6 Bad Habits that are Killing Your Membership Marketing

The most recent research shows that nearly half of all professional and trade associations are experiencing growth in their membership counts.  But that also means over half of associations are reporting declines or stagnation in