Five Reasons We will Avoid Depression II

To keep my mind active, I spend time reading in three interest areas, economics, history and sports. So here is a chart that incorporates two of them -- history and economics. We have had and will continue to have some challenging economic times. But this table highlights why it will not be a reply of Depression II.

You can click on the picture to get a larger view.

Does the Washington Post have the Full Story?

The Washington Post headlined the struggles of associations today on the front page of the Business Section. The article presented a pretty dire story faced by many associations. The Post says,

“Reflecting the economic turmoil of the industries they represent, many national trade associations based in Washington are hemorrhaging members who either have lost their jobs, run a financially distressed business or said they need to spend their dwindling discretionary dollars on necessities rather than dues.” [1]

Clearly, associations serving industries in decline have a tougher road than others.

But it is also good to keep in mind that applying best membership marketing practices and meeting member needs during challenging times can and does still result in growth.

Here is one example spotlighted in a press release about the exceptional growth this year for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). Membership has gone from 36,000 in 1992 to 250,000 this year making them one of the largest U.S. associations.

In part, SHRM attributes this rise in membership to the aggressive membership acquisition program that they launched in 1992 and have consistently maintained and improved over the years.

I think that Michael Treacy says in well, “Growth endures not because of fortuitous demand, a hot product, or any single tactic. Growth endures when management follows a portfolio of disciplines to ensure that a broad set of growth opportunities are identified and captured as routinely as costs are controlled and processes are improved.” [2]

Is your organization disciplined in it approach to growth?

[1] By V. Dion Haynes, Washington Post Staff Writer, Trade Groups Regroup, Monday, December 15, 2008; Page D01
[2] Michael Treacy, Double-Digit Growth.

Costco Membership Up 30,000 per Week and Renewals at All-Time High of 87%

Retailers have been hit particularly hard this season, but not retailers who offer membership. Costco is reporting big membership gains and strong membership renewals.

“At quarter-end on November 23, our paid executive membership topped eight million, an increase of almost 400,000 or 5% just in the last 12 weeks or about 30,000 per week increase in the quarter so again its still has been a big success for us. . . In terms of renewal rates as I said they continue strong, essentially our all-time high renewal rate. At Q1 2009 the numbers both for business, Gold Star end total were the same as they were at fiscal year end and rounding up a percentage point versus a year ago, business coming in at 92%, Gold Star at 86%, and total a shade about 87.0%.“[1]

How can you replicate this success in your organization?

[1] Costco Wholesale Corporation F1Q09 (Qtr End 11/23/08) Earnings Call Transcript

The Word on the Street

I have enjoyed emailing and talking with a number of marketers over the last few weeks. The constant question that I am asked is, “what are you seeing out there with other associations?”

It is a smart question, because according to McKinsey and Company,” the broader forces at work in the global economy mean that the underlying economics of strategies could continue shifting with unprecedented speed and scale. Such extreme uncertainty demands constant attention.”[1]

So here is what I am hearing from you and your colleagues. Exhibits, sponsorship, and advertising are being hit hard with sales declines and cancellations. Interestingly, I have yet to speak to anyone who is having a downturn in their membership results or budgets from the last few months of turbulence. In fact, most groups are on or above budget for membership.

I have heard one thing that concerns me. It appears some organizations are stealing from Peter to pay Paul. In other words, they are cutting membership marketing budgets to compensate for losses in other areas. I understand the reality of budgets, but I continue to maintain that winning and keeping members during the tough times is a solid strategy.

Again from McKinsey and Company, “To weather the storm, it will be necessary to identify anew who and where the profitable customers are and to prioritize the most effective marketing and sales vehicles for reaching them.” Or in other words, do not take money from what is working.

Please feel free to share what you are experiencing.

[1] David Court, The downturn’s new rules for marketers: The old recession playbook won’t work this time around, The McKinsey Quarterly, DECEMBER 2008.

Successfully On Boarding and Engaging New Members

How can you increase the retention rate of your first year members by 12 percent?

Darryl Walter, formerly with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and now with The Wildlife Society shared how he did it in the November issue of DMAW Marketing Advents.

As you may have read in this blog before, the most likely members to leave an association are first year members. In marketing terms, these members are in their conversion year and need special care in order

The successful solution highlighted in the article featured a monthly ‘welcome’ telemarketing program. The new members were called and thanked for joining and asked if they had received their magazine and new member kit.

“In analyzing the effectiveness of the telemarketing call”, Walter writes, “we averaged a 12 percent increase in conversion rate for those who received the telemarketing call versus those we were unable to contact.”[1]

Why might this tactic have been so effective? Research shows that a key predictor of renewal for new members is generating a second interaction between the member and association after joining. So the goal of an engagement or on-boarding program needs to be to get additional interaction. The tactic used is not as important as the interaction that you need to achieve.

What are you doing to engage the new members in your organization?

[1] Darryl Walter, Show Your New Members Some Love, DMAW Marketing Advents, November 2008, page 5.

The Importance of Membership Marketing Expertise

Marketing smart is more important than ever during these challenging times. And it does take time and practice to become a smart marketing or to become accomplished in any profession.

Malcolm Gladwell makes this point in his new book, Outliers: The Story of Success (Little Brown).

He noted in a recent interview, “The 10,000-hours rule says that if you look at any kind of cognitively complex field, from playing chess to being a neurosurgeon, we see this incredibly consistent pattern that you cannot be good at that unless you practice for 10,000 hours, which is roughly ten years, if you think about four hours a day.”[1]

What are the lessons for us in Gladwell’s premise? First, it may be ask for help from those with experience. Be careful not to conclude that sufficient knowledge and insight reside exclusively in your organization. Secondly, pick what you want to be good at and keep learning. Put in the time and effort to become “good” at what you do.

[1] FORTUNE MAGAZINE Leadership 2008

It is the Best of Times!

Eighty percent of marketing is very logical. However, twenty percent of it is counter intuitive. Understanding the counter intuitive aspects of marketing is what often determines success.

Here is an example of a non-logical truth. The best time to acquire new members can be during an economic downturn.

Yes, you read that correctly.

As I scan reports for membership acquisition efforts, I am seeing some very strong returns. One organization that I spoke with today is seeing a turn around this year after many years of declining membership. Another long term client is experiencing their best new member year ever.

Why is this?

First of all, any change prompts people to look at new opportunities and solutions. We are clearly in the midst of great change as a society.

Secondly, during times of economic uncertainly, people look for an anchor. Professionally associations can be that anchor. Think for a second, if you knew your job was in jeopardy, isn’t one of the first places you would go for help your professional association or network. That is the place to make contacts, go to job boards, attend meetings, and interact on a list serv.

Here is the bottom line. Don’t base your marketing on what you hear in the news or what seems logical. Stay in the membership acquisition market – emphasizing the unique services you alone can provide -- and read the marketing results. You might be surprised by the number of loyal members you will add when you become their knight in shining armor.

