Four Association Strategic Growth Options


As you start the New Year, it is a good time to step back and think what big picture strategy is the best option to grow your organization in 2016.
For associations, growth strategies usually center either on membership or product and service offerings.  This matrix presents a simplified way of viewing these options. 

The top two quadrants are membership focused and achieve growth by either retaining more members or recruiting additional new members.
The bottom two quadrants are product and services focused and achieve growth by either increasing the usage (purchases) of current products and services or developing wholly new products and services. 
Typically, the right hand “new” quadrants are the most challenging strategies to execute.  They are the innovation quadrants.  However, successfully developed and deployed, they can produce substantial growth.  The left hand “existing” quadrants are the optimization quadrants.  They offer less risk, but also reward. 
One overarching decision when selecting a strategy is also to ask, “How does this support the mission of my organization?” The ultimate purpose of a new strategy serves as a means to accomplishing your organization’s mission. However, a mission also needs financial support and growth is one of the best ways to generate additional support. 
Which growth strategy best supports your organizations mission and goals for 2016?

Four Questions to Answer before Setting a Membership Growth Goal


The late, great Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.”
His thoughts certainly hold true in membership marketing.  Everyone likes a catchy phrase.  A leader may have stated a goal like, “20,000 members by the year 2020.” However, the frustration and challenge for many membership marketers is the goal may have been set without understanding the context of what it will take to achieve the goal.
Setting a membership development goal is a great idea, but to make it realistic, it requires the answer to four foundational questions.
·        Who are the prospective members that you want to recruit and are there enough of them to achieve the goal?

·        What is the value proposition that will appeal to these prospects and are there products and services to support the value proposition?

·        How will these prospects be reached (marketing channels), how often (frequency), how will they be incentive to act (offer), and how will the results be measured?

·        What is the economic model to reach the goal including the necessary budget availability, the required ROI, and the projected life time value of a member?
These are not easy questions to work through for an organization.  And there may be some resistance to the process because everyone is looking for a “silver bullet” answer or they may feel they already have the answer, “if we only do this, we will solve our membership problem.” 

But if these important planning questions are not addressed, the likelihood of ending up “someplace else” other than where you hoped is very likely.
The bottom line: before setting or agreeing to a membership growth goal, do the homework to make sure that it is reasonable, sustainable, measurable, and economically feasible.

Integrating Membership Marketing Channels to Grow Your Association


The truth is that there is no stand-alone marketing channel that can fully support membership marketing.
You may hear marketers say that they have done away with direct mail and now only communicate with email.  Or they only use inbound or content marketing and do not send messages to prospective members through traditional outbound efforts.
But the proverb “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” certainly applies here.  The integration of multiple marketing channels working together produces the best results in getting and keeping members.
Here are six marketing channels that can work together to support a thriving membership program. 
1.      Word of Mouth – Sometime opportunities are handed to you that you can capitalize on quickly through Word of Mouth efforts.  One client – the American Nurses Association – used a negative comment on a national television show to gain significant exposure and appreciation for defending their members' professionalism through their social media word of mouth efforts.  In fact, Word of Mouth and membership referrals are consistently reported as the most productive ways to recruit new members.  The challenge is to consistently harness and motivate this people driven channel. 

2.      Inbound Marketing – One of the fastest growing marketing channels used in membership is Inbound Marketing.  This takes advantage of paid advertising with search engines, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online opportunities to present free content or special offers  to prospects.  It can even be effective in engaging and renewing current members who may not open an email, but will respond to an opportunity they see from you on Facebook.  Inbound marketing offers free, valuable content in exchange for the respondent agreeing to opt-in to future communications.  Those who show interest can then be followed up with through traditional "push" marketing efforts.  And because they raised their hand and demonstrated interest in your materials, those who opt-in can respond to your other marketing efforts at five times the rate of “cold” prospects.

3.      Direct Mail – This channel remains one of the most effective and scalable methods to recruit and renew members because it is easily targeted, trackable, and tactile.  In fact, our 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlighted that for organizations with budgets over $5 million or those that have over 20,000 members, direct mail is the most effective tactic for recruitment. And previous research shows that associations with renewal rates of 80% or higher are significantly more likely than those with lower renewal rates to say direct mail is the most effective membership renewal channel.

