Integrating Channels and Content to Recruit Members

Testing is such a powerful tool in direct marketing. I would like to share today the outcomes of two tests that produced a substantial pop in results.

The first has to do with channel integration – connecting with a prospective member through multiple media.

We tested this recently using mail and email simultaneously to prospective members. We split our audience into two groups. One group only received a direct mail membership solicitation. The second group received the same direct mail package, but also received a follow up email. The mail only group produced a 1.23% response rate. The combined mail and email group produced a 2.08% response rate. This represents a 69% lift in overall response by adding the email.

I have seen a number of tests combining mail and email in membership acquisition over the past year and in each case the combination has improved response over either channel used in isolation. In adding email to the marketing mix, it is important to remember that email is not free. Often email lists needed to be rented for the promotion and the creation, deployment, and building a companion microsite also involves costs.

A second test included channel integration, but added to the mix exclusive and useful content. I call this content integration.

Here is how this test was structured. The prospect list was split evenly and the relevant touches were sent out at the same time.

The control group received a direct mail solicitation and a follow up membership recruitment email. The email provided a link to a customized microsite with an in-depth presentation of the organization’s membership benefits.

The test group received the same direct mail solicitation, but a series of emails where used to follow up the mailing. The first follow up email offered access to a microsite full of information on how an organization could take advantage of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The second email provided a link to another microsite that included a staff presentation again focused on how to access funding from the ARRA.

The third and final email replicated the control email from above and provided a link to the microsite outlining the membership benefits.

So the test really focused on the use of free, exclusive and relevant content to engage the prospective member.

The test group was the decisive winner. Allowing for a statistical margin of error, the test group outperformed the control group by over 300%. It did over three times better in both the number of members and in dues revenue.

What can we learn from these tests? One lesson is that intensity is important in marketing. More touches with valuable content in a short period of time gets a prospects attention. In addition, all of the communications pushed toward a sale.

Feel free to post your questions or observations about these tests here.

A Response to Acronym Blog: Membership Recruitment and Retention are Alive and Well

Scott Briscoe wrote a post yesterday on the Acronym blog entitled, “RIP: Membership?” He writes, “I am firmly in the camp that this model is dying. I believe that the nature of the way people affiliate, and what they expect to get out of it, is changing.”

I think everyone will agree that the world is changing, but I am not ready just yet to put association membership in the grave.

Here are several of reasons.

First, in our Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 45 percent of association executives reported that membership had increased over the past year. Only 35% saw a decrease. That is pretty good considering the economy—it beat the stock market.

Additionally, 49 percent of association executives reported an increase in new member input over the past year. While only 21% saw new member input fall. The survey had over 500 participants.

Finally, I think that there is a more important indicator out there related to health of membership model. If the concept of membership is in decline then why are for profit companies running full speed toward a membership business model? I believe that they are doing it because it makes economic sense.

In the past, I have highlighted this strategic embrace of the membership concept among companies and organizations. Here are some of the posts discussing this trend.

Corporations Coop Membership Marketing – For profit marketers argue that every company should offer membership.

Costco Membership Up 30,000 per Week and Renewals at All-Time High of 87% -- Costco does not seem to be having a problem selling membership.

A Wake-Up Call for Associations – Magazines are offering association membership services

Exploring Alternative Membership Models -- Everyone from insurance companies to museums to retailers now offer membership.

So perhaps the issue is not that association membership is dying, but that association membership needs to be more effectively presented and managed.

One of the goals of this blog is to help membership marketers more effectively use this customer relationship called membership. I continue to believe that membership is an ideal model for an organization that provides good value and services to customers and wants to strengthen that relationship.

A Blue Ocean Strategy for Membership Marketing

Stepping back and looking at the big picture is what three day weekends help us to do. So I wanted to share a couple of concepts that I came across today in re-reading the book, Blue Ocean Strategy.

As marketers, we tend to continually refine and focus our segmentation. But what if we took the opposite approach and looked for larger commonalities in the marketplace?

That’s what Kim and Mauborgne recommend in their book. The authors write:

“Typically to grow their share of market, companies strive to retain and expand existing customers. This often leads to finer segmentation and greater tailoring of offerings to better meet customer preferences. . . As companies compete to embrace customer preferences through finer segmentation, they often risk creating too-small target markets. To maximize the size of their blue oceans, companies need to take a reverse course. Instead of concentrating on customers, they need to look to noncustomers. And instead of focusing on customer differences, they need to build on powerful commonalities in what buyers value. That allows companies to reach beyond existing demand to unlock new mass customers that did not exist before.”[1]

Here are a couple of other unconventional solutions from Blue Ocean Strategy.

The authors claim that extensive customer research may not be the best method of opening up new strategies and markets.

“Our research found that customers can scarcely imagine how to create uncontested market space. Their insight also tends toward the familiar ‘offer me more for less’. And what customers typically want ‘more’ of are those product and service features that the industry currently offers.”[2]

So what is one way a company can evaluate a new strategy? They recommend, “A good way to test the effectiveness and strength of a strategy is to look at whether it contains a strong and authentic tagline.”[3]

If you cannot put your promise into a clear and concise tagline then you should question whether or not it is a viable offering.

[1] W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, Harvard Business School Press, 2005, page 101 and 102.
[2] Ibid. page 27.
[3] Ibid. page 40.

Impact of Frequency of Contact in Membership Recruitment

You often hear the advertising wisdom that it takes seven impressions to produce a buying decision. You also may have read in our Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report the power of continuing contact with renewing and lapsed members.

But how do these concepts apply to the frequency of contact when looking at membership recruitment or acquisition? Is there a correlation between the number of new member solicitations and the likelihood of a prospective member joining?

We asked this question recently and set up a test to help find the answer. Here is what we did.

With one membership marketing client that uses fairly static prospecting lists that we have compiled, we went back in our data to identify the number of times we had sent a mailing to the prospective member over the past three years. We then tagged prospective members by the number of contacts.

Then in a subsequent campaign, we defined our lists by the number of mailings that the potential member had previously received and tracked back our responses to these “lists”. Here is how responses broke out.

Clearly our analysis highlights that for this group there is an erosion of response from people who have been mailed multiple times. So with this organization, to maximize net revenue and work with tighter budgets, we dropped the prospects who had been contacted more than seven times from some upcoming campaigns. By eliminating these prospects, we saw response rates jump up. However, after resting these records for several campaigns, we will re-introduce them in future promotions.

In the coming months, I will be doing more analysis with mailers who have a longer history and higher frequency of contacts.