Building Your Constituency in order to Build Your Membership

You can call it branding, you can call it building awareness, you can even call it feeding your database, but it is an important new way to ultimately grow your paid membership.

Let me explain this by relating the recent membership success of my friend Howard Wahlberg.

Howard is the Assistant Executive Director at the National Science Teachers Association. He has seen his membership grow from 55,000 to over 60,000 during the past two years.

He is doing the right things: sending out marketing campaigns, testing messaging and packaging, segmenting his market, etc.

But he has another very powerful tool. The team at NSTA has established a electronic newsletter over the past few years that now includes over 280,000 subscribers – including his 60,000 members. The newsletter – NSTA Express – is automatically provided to members and is also offered free of charge to non-members. Subscribers come from visiting the NSTA home page or the “forward to a friend” button in the newsletter.

Obviously, it is a helpful resource to members. But what is really exciting about NSTA Express is how it exchanges some free information from the association in order to build the constituency or market mindshare for NSTA.

With the opt-in email relationship, NSTA gains some important opportunities.

1. Express builds awareness and allegiance to NSTA by informing and orienting prospective members to the services, activities, and resources available from NSTA.
2. Express allows NSTA build a database of those who are interested in Science education and since subscribers can self select the content from three versions; it helps NSTA to know people’s interest areas.
3. Express allows NSTA to take the pulse of what topics and issues are most important by reading click through reports.
4. Express provides a platform for NSTA to promote products and upcoming events, and yes, sell membership.

And since the newsletter was already created as a service to members, it costs very little to share it with the larger audience.

Sometimes we can become overly focused on making the membership sales instead of helping prospective members dip their toe into the water and more gradually become involved. But almost always building your network will translate into paid members.

Blogging and Twitter Seminars

Friends of this blog, Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer, have put together several seminars on social networking that they are making available. They look really good. You can contact them directly to find out more at: Social Fish.

Here are a couple of the upcoming topics that are available.

Introduction to Personal Blogging (101 level)

  • How to listen like a blogger before you ever write your first post
  • Blog set-up basics, from configuring a free blogging platform to optimizing RSS feeds and social bookmarking tools
  • Secrets behind great blog writing
  • Getting comments and building community
  • Personal branding through your blog

Introduction to Association Blogging (101 level)

  • Secrets behind great blog writing
  • Different types of posts that can add spice to association blogs
  • Technology tricks, from optimizing RSS feeds and using social bookmarking tools to syndicating your blog content all over the web
  • Getting comments and building community
  • How to be authentic and good alternatives to ghostwriting
  • Developing voice and personality in single or multi-author association blogs

Getting Started on Twitter (101 level)

Learn how to sign up, how to follow the most relevant people, what is Twitter etiquette, how to use Twitter Search, and some of the different applications to choose from for viewing your Twitter stream online or on the go.

By the way, I am on Twitter now. You can connect to me at with this link.

Economic Growth: Comparison of Non-Profits to the National GDP

How are non-profit organizations growing compared to the overall economy?

Based on data from 2002 through 2006 (the last industry specific data available) it looks like non-profits are falling behind the rest of the economy. To make this comparison, I looked at the overall GDP against the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) 813 which includes religious organizations; grant making and giving and social advocacy organizations; civic, social, professional and similar organizations.

During this period the overall GDP grew by 32% while the gross output by industry for 813 grew by 28%.

However, as in any statistical analysis there is another interesting slice of the numbers. When comparing just the civic, social, and professional organizations, which would include most professional societies, these groups experienced an output growth of 35% during this timeframe compared to the 32% GDP growth.

The data that I have access to will not take the industry comparisons all the way down to NAICS 813920 for Professional Organizations level. But this is something that each of us can look at for our own organizations. How did your organization fare during this timeframe?

Membership as Economical Unemployment Insurance

Positioning your membership offer is as important as ever. And when it is done properly, I am seeing membership marketing response rates continue at a good pace this fall.

Here is an example of a smart way to position the benefits of a professional membership. I received this promotion in the mail the other day. The letter focused on the practical economic benefits of membership in this organization. One point was that membership was cheap unemployment insurance. Here is a quote from the letter:

“When I talk with younger colleagues, I have frequently described the value of STC membership as being a form of layoff insurance. Think about it: if you've accumulated a lot of additional skills and knowledge, you're more likely to weather layoffs because you will be more valuable to your employer. And even if you do get laid off, you'll probably be able to get another job quicker than your compatriots. Here's a little secret: STC members get a 14-day advance look at all the new job postings on the online Career Center. (It's an exclusive membership benefit.) That's a two-week head start on your competition.”[1]

The lesson here is that people still make purchases during tough economic times. But their priorities and motivations change. Be sure that your marketing differentiates your organization as a solution.

[1] Society for Technical Communication, Membership Letter, October 1, 2008.

Making Your Marketing Memorable

Psychologists tell us that three of the parameters to help people retain information are Frequency, Intensity, and Duration.

So how can you apply these rules to make your marketing more memorable? Let’s take a look at each of them in turn.

Frequency: Marketing is remembered when multiple impressions are received. No we do not want to overwhelm members and prospects with repeated communications. However, in some key membership areas, I find that frequency is often lacking. For example, most organizations do not send out sufficient membership renewal notices. Surveys still show that many members have not renewed because they “forgot”. Here is another area. In an effort to limit email some organizations have moved to a single “combined” promotional email communication each month. But if email was achieving a 5% click through rate with a frequency of twice a week, it is unlikely that a 40% click through on a once a month communication will be achieved.

Intensity: In marketing, intensity relates to how effectively the promotion taps into a prospect’s emotions. A remarkably high number of buying decisions are made based on emotions and justified with reason. I wrote about using emotional drivers in a recent post. To enhance the intensity of your marketing first understand the wants and needs of your audience, then use stories and appeals to emotions -- like avoiding discomfort or embarrassment or gaining personal prestige or influence – to lock your message into the memory of your prospects.

Duration: In challenging economic times, one of the first budgets to be cut may be marketing. But research shows that organizations who keep marketing going over the long haul – taking advantage of duration -- build recognition and market share.

Here is one piece of research that I came across. An article from the journal Strategy and Leadership reported on a study of over 4,000 companies “the research showed that cutting marketing during a recession leads to reduced profitability in recovery, while increasing it leads to a 300% faster market share gain during better times.”[1] Keep this in mind as you look at your budgets.

How is your marketing doing in the areas of frequency, intensity, and duration? Feel free to share your insights.


Supply and Demand Applied to Membership Marketing

With gas prices up and down, we are hearing a lot these days about supply and demand. So I was thinking, how does supply and demand play out with membership marketing?

Here are three observations.

  1. Demand for membership renewals is fairly inelastic. Meaning a percentage increase in dues rates generally does not translate into an equal or greater percentage drop in renewals rates.
  2. Demand for membership acquisition is more elastic. Meaning a percentage dues discount usually translates into more members.
  3. Membership supply is very elastic. Meaning it is easy to increase the number of member benefits (i.e. magazines) to meet increased demand.

What implications does this have for your 2009 planning?

