Tips for Forecasting Membership Growth in the New Year

As the New Year gets started, it is a good time to review membership marketing plans and forecast where membership counts are headed.
Here is a method to help make accurate projections on long-term outcomes and run possible growth scenarios.  It is called a Steady State Analysis.  The concept of steady state can be illustrated with a bucket of water.  If there is a steady input of water and a steady outflow, eventually the bucket will come to a balanced level or equilibrium.
To do a Steady State Analysis with membership, you use a simple calculation based on current new member input and the organization’s lapse rate (non-renewal rate). Using these two numbers, the formula calculates the level where your total membership will reach equilibrium or a steady state.
Here’s the formula. Annual New Member Input / Reciprocal of Renewal Rate (or Lapse Rate) Shown as a Decimal = Total Membership Steady State.
For example, with an input of 5,000 New Member over a .25 Lapse Rate, the steady state of membership will be 20,000.
Steady State Analysis is also a useful tool for studying different membership growth options.  Here are three sample scenarios varying the new member input and renewal rate from the example above.
•The first option maintains a 75% renewal and increases the new member input to 7,000 per year and results in a steady state membership of 28,000 members over time.
•The second option increases the renewal rate to 85% and reduces new member input to 2,000 per year and results in a steady state of 13,333 members over time.
•The third option increases the renewal rate to 80% and also increases the new member input to 6,000 per year and results in a steady state of 30,000 members over time.
In order to create the optimal strategy, associations can use a Steady State Analysis to define where the opportunity for growth lies — through enhanced acquisition efforts, renewal efforts, or a combination of both.
When calculating an association’s steady state, the question often arises as to how long it will take to reach the projected membership number.  The timeframe will depend on how close or how far away an organization now is from its equilibrium.  The further away the longer it will take.  However, a simple spreadsheet calculation can be used to establish an accurate time line for reaching equilibrium.
One important message that can come out of a Steady State Analysis is that incremental changes in new member acquisition and renewals can make a big difference over time in membership counts.  Take some time to see where your membership is headed and run some scenarios to see what strategy might be most effective to focus on in 2017 to maximize your organization’s long-term membership growth.

Membership Essentials: Recruitment and Renewal Strategies Webinar

A recording of the live webinar that I presented this month on Membership Recruitment and Renewal Strategies is now available online.  Here is the link (best viewed in Internet Explorer).  The session was adapted from the chapter that I authored for ASAE’s 2016 edition of Membership Essentials: Recruiting, Retention, Roles, Responsibilities, and Resources.
In the area of membership recruitment, the webinar included the following topics:
  • Target Markets – Who you want to reach and determining what are your primary markets and acquiring or building lists of these prospects. 
  • Membership Offers – What a member will receive by identifying special offers you will make in your promotions to attract new members.
  • Promotional Tactics – How a member will be reached by selecting the best marketing channels like personal sales, direct mail, email, telemarketing, etc. and the frequency and timing of promotions.
  • Marketing Messages – Why a member should join by proving your value proposition and presenting solutions and benefits to members that are compelling.
  • Testing and Tracking – Where to take future efforts by trying variations of the four points listed above and recording which lists, offers, messages, and channels produce the best ROI and number of new members.

For membership renewals, the webinar highlighted these topics:
  • New Member Conversion – Where to focus efforts to maximize renewals.  Typically, first-year members are the least likely to renew.  
  • Renewal Frequency, Timing and Channels – When and how often various marketing tools should be applied to maximize renewals. 
  • Budget Considerations and Steady State Membership Counts – Why most organizations under budget on renewal efforts and how adequate spending can make a big difference in total membership counts.
  • Payment Options – How offering automatic credit card or EFT renewal turns renewals from an opt-in decision to an opt-out action.
  • Renewal Notice Personalization – How personalized messages can be added to renewal efforts like, “because of your membership, you saved $50.00 on your product purchases this year.”
Look for details of our next webinar, Membership Marketing: Beyond the Basics, in February. 

Top Association Management Predictions for 2017

For the upcoming year, Aptify just released a report titled, Top Association Management Predictions for 2017.  I was asked to provide my perspective on where membership is headed.   Here are the three predictions that I shared.