4.      Email – Once a prospect is added to the database after a lead is captured, a purchase is made, or someone joins the association, email becomes the most commonly used marketing channel.  It makes sense because email is fast, inexpensive, and includes links back to the website where a sale can be completed.  Email also allows you to read the behavior of the recipient.  Did the email bounce? Did the recipient open the email?  Did they click through a specific link?  There are many tips and techniques that can help to optimize email for even better results. 

5.      Telemarketing and Telephone Sales – With Caller ID, getting through to a prospect or members on the phone has become a more challenging task, but for a highly qualified prospect, like a lapsed member, telemarketing is very effective.  The former member may have long since stopped reading your email or opening you mailings, but a call from another human on the end of the phone to answer questions or encourage a decision can make a difference.  A phone calls from a peer or a staff person can be particularly effective.

6.      Social Media – By 2015, 91% of individual membership associations have an official Facebook page, 87% use Twitter, 60% have a LinkedIn group, and 56% have a YouTube channel.  Clearly social media has been almost completely integrated into associations marketing and communications mix.  This low or no cost channel allows you to have a storefront on the main street of the internet.  The trick is to get prospects and members to move from window shoppers into the store as buyers.

In addition to these primary membership marketing channels, there are many others to consider including radio and TV commercials, exhibiting, chapter initiatives, and print advertising.
Each of these channels is a marketing tool with strengths and weaknesses.  Some of these like Word of Mouth, Inbound, and Social Media can be most effective in starting a relationship with a prospect and getting the conversation started.  Others like Email, Direct Mail, and Telemarketing are tools that are particularly effective in closing a sale and taking an order.  But none of them can be fully effective without the support of the others. 
As you plan your membership marketing efforts, think through how each of these channels might best be used to help accomplish your goals. 

Maximizing the Value You Deliver to Members


Delivering products and services to members involves choices.  How much of your budget, staff time, and promotional efforts should go into any given product or service?   What products and services attract new members and help to keep them?  Understanding this defines value.
One method to help make these decisions is to ask members and staff to rate offerings through two questions. How important is a given product or service? And how well does the organization deliver these offerings?
Benefits that are important and well delivered need to be promoted.  Benefits that are important to members, but are not well delivered, for any number of reasons, require investment to improve them.  And benefits that are of little value can be set aside or eliminated.

Here is a matrix to help define these options. 
So where can we find value to get and keep members?  Defining what is truly important to members and then being sure to deliver it with quality, timeliness, and at an acceptable cost creates value.

Cleaning and Enhancing Data for Better Membership Marketing


Perhaps one of the most talked about topics in membership marketing today is data.  Topics range from cleaning data to appending third party information to member and customers records.  The reason for this increased focus is that good data empowers more efficient marketing and leads to better targeting and results.
Poor data is a major problem.  The USPS estimates that “almost 25% of all mail pieces have something wrong with the address -- for instance, a missing apartment number or a wrong ZIP Code.”  And 17 percent of Americans change their address annually.
But there are tools available to improve data hygiene and scrub your current and former membership data.  You can contract for them through a full service agency or mail house or lease these tools as part of your CRM software.  These tools include:
1.      Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) – CASS software will standardize mailing addresses to the USPS’s preferred presentation of the address.  It can also add missing information like an incorrect ZIP code.

2.      National Change of Address (NCOA) – NCOA includes over 160 million address changes from individuals, families, and business that have been provide to the USPS going back as far as 48 months.

3.      Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service --   The DMA allows people to opt-out of receiving direct mail solicitations.  This file is available to identify those in your database who do not wish to receive mailings.

4.      Social Security Administration (SSA) Deceased File – This database contains 86 million deceased records to help remove these people from your database.  In a recent running of this file, we matched .4% of the current and former members of one organization matched the SSA database.

5.      Merge, Purge, and De-Duplication – Invariably duplicate records will find their way into anyone’s database.  The merge-purge process identifies matching records based on an algorithm and highlights duplicate contacts even when they are not an exact match (different spellings of names or work versus home addresses).
 
Keep in mind that these data hygiene tools are not a onetime fix, but a regular practice that needs to be done to maintain accurate records.  And once you have gone through the cleaning process, be sure to establish and maintain standards so new data is checked as it goes into the system.

