Research for Membership Marketing

Once a solid membership benchmarking tool is established (see post on July 9), the second major function for capturing data for an association should be research Well-run associations are full of questions. Three major techniques are useful for associations to capture actionable research data from the market.

1. Primary Research

Primary research involves listening to members and prospects through formal quantitative research techniques such as surveys and through qualitative tools such as executive interviews, focus groups, and even conversations over a cup of coffee. This helps an association understand the attitudes of members. In 7 Measures, for example, staff members from Associated General Contractors explain the benefit of posting surveys on AGC’s website that ask members a variety of questions about potential products and services. “We know who the product is for, who the market is, before production even begins,” (p. 42) said one employee.

2. Secondary Research

Secondary research focuses on scanning the environment for new trends and opportunities. At the American College of Cardiology, two groups conduct environmental scanning. The staff group tracks trends in five major areas including demographics and economics. A member group then adds insights and perspectives to this analysis to help develop annual initiative and long-term strategic goals for the college (p. 40).

3. Data Mining

Data mining takes advantage of the directional information found in the associations database through the tracking of purchasing and behavior patterns. What members actually do, instead of what they say they will do is some of the most predictive research an association can gather.


The Society for Human Resource Management, for example, uses extensive database analysis. “We look at what books they’re buying, what they’re doing, what questions they’re asking, what resources they use", (p 41) said one member of the SHRM staff.

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