Membership Marketing Response Rates by State

It is fun to slice and dice data. So the other day, we decided to run response rates by state for one membership organization. Over a million pieces of recruitment mail were analyzed that went out over several campaigns and there were over 10,000 paid responses. No geographical variations were requested in any of the original lists used.
What did we discover?  From the best responding state to the worst responding state, we found a 360% variance in response rate.

I will share, some of the best and worst states, but please be aware the results do not mean that it is good or bad to mail into any of these states. It only reflects how some prospects in these states responded to a particular product offering at a specific point in time. Nevertheless, it might be a worthwhile analysis to do for your marketing efforts.

The top responding states were:

1. Vermont
2. South Dakota
3. Rhode Island
4. Wyoming
5. Utah

The lowest responding states were:

1. West Virginia
2. Alabama
3. California
4. Alaska
5. Washington DC

The efficiency of your marketing efforts can often be improved by doing some fairly simple data analysis. What analysis have you done that has helped to focus your marketing efforts?

Six Membership Renewal Tips to Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness

A number of you have requested the sample renewal form that I mentioned the other day. Since it looks like a lot of us are taking a close look at renewals, I thought I would also share some practical renewal tips that you may want to consider in developing or revising a membership renewal series.

Here are six tips to help make your renewal series more efficient and effective.

1. To save postage and avoid inventory controls all notices (months 8 to 16) mail in one zip string. This means that we use common inventory each month for all notices that are sent out whether it is the first or last notice.

2. Messages for each notice are done using variable laser copy. This allows the headlines and voice to change with each notice. The messages can focus on special offers or unique benefits and become more forceful with each subsequent month.

3. We manufacture the same envelope for renewals, but simply use a variety of paper colors. So a different color envelope goes out each month. In January, for example, all of the renewals might be sent out in a yellow envelope.

4. Likewise six different versions of a renewal buck slip are printed six up on 11 x 17 inch sheets then cut. This allows for a different buck slip to be rotated into the renewals over a six month period highlighting a specific member benefit. The July version of a buck slip might highlight the benefits of the organization’s online community.

5. Renewal envelopes use an oversized window to allow the variable headline copy to show through the envelope. The effective of this is to provide a personalized teaser message to each renewal cohort – month 8 to 16.

6. Finally, our Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey confirmed the effectiveness of higher frequency renewal programs. The data indicated that the sweet spot was between seven and ten renewal contacts.

I hope this information is of help. Please post your thoughts and comments below.

The Difference between a Membership Renewal and a Membership Invoice

Sometimes I see the terms renewal notice and invoice used interchangeably in membership and circulation development. I thought that it might be helpful to point out that there is an important legal difference between the two.

“An invoice is a bill sent by a provider of a product or service to the purchaser. The invoice establishes an obligation on the part of the purchaser to pay, creating an account receivable.”1

However, when a membership is up for renewal, there is no obligation to pay and no account receivable. The member has not received anything and has the option to pay, but no legal obligation to pay. Therefore, a renewal notice is not an invoice and cannot use the word "invoice"

There are cases where an invoice can be sent to a member. An invoice is acceptable if a prospective member requests to be invoiced from a membership solicitation or from a renewal notice. In this case, because the member has agreed to take on the obligation to pay, an invoicing the member is the proper response.

By the way, if you need to redesign your renewal notice based on this post or for any other reason and want a sample of a successful membership renewal notice, please let me know and I will send one along to you.

1. Jean Murray, Guide, US Business Law/Taxes

The Number One Mistake in Membership Marketing

Perhaps the number one mistake in membership marketing is not conducting marketing tests in each promotion. By not testing, organizations sub-optimize the effectiveness of their marketing.

My colleague, Jeremy Griffin, and one of our clients presented a case for market testing at the just concluded ASAE Great Ideas Conference. The presentation highlights the power of incorporating marketing tests in membership marketing promotions and details high leverage testing opportunities.

Here it is. I hope you find it useful.

When Cutting the Budget is No Longer the Answer

What a difference a year can make. On March 5, 2009 the Dow Jones hit a low of 6,594.44 and gloom abounded. Today the economy is still struggling, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.  

If the number of calls and inquiries that I am getting are any indication, then I think many membership organizations have realized that they have cut all of the expenses that they can. The only option now for fiscal health is to grow revenue.

A recent article in Industry Week by Cory VanBuskirk echoes this perspective.

