Just Released: The 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report


I am pleased to announce the release of the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.  It is now available to you as a download.

This edition of the report represents the eighth consecutive year that Marketing General Incorporated (MGI) has produced this research which explores the membership marketing initiatives and outcomes of 828 distinct participating associations.  The purpose of the study continues to be the development of meaningful benchmarks by which the leadership of associations can evaluate their own membership marketing strategies and see what practices correlate with better membership outcomes.

This year’s findings outcomes can best be described as “solid membership growth” as opposed to the previous year’s more moderate membership results. Of the participating associations this year, 49% reported membership growth, representing an increase from the 46% who reported growth in 2015. Associations reported a mean renewal rate of 82% with trade associations leading the way with an average renewal rate of 87%.

Important topics covered in this edition of the report include:
  • The five year association membership growth trends.
  • The biggest challenges reported in growing membership.
  • The average and median renewal rates for associations.
  • The top reasons for members joining.
  • The top reasons for members not renewing.
  • The communication methods used to engage new members.
  • The most popular social media used by associations.
  • The average number of member email contacts per week and the average open rates.
  • The frequency and amount of dues increases.
 The 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report also includes comments from participants on their successes and challenges in membership marketing.  And to provide more specificity, this year’s report segments association responses by the type of association – Individual, Trade, or Combination.
 
To download a copy, please use this link.  I hope that you find it a helpful tool as you manage and grow your organization’s membership.  


How to Simplify Your Membership Marketing



Frequently, I have the opportunity to review the membership marketing programs of various associations.
Sometimes, I find that organizations are doing too little to get and keep members.  They need to increase the frequency and reach of their marketing efforts.
However, of late I have observed another problem; overly complex and tradition bound membership marketing plans. Here are some of the issues that I have seen and some fixes to these challenges.
  1. Not Keeping a Focus on ROI: Some organizations continue efforts year in and year out without stepping back to really look at the time, effort, and budget required to deploy an initiative compared to the return it produces.  At some point, almost every promotion needs to be retooled or sunset.  Regularly identify and drop the poor performing promotions and reprogram the budget toward innovative new opportunities.
  2. Over Testing: Any good marketer is in favor of testing.  However, too much of a good thing may not make sense.  It makes sense to test big elements (offers, lists, channels) because the results will normally come back with a statistically valid outcome.  However, testing little elements like a color, a signature, or a font will very likely produce such a minor difference in response that any variance will be statistically insignificant.  Test big items for big wins and save the time and energy on launching inconsequential tests. 
  3. Too Much Segmentation: Every market can be segmented by a host of demographics, behaviors, and list selects.  But at some point providing a unique message and offer to each segment becomes inefficient and ineffective.  More often than not when I have tried to tailor unique “special messages” to each slice of prospective members a generic option has outperformed the highly targeted approach.  Present your most powerful and compelling message to your market instead of diluting it by trying to be all things to all people.
  4. Too Many Steps: How many clicks and how much information is required to join or renew your organization’s membership?  It is great to gather a detailed profile of on member and you want to ensure that he is qualified, but over time your application process may have added requests that cause a member to abandon the transaction because it takes too much time or they do not have the information at hand.  In fact, many organizations report exceptionally high shopping cart abandons during the join process on their websites.  When you are asking a prospect or member to complete a transaction, require the minimum time, clicks, and information possible before the dues payment is received.
  5. Too Much Research: Research is a foundational discipline for effective marketing.  However, research can become like pealing an onion.  There always seems to be another layer of the unknown.  At some point, gaining understanding has to give way to execution. And indeed the best research can simply be whether or not someone will write a check in response to your offer.  Lean toward a “ready, fire, aim” approach in your marketing by gathering real data from actual promotional efforts.
Here is the bottom line.  When you are developing a plan or a marketing campaign ask the hard questions.  Is this promotion really worth the time and effort required for the expected return?  Do we have the quantity necessary to get a legitimate statistical outcome from this test?  Are these demographic differences really significant enough to warrant a different message or is our core value proposition strong enough for each market segment?  Would I really take the time and effort to go through all of the steps needed to make this transaction or is it too much to ask?   And am I willing to take the risk to gain understanding by acting on what I know instead of waiting for more information? 

