The 25 Most Important Lessons in Membership Marketing

One of the sections that I find most interesting in our benchmarking research is the responses to our open ended question about lessons learned. We asked:

In your own words, what are the most important lessons you have learned in the area of membership marketing?

This year, we had over three hundred and eighty participants take the time to share their thoughts on lessons learned. I went through them and pulled out a representative sample of 25 responses.

Here are the insights that your fellow membership marketing professionals shared.

1. Recruitment and retention efforts require more "touches" than ever, and certainly more than, say, ten years ago. Associations must work to break through their members' "clutter."

2. Focus on the numbers. Construct and regularly monitor membership metrics to guide decision making and expenditures.

3. You can't grow without an acquisition program. A retention program simply maintains the membership or perhaps has a decline as people leave the profession or die.

4. The profession we support is going through a period of redefinition. The membership structure that has served us well for many years is now obsolete. What I have learned is the biggest barrier is that in volunteer run association, business decisions take too long and there we are not nimble as an organization in our ability to respond to the changes in our market with changes to our own business model.

5. You have to keep in there pitching every day. There is no "silver bullet" - direct mail, email, social media, events, member get a member. They all have their place.

6. The current economy has made everyone take a serious look at value for member dues. The abstract notion of "affiliation" is no longer enough. The surge of technology has caused a social media explosion that is difficult to keep up with and challenging to imitate. The bar has been raised in the areas of networking and providing up-to-date and exclusive information. We can no longer be a vague "something for everyone"; we need to develop a well-defined value proposition that resonates in today’s environment.

7. Surveying the membership base on a regular basis and always requesting and listening to feedback is extremely important to the association. Never assume the membership base wants or needs the benefits you feel they need/want.

8. In a down economy, it's more important than ever to stay in the marketplace and keep brand awareness strong. Do whatever it takes to maintain budget levels and continue solicitation efforts. That's key in ensuring you'll be well positioned once the economy begins to turn...and always continue to test - new efforts, offers, ideas, messaging, lists, etc.

9. That there is an actual discipline to it that needs to be followed, studied, and consistently applied.

10. Integrated marketing is key - no one channel is guaranteed for recruitment or renewal. I need to use direct mail, email, telemarketing and social media for each campaign.

11. Keep testing, even after you think you have found the magic bullet. Know your market and your competition. Understand your organization's business objectives and tie them to your membership marketing programs.

12. Reaching out to new members about 3 months after they've joined has won us good will. We talk about free member services and make sure they know how to take advantage of them and ask if they have any questions about their membership. They really seem to appreciate the check in.

13. Old programs such as branch/chapter, member get a member worked in the 80's and 90's. Need to sunset those, and fulfill needs of younger generation: quick turnaround, fewer hierarchies, ease of renewals, instant information, and willingness to engage.

14. Value is key to membership retention. Marketing is key to membership growth.

15. Having a clear message from leadership regarding the vision and purpose of the organization. It is key that all members understand and be able to share with others the purpose and value of the organization

16. Successful membership means instituting and implementing consistent processes and procedures for renewals, testing new membership techniques and messages, and always pursuing lapsed members.

17. You need to continue to try new things and track what works and what doesn't.

18. Clearly define goals, test the offer and meticulously record the results.

19. Investments in marketing pay off.

20. Multiple contacts are very important.

21. Membership should work with marketing to actually create a campaign.

22. Success depends on building relationships with our member companies, "drilling down" and developing relationships with multiple contacts at the member company and regularly communicating the value that the association provides to each member in multiple ways

23. Be persistent, circumstances can change regarding interest in membership. Every prospect has a "sweet" spot; you just have to find it.

24. We are not competing with other associations; we are competing for member dollars with for profit service providers and personal expenditures.

25. Times have changed - Members are looking at Association memberships much more carefully than they used to. The VALUE has to be there for the member to renew.

Feel free to add your own thoughts on lessons learned in the comments section below.  Which insights listed here do you agree with and with which do you disagree? 


David M. Patt, CAE said...

Great lessons, Tony. I think #14 sums it up best - Value is everything (my rephrasing).

Everything else is just tactics.

Two things to consider:

1. Businesses don't always make swift decisions. In fact, big corporations are often very slow to decide. Association slowness is sometimes a plus. It ensures everything has been considered. Small business sometimes jump into things that should have been better throught-through first.

2. Every association - and business and other organization - is different. There is no ONE answer to issues of membership marketing or association futures.

If you deliver value, however you do it, people will buy.

Tony Rossell said...

David -- Good point. Thanks for your comment. I do think that value is critical, but I will say that good tactical marketing can make a weaker value offering succeed and poor marketing can make a stronger value offering falter. Tony