Once data is cleaned and standardized, appending additional information to the record can provide an opportunity for much better targeting efforts and sending the appropriated messages.  However, you should avoid any appends that your members would view as a violation of their personal or company privacy.  The two primary sources of information are consumer and firm based data appends.
1.      Consumer Data Appending – This service can provide demographic, psychographic, and lifestyle appends based on individuals or households.  Some of these include:  date of birth, income, vehicles, mortgage, marital status, educator, licensure, mail order purchases, phone number, and party affiliation.

2.      Business and Firm Appending --  This service can provide NAIC codes, number of employees, sales volume, phone numbers, years in business, parent and branch identification, key staff, and legal status.
 
The decision on what data to append should be driven by your plan on how you will use it.  What do you need to know to be more targeted, relevant, and accurate?  One organization, for example, in order to enhance their insurance marketing efforts was able to add date of birth to 40 percent of their member records. Another group was able to reach new to the profession individuals using the dates of newly earned professional licenses.

The information in your database is fluid.  The real data changes every day, so there is no perfect database.  However, the practice of regularly cleaning your data and appending important information can drive success for an organization. 

Adding Remarketing to Your Membership and Conference Marketing Mix


In most cases, all of your marketing efforts drive members and customers to your website to join, register, or purchase an item.  But the reality is that once a prospect comes to your website many do not complete their transaction on the first visit.
 
For example, very often potential attendees visit an association’s website to find out the date, location, or cost for a conference.  However, these prospects rarely register right away.  They may need to check their calendar, the cost of flights, or get budget approval to attend.
Similarly, one organization that we serve has a fairly high dues rate that is paid out-of-pocket by the member.  Because they may need to “think it over” before joining, they have nearly 10,000 shopping cart abandons of their membership application each year.
Because an organization’s website is core to the purchasing process and because many prospective members do not buy on their first visit, adding Online Remarking advertising to website is a necessity today for organizations.
A remarketing program involves adding code to specific pages of your website that “cookies” your site’s visitors and then shows them relevant ads on a wide variety of third party sites as they travel across the Internet and reminds them to return.  The two main providers of remarketing advertising are Google and Facebook.  Google remarketing ads run on a wide range of sites that accept ads.  Facebook remarketing ads appear within Facebook application.
You can place the remarketing code on your entire website or on pages specifically related to certain products or programs that you want to promote.  And by placing a conversion code on your thank you page where a transaction is ultimately completed, you are able to monitor that the sale was driven to your site from a click on a specific remarketing ad.
Perhaps most appealing, remarketing programs are generally very economical additions to your marketing mix because your costs are driven not by impressions of ads, but by the actual clicks on the ad driving someone with a proven interest in your organization back to your page.
Marketers spend a lot of money along with time and effort to drive potential members and customers to a website and make a purchase.  Online remarketing advertising offers an effective and economical channel to increase the stickiness of these promotions and remind prospects to complete the purchase that initially sparked their interest.  If you are not now using online remarketing ads, give it a try. 

On Target Membership Marketing

Recently, I had the opportunity to present a session for ASAE on membership marketing. I shared the following three steps to building a strong and sustainable on target membership program.

1. Get Ready – Establish a knowledge foundation by tracking your organization’s key membership statistics and looking at industry benchmarks.
2. Take Aim – Build an economic model for membership that is based on sound principles and helps you set realistic and achievable goals.
3. And Fire – Develop and implement a segmented, high frequency, multi-channel, track-able, and test driven recruitment and retention program.
Here are the slides from that presentation.


The Membership Economy


It is great to find a new book that has been waiting to be written for a long time.  The Membership Economy: Find Your Superusers, Master the Forever Transaction, and Build Recurring Revenue is that book.  It makes the case for the membership relationship across almost all organizational platforms. 
The author, Robbie Kellman Baxter, maintains that membership is the lever for success for organizations from online businesses like Pandora, to communities like LinkedIn; to loyalty programs like airline frequent flyer programs, to traditional programs like Weight Watchers; and yes, even for non-profits and associations. To support this, she offers lessons learned in numerous case studies on how organizations have successfully employed the membership concept.
Baxter argues that “Virtually any organization can become part of the Membership Economy. Membership strengthens loyalty.  Membership strengthens participation.  Membership strengthens referrals.  And organizations that think about membership tend to focus more on providing long-term value, which ultimately leads to better customer lifetime value.  Any CEO who is not thinking about membership is missing a huge opportunity to point his or her organization toward long-term sustainable profitability” (page 22).
In addition to making the case for membership and providing successful case studies, the book shares strategies and tactics, many of which you will see endorsed here on the Membership Marketing Blog, on how to effectively implement and optimize a membership program.  Baxter emphasizes that for effective membership marketing you need to build an acquisition funnel, onboard new members, establish a pricing model, consider a freemium option, track the right data, and retain members.
Some today make the case that membership is obsolete or no longer relevant.  Baxter strongly makes the opposite case.  She says, “A certain type of organization is winning the hearts and voices of their customers, and building the kind of loyalty that traditionally was reserved for family, community, and church.  The secret that these organizations know is that people are craving membership.  Organizations that build their businesses around people’s needs to belong, to be connected, and to be admired, that are focused on relationship over products are winning in today’s economy” (page 9).
The Membership Economy will be published this month and is a great read for anyone considering developing or currently managing a membership program.