Delivering Member Value through Association Sponsored Research


Whether you serve members in a trade association or individual membership association, value is something that members want to receive from you.  And sometimes one of the most valuable benefits that can be uniquely supplied by a membership organization is research conducted with or on the behalf of your members.
Here are some examples of association sponsored research that members value either because it provides guidance to them or visibility to their profession. 
·        Member Polling Research – Gathering member perspective on important, newsworthy topics and then sharing it with the media can demonstrate the influence and support that an association is providing to members.  Here are samples of how one association has gained national attention by sharing their findings from member polls on critical healthcare issues.

·        Compensation Research – Because associations serve a defined constituency, they are well positioned to gather and report on employee compensation.  Both employers and employees are served through this information and access to the research report is a powerful incentive for member recruitment and retention efforts each year.   

·        Industry Benchmarking – Good benchmarking helps move planning from using antidotal information to data driven insights.  One trade organization, for example, provides benchmarking reports to help other member companies with data on sales force performance, number and size of orders, and web statistics.  Another association benchmarks critical purchasing data that now influences decision making for the entire economy.    

·        Consumer Opinion Research -- Helping members understand customers’ needs and desires within a defined marketplace can provide invaluable assistance.  Often this type of research is too costly or complex for an individual member company to produce, but done on behalf of many members, it can provide statistically valid and actionable information that easily pays for member’s annual dues. 
To recruit, engage, and retain members creating compelling and useful value has to be a top priority. But ideally that value needs to something more than a discount that is available from any number of organizations.  The value should be something that fits within the mission of the association and that others cannot easily replicate or find in the general market or through a Google search.  Research for members and about members can supply that specialized information that delivers indispensable value.   

Don’t Forget Your Call to Action


Whether you are creating a promotional email, online ad, direct mail package, or working an exhibit booth, the starting point for your effort should be defining what you want the recipient of your message to do.
In marketing terms, this is known as creating a call to action (CTA).
A call to action is a simple, clear statement telling the person receiving your message exactly what action you want them to take.  When someone receives a message, it is basic human psychology to ask, “What do you want me to do?”
Unfortunately, a prominent CTA can be lost or hidden in the creative process and this will always diminish the response for a marketing effort. 
So here are some simple tips to make sure your call to action is effective.
·        Make you CTA visually stand out and easy to identify.

·        Use active words like “join,” “register,” “donate,” or “open” in your CTA.

·        Put your CTA on every page of your website or promotion. 

·        Only ask for one action at a time. 

·        Add a sense of urgency with a deadline to your CTA.
Making sure a clear call to action is included in all of your promotions is the one battlefield that a marketer needs to insist on fighting.  Words, colors, and graphics in a promotion are important, but not telling a prospect or member what you want them to do is deadly.   Start with a strong call to action in your marketing efforts and allow your creative to support the action you want the recipient to take. 

By the way, if you find this post of help, subscribe now to future content using the button in the upper right-hand corner of this page.  

Applying Account Based Marketing to Membership


Almost any person involved in sales will tell you that the concept of Account Based Marketing (ABM) has been around for a long time.  However, of late, the term has come into prominence as organizations move from a stand-alone sales philosophy to building a strategy around the integration of sales and marketing efforts.
And in a membership context, the synergy offered by Account Based Marketing is very appropriate for business-to-business membership marketing efforts particularly for trade associations with high dues paying members.  That is because Account Based Marketing is designed to establish and deepen engagement when the purchasing decision involves a lengthy sales cycle and multiple decision makers.
It is not surprising that a company is not normally going to make a decision to join a membership organization for thousands of dollars in dues payments based on a one time contact or from a single letter or email effort.  But the regular communications, relationship development, and prospect knowledge built into Account Based Marketing program empowers this process.
Here is how Account Based Marketing works for membership recruitment.
The first step is to identify prospects that fit into the membership profile and capture them in a database.  The records for these companies or institutions can be leased from third party data compilers.  But at this point these organizations may have little or no awareness or even interest in membership.  So a process is needed to turn these generic listings in a database into warm prospective members using both new and classic marketing efforts.   This is where the integration of sales and marketing is critical and both outbound and inbound marketing are effective.
·        Outbound – Instead of using outbound efforts in the traditional method to close the sale, with Account Based Marketing these channels are used to build awareness and support a sales cycle.  Direct mail can reach almost everyone even if you do not have an email opt-in for communication.  Email can present highly targeted messages and be automated to respond to a pre-set deployment schedule or the recipient’s clicks with relevant follow-up content.  Telemarketing can be used for scheduling an initial conversation or a face-to- face appointment with a prospective member. 

