above plan that I laid out. The reason being is the ribbon cutting. A ribbon cutting is a great way to get people to your business and to let people know that you are there, who you are, and what you do. A chamber can help you with that, and a good chamber will make sure that people are there for it. It is a way to get exposure to your community very quickly.

You Must Work The Chamber for it to Work For You:

This is a general concept for all chambers. For you to get the absolute most out of a chamber membership you will need to invest the time to “work the chamber”. This means attending ribbon cuttings, their mixer events, networking meetings, or even getting involved in their ambassadors or partnership programs. If you don’t, you will easily become a business card and/or brochure in their visitor center and just another listing in their chamber phone book. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If you are present when the chamber has an event, then you will be first in their mind and the mind of the members when it comes to referral. If you are not, then you are less likely to be referred.

The Chamber is not right for everyone:

If there is one thing that you take away from this blog, it should be this, “The Chamber is not right for everyone”. I am not saying that a chamber would deny you as a member. I have never seen a chamber that would not take your money and application. What I am saying is that joining a chamber may not be right for your marketing plan. There is nothing wrong with that. Do not be afraid to not join a chamber. Like any advertising or marketing investment that will be presented to you over your journey as a business owner, you need to weigh the pros and cons and determine if they chamber is a good fit for your business.

In my experience, I have found the chamber to be most effective for business to business services rather than business to consumer. Chambers tend to have a longer reach for B2B rather than B2C. Again, check your marketing strategy and determine if a chamber is right for your business. If it is, do you research and decide to whether or not to join. If it is not right for you, move on and focus your marketing investment on to something that is. Find your “right church and right pew”