  1. You may have room to increase dues rates on renewing members.
  2. You may want to try a dues discount to encourage new members to join.
  3. You can quickly and easily meet an increase in demand for more memberships, so push growth.

Let me know if you agree with these observations.

ASAE Social Networking Group for Membership Marketing

If you are a member of ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership, you are eligible to participate in their social networking site. This is a place where you can post questions, engage in conversations, and connect to other like minded professionals.

Today, I set up a group on the site for Membership Marketing. If you would like to give it a try, I am including instructions here on how to register.

  1. Go to the ASAE home page.

  2. Select People and Groups

  3. Select Directories

  4. Select Member Directories and login or create a login

  5. Select Groups

  6. Under Quick Search, key in “Membership Marketing”

  7. Select “Membership Marketing” and join the group

Here is the initial discussion question that I have posted for the group:

How is the current economic slowdown impacting your membership? Are fewer members joining and renewing? Or are people flocking to your association for safety and help in finding jobs, customers, and information? Please share your experiences.

Please feel free to give the site a try.

Turning Data into Marketing Intelligence

I do not have an easy answer to this situation. But I believe that turning data into actionable knowledge remains one of the most substantial marketing challenges for associations.

From my interactions with associations, it seems that large amounts of data are now available from web trends, member and customer purchases, and email statistics. But moving the data to information and then into actionable knowledge continues to be out of reach for many.

That’s why I found an article Wes Trochlil’s just wrote and shared with me of interest. The article is “What's Plaguing Associations 2008” and is based on interviews with over 100 association executives on the biggest data management challenges that they face. He highlighted three top challenges in his article:
  • “System integration: integrating third-party systems and/or data to the primary database.
  • Data integrity: Ensuring that the data in the database is up to date and accurate.
  • System selection and implementation: selecting and implementing new association management systems.”

I encounter the first two problems regularly. As far as data integration, some organizations would benefit by appending third party data to their members and prospects, but have trouble adding this information to their CRM system. Some also end up maintaining multiple specialized databases in the organizations, but the knowledge is not linked from one to the other.

Data integrity is also a common challenge. Issues like entering marketing codes, keeping contact information up to date -- especially for former members, and consistent data standards are ongoing problems.

How have we dealt with this challenge? For the most part, we have found it necessary to extract data from clients’ databases in order to do clean up and analysis. The longer term solution may be to build data marts with the focus of gathering member and prospect behavior and slicing and dicing this into real marketing intelligence.

What do you think is the solution?

Membership Satisfaction Compared to Membership Loyalty: A Real Life Example

Many traditional surveys evaluate member satisfaction with an organization. But does satisfaction give a clear picture of what members really feel and want?

We wanted to find out! So in a recent membership survey, we asked both satisfaction and loyalty questions. These questions measure members’ feelings about the organization, their likelihood to renew membership and their willingness to recommend membership to others.

The findings comparing these two techniques were enlightening.

The good news is that we found that membership satisfaction ran at 90.8%.

However, we saw a much more diverse picture using our loyalty questions. Based on these questions we found:

  • 57% of members could be categorized as “Advocates”: They express positive relationship feelings toward the organization, indicating an intention to remain a member and a willingness to recommend membership to others.

  • 2% of members could be categorized as “Reluctant”: They express positive feelings toward the organization, but are hesitant to commit to future membership or recommending others.

  • 18% of members could be categorized as “At Risk”: They express negative feelings toward the organization, but plan to remain a member. This segment often feels trapped in a membership with few or no alternatives.

  • 23% of member could be categorized as “Detractors”: They express negative feelings toward the organization, indicating little intention to renew or refer others.

By measuring loyalty instead of satisfaction with this organization, a membership picture comes into focus that lends itself to action. This is especially true as each loyalty category is cross tabulated by job titles, membership tenure, company type, and other key demographics.

Do you have a meaningful measure of membership loyalty for your organization?

Just Published Article on Global Marketing Now Available

If your organization is U.S. based and looking to do membership marketing beyond the borders, you are facing some challenges including postal costs, prospect list availability, and language barriers.

In a just released article I wrote, you will find some guidance on how other organizations have handled some of these challenges. The article is Global Direct-Mail Membership Marketing: Challenges and Opportunities and appears in ASAE and the Center’s ASAE’s Global Links newsletter.

You will need an ASAE password to access it. However, I will check on getting permission to distribute copies if there are non-members who want to see it.

10 Tips for Selling at Trade Shows

Booth duty at trade shows is a part of many of our jobs. So how is it done in a professional and helpful way? And, no it should not be a re-enactment of the movie Jaws.

Here is what I have learned from my experience and from my colleagues.
  1. Schedule Appointments Pre-Show: Before you go to the show be sure to call or email your friends, prospects, and members and invite them to come by the booth. Provide them with your booth number.
  2. Arrange Booth Traffic Pattern: Once the show starts, position yourself at the corner of the booth leaving a clear view of your booth message. Have your give-away (candy, gift, brochure) in the center of your booth, welcoming the entrance of your visitor.
  3. Initiate Interaction: Reach out to people who pass by the booth and connect to them by asking an openning question like, “Do you do engineering (fill in with your profession or field) work for your company?"
  4. Qualify Contact: Everyone is short on time at a trade show. There are many booths your visitor wants to see. So maximize everyone’s time with qualifying questions to see if your visitor is a decision maker for your product or service.
  5. Identify Problems or Pain: Go deeper with qualified decision makers. Ask questions to see what particular issues or challenges are present.
  6. Present Value Proposition: Provide a short, crisp outline of how you help with the particular problems that have been discussed. Your value proposition might sound something like, “We have members with that same challenge and they find that we help them by. . .”
  7. Obtain Contact Information: Most trade show sales take place well after the show. To get back in touch for a sale, you need to collect follow up information. A business card is the easiest way to get contact information.
  8. Agree on Next Steps: Get permission and agreement from your qualified prospect to follow up with them. This may be as simple as agreeing to send additional information. Write a note on the back of their business card with the action you need to take.
  9. Ask for Referral: Before a qualified prospect leaves you, be sure to ask them to send other attendees your way who might have similar needs. Ask them, “Who else do you know that might be helped by our services?”
  10. Prepare Follow Up Materials: Before you leave for the show, you should have your follow up materials assembled and ready to go. When you return, personalize your response with the agreed upon next steps and fulfill the request within days of your return.

Feel free to add any tips you have in the comments section. Also, I am curious to hear what you have seen done poorly at trade shows. We could come up with a top 10 list of what not to do.

Don’t Lose Your Postal Discounts

If you are getting ready to send out mailings later this fall, you need to be aware of upcoming new requirements from the United States Postal Service (USPS).

By November 23, 2008, the USPS will require all presorted Standard mail (including Non-Profit) to have addresses updated and verified against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database within 95 days of the mail date. If the update has not been done, you lose your money-saving discounts and are charged the non-automated, single-piece rates. This can mean hundreds if not thousands of dollars in added costs for mailers that fail to comply.