·        Inbound – Using online tools provides the opportunity to stay in front of prospects.  Remarketing presents content through Google and Facebook to prospects who have visited your website offering them additional information.  And Google and Facebook custom audiences display ads driven by emails in your database pushing online ads to the very people you are in conversation with about joining. When a prospect raises their hand by clicking on an ad and requesting content from, it may indicate that they are ready to buy. 

As these marketing interactions take place, the responses can be catalogued in the prospect database.  Additional points of contact can be added.  Notes from conversations with prospects can be recorded.  And third party data can be appended. This data builds a profile of the decision makers, needs, and timing for a membership offer.   

All of these marketing efforts keep the membership product in front of a prospective member and invites them to accept a sales presentation that is built on a knowledge base offering a high value membership proposal to the decision makers of a company. It turns the process from traditional cold calling to a solutions based conversation with a prospect.  And even if the answer to a sales message is “no” it maintains ongoing communications so the membership is available when the prospect’s need or interest changes.

Here is one example of how effective Account Based Marketing can be used effectively.  One association, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers Inc. (SCTE), following this approach established a Corporate Alliance Partner Program to allow their individual members to self-select into a managed accounts relationship as companies.  Once a firm becomes an Alliance Partner, the association provides staff members to serve them as account executives who maintained close, ongoing relationships with these companies. With this change, over a two year period, SCTE  saw training revenue to double and membership to grow by 40%.
When the economics make it possible to combine both marketing and sales efforts, the tandem can be a powerful tool to produce not only more members, but members who have a long-term highly engaged relationship with an association.  This is the ultimate goal of using Account Based Marketing as a membership marketing strategy.

Your Invitation to the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report


The questionnaire for the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is now open and I want to invite you to participate in the research this year.
The annual Benchmarking Report is the association industry’s most comprehensive study on membership marketing and gives you the opportunity compare your organization against almost 1,000 other associations.
If you are a previous participant, please use the personalized link that you received in our email directed to you.  If you have not received an email invitation to participate, you may use this link.
The survey should take less than 20 minutes to complete.
This annual study has provided critical comparative data on how individual, trade, and hybrid membership organizations promote awareness, target and recruit new members, and engage and renew their current members.
To thank you for your participation in this best practices research project, MGI will send you a printed copy of the full 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.
Your participation is much appreciated. No specific responses will be reported from any individual or association without their written consent.
Please take some time now to participate in the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking research by using this link.

The Benefits of Membership Continuity


The power of the membership model is twofold.  Most importantly, it conveys the sense of a relationship between an organization and its constituents or customers.  Membership fosters engagement, trust, and loyalty. 
But the second benefit of membership for many organizations is that it encourages financial continuity.  Whether someone is a member of an association, a church, or a charity there typically is a projectable retention rate and income stream from members. 
The renewal income stream of this concept is more and more being built into almost every aspect of our economy today.   Whether it is cell phone contracts, music streaming, or your cable bill, this annual or monthly agreement is now part of many of our transactions. 
The Harvard Business Review reports that this continuity or subscription approach is now becoming a more regular practice even in the retail industry.  It meets two important customer needs – convenience and simplifying the many choices that a customer has walking into a store.  HBR says that retailers who move in this direction “forge deeper relationships with customers, gain access to valuable consumer demographic data, tap a recurring revenue stream, and meet a growing consumer demand for both convenience and curation.”
One example of this retail subscription is the Dollar Shave Club which allows you to choose your blade and have regular delivery at a frequency you select.  The subscription continues non-stop until you take the pro-active step to cancel.
There are opportunities for membership organizations to increase this continuity with members.  Our research shows that many associations are moving from an opt-in renewal process to and opt-out method through automatic credit card renewals and regular installment payments.  The Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights that 37% of individual membership associations offer some type of installment renewal options and 32% offer automatic annual credit card renewal options. 
With these automated renewal methods, a member must cancel an active credit card in order to discontinue membership instead of having to make a specific renewal decision.
More than just convenience of delivery, membership organizations enjoy the power of a relationship with a member.  Building a solid relationship with members is the primary goal for an association.  But adding continuity into as many products and services in this relationship is proving to make great economic sense in almost every sector of the economy.