  1. Continuing Membership Growth – For the eighth consecutive year, according the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, the number of associations reporting an increase in membership counts (49%) has substantially surpassed the number reporting a decline in membership (22%).  In 2017, membership will continue to be the glue that enhances networking, information distribution, and sales for associations. 
  2. Evolving Membership Models – Over the last few years, many associations have re-evaluated and changed their membership model by creating tiered membership structures or hybrid memberships.  In 2017, many associations will evaluate and adjust their membership product to meet the changing needs in the marketplace.
  3. Adding Online Inbound Marketing – Because they have so much content to share and very defined audiences, inbound marketing is an ideal channel for associations.  In 2017, in order to build worldwide awareness and demonstrate relevance, associations will rapidly adopt this channel as part of their existing marketing mix.

The full report is available as a free download with a site registration.  It is a good read. 

Defining and Communicating Value through Emotional Drivers

Have you ever been asked what differentiates your membership from the others that are available? In marketing terms, do you know what is your “unique selling proposition” (UPS)?
This is the type of question I often ask of prospective clients when I meet with them. A lot of times I do not get very compelling or confident answers.
A first step in defining this value is to define the motivations of members and prospective members.  What are their deep seated needs? Here is one way to think about and define these needs.  Way back in 1956 a book written by Victor Schwab, "Mail Order Strategy" (Hoke Communications, 1956). Schwab was a famous copywriter -- an Ad Age person of the Century -- who detailed the 40 key "emotional drivers" that influence people’s actions.
Here are a few of Schwab’s drivers that I think might be particularly relevant for membership marketing.
People want to be:
  • Up to date
  • Recognized authorities
  • Efficient
  • Good parents, bosses, and employers
People want to gain:
  • Time
  • Comfort
  • Praise of others
  • Health
  • Popularity
  • Personal prestige
  • Money
People want to save:
  • Work
  • Discomfort
  • Embarrassment
  • Worry
  • Time
People want to do:

  • Satisfy their curiosity
  • Win others’ affection
  • Improve themselves generally

Understanding the motivations and needs of members and prospects in your marketplace will drive everything from your messaging to your product development.  Take time through brainstorming, research, and testing to build an understanding of these emotional drivers.


Three Steps to Engage Volunteers in Membership Marketing

Volunteers can make a significant impact in helping you reach out to others and grow your membership.

In fact, once again word-of-mouth marketing has the top spot as the most effective method of new member recruitment in our 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.  So getting volunteers' help is not just a good idea, but an essential part of membership development.

Here are three steps to get volunteers plugged in your membership marketing efforts.

1. Motivate them with “why” membership is important.

Someone once said, “Anything in life is too difficult without an adequate answer to the question ‘why’.” To get a volunteer motivated to help in membership we need to help them answer their question, "why?”

I would postulate that there are at least two aspects to answering this question for the volunteer. The first is helping them to understand your organization's story. This is the vision, values, and mission of your organization and how they are changing society, your profession, and your members’ lives. We all want to be a part of making the world a better place.

The second aspect of motivating a volunteer is helping them get in touch with their own story of how membership has influenced their life and success. I can speak from a personal example here. I am a long term member of ASAE. Through my membership, I have had the opportunity to publish over twenty articles in ASAE periodicals, contribute chapters to two ASAE membership books, stay on top of important issues through their social network, and meet hundreds of colleagues who I have learned from with almost every interaction. This past year I have spoken at ASAE sponsored events and completed a term as the chair of the ASAE Membership Section Council. Keeping in touch with my membership story motivates me to share ASAE with others.

2. Tell them “how” they can be involved.

Here is another reason why knowing and using the membership lifecycle can be so important. One size does not fit every volunteer when it comes membership marketing. Some volunteers will be great at cold calling potential members, but calling people you do not know may be outside the comfort zone of others. But when you look at the membership lifecycle -- awareness, recruitment, engagement, renewal, and reinstatement -- many volunteers can find a place that is right for them to be involved in the membership program.

Some members may be more than happy to focus on engagement – helping new members get involved in the association. Other members might be great at following up with their friends and colleagues to get them to renew. Keep in mind that our benchmarking report highlighted that personal contact appears to be a key ingredient for increasing renewals. Associations with renewal rates over 80% are significantly more likely to use peer to peer member contacts to help with renewal efforts.

Volunteers also might be perfect to follow up with lapsed members to gain important insights and understanding of why the member did not continue with the association.

3. Help them establish a plan of “what” to do.

Motivation by the organization’s story and the member’s own story and matching volunteer’s strengths with a specific role or job is a great start. But we all know that the best intentions without clear plans and goals do not work.

So an additional step is working with volunteers to establish a written plan of action and specific goals. In a fully developed volunteer structure, an accountability system with a regular check-in with other volunteers could be put in place. But a simple first step might be having the volunteer write out their membership goals, put them in a self addressed envelope, and having staff mail them to the member a month after setting the plan as a reminder.

