Product and Service Engagement Drives Membership Retention and Growth

The connection between the products and services offered by an association and the impact of usage of these on membership is profound. Effectively, it is the fast track to membership success.

Intuitively, we all know that members using the associations services is good, but seeing the statistics to support it highlights the critical nature in the membership lifecycle of member engagement.

In our soon to be published 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, we asked associations to tell us first whether they offered a specific program or service and then the proportion of their members that participated in it. For example, if an association had an annual conference or trade show, what proportion of the members attended? If a product or service was not offered by an organization then they were excluded from the analysis for that particular item. Overall, we had more than 650 unique associations respond to this question.

What we found is that usage had a very strong correlation with many key membership statistics. Organizations that reported a higher level of usage where more likely to say that they experienced better outcomes in their membership results.

Here are the products and services where a higher proportion of members who had the following actions correlated with better membership outcomes (the average level of member participation for groups that offer the product is in parenthesis after each item):

• Attend their annual meeting or trade show (23%)
• Attend at least one of their professional development meeting (22%)
• Attend at least one of their webinars (16%)
Volunteered with the organization (12%)
• Participate in their private social network (13%)
• Participate in their public social network (13%)
• Participate in their young professional program (8%)
Upgrade their membership to a higher level (12%)
• Purchase a book or directory (13%)
• Acquire or maintain a certification (22%)
Donate to the foundation or PAC (10%)

With each of these behaviors, a higher proportion of membership usage correlated with an:

• Increase in overall membership over the past year
• Increase in overall membership over the past five years
• Increase in new members over the past year
• Increase in renewal rates over the past year

Sometimes survey data highlights new insights and sometimes it confirms long held beliefs. In this case, most people would agree that it makes sense that valuable products and services offered by a membership organization will result in more members and higher levels of retention. Nevertheless, it is always good to validate long held beliefs. And by the way, there is a product or two offered by many associations where there was not a correlation between usage and membership growth, but you will have to read the final report to find out what product that is.


Jeff De Cagna/@pinnovation said...

Tony, I very much appreciate you sharing these data for your report. From my perspective, the numbers you show above should send a chill down the spine of every association leader. Your results show that, on average, less than 25% of association members are availing themselves of the products and services offered by their associations. What about the other 75% or more of members who are not using any of these products or services? What unique and meaningful value are they deriving from their pay-to-play experience of associating? More importantly, how does this experience of associating help them achieving their 21st century outcomes?

While association orthodoxy forces to view membership as the only thing that matters to our organizations, these data provide even more evidence of the enormous value gap most associations are experiencing with their current stakeholders, to say nothing of future stakeholders whose expectations and outcomes will be quite different. The bottom line is that association business models are broken and in need of radical innovation right away.

Tony Rossell said...

Hi Jeff -- Thanks so much for the comment. I guess you can look at these numbers from a glass is half full or half empty perspective. I tend to think the glass is half full for two reasons.

First, the average percentages of members who use a product are related to that one product. So if 23% of the members attend the annual meeting, another 22% attend a seminar, and another 13% participate in the private social media site, pretty soon you could be looking at a fairly substantial portion of the members using the products and services of an association.

Secondly, I do think an 80/20 rule applies with most products. My firm offers a number of services ranging from survey research, to member recruitment, to member engagement, to renewals, to web design, to internet marketing, to list management. I would love it if each client used everything that we offer, but that does not happen. I think that the same is true with associations. Members may use one or two services, but if an association offers 10 product lines, it is unlikely that members will use all of them.

Let me know what you think of my glass is half full perspective.


Jeff De Cagna/@pinnovation said...

Tony, thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. I don't think of this as a glass half full/empty conversation. Instead, I think we need to make a deeper and more sober appraisal of what these numbers tell us.

I understand your point about the percentages but you and I both know from experience that there is sure to be considerable overlap in those figures. The 23% of members who attend the annual meeting is likely to include some (and perhaps a great many) of the people who attend a seminar or participate in social media. The more active people do more things, which means the overall unique participation level is likely to be lower.

Of course, I agree that not all stakeholders will take advantage of every value offer made by their associations. It is the shockingly low level of usage that I find alarming. And, in my view, the reason why the numbers are so low is because there is a value gap between what associations offer, and our stakeholders' expectations and intended outcomes.

Association business models are designed to sell memberships instead of creating radical new value. Changing societal economics and stakeholder expectations demand that we design new association business models capable of delivering much thicker value in ways that are both purposeful and profitable.

Tony Rossell said...

Hi Jeff -- One of the things that I have always appreciated about you is your desire to see and help membership organizations reach new heights in delivering value. Your comments are right on target with that characteristic. And I would hope that everyone would agree that helping associations excel in value delivery should be a goal for all of us. So thanks for sharing your insights.

Where we may diverge is that I do not believe that the current state of many associations "demand that we design new association business models". Instead, I find that in many cases the business models are sound, but the execution of those models is flawed. For example, one of the reasons that I write this blog is that I find many membership organizations are not using best practices in membership marketing. When they do put in place excellent marketing practices, we have seen membership grow by more than 50% over the past five years.

And solid execution of the membership model is not limited to the non-profit world. In the for profit world, I continue to see companies flocking to the membership model as an effective customer relationship tool.

I am aware that you can also give me examples of groups that had a flawed business model and the only way to save them was to blow up what they had and re-build. So I will grant you that fixing execution will not always save the patient. But in many cases it will. Tony