Four Association Strategic Growth Options


As you start the New Year, it is a good time to step back and think what big picture strategy is the best option to grow your organization in 2016.
For associations, growth strategies usually center either on membership or product and service offerings.  This matrix presents a simplified way of viewing these options. 

The top two quadrants are membership focused and achieve growth by either retaining more members or recruiting additional new members.
The bottom two quadrants are product and services focused and achieve growth by either increasing the usage (purchases) of current products and services or developing wholly new products and services. 
Typically, the right hand “new” quadrants are the most challenging strategies to execute.  They are the innovation quadrants.  However, successfully developed and deployed, they can produce substantial growth.  The left hand “existing” quadrants are the optimization quadrants.  They offer less risk, but also reward. 
One overarching decision when selecting a strategy is also to ask, “How does this support the mission of my organization?” The ultimate purpose of a new strategy serves as a means to accomplishing your organization’s mission. However, a mission also needs financial support and growth is one of the best ways to generate additional support. 
Which growth strategy best supports your organizations mission and goals for 2016?

Four Questions to Answer before Setting a Membership Growth Goal


The late, great Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.”
His thoughts certainly hold true in membership marketing.  Everyone likes a catchy phrase.  A leader may have stated a goal like, “20,000 members by the year 2020.” However, the frustration and challenge for many membership marketers is the goal may have been set without understanding the context of what it will take to achieve the goal.
Setting a membership development goal is a great idea, but to make it realistic, it requires the answer to four foundational questions.
·        Who are the prospective members that you want to recruit and are there enough of them to achieve the goal?

·        What is the value proposition that will appeal to these prospects and are there products and services to support the value proposition?

·        How will these prospects be reached (marketing channels), how often (frequency), how will they be incentive to act (offer), and how will the results be measured?

·        What is the economic model to reach the goal including the necessary budget availability, the required ROI, and the projected life time value of a member?
These are not easy questions to work through for an organization.  And there may be some resistance to the process because everyone is looking for a “silver bullet” answer or they may feel they already have the answer, “if we only do this, we will solve our membership problem.” 

But if these important planning questions are not addressed, the likelihood of ending up “someplace else” other than where you hoped is very likely.
The bottom line: before setting or agreeing to a membership growth goal, do the homework to make sure that it is reasonable, sustainable, measurable, and economically feasible.

Integrating Membership Marketing Channels to Grow Your Association


The truth is that there is no stand-alone marketing channel that can fully support membership marketing.
You may hear marketers say that they have done away with direct mail and now only communicate with email.  Or they only use inbound or content marketing and do not send messages to prospective members through traditional outbound efforts.
But the proverb “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” certainly applies here.  The integration of multiple marketing channels working together produces the best results in getting and keeping members.
Here are six marketing channels that can work together to support a thriving membership program. 
1.      Word of Mouth – Sometime opportunities are handed to you that you can capitalize on quickly through Word of Mouth efforts.  One client – the American Nurses Association – used a negative comment on a national television show to gain significant exposure and appreciation for defending their members' professionalism through their social media word of mouth efforts.  In fact, Word of Mouth and membership referrals are consistently reported as the most productive ways to recruit new members.  The challenge is to consistently harness and motivate this people driven channel. 

2.      Inbound Marketing – One of the fastest growing marketing channels used in membership is Inbound Marketing.  This takes advantage of paid advertising with search engines, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online opportunities to present free content or special offers  to prospects.  It can even be effective in engaging and renewing current members who may not open an email, but will respond to an opportunity they see from you on Facebook.  Inbound marketing offers free, valuable content in exchange for the respondent agreeing to opt-in to future communications.  Those who show interest can then be followed up with through traditional "push" marketing efforts.  And because they raised their hand and demonstrated interest in your materials, those who opt-in can respond to your other marketing efforts at five times the rate of “cold” prospects.

3.      Direct Mail – This channel remains one of the most effective and scalable methods to recruit and renew members because it is easily targeted, trackable, and tactile.  In fact, our 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlighted that for organizations with budgets over $5 million or those that have over 20,000 members, direct mail is the most effective tactic for recruitment. And previous research shows that associations with renewal rates of 80% or higher are significantly more likely than those with lower renewal rates to say direct mail is the most effective membership renewal channel.