For any organization, relationships and referrals are critical.  This may be even more important for membership groups.  Your membership marketing success can be enhanced by engaging your volunteers in this effort.

Just Released: The Association Innovation Benchmarking Report

Innovation is one of the keys to maintaining a resilient and growing association. One definition of innovation is, “the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.” For associations introducing new products, services, and methods is critical to attract new members and retain current members. 
So if this is so important, what are the characteristics that define innovative associations? 
The Association Innovation Benchmarking Report
That’s the question Marketing General Incorporated (MGI), in conjunction with the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), decided to ask professionals in the association world. 
The research focused on how associations set innovation goals, how they support innovation, what rewards and recognition they offer, and how they set metrics for innovation.  The research resulted in the publication of the Association Innovation Benchmarking Report. 
A total of 344 associations participated in the research, and the findings reveal a wealth of insights on the role of innovation within associations. Here are some of the top findings: 
  • Most associations (73%) began to focus on innovation only within the past five years.
  • Innovation is most often prompted internally by the CEO of the association.
  • Associations most often focus their innovation on websites/social media, conventions/conferences/seminars, and education programs.
  • The majority of respondents (72%) do not have any form of rewards or recognition for innovation at their association.
  • Finding financial resources and fighting the status quo have proved to be the two biggest challenges in becoming an innovative organization. 

The full Association Innovation Benchmarking Report is now available as a download.  Please use this link and scroll down the page to receive a copy of the complete study. 

Just Released: The 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

I am pleased to announce the release of the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. It is now available to you as a download.
This edition of the report represents the eighth consecutive year that Marketing General Incorporated (MGI) has produced this research which explores the membership marketing initiatives and outcomes of 828 distinct participating associations. The purpose of the study continues to be the development of meaningful benchmarks by which the leadership of associations can evaluate their own membership marketing strategies and see what practices correlate with better membership outcomes.
This year’s findings can best be described as “solid membership growth” as opposed to the previous year’s more moderate membership results. Of the participating associations this year, 49% reported membership growth, representing an increase from the 46% who reported growth in 2015. Associations reported a mean renewal rate of 82% with trade associations leading the way with an average renewal rate of 87%.
Important topics covered in this edition of the report include:
  • The five year association membership growth trends.
  • The biggest challenges reported in growing membership.
  • The average and median renewal rates for associations.
  • The top reasons for members joining.
  • The top reasons for members not renewing.
  • The communication methods used to engage new members.
  • The most popular social media used by associations.
  • The average number of member email contacts per week and the average open rates.
  • The frequency and amount of dues increases. 
The 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report also includes comments from participants on their successes and challenges in membership marketing. And to provide more specificity, this year’s report segments association responses by the type of association – Individual, Trade, or Combination.

To download a copy, please use this link. I hope that you find it a helpful tool as you manage and grow your organization’s membership.

How to Simplify Your Membership Marketing

Frequently, I have the opportunity to review the membership marketing programs of various associations.
Sometimes, I find that organizations are doing too little to get and keep members.  They need to increase the frequency and reach of their marketing efforts.
However, of late I have observed another problem; overly complex and tradition bound membership marketing plans. Here are some of the issues that I have seen and some fixes to these challenges.
  1. Not Keeping a Focus on ROI: Some organizations continue efforts year in and year out without stepping back to really look at the time, effort, and budget required to deploy an initiative compared to the return it produces.  At some point, almost every promotion needs to be retooled or sunset.  Regularly identify and drop the poor performing promotions and reprogram the budget toward innovative new opportunities.
  2. Over Testing: Any good marketer is in favor of testing.  However, too much of a good thing may not make sense.  It makes sense to test big elements (offers, lists, channels) because the results will normally come back with a statistically valid outcome.  However, testing little elements like a color, a signature, or a font will very likely produce such a minor difference in response that any variance will be statistically insignificant.  Test big items for big wins and save the time and energy on launching inconsequential tests. 
  3. Too Much Segmentation: Every market can be segmented by a host of demographics, behaviors, and list selects.  But at some point providing a unique message and offer to each segment becomes inefficient and ineffective.  More often than not when I have tried to tailor unique “special messages” to each slice of prospective members a generic option has outperformed the highly targeted approach.  Present your most powerful and compelling message to your market instead of diluting it by trying to be all things to all people.
  4. Too Many Steps: How many clicks and how much information is required to join or renew your organization’s membership?  It is great to gather a detailed profile of on member and you want to ensure that he is qualified, but over time your application process may have added requests that cause a member to abandon the transaction because it takes too much time or they do not have the information at hand.  In fact, many organizations report exceptionally high shopping cart abandons during the join process on their websites.  When you are asking a prospect or member to complete a transaction, require the minimum time, clicks, and information possible before the dues payment is received.
  5. Too Much Research: Research is a foundational discipline for effective marketing.  However, research can become like pealing an onion.  There always seems to be another layer of the unknown.  At some point, gaining understanding has to give way to execution. And indeed the best research can simply be whether or not someone will write a check in response to your offer.  Lean toward a “ready, fire, aim” approach in your marketing by gathering real data from actual promotional efforts.
Here is the bottom line.  When you are developing a plan or a marketing campaign ask the hard questions.  Is this promotion really worth the time and effort required for the expected return?  Do we have the quantity necessary to get a legitimate statistical outcome from this test?  Are these demographic differences really significant enough to warrant a different message or is our core value proposition strong enough for each market segment?  Would I really take the time and effort to go through all of the steps needed to make this transaction or is it too much to ask?   And am I willing to take the risk to gain understanding by acting on what I know instead of waiting for more information? 

