Membership Marketing is Messy, but it Beats the Alternative

I came across a proverb this morning that reminds me of the challenges and opportunities in membership marketing.

The proverb says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”[1]

Think of membership marketing as your ox. If you are actually testing new ideas and approaches and out in the marketplace, you will have some messes to clean up from it. Clearly the messes are not on purpose and everything possible should be done to avoid them.

Nevertheless, you will invariably hear complaints like:
  • You sent a promotion to a current member.

  • Your messages are too strong.

  • Your marketing is too expensive.

  • You send too many renewal notices.

  • You interrupted my dinner with a phone call.

  • You offered my friend a discount, but not me.

But here is the benefit. A well run membership development program will grow your membership and produce abundant returns. A sure way to keep everything neat and clean is not to change anything. Over time the result will be a stagnant or declining membership.

Which do you choose?

[1] Proverbs 14:4 , ESV

Trade Content for Contact and Build your Database

One relationship building tool that I am a big fan of is initiating a relationship with a prospective member through a free email newsletter. This is a great way to build your prospect database and help people get to know your organization.

I shared a while ago how the National Science Teachers Association has built a list of over 200,000 prospective members by using this technique. They basically exchange content for contact.

A friend of this blog from Convio recently shared with me their non-profit online benchmarking survey that highlights many online practices of non-profits including email list building. You can find out more about the study here.

One statistic that they shared is the medium size of email lists that have been developed by different categories of non-profits. Here is the chart from their report. [1]

A key step in building these files is to convert visitors to your website into registered users. Convio shares in their report that associations on average are converting 3.05% of visitors into registered users by getting them to volunteer their email address.

Do you have an active registration and email program with your organization?

[1] Quinn Donovan, Convio Analytics Manager , Vinay Bhagat, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Brian Hauf, VP Client Success Services, The Convio Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index™ Study, March 2009.

A Sample Membership Value Proposition

I wrote last month about the promises that I think are important to include in creating a membership value proposition for an association. These promises center on vision, reward, and relationship.

Today, I came across a well done value proposition or “elevator speech” that was written for members of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). Here is what they use.

“SMPS is a community of marketing and business development professionals working to secure profit­able business relationships for their A/E/C [architectural, engineering, planning, interior design, construction] compa­nies. Through networking, business intelligence, and research, SMPS members gain a competitive advantage in positioning their firms successfully in the marketplace. SMPS offers members professional development, leadership opportunities, and market­ing resources to advance their careers. SMPS is the only organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the A/E/C industry.”[1]

Do you think that it does the job?

[1] SMPS, CLU Apr May Jun 2009

Last Call for Participating in Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey

How does your organization compare to others in membership acquisition, engagement of new members, retention and renewal marketing?

If you would like to find out answers to these and other questions, please take a few minutes to participate in the online membership marketing benchmark survey.

Simply click here to start the survey.

To thank you for participating, we will send you a free copy of the results analysis and final report. Individual responses will be kept strictly confidential.

Use the link below to complete the survey now:

Thanks in advance for your help.

Should you Plan for the Worst or Plan for the Best?

I enjoy reading blogs as well as writing the Membership Marketing Blog.

One blog that I visit regularly is an economics blog, Carpe Diem. It is written by Dr. Mark J. Perry who is a professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan.

He recently wrote the following on the topic of negativism in the media and from other economists.

“I made a decision a long time ago not to make my career a bet on bad things happening. I think that approach simply corrodes your strategic thought capacity. Human history is progress, so if you’re constantly having to screen out the good to spot the bad, your vision will be unduly narrow. If you bet on progress, you can easily contextualize the bad, because progress is never linear. But if you bet on retreat, you must consistently discount advances as “illusions” and “buying time” and so on, and after a while, you’re just this broken clock who’s dead-on twice a day.”

His guidance applies to membership marketing. When we see weaker marketing results or a declining membership, we can bet on continued bad things happening. Or we can accept the reality of what is happening and get excited about trying to find a solution.

I am an optimist at heart. But this approach seems like a good one to me. What do you think?

Real Strategic Solutions

In her blog, Ann Oliveri pointed me to a recent article in The McKinsey Quarterly that I think is a good read.

The article focuses on the business opportunities in times of crisis.

“There is nothing like a crisis to clarify the mind. In suddenly volatile and different times, you must have a strategy. I don’t mean most of the things people call strategy—mission statements, audacious goals, three- to five-year budget plans. I mean a real strategy. . . By strategy, I mean a cohesive response to a challenge. A real strategy is neither a document nor a forecast but rather an overall approach based on a diagnosis of a challenge. The most important element of a strategy is a coherent viewpoint about the forces at work, not a plan.”

The article goes onto outline what the strategic focus should be during a crisis.