4.      Email – Once a prospect is added to the database after a lead is captured, a purchase is made, or someone joins the association, email becomes the most commonly used marketing channel.  It makes sense because email is fast, inexpensive, and includes links back to the website where a sale can be completed.  Email also allows you to read the behavior of the recipient.  Did the email bounce? Did the recipient open the email?  Did they click through a specific link?  There are many tips and techniques that can help to optimize email for even better results. 

5.      Telemarketing and Telephone Sales – With Caller ID, getting through to a prospect or members on the phone has become a more challenging task, but for a highly qualified prospect, like a lapsed member, telemarketing is very effective.  The former member may have long since stopped reading your email or opening you mailings, but a call from another human on the end of the phone to answer questions or encourage a decision can make a difference.  A phone calls from a peer or a staff person can be particularly effective.

6.      Social Media – By 2015, 91% of individual membership associations have an official Facebook page, 87% use Twitter, 60% have a LinkedIn group, and 56% have a YouTube channel.  Clearly social media has been almost completely integrated into associations marketing and communications mix.  This low or no cost channel allows you to have a storefront on the main street of the internet.  The trick is to get prospects and members to move from window shoppers into the store as buyers.

In addition to these primary membership marketing channels, there are many others to consider including radio and TV commercials, exhibiting, chapter initiatives, and print advertising.
Each of these channels is a marketing tool with strengths and weaknesses.  Some of these like Word of Mouth, Inbound, and Social Media can be most effective in starting a relationship with a prospect and getting the conversation started.  Others like Email, Direct Mail, and Telemarketing are tools that are particularly effective in closing a sale and taking an order.  But none of them can be fully effective without the support of the others. 
As you plan your membership marketing efforts, think through how each of these channels might best be used to help accomplish your goals. 

Maximizing the Value You Deliver to Members


Delivering products and services to members involves choices.  How much of your budget, staff time, and promotional efforts should go into any given product or service?   What products and services attract new members and help to keep them?  Understanding this defines value.
One method to help make these decisions is to ask members and staff to rate offerings through two questions. How important is a given product or service? And how well does the organization deliver these offerings?
Benefits that are important and well delivered need to be promoted.  Benefits that are important to members, but are not well delivered, for any number of reasons, require investment to improve them.  And benefits that are of little value can be set aside or eliminated.

Here is a matrix to help define these options. 
So where can we find value to get and keep members?  Defining what is truly important to members and then being sure to deliver it with quality, timeliness, and at an acceptable cost creates value.

Cleaning and Enhancing Data for Better Membership Marketing


Perhaps one of the most talked about topics in membership marketing today is data.  Topics range from cleaning data to appending third party information to member and customers records.  The reason for this increased focus is that good data empowers more efficient marketing and leads to better targeting and results.
Poor data is a major problem.  The USPS estimates that “almost 25% of all mail pieces have something wrong with the address -- for instance, a missing apartment number or a wrong ZIP Code.”  And 17 percent of Americans change their address annually.
But there are tools available to improve data hygiene and scrub your current and former membership data.  You can contract for them through a full service agency or mail house or lease these tools as part of your CRM software.  These tools include:
1.      Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) – CASS software will standardize mailing addresses to the USPS’s preferred presentation of the address.  It can also add missing information like an incorrect ZIP code.

2.      National Change of Address (NCOA) – NCOA includes over 160 million address changes from individuals, families, and business that have been provide to the USPS going back as far as 48 months.

3.      Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service --   The DMA allows people to opt-out of receiving direct mail solicitations.  This file is available to identify those in your database who do not wish to receive mailings.

4.      Social Security Administration (SSA) Deceased File – This database contains 86 million deceased records to help remove these people from your database.  In a recent running of this file, we matched .4% of the current and former members of one organization matched the SSA database.

5.      Merge, Purge, and De-Duplication – Invariably duplicate records will find their way into anyone’s database.  The merge-purge process identifies matching records based on an algorithm and highlights duplicate contacts even when they are not an exact match (different spellings of names or work versus home addresses).
 
Keep in mind that these data hygiene tools are not a onetime fix, but a regular practice that needs to be done to maintain accurate records.  And once you have gone through the cleaning process, be sure to establish and maintain standards so new data is checked as it goes into the system.