The NCOA system was put into place in 1986 in order to help the USPS reduce UAA (Undeliverable as Addressed) mail and also to help save mailers money that would otherwise be wasted on materials and postage for mail that could not be properly delivered. Over 40 million Americans change their address annually and the current NCOA database contains over 160,000 records of people who have moved over the past 48 months.

For someone to get into the database, at work or at home, they simply need to complete a USPS Change of Address card or go to the USPS Change Of Address web page. This creates a new record in the NCOA master database and updates the system.

A number of companies are providing services to NCOA mailing lists including my firm. If you are doing large quantities of mail, this is something that you should be sure to check on soon.

Insert Your Name Here

For awhile now I have been writing about the integration of the membership marketing concept into the world of retailing, insurance, and fundraising.

The press release that I came across today is another example: “Sep 01, 2008 -- Sam's Club, the wholesale division of Wal-Mart Stores, has promoted Cindy Davis to executive vice president of membership, marketing and e-commerce. . . Most recently, Ms Davis was responsible for membership and marketing and has led the organization to achieve several successes, said Wal-Mart.”

Many of us could drop our name in here as it relates to responsibilities and achievements. It has been interesting for me to note that of the hundreds of subscribers to this blog, an increasing number are from for-profit organizations.

I am convinced that there are important lessons to be learned and shared by both the for-profit and the non-profit practitioners of membership marketing. Do you have any thoughts on this?

In Memoriam

Last Monday I received a call from my client that Connie Penne, the Vice President of Membership for the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) had passed away suddenly over the weekend.

The staff at NBAA and my team was shocked and grieved by the loss. Connie was an intelligent and accomplished marketer. Just this summer she was a presenter at the DMAW Bridge Conference. Before joining NBAA, she was the Director of Member Data and Strategic Services at AARP.

But I will remember Connie most as a person of kindness.

I still remember calling Connie after we had made a big mistake on our first marketing campaign that we did for her back in 2005. I explained what we had done wrong knowing the embarrassment and problems that it would cause her and her organization. I still remember her response to my call. She thanked me for my honesty, accepted my apologies, and said “let’s get this fixed for our next promotion”. We continued to enjoy a great working relationship over the years.

Connie is survived by her husband and three children.

For those of you who knew Connie, I wanted to let you know that the memorial service has been scheduled for Saturday, September 6, at 7 pm. at College Parkway Baptist Church, 301 College Parkway, Arnold, MD, 21012. There will be a reception following the service at the church.NBAA has been working with College Parkway Baptist Church to establish a Memorial Fund for Connie. Contributions to the fund will help the Penne family address a variety of immediate and long-term financial challenges. Persons wishing to make a contribution to the Fund may do so by making a check payable to “The Connie Penne Memorial Fund.” Please note that contributions to the Connie Penne Memorial Fund are NOT tax deductable.

Mail should be addressed to:

The Connie Penne Memorial Fund
C/o College Parkway Baptist Church
P.O. Box 859
Arnold, Maryland 21012

Connie was a woman of faith and was very involved with the faith-based organization Samaritans Purse, particularly their “Operation Christmas Child” effort. Persons wishing to make a tax deductable contribution to Operation Christmas Child in Connie’s name may use the following link.

The link allows a donation to be given in memory of an individual.

If you knew Connie and want to add a comment here, please feel free to do so.

Ten Top Membership Acquisition Offers

Many of us are enjoying watching the Olympics with the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. But at least one marketer is frustrated with the amount spent on the TV ads without ROI.

Denny Hatch writes in Target Marketing, “Nothing—nothing!—bugs me more than advertising writers who call TV ads “winners” because they’re the “best-remembered” and/or “most-liked.”Did the ad sell anything? What was the ROI? . . . If you want a response from a prospect, it’s imperative that you make an offer. No offer, no response.”[1]

Hatch makes a good point. It is easy to get lost in creating memorable and entertaining marketing communications without being sure to focus on effectiveness. Just like the Olympic competition, your marketing can be set up to measure performance and show a clear winner and loser.

That’s why good membership marketing promotions include a compelling offer and ask for a response.

Here are 10 of the top membership marketing offers that have worked for my clients.

1. A discount almost always is the top offer in membership marketing. The amount of the discount must be appropriate to the product/situation. Generally a discount should be 15%-35% and move the rate below a price point. In membership acquisition, a properly developed discount will produce both more new members and more total revenue.

2. A "no-risk" or “no-obligation” offer will almost always out pull a "hard" (pay now) offer. It usually works best with organizations that have a lot of "mail box" benefits and higher priced dues. Accepting the no-risk offer includes the right for an invoice to be sent out and either paid or cancelled by the responder.

3. A product voucher offering new members $75 to $100 in savings on any purchase from the association can make a lot of sense. It has a high perceived value and helps the new members engage the organization with a second purchase right after joining. Typically, these vouchers will see a 20% redemption rate. So in theory the voucher can be 5 times higher than a discount.

4. Sweepstakes increase front-end response by 35% or more, but may decrease total paid response. Sweepstakes work best for impulse items, e.g., magazine based membership, contribution to a charity.

5. Premiums (free gifts) rarely beat discounts, but off-the-shelf items can be used at such little added expense that they make economic sense. The best premiums appeal to the self-interest of the reader (e.g., special reports or a salary surveys).

6. Offering more of the product can increase response (e.g., 15 months of membership for the price of 12). But generally this works best in markets where the product is already well known to the reader (e.g., qualified prospects, and former members).

7. A free trial offer will usually out pull a hard offer by at least 3 to 1 on the front end and 1.5 to 1 on the back end. But the key to making it work is developing a back-end conversion series to move the trial members to paid members.

8. A shorter term offer (e.g., 6 months membership) will pull up gross response, but beware; it may not increase response enough to cover the added costs of the extra renewal and loss of some buyers after the initial term sale.

9. Guarantees (i.e., money back if not satisfied) has become a basic “have to have” offer that is added to increase the confidence of the buyer. There is usually very little redemption on a money-back guarantee. If members do not like the product, they simply do not renew.

10. Installment billing with EFT or automatic credit card charges. This option turns a $239 membership into an easy monthly payment of $19.91. You do not pay for your cell phone or electricity up front, why should you have to pay your dues in one lump sum?

Okay, here is a bonus item.

11. Every offer should include an "upgrade option." An appropriate upgrade can attract 10% to 30% of the respondents to it. Offer a member an additional newsletter or an association book club option. We discussed some options in Growing Revenue through Membership Packaging.

Any special offer takes some time to make sure that back end operations support what is being offered up front.

Would you add any additional special offers here? What has worked best for you?

[1] Denny Hatch, “The Madness of Advertising on TV Blowing $750,000 in 30 seconds”, Target Marketing, August 19, 2008: Vol. 4, Issue No. 46

Strategic Planning and Membership Development

Once a track record is established, membership marketing can be fairly predictable. Acquisition response rates to proven lists and renewal rates on a membership base are statistically predicable.