Delivering Member Value through Association Sponsored Research

Whether you serve members in a trade association or individual membership association, value is something that members want to receive from you.  And sometimes one of the most valuable benefits that can be uniquely supplied by a membership organization is research conducted with or on the behalf of your members.
Here are some examples of association sponsored research that members value either because it provides guidance to them or visibility to their profession. 
·        Member Polling Research – Gathering member perspective on important, newsworthy topics and then sharing it with the media can demonstrate the influence and support that an association is providing to members.  Here are samples of how one association has gained national attention by sharing their findings from member polls on critical healthcare issues.

·        Compensation Research – Because associations serve a defined constituency, they are well positioned to gather and report on employee compensation.  Both employers and employees are served through this information and access to the research report is a powerful incentive for member recruitment and retention efforts each year.   

·        Industry Benchmarking – Good benchmarking helps move planning from using antidotal information to data driven insights.  One trade organization, for example, provides benchmarking reports to help other member companies with data on sales force performance, number and size of orders, and web statistics.  Another association benchmarks critical purchasing data that now influences decision making for the entire economy.    

·        Consumer Opinion Research -- Helping members understand customers’ needs and desires within a defined marketplace can provide invaluable assistance.  Often this type of research is too costly or complex for an individual member company to produce, but done on behalf of many members, it can provide statistically valid and actionable information that easily pays for member’s annual dues. 
To recruit, engage, and retain members creating compelling and useful value has to be a top priority. But ideally that value needs to something more than a discount that is available from any number of organizations.  The value should be something that fits within the mission of the association and that others cannot easily replicate or find in the general market or through a Google search.  Research for members and about members can supply that specialized information that delivers indispensable value.   

Don’t Forget Your Call to Action

Whether you are creating a promotional email, online ad, direct mail package, or working an exhibit booth, the starting point for your effort should be defining what you want the recipient of your message to do.
In marketing terms, this is known as creating a call to action (CTA).
A call to action is a simple, clear statement telling the person receiving your message exactly what action you want them to take.  When someone receives a message, it is basic human psychology to ask, “What do you want me to do?”
Unfortunately, a prominent CTA can be lost or hidden in the creative process and this will always diminish the response for a marketing effort. 
So here are some simple tips to make sure your call to action is effective.
·        Make you CTA visually stand out and easy to identify.

·        Use active words like “join,” “register,” “donate,” or “open” in your CTA.

·        Put your CTA on every page of your website or promotion. 

·        Only ask for one action at a time. 

·        Add a sense of urgency with a deadline to your CTA.
Making sure a clear call to action is included in all of your promotions is the one battlefield that a marketer needs to insist on fighting.  Words, colors, and graphics in a promotion are important, but not telling a prospect or member what you want them to do is deadly.   Start with a strong call to action in your marketing efforts and allow your creative to support the action you want the recipient to take. 