“So during structural breaks in hard times, cutting costs isn’t enough. Things have to be done differently, and on two levels: reducing the complexity of corporate structures and transforming business models. At the corporate level, the first commandment is to simplify and simplify again . . . Then start reforming individual businesses . . . In general terms, the first task is to understand how a business has survived, competed, and made money in the past.”[1]

So often we tend to overcomplicate the world. In many cases there are simple solutions to some of our problems. And those solutions are often buried in our core reason for being. We forget what brought us to the point of success.

Sometime we just need to take a swing and hit the ball.

[1] DECEMBER 2008, Richard P. Rumelt, Strategy in a ‘structural break’, The Mckinsey Quarterly

Job Consultants say, “Join Your Professional Association”

It has often been repeated on this blog that membership in a professional association is a career enhancing step that professionals should take and that we should market to our prospective members. However, it is nice when those who are helping people find jobs repeat the same advice.

I came across several such recommendations from professional career counselors today.

For students, Sally Kearsley, wrote an article on Jobweb, It Pays to Join a Professional Association and said, “Want to do something great for your future job hunt and your career? Consider joining a professional association--or the student chapter of a professional association! There is a professional association for almost any career field you can mention and you can join at any time, freshman to senior year (or beyond).”

Lynn Friedman gave this advice to those earning a graduate degree, “You have some basic skills but feel that you are only at the beginning. How do you continue professional development and growth? First, join a professional organization within your discipline.”[1]

Carol Rogers, vice president and lead consultant for human resources firm Right Management in Rockville emphasized the importance of highlighting your professional associations on your resume for more experience professionals. She says, “prune your resume and reshape it so it’s relevant . . . [and] indicate if you a member of professional organizations.” [2]

When the experts are recommending this to students, graduates and experienced professionals, it is probably a theme that you should also pick up in your membership marketing.

[1] By Lynn Friedman, Ph.D., Life After Earning a Graduate Degree, Washington Post.
[2] Vickie Elmer, Turning One’s Age into a Job-Market Asset, The Washington Post, Sunday, April 5, 2009, page H1.

Creativity Meets Time Tested Techniques

Is there such a thing as too much creativity?

A good marketer starts out a new project by asking the question, “What if?” What if we reach out to a new market? What if we make a special offer? What if we try a new marketing media channel?

However, when it comes down to implementing a program, the “what if” possibilities have to be balanced against “what if it does not work”. We are after all responsible for producing results and often our jobs, clients, or companies are depending on our sales.

Here are a few ideas on how to keep creative ideas flowing, but minimize the risk associated with launching them.

  1. It is unlikely that any of us will reinvent the wheel. Lot’s of great marketing ideas have been tried over the years. See if your new idea matches a successful program in some other industry. If someone else is doing the same type of promotion with success, then it may be a good indicator it is worth a try in your market. For example, associations can learn some creative membership renewal techniques from magazine publishers (and visa versa).

  2. Do an economics reality check to see if your creative idea is viable. If you normally get a 1% response rate, but need to get a 10% response rate to pay for your creative idea then think twice. As exciting as it might be, there is a reason why a 30 second Super Bowl commercial may not make sense economically for most professional or trade associations.

  3. Test your new idea. Good marketing is built on setting up statistically reliable tests to validate what method is superior by running a “test” (new creative idea) against the old reliable “control”. The single biggest mistake made by most marketers is too little testing of new ideas and concepts. Way back in 1923, Claude C. Hopkins, the father of direct marketing, wrote, “We learn the principles and prove them by repeated tests. This is done through keyed advertising by traced returns…We compare one way with many others, backward and forward, and record the results. When one method invariably proves best, that method becomes a fixed principle.”[1] Testing allows your members or customers to vote with their dollars on whether they like your new idea or not.

You will notice that I did not list standard research techniques as methods to validate your creative ideas. They can be used successfully. But remember, in marketing majority does NOT rule. If 90 percent of your prospective customers dislike your concept, but 10 percent love it and buy, you are a hero. So any research has to be careful of shooting down an idea that some economically viable segment of a market will support and buy.

What do you think? Feel free to add your comments.

[1] Claude C. Hopkins, Scientific Advertising (NTC Business Books, 1991).

Recording of Membership Marketing Webinar Now Online

Several weeks ago, before spring appeared here in Virginia, I presented a webinar titled, Membership Growth Principles: Best Practices in Membership Marketing sponsored by Socious.

At the time, I forgot to mention that the webinar recording of the presentation was available. You can listen in and get the slides here.

I think that you will find the presentation gives a good overview of membership marketing with a focus on economics (renewal, lifetime value, maximum acquisition cost), market segmentation, the membership product value proposition, and promotional strategy.