Once data is cleaned and standardized, appending additional information to the record can provide an opportunity for much better targeting efforts and sending the appropriated messages.  However, you should avoid any appends that your members would view as a violation of their personal or company privacy.  The two primary sources of information are consumer and firm based data appends.
1.      Consumer Data Appending – This service can provide demographic, psychographic, and lifestyle appends based on individuals or households.  Some of these include:  date of birth, income, vehicles, mortgage, marital status, educator, licensure, mail order purchases, phone number, and party affiliation.

2.      Business and Firm Appending --  This service can provide NAIC codes, number of employees, sales volume, phone numbers, years in business, parent and branch identification, key staff, and legal status.
 
The decision on what data to append should be driven by your plan on how you will use it.  What do you need to know to be more targeted, relevant, and accurate?  One organization, for example, in order to enhance their insurance marketing efforts was able to add date of birth to 40 percent of their member records. Another group was able to reach new to the profession individuals using the dates of newly earned professional licenses.

The information in your database is fluid.  The real data changes every day, so there is no perfect database.  However, the practice of regularly cleaning your data and appending important information can drive success for an organization. 

Adding Remarketing to Your Membership and Conference Marketing Mix


In most cases, all of your marketing efforts drive members and customers to your website to join, register, or purchase an item.  But the reality is that once a prospect comes to your website many do not complete their transaction on the first visit.
 
For example, very often potential attendees visit an association’s website to find out the date, location, or cost for a conference.  However, these prospects rarely register right away.  They may need to check their calendar, the cost of flights, or get budget approval to attend.
Similarly, one organization that we serve has a fairly high dues rate that is paid out-of-pocket by the member.  Because they may need to “think it over” before joining, they have nearly 10,000 shopping cart abandons of their membership application each year.
Because an organization’s website is core to the purchasing process and because many prospective members do not buy on their first visit, adding Online Remarking advertising to website is a necessity today for organizations.
A remarketing program involves adding code to specific pages of your website that “cookies” your site’s visitors and then shows them relevant ads on a wide variety of third party sites as they travel across the Internet and reminds them to return.  The two main providers of remarketing advertising are Google and Facebook.  Google remarketing ads run on a wide range of sites that accept ads.  Facebook remarketing ads appear within Facebook application.
You can place the remarketing code on your entire website or on pages specifically related to certain products or programs that you want to promote.  And by placing a conversion code on your thank you page where a transaction is ultimately completed, you are able to monitor that the sale was driven to your site from a click on a specific remarketing ad.
Perhaps most appealing, remarketing programs are generally very economical additions to your marketing mix because your costs are driven not by impressions of ads, but by the actual clicks on the ad driving someone with a proven interest in your organization back to your page.
Marketers spend a lot of money along with time and effort to drive potential members and customers to a website and make a purchase.  Online remarketing advertising offers an effective and economical channel to increase the stickiness of these promotions and remind prospects to complete the purchase that initially sparked their interest.  If you are not now using online remarketing ads, give it a try. 

On Target Membership Marketing

Recently, I had the opportunity to present a session for ASAE on membership marketing. I shared the following three steps to building a strong and sustainable on target membership program.

1. Get Ready – Establish a knowledge foundation by tracking your organization’s key membership statistics and looking at industry benchmarks.
2. Take Aim – Build an economic model for membership that is based on sound principles and helps you set realistic and achievable goals.
3. And Fire – Develop and implement a segmented, high frequency, multi-channel, track-able, and test driven recruitment and retention program.
Here are the slides from that presentation.


The Membership Economy


It is great to find a new book that has been waiting to be written for a long time.  The Membership Economy: Find Your Superusers, Master the Forever Transaction, and Build Recurring Revenue is that book.  It makes the case for the membership relationship across almost all organizational platforms. 
The author, Robbie Kellman Baxter, maintains that membership is the lever for success for organizations from online businesses like Pandora, to communities like LinkedIn; to loyalty programs like airline frequent flyer programs, to traditional programs like Weight Watchers; and yes, even for non-profits and associations. To support this, she offers lessons learned in numerous case studies on how organizations have successfully employed the membership concept.
Baxter argues that “Virtually any organization can become part of the Membership Economy. Membership strengthens loyalty.  Membership strengthens participation.  Membership strengthens referrals.  And organizations that think about membership tend to focus more on providing long-term value, which ultimately leads to better customer lifetime value.  Any CEO who is not thinking about membership is missing a huge opportunity to point his or her organization toward long-term sustainable profitability” (page 22).
In addition to making the case for membership and providing successful case studies, the book shares strategies and tactics, many of which you will see endorsed here on the Membership Marketing Blog, on how to effectively implement and optimize a membership program.  Baxter emphasizes that for effective membership marketing you need to build an acquisition funnel, onboard new members, establish a pricing model, consider a freemium option, track the right data, and retain members.
Some today make the case that membership is obsolete or no longer relevant.  Baxter strongly makes the opposite case.  She says, “A certain type of organization is winning the hearts and voices of their customers, and building the kind of loyalty that traditionally was reserved for family, community, and church.  The secret that these organizations know is that people are craving membership.  Organizations that build their businesses around people’s needs to belong, to be connected, and to be admired, that are focused on relationship over products are winning in today’s economy” (page 9).
The Membership Economy will be published this month and is a great read for anyone considering developing or currently managing a membership program.