However, this does not mean that a membership program can be put on auto pilot. Continually testing new approaches in copy, offers, formats, and channels is required to keep a program healthy.

Marketing works best when it flows and adjusts like a team in a basketball game instead of like a scripted theatrical performance.

That’s why I very much appreciate the perspective in the recent article, “The Perils of Strategic Planning”, in Associations Now.

“Flexibility and fluidity, not strategic plans, are the keys to success . . . the ability to respond quickly without moving through layers of committees for approval to adjust the plan.”[1]

This may sound basic, but I have seen strategic plans, bylaws, and operational procedures shackle programs that otherwise might be thriving. Membership development works best when the marketer keeps a finger on the pulse of the market. As new tactics prove successful, the strategy should be adjusted to respond to the new reality.

[1] James F. Hollan, CAE, “The Perils of Strategic Planning”, Associations Now, (August, 2008): 72 – 78.

Another Good Example of Group Membership

Last week I wrote advocating offering group or bulk memberships. This membership packaging system comes in a number of variations.

One package I have come across that I like is offered by APICS The Association for Operations Management. Their web site describes the group and enterprise membership package this way.

APICS group membership enables up to five employees at the same company location to have full APICS membership privileges, including member publications, access to members-only Web content, and savings on APICS products and services. Group memberships are company-owned and transferable from one employee to another at the same location. A company may purchase multiple group memberships. Group members enjoy the convenience of a single billing contact.”

It appears that APICS does offer some discounts for these group members. The group membership is purchased in sets of five memberships. The typical per member pricing is $200, including chapter membership, but the pricing for enterprise membership is:

• 25 to 99 members – 5% ($190)
• 100 and above – 10% (180)

From the latest data on APICS web site as of March 2008, there were 1,496 Groups Site Companies with 7,480 Group Site Members. Group members made up 17% of APICS 44,017 members.

I do not have data on this, but I would expect that APICS enjoys a superior renewal rate on group memberships. They also should find that the initial ROI on acquiring group memberships compared to selling individual memberships should be higher.

APICS has established a goal of growing membership to over 53,000 by 2010. To achieve this growth, a lot of time and attention will need to be spent on acquisition and retention, but group membership is one important tool to help build stable, long-term growth.

Associations “Get it” that it is all about the Relationship

If you read this blog frequently, you will know that I believe that membership association executives are really relationship marketing professionals. Just like transferrable association job titles for director of IT, marketing, human resources, the relationship marketing role is one that we should highlight as needed and important both to non-profits and for profits.

So it is interesting to see that although for profits want to build relationships with their customers, many do not get it yet. I think that it is fair to say that all associations have some type of welcome program for new members.

However, it appears not to always be the case in the corporate world. “Two recent studies – one by deliverability firm Return Path, another by e-mail service provider Silverpop – found that a third of online merchants fail to send any e-mail to new subscribers within 30 days of sign-up. Even more astonishing, 60% of online marketers don’t send ‘welcome’ e-mails to new registrants, according to Return Path.”[1]

[1] Ken Magill, “You Can’t Even Say Hello? DMers that don’t send ‘welcome’ e-mails are just begging for trouble”, Direct, July 2008, p. 33.

Selling Memberships 1,000 Members at a Time

I wanted to share a story today that my friend Chris Bluhm, Chief Operating Officer, of The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) gave me permission to share with you.

Over the past several years, Chris and his colleagues have established the AOTA National Partnership Program. As part of the benefits, the program includes a block of memberships that the partner company provides to their staff. This results in instant company paid memberships for AOTA. However, the partners also greatly benefit from the program as tool to help them identify, recruit, and retain top occupational therapists.

Two companies, Genesis Rehab Services and RehabCare have joined the program so far. The most recent partnership will allow RehabCare’s almost 1,300 occupational therapy practitioners to have access to the educational and professional resources that AOTA offers to other members. The 1,300 members also represent a sizeable new member input for AOTA.

There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to share this story. First, because it is an example of very smart membership marketing and that is what this blog is all about. There are multiple ways to grow membership for an organization and it is wise to take advantage of each opportunity. Obviously, this all assumes that a sound financial rational has been put in place before initiating any agreements.

My second reason is that there can be a fear among non-profits of partnering with for profit companies. Just yesterday, I saw members of an association list serv cautioning against allowing for profits to buy membership and give them to customers because it might lower the perceived value of the association or result in higher non-renewals.

Here are some reasons why I like the idea of developing innovative forms of bulk membership offers like the National Partnership Program.

  1. Typically, the more paid members an organization has the better off it is financially. Fixed costs rarely grow at the same rate as membership volume. So each additional member provides additional margin or profits for the association. This is a big help in challenging economic times.
  2. Members – from any source -- should be the best customers an association has for professional development, certification, books, conference, etc. It is said, “A rising tide raises all boats. “
  3. To acquire members through most channels – direct mail, ads, exhibiting, and emails – costs money. But a program of bulk or membership sales will typically cost some time, but represent the least expensive new members that an organization adds.
  4. Many people who the partner or company may recruit for membership are the company’s employees or customer list. There may be no other way to access these people except through a bulk membership.
  5. The partner may renew the membership resulting in a higher renewal rate than would normally be achieved from first year members.
  6. The partner’s sponsoring of membership results in a very powerful third party endorsement of the organization in the mind of the new member.
  7. Members who may never have had the financial resources to join the organization on their own will be brought into your community.

Let me know if you agree or disagree with me on these points. Have you had any bulk membership or partnership experiences with membership? Please share them.

Using Stories to Support Your Brand

Throughout history stories have been served to weave communities and cultures together. Our nation has a story, our communities have stories and you have a personal story of your journey.

But does your organization have a clearly articulated story that you communicate to members, customers, and the world?

Jack Trout -- the well know author of many marketing books including The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – wrote about the use of stories in a recent article, The Greatest Stories Never Told.

Trout says, “Great marketing is great storytelling . . . people are inherently interested in stories, whether in films or novels or, even, brands. The problem is that the stories often go untold.”[1]

That’s why knowing your story is such an important part of branding. I look at branding as five components:

1. Verbal Representation – Name/Tagline
2. Visual Representation – Logo
3. Strategy – The Story behind the Brand
4. Implementation – The Plan and Tactics
5. Incorporation – Methodology to Use

Many groups are great at establishing a tagline or logo and they execute the plan well. But very few have really thought through and presented their brand story.

What is your story? How do you incorporate it into your brand? Are there other elements of branding that you think are neglected?


Consumed with Reaching the Top: Now What?

Jerry Levin, the former CEO of Time Warner who masterminded the failed merger with AOL, has a very different view on corporate responsibility and executive life than he did 6 years ago.

He now says, “I believe in the importance of the capitalist system . . . But there is a such a focus on delivering those returns almost without any understanding that there are deeper issues that management is also about – humanism and respect for people in the company; serving the public interest; higher obligations to yourself and the world.”[1]

To help gain the proper perspective, Levin says, “My strong advice would be to find a calm, meditative state every day. With the tempo of the executive life, that seems almost impossible, but it’s probably the most important thing that you can do.”[2]

From my personal experience, I have found that to be true. As I am enticed to busily work for success, security, money, and all the other exciting possibilities that our society presents, I have to stop to gain perspective each day. What is truly important? How am I treating people starting with my family members? For me gaining perspective takes the shape of time each morning when I read scripture and pray.

What do you do to avoid being caught up in the demands of life? How do you keep priorities in line? How do you treat the people you interact with each day?

[1] Business Week, Facetime, July 14, 2008, p 24.
[2] Business Week, Facetime, July 14, 2008, p 24

Case Study of Automatic Membership Renewal

Several weeks ago, I shared some thoughts on Improving Membership Retention through Automatic Renewal Programs. There were some questions asking for real world examples of what impact this would have on membership. So I was really pleased to see Susan Kistler, Executive Director, American Evaluation Association (AEA) share her experience the ASAE Membership Listserv Monday[1].

She highlighted her organizations two year experience with using an automatic credit card renewal program for members. Here is what she has found.

In the past two years, over 1,000 of the 5,000 members have signed up for automatic renewal.

Typically, the association renews about 60% of first year members. However, for first year members who have signed up for the automatic renewal program the association is experiencing an 85% renewal rate.

In speaking with others about this type of program, two of my “realist” friends, Dan and Conrad, reminded me that that this program does require a lot of administrative follow up. Member’s credit cards will expire or be rejected and this requires a personal interaction from the association.

This is a real concern. AEA reports that about 20% of the members’ credit cards have expired by the time that the next year’s renewal is due. But it would have to require huge amounts of staff time to offset the benefits of a forty percent overall lift renewal rate.

Here is a link to the American Evaluation Association’s membership application with the automatic renewal option. There is also an explanation on the AEA web site that explains to members how this option operates.

Has your organization had any experience with this type of renewal program?

[1] ASAE and The Center, Membership Listserv, Monday July 21, 2008.

My Take on a Controversial Blog Post

Controversy is a foundation of blogs. So I was not too surprised when a long time association professional and the writer of the Certified Association Executive blog, Ben Martin, made these revolutionary statements about the usefulness of associations.

To put his comments in context, Ben is a big supporter of social networking and the use of these tools to create self forming groups around issues and professions. Ben wrote:

“I am questioning whether or not the citizens of our world are well-served by associations given the radical improvements in the way that people can find like-minded folks and get stuff done. . . Here comes the bald-faced blasphemy: I believe that the trades, causes and professions would, in many cases, be better off without their associations.”

I do not agree with Ben. Here is what I wrote on his blog in response to his comment.

“Let me add one other point that I think supports the association structure, the concept of division of labor. As my son's economics professor noted recently, you can buy a pencil for a couple of cents today. But an individual would be very hard pressed to make a pencil from scratch on his own. The same applies to associations. To quote Wikipedia, ‘Historically the growth of a more and more complex division of labor is closely associated with the growth of total output and trade, the rise of capitalism, and of the complexity of industrialization processes.’So basically, those of us who have learned, for example, how to do effective membership marketing have a specialized skill that just anyone does not have. Taking advantage of those skills leads to a much more efficient and productive enterprise.”

The importance of specialization is highlighted by a friend of mine, Don Metznik on his blog. In an unrelated post to whether or not associations should continue to exist, Don writes about the marketing profession and the interplay between intuitiveness and counter intuition.

Here is the issue. People see marketing, so they believe that they can do marketing. But much of the success of marketing is opposed to an individual’s personal experience. Through the specialization of labor, some people study and experiment with marketing and get pretty good at it.

When all of these specializations come together in an association in the areas of marketing, advocacy, training, meeting management, finance, etc. you have a very functional and strong entity that can accomplish more together than the parts can do alone.

Well, that is my take on the topic. What do you think?

A Reception Invitation to Readers of the Membership Marketing Blog

If you are a reader of this blog and you are attending ASAE & The Center’s 2008 Annual Meeting in San Diego, I have an invitation for you.

I would like to invite you to stop by and join with me and those on the ASAE and the Center’s membership section for a reception sponsored by my company.

The get together is on Sunday, August 17th from 5:30 to 6:30 PDT at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel. I hope that you can make it. By the way, the picture is not of the hotel, but of the San Diego Mission Church.

If you cannot make it to the reception, I will also be at the Marketing General, Inc booth (number 529) in the exhibit hall on Sunday from 10:15 to 1:15.

I look forward to meeting you in person.

Language Usage in Global Membership Marketing

Perhaps the single biggest challenge with global membership marketing is the language barrier. There are 256 languages in the world with over 1,000,000 speakers[1].

On top of the variety of languages there are also dialects and variations associated with many languages. A visiting French exchange student just this weekend told me that he had a very difficult time understanding the French spoken in Quebec.

So how does an organization move forward in this area? One tact that successful organizations have followed is to get started with the language in which member benefits are now provided.

In order to start global membership marketing, one group that I work with decided to reach out to countries with high proportions of primary and secondary English speakers like Australia, Canada, England, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, and Singapore.

To date, using American English, the promotions have generated very positive response rates and very few complaints.

The basic language philosophy is to market using the same language and dialect in which the actual membership product will be delivered. If a recipient struggles with the American English marketing materials, then they will not be very likely to be able to use the membership materials.

Reaching English speakers across the globe actually presents a fairly large market opportunity. For example, more people speak English in India, Nigeria, Germany, or the Philippines than in Canada.[2]

Another organization that has relied primarily on English is Toastmasters. Toastmasters “now have nearly 226,000 members in 11,500 clubs in 92 countries.” However, they do not support the translation of their materials until a large enough membership base has developed in a language group. The translation policy is clearly outlined in their organizations procedures.[3]

What do you think is the right approach to language in global membership marketing? Language issues can elicit very emotional and heartfelt reactions. I am curious how you deal with these challenges.


Global Mailing Lists for Membership Marketing

A second challenge to global membership marketing, in addition to postage, especially when it comes to acquisition is finding prospect lists.

The direct mail list industry in the United States is highly developed. Thousands of lists are available with very detailed selects. And since the market is fairly competitive, many lists, especially compiled files are priced for as little as $.04 per name. The market is also rapidly developing for email lists.

This is not the case for lists outside the US. Selectability is limited and mailing lists are priced at two to three times the cost of comparable US lists.

So what is the best way to get started?

The best source for reaching out to prospective global members starts with your own database. Anyone who has purchased a book, attended a meeting, or formerly been a member is a good prospect. These prospects know who you are and there is not cost for use of the list.

The second source is to look for non-US names on the mailing lists that you currently use for your US membership acquisition efforts. Many periodicals, associations, and product providers also serve customers globally and rent their records as they do US customers. If a list produces good returns on US mailings, it is a good bet to perform well outside the US.

For example, if you are interested in the medical, 1,253 of the members of the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery from outside the US and available for rental as a select from the membership file.

A third source for obtaining global mailing lists is through a list broker. Brokers have subscriptions to costly to databases and resources like SRDS Directnet® which provides data on “over 60,000 list rental opportunities across 230 business and consumer market categories, including sources, selects, counts and costs.” So they can be a big help in targeting your market provided they have clear direction from you of who you are trying to reach.

Brokers also work on a commission basis from the list owner. So there should be no additional expense for you to use their services.

If you are focused on a specific country or region of the world, you also may want to look for an in country broker. For example, List Marketing Australasia (LMA) provides direct marketing list services for Australia and New Zealand. Please note that privacy laws vary across the world. So be sure to work with reputable mailing list providers that follow local regulations.

There are additional issues in global membership marketing that I will be posting on shortly. These include language, response vehicles, and response rates.

In the meantime, feel free to share your experiences in the area.

Postal Options for Global Membership Marketing

To a large extent, membership marketing still relies on direct mail to acquire new members and renew them. But one of the biggest challenges in global membership marketing is the postal expense surrounding these activities.

You can use the USPS Postage Price Calculator to calculate just how much it will cost you to mail just about any piece to any country in the world. For example, if you drop a one ounce letter into the international mail stream, you will pay $0.94 per letter. Considering mailing up to three ounces at non-profit rates in the US is $0.175, it is easy to see how the cost to service a member outside the US can be expensive.

The post office makes some other less costly international mailing options available for larger scale mailings. These are priced by piece and pound and carry additional requirements. These mailing options include:
  1. International Priority Airmail (IPA). This equivalent to First Class Mail in the US and claims a 3-7 business day arrival to the delivery country. Each IPA mailing must weigh a minimum of 11 pounds.
  2. International Surface Air-Lift (ISAL). This is equivalent to Standard Mail service and claims a 7-14 business day delivery. Each ISAL mailing must weigh a minimum of 50 pounds.
  3. Global Bulk Economy (GBE): This method uses surface transportation. Mail is presented to the International Bulk Mail Center and then dispatched by the USPS® via surface transportation. Delivery times average 21 to 35 days after the mail arrives at the USPS gateway. There is a minimum volume requirement of 100 pounds per mailing.

But probably the most cost effective and timely method for most organizations trying to serve global members is to use one of the mailing methods above through an international mail consolidator available under the USPS Postal Qualified Wholesaler program. These companies receive additional postal discounts from the USPS and will also:

  • Pickup from local domestic mail-shop
  • Sort and separate mail by country
  • Apply bar coded postal permit
  • Bag separated mail
  • Deliver mail to the airport for transit

My production manager tells me that in a recent mailing he did to the Pacific Rim of 26,000 pieces of mail, the postage savings of using an international mail consolidator ran around $8000 in comparison to mailing independently. Here is the link to a list of companies serving as a Postal Qualified Wholesaler.

How is your organization acquiring and serving global members?

Staying the Course during the Tough Times in Membership Marketing

In its annual survey, Direct magazine found that 45% of responding companies projected to increase their direct marketing spending this year while only 7% planned to decrease marketing spending. This was despite the fact that only 25% of responders anticipated their direct marketing margins to increase this year.[1]

In other words, these companies are choosing to sail into the head wind. How does Direct explain this? They say,

“In hard times direct marketers usually mine their customer base and leave prospecting for better days. So why are DMers, and especially consumer marketers boosting prospecting budgets? One reason is that house files have to be replenished regardless of the economic conditions.”[2]

Is there a lesson in this for non-profits? I think that there is.

Adding new members and customers is essential for growth. Therefore, no matter what the economy throws at you, retreating really is not a solution. Staying aggressive and finding ways to market smarter is the best course of action.

Here is one real world example of an organization that I admire. It is a trade association serving small businesses. They recently launch a membership campaign to acquire new members. They tested six mailing lists split over four direct mail packages. Overall the promotion generated only about 30% of projected returns. Many groups would give up at this point.

But buried deep within the responses that did come in were some golden nuggets. One of the four test packages actually made a profit. And within that package two of the lists did particularly well. The association’s decision on future marketing: let’s press forward and test more to find the keys to additional response.

If you declare that growth is your only option as an organization, then giving up is simply not acceptable. Instead, lack of response is your call to working harder and smarter.

[1] Direct, June 2008, p S 4 and S 10.
[2] Direct, June 2008, p1.

Improving Membership Retention through Automatic Renewal Programs

There is a way to increase renewal rates without adding more member value or changing your marketing efforts. You can raise rates by adding an automatic renewal program to your payment options.

Time after time, we find in lapsed member interviews and surveys that many members leave an organization for reasons of omission instead of commission. They did not dislike the organization, they simply forgot to renew.

That’s why associations have experienced success by adding an automatic renewal program where members actually have to proactively stop membership. It is not unusual for automatic renewal members to renew at 10 points above those not in the program.

Under this system, a member is given the option when they join or renew for an annual -- or sometimes even monthly -- credit card or EFT debits made to their account for dues payments.

Here is the publically available language that one organization uses on their web site to set up an automatic annual renewal program.

“Yes, I'd like to take advantage of AOPA's Automatic Annual Renewal Program and save $4 off my dues this year. I understand that each year you will automatically charge my annual membership dues to my credit card unless you receive a request from me to withdraw from this program. Enrollment in AOPA's AAR program will convey 2 sweepstakes entries to the enrolling member.”

Legally and ethically there are also issues to consider in launching this type of program. Rather than go into detail about them, here is a link to guidelines in the circulation industry that are used in order to establish an advance consent or automatic renewal program. Many of the points apply to membership.

Also be aware that an automatic renewal program will require additional administrative time and attention. On the June 13, 2008, ASAE membership listserv, Lillian Israel, the Director of Membership for the Association for Computing Machinery, wisely shared these experiences and cautions. “My association just began using automatic credit card renewal on our online renewals . . . there was a large pick-up of the service by our members. The only con, and you might not even term it that, is coming up with a strategy on the process used to notify members of expired cards, getting the updated credit card information, naturally making sure the credit card information on file is encrypted in a really smart way.”

If you are not looking at automatic renewal programs, it is something to put on your list. For those of you who have it in place, what has been your experience?

Downloads for Popular Requests are Now Available

I have had a number of requests for copies of some recent articles and presentations. I love to get emails, but to save time, I have put the most requested items online for easy downloads. So here they are:

Raise Dues without Lowering Membership, Forum magazine, March, 2008. As we face more inflationary pressures, you may be faced with raising prices or dues. Here is the feedback I received from over 300 association professionals on the best practices in this area.

Improving Your Membership Renewal Program, presented at ASAE and the Center’s 2008 Marketing and Membership Conference. Membership retention is foundational in membership development. This presentation includes both theory and case studies from one of my colleagues and our clients.

The Optimized Membership Program, MGI White Paper, June, 2007. Sometimes in membership marketing, it helps to step back and look at your entire program. This white paper covers each of the major areas in getting and keeping members.

The Economics of Membership, presented at the DMAW Association Days. I cannot understate how important it is to grasp the financial aspects in membership development. Understanding and being able to calculate renewal rates, membership tenure, lifetime value, the steady state of membership, and your maximum acquisition cost or membership margins are the key tools to succeeding in our profession. They are outlined in this presentation.

Hope you find these helpful. Feel free to post any questions or feedback.

My Summer Reading

The first day of summer in the northern hemisphere is the day of the year when the sun is the farthest north. This is June 21st. I love long summer days, so it is a great time of year for me.

Since summer is ready to begin, I am ready to pick out a book for my summer reading. I am a slow reader, so it will be just one book this summer.

Should I pick a witty and humorous novel or a top business book on social networking? How about reading a historical or biographical tome like the 944 page Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Godwin (my very enjoyable summer reading a couple of years ago)? No, my pick this year is the Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Critical Questions by Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli.

Here is my thought, what bigger questions are there to consider than some of the following issues:

  • The existence of God
  • Faith and reason
  • Providence and free will
  • Miracles
  • The problem of evil
  • The Bible's historical reliability
  • Life after death
  • Heaven and hell
  • Salvation
  • Christianity and other religions
  • Objective truth

I have some ideas on a number of these issues. But as I have been asked questions lately by my very inquisitive daughter, I have come to see that I do not know as much as I think I do.

So it is back to the books: A look at some of the deeper questions about life.

What will you be reading this summer?

Case Study: Does this Marketing Stuff Really Work?

Can negative membership trends really be turned around through putting membership marketing best practices in place? Can marketing really make a difference even if the value proposition, dues pricing, and product offerings don’t change?

The answer is YES!

Clearly, any non-profit should offer the best value, optimum price and top product that it can. But just fixing the marketing component can have a big influence.

That’s why I appreciated the presentation done by Lori Jordan, Director of Association Services, for the Water Environment Federation (WEF) at the ASAE and the Center’s recent Marketing and Membership Conference.

According to her presentation, WEF had seen membership consistently decline beginning from 2001 to 2006. However, over the past three years through the deployment of an aggressive membership acquisition program and development of a multi-channel, high frequency renewal system, WEF membership began to climb.

In addition to adding new members through acquisition efforts, the new renewal system has helped the retention rate increase by an impressive 7 points.

The WEF story is an encouragement that there is hope for organizations that are experiencing a membership decline. If you would like a copy of the full presentation, please send me an email. My address is on the sidebar of the blog or you can reach me through LinkedIn.

In full disclosure, please note that WEF has been a client of my firm, Marketing General, Inc., for the past three years.

What successful turn around stories have you seen? Please feel free to share your comments.

Managing Global Membership – One Organization’s Philosophy

ASAE and the Center’s Marketing and Membership Conference had some very useful sessions.

I found comments from Dan Rex, Deputy Executive Director and Director of Communications and Marketing for Toastmasters International to be particularly of interest.

He spoke about his organizations global growth and the philosophy that they have followed. Toastmasters “now have nearly 226,000 members in 11,500 clubs in 92 countries.”

It appears to me from the presentation that Toastmasters is following a pretty tightly controlled global strategy. For example, Toastmasters has resisted the temptation to establish offices outside of the US. All staff is based out of their California office.

Additionally, they have made the decision to provide limited customer service hours from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Pacific Time and customer service is only in English. Their policy states that “Toastmasters International does not have the World Headquarters staff resources or financial sources at this time to provide oral or written translation services. Communications sent to or sent by World Headquarters will be in English. It is understood, however, that change to policy will be considered in the future as the translation environment changes.”

Toastmasters has done only limited translation of their extensive materials driven by specific numbers of clubs in a language group. I saw Spanish, French, and Chinese transitions on their web site. Wisely, Toastmasters also tightly their trademark and copyrights with a clearly outlined policy and pro-active enforcement.

They do, however, give volunteers and prospective clubs many downloadable tools and resources to help them get started. In essence they have made membership self service through the web. And volunteers from around the world have been the key to launching new clubs and producing their growth and success.

By the way, here is a link to their 10 Tips for public speaking.

What do you think of the global membership philosophy employed by this group?

Great Summer Meetings

Graduations are finishing up. That means it is now summer!

What are you doing for professional development this summer? There are some great events coming up that – based on your location and interests -- you may want to consider attending. I have listed them below in alphabetical order.

AAMSE - Advancing Professionalism in Medical Society Management. The AAMSE Annual Conference is in Minneapolis, MN, July 23-26, 2008.

ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership. The Annual Meeting and Exposition, San Diego, CA, August 16-19, 2008.

Association Forum of chicagoland. Association Week 2008, June 17-20, 2008.

CESSE - Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives. The CESSE 2008 Annual Conference, Detroit, MI, July 15-18, 2008.

DMAW - Direct Marketing Association of Washington. The 2008 Bridge Conference, Washington, DC, July 23-25, 2008.

The summer calendar did not yet appear to be on the web site for NYSAE. Use the link to check for updates from NYSAE - New York Society of Association Executives.

Either I or one of my colleagues will be speaking at or attending all of these events. Feel free to comment below on the meetings that you plan to attend and share your recommendations from past conferences.

Yes, that is my son -- pictured above -- speaking at his high school graduation and my daughter in the foreground signing for the deaf and hearing impaired.

What is my Career? Membership Development is Relationship Marketing

Do you work in membership development, membership retention, or membership marketing? If you do, you may have trouble explaining what you do to others, including prospective employers outside the non-profit or association fields.

I believe the answer to the question, “what is my career?” is that you are a professional engaged in “relationship marketing”.

The textbook description of relationship marketing from Philip Kotler follows.

“Relationship marketing has the aim of building long-term mutually satisfying relations with key parties – customers, suppliers, distributors – in order to earn and retain their long-term preference and business . . . The ultimate outcome of relationship marketing is the building of a unique company asset called a marketing network. A marketing network consists of the company and its supporting stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, distributors, retailers, ad agencies, university scientists, and others) . . . The operating principle is simple: Build an effective network of relationship with key stakeholders, and profits will follow.”[1]

If that sounds familiar it is because that is what we do.

Kotler goes on to describe the progression in relationship marketing as moving people through eight stages of relationship starting with “Suspects” and moving to “Partners”.[2] Here are his stages.

  • Suspects
  • Prospects
  • First Time Buyers
  • Repeat Customers
  • Clients
  • Members
  • Advocates
  • Partners

All of these stages have relevance in membership development. However, in membership we tend to shorten the cycle and bring people into the membership relationship sooner. The relational marketing progression that I have recommended to use for associations is pictured below. You can read about it in my post titled, Five Phases of the Membership Life Cycle.

Here is the bottom line. If you are involved in membership marketing, you have a very valuable and transferable skill. You have developed hands on experience of establishing, building, upgrading, and retaining a customer. You are a relationship marketer.

[1] Philip Kotler, Marketing Management, Prentice Hall, page 13.
[2] Philip Kotler, Marketing Management, Prentice Hall, page 50.