“Here's the good news:” he writes, “So far, you've been able to survive one of the worst economic downturns in American history. Before you congratulate yourself, you need to face the bad news. The very things that have enabled you to survive will cause your downfall if you don't shift into growth mode now.”1

VanBuskirk goes on to say, “If you're going to make a successful shift back into growth mode, you have to retool the organization for driving revenue vs. saving money. It's time to realign people from efficiency to customer-driven effectiveness. Don't underestimate the differences between these two approaches. Resources, talent and priorities must flow toward revenue drivers.”2

Have you and your organization made the shift from cost cutting to growth? If you are ready to start growing, here are some tips on where to start.

• Do not judge the health of membership by your renewal rates. Renewals are a lagging indicator for membership in this economy. Judge your economic situation based on new member input.

• Get the jump on adding new members. Just like you, prospective members are looking for a resource to leverage their own growth. Almost everyone I speak with is seeing improvement in membership acquisition right now. In fact, acquisition is actually producing comparatively better results than renewals for most membership organizations.

• Reach out to the members who left your organization during the recession and see if they are ready to come back. They need to grow just as much as you do.

• Grab talent now while it is available. Whether this means adding key staff or bringing on consultants, now is a great time to leverage top people resources to get momentum going in the right direction.

Please feel free to add any tips you might have in the comments section.

1. How to Survive Your Survival: The keys to successfully shifting into growth mode, Cory VanBuskirk, CVB Consulting Group, Industry Week March 10, 2010.

2. Ibid.

Testing a Free Trial Membership Acquisition Program

There is a long history of using free trial offers in membership marketing. In essence a free trial offer substitutes providing member services for marketing efforts. It is an attempt to have the product sell itself.

I thought that I would highlight four basic methods that I have used or observed others use to bump up membership returns using trials. By doing some quick calculations, you can determine if one of these methods might be good to try.

1. Opt-in Trial: This method is perhaps the most common in membership marketing. The option features and initial promotion to prospects and asks them to accept a membership trial. Upon acceptance, the respondent receives membership for a specified period of time and additional promotions requesting that he or she join. Depending on the quality of the list, the initial response can be between three and five percent. The final conversion can be about 30 percent. The advantage is that you are only providing free services to a low number of prospective members who request the trial and converting a larger portion of them.

2. Force Free Trial: This method provides a free-trial to a qualified audience that did not specifically ask for the trial. It may be a list that you have compiled or that is supplied to you by some other source like current members. Services are provided to these prospective members for a period of time and then these prospects are asked to convert to a paid status. The final conversion rate from a well qualified list can be about 10 percent. One challenge to this method is that you are providing services to a much larger group with a proportionately lower level of payment because they never directly requested the membership trial.

3. No-Obligation Trial: Like the opt-in trial, this method gives a prospective member the choice to ask for benefits. But there is one key difference. When a prospect agrees to this trial, he or she also agrees to allow the organization to invoice them for the membership. The respondent has the choice to pay an invoice or write “cancel” on the invoice and owe nothing. Getting permission to invoice can dramatically increase the final paid rate especially if the prospective member can submit the invoice for company payment. The initial response to this type of offer can be one to three percent. However, the final payment rate can be as high as 50 percent.

4. Negative Option Free Trial: This is a method that I have not used, but it is becoming increasingly common. Under this method, when a free trial is accepted, the respondent provides their credit card information and has a limited period of time to evaluate the membership. If the trial is cancelled by the respondent, there is not charge. However, if no notice is given then the respondents credit card is charged for the membership.

In the March 2010 edition of ASAE’s Membership Developments newsletter, Karen Krzmarzick, CAE, the Executive Director, of the American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators (ASOA) reported on her success with one free trial method. By my definition, ASOA tried both a force free trial and opt-in trial approach.

For the force free trial, ASOA “sent individual emails out to each physician member of ASCRS [a partnering organization] asking for the name of physician's practice administrator. These individuals where then automatically signed up for the free trial program. “

Also, as an opt-in approach, ASOA said that they “placed ads on our website and promoted the program through business-reply cards in industry magazines.”1

ASOA was encouraged by the outcome. Overall membership is growing. They reported 700 current free trial participants and a conversion rate of 11 percent to membership.

However, what works for one organization may not work for another. If an organization has a large potential market and a low dues rate, for example, the force free trial may be far too expensive to deploy. On the other hand, in a small niche market, getting only 3 percent of the market to try a free trial may not produce the volume of new members needed to grow. 

Here is the bottom line, always run the numbers for your particular situation before launching a new membership marketing initiative.

1. ASAE Membership Developments, March 5, 2010,