The Membership Join Process between a Prospect and an Association


In simple terms, a prospective member goes through a four step buying process and ideally each step of the join process is anticipated and supported by the destination association.
The prospective member join process begins when a prospect says, “I have a problem.”  The prospect may need some piece of information or some specific training to learn a new skill or maintain a license.  Or the prospective member may need to tap into a network for career or businesses advancement.
The next step for the prospect is to search for a solution.  This most likely will be done online.  But he may also ask for a recommendation from a friend or colleague.  Options that they may never have been aware of before come into focus.
Once options are identified, the prospective member will evaluate the choices.  Should the prospect just use Google since there is no direct cost for this information?  How about an industry publication?  Or would a full service provider like an association with information, training, and networking be the best solution?
Finally, the value offered by each provider is weighed and the transaction is completed.
At the same time, an association has its part to play in this buying process.
First the association needs to anticipate the needs of prospective members.  What does research show are the challenges faced by people in the industry or field?  Do potential members like to meet those needs through meetings, publications, social networks, or a website? How much can they afford to spend for a solution?
Secondly, the association needs to be sure that it is easily findable and offers an initial opt-in opportunity for the prospect.  Will web searches bring the association’s solutions to the top of search engines?  Can search engine marketing, online content marketing, and website remarketing ensure that the association regularly pops up as a prime solutions provider?  Is a prospective member’s contact information collected for additional follow-up after an initial inquiry?  Are members ready to recommend the association to those who are searching? Maintaining a presence allows the association to be a part of the prospect’s evaluation process.
Next, the association needs to understand and present a very clear and compelling value proposition to the prospective member.  Why is joining the best value for the money compared to the other options that are under consideration?  What are the immediate and longer term benefits of membership?  What is the key promise that the association can deliver that no one else can match?
Finally, the association must make the actually joining transaction simple and easy.  With website joins, it is amazing how many prospective members abandon the online shopping cart of some associations because too much information is requested, the sign up process is too complex, or there are unclear instructions.  The lower the commitment of time, money, and information required to join the less of an impediment the transaction process will be to completing the join process.

10 Tips for Increasing the Stickiness of Your Membership


We all want to increase membership retention.  Here are some tips that you can implement this year to help make your membership stickier and encourage members’ to stay with your organization.
1.      Increase the number of contacts and relationships you have within a member’s organization.  This is particularly applicable for trade group memberships where it is important to identify the membership champion, decider, approver, and user.
2.      Reward continuous membership tenure with loyalty points or recognition with a “member since” award.
3.      Limit access to members for important, critical, or timely content and communicate these limitations to members.  Members only content might include alerts, salary and industry surveys, standards, and notifications on regulations.
4.      Provide member financial incentives beyond member discounts like members only product sales, group purchasing, and free shipping.
5.      Exclude non-members from the benefits of full access to your organization’s social media networks.
6.      Require continuous membership for participation in hard to find industry specific services like professional liability or workers compensation insurance.
7.      Gain members approval for auto credit card or EFT renewals or installment billing to turn membership renewals from opt-in to opt-out.
8.      Maintain important data for members for third party validation of certification, continuing education, graduation, and awards.
9.      Enhance member visibility with directory listings, vanity email addresses, referral links from your organizations website, certificates for display, window clings, and member usage of your organization’s logo -- all limited to continued membership.
10.   Monitor members interactions with the organization through email opens, purchases, and participation in social media and develop and intervention plan to reach out to those who are not engaged.
This list is only a start.  Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section here.