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Applying Account Based Marketing to Membership

Almost any person involved in sales will tell you that the concept of Account Based Marketing (ABM) has been around for a long time.  However, of late, the term has come into prominence as organizations move from a stand-alone sales philosophy to building a strategy around the integration of sales and marketing efforts.
And in a membership context, the synergy offered by Account Based Marketing is very appropriate for business-to-business membership marketing efforts particularly for trade associations with high dues paying members.  That is because Account Based Marketing is designed to establish and deepen engagement when the purchasing decision involves a lengthy sales cycle and multiple decision makers.
It is not surprising that a company is not normally going to make a decision to join a membership organization for thousands of dollars in dues payments based on a one time contact or from a single letter or email effort.  But the regular communications, relationship development, and prospect knowledge built into Account Based Marketing program empowers this process.
Here is how Account Based Marketing works for membership recruitment.
The first step is to identify prospects that fit into the membership profile and capture them in a database.  The records for these companies or institutions can be leased from third party data compilers.  But at this point these organizations may have little or no awareness or even interest in membership.  So a process is needed to turn these generic listings in a database into warm prospective members using both new and classic marketing efforts.   This is where the integration of sales and marketing is critical and both outbound and inbound marketing are effective.
·        Outbound – Instead of using outbound efforts in the traditional method to close the sale, with Account Based Marketing these channels are used to build awareness and support a sales cycle.  Direct mail can reach almost everyone even if you do not have an email opt-in for communication.  Email can present highly targeted messages and be automated to respond to a pre-set deployment schedule or the recipient’s clicks with relevant follow-up content.  Telemarketing can be used for scheduling an initial conversation or a face-to- face appointment with a prospective member. 

·        Inbound – Using online tools provides the opportunity to stay in front of prospects.  Remarketing presents content through Google and Facebook to prospects who have visited your website offering them additional information.  And Google and Facebook custom audiences display ads driven by emails in your database pushing online ads to the very people you are in conversation with about joining. When a prospect raises their hand by clicking on an ad and requesting content from, it may indicate that they are ready to buy. 

As these marketing interactions take place, the responses can be catalogued in the prospect database.  Additional points of contact can be added.  Notes from conversations with prospects can be recorded.  And third party data can be appended. This data builds a profile of the decision makers, needs, and timing for a membership offer.   

All of these marketing efforts keep the membership product in front of a prospective member and invites them to accept a sales presentation that is built on a knowledge base offering a high value membership proposal to the decision makers of a company. It turns the process from traditional cold calling to a solutions based conversation with a prospect.  And even if the answer to a sales message is “no” it maintains ongoing communications so the membership is available when the prospect’s need or interest changes.

Here is one example of how effective Account Based Marketing can be used effectively.  One association, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers Inc. (SCTE), following this approach established a Corporate Alliance Partner Program to allow their individual members to self-select into a managed accounts relationship as companies.  Once a firm becomes an Alliance Partner, the association provides staff members to serve them as account executives who maintained close, ongoing relationships with these companies. With this change, over a two year period, SCTE  saw training revenue to double and membership to grow by 40%.
When the economics make it possible to combine both marketing and sales efforts, the tandem can be a powerful tool to produce not only more members, but members who have a long-term highly engaged relationship with an association.  This is the ultimate goal of using Account Based Marketing as a membership marketing strategy.

The Benefits of Membership Continuity

The power of the membership model is twofold.  Most importantly, it conveys the sense of a relationship between an organization and its constituents or customers.  Membership fosters engagement, trust, and loyalty. 
But the second benefit of membership for many organizations is that it encourages financial continuity.  Whether someone is a member of an association, a church, or a charity there typically is a projectable retention rate and income stream from members. 
The renewal income stream of this concept is more and more being built into almost every aspect of our economy today.   Whether it is cell phone contracts, music streaming, or your cable bill, this annual or monthly agreement is now part of many of our transactions. 
The Harvard Business Review reports that this continuity or subscription approach is now becoming a more regular practice even in the retail industry.  It meets two important customer needs – convenience and simplifying the many choices that a customer has walking into a store.  HBR says that retailers who move in this direction “forge deeper relationships with customers, gain access to valuable consumer demographic data, tap a recurring revenue stream, and meet a growing consumer demand for both convenience and curation.”
One example of this retail subscription is the Dollar Shave Club which allows you to choose your blade and have regular delivery at a frequency you select.  The subscription continues non-stop until you take the pro-active step to cancel.
There are opportunities for membership organizations to increase this continuity with members.  Our research shows that many associations are moving from an opt-in renewal process to and opt-out method through automatic credit card renewals and regular installment payments.  The Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights that 37% of individual membership associations offer some type of installment renewal options and 32% offer automatic annual credit card renewal options. 
With these automated renewal methods, a member must cancel an active credit card in order to discontinue membership instead of having to make a specific renewal decision.
More than just convenience of delivery, membership organizations enjoy the power of a relationship with a member.  Building a solid relationship with members is the primary goal for an association.  But adding continuity into as many products and services in this relationship is proving to make great economic sense in almost every sector of the economy.