The Membership Join Process between a Prospect and an Association


In simple terms, a prospective member goes through a four step buying process and ideally each step of the join process is anticipated and supported by the destination association.
The prospective member join process begins when a prospect says, “I have a problem.”  The prospect may need some piece of information or some specific training to learn a new skill or maintain a license.  Or the prospective member may need to tap into a network for career or businesses advancement.
The next step for the prospect is to search for a solution.  This most likely will be done online.  But he may also ask for a recommendation from a friend or colleague.  Options that they may never have been aware of before come into focus.
Once options are identified, the prospective member will evaluate the choices.  Should the prospect just use Google since there is no direct cost for this information?  How about an industry publication?  Or would a full service provider like an association with information, training, and networking be the best solution?
Finally, the value offered by each provider is weighed and the transaction is completed.
At the same time, an association has its part to play in this buying process.
First the association needs to anticipate the needs of prospective members.  What does research show are the challenges faced by people in the industry or field?  Do potential members like to meet those needs through meetings, publications, social networks, or a website? How much can they afford to spend for a solution?
Secondly, the association needs to be sure that it is easily findable and offers an initial opt-in opportunity for the prospect.  Will web searches bring the association’s solutions to the top of search engines?  Can search engine marketing, online content marketing, and website remarketing ensure that the association regularly pops up as a prime solutions provider?  Is a prospective member’s contact information collected for additional follow-up after an initial inquiry?  Are members ready to recommend the association to those who are searching? Maintaining a presence allows the association to be a part of the prospect’s evaluation process.
Next, the association needs to understand and present a very clear and compelling value proposition to the prospective member.  Why is joining the best value for the money compared to the other options that are under consideration?  What are the immediate and longer term benefits of membership?  What is the key promise that the association can deliver that no one else can match?
Finally, the association must make the actually joining transaction simple and easy.  With website joins, it is amazing how many prospective members abandon the online shopping cart of some associations because too much information is requested, the sign up process is too complex, or there are unclear instructions.  The lower the commitment of time, money, and information required to join the less of an impediment the transaction process will be to completing the join process.

10 Tips for Increasing the Stickiness of Your Membership


We all want to increase membership retention.  Here are some tips that you can implement this year to help make your membership stickier and encourage members’ to stay with your organization.
1.      Increase the number of contacts and relationships you have within a member’s organization.  This is particularly applicable for trade group memberships where it is important to identify the membership champion, decider, approver, and user.
2.      Reward continuous membership tenure with loyalty points or recognition with a “member since” award.
3.      Limit access to members for important, critical, or timely content and communicate these limitations to members.  Members only content might include alerts, salary and industry surveys, standards, and notifications on regulations.
4.      Provide member financial incentives beyond member discounts like members only product sales, group purchasing, and free shipping.
5.      Exclude non-members from the benefits of full access to your organization’s social media networks.
6.      Require continuous membership for participation in hard to find industry specific services like professional liability or workers compensation insurance.
7.      Gain members approval for auto credit card or EFT renewals or installment billing to turn membership renewals from opt-in to opt-out.
8.      Maintain important data for members for third party validation of certification, continuing education, graduation, and awards.
9.      Enhance member visibility with directory listings, vanity email addresses, referral links from your organizations website, certificates for display, window clings, and member usage of your organization’s logo -- all limited to continued membership.
10.   Monitor members interactions with the organization through email opens, purchases, and participation in social media and develop and intervention plan to reach out to those who are not engaged.
This list is only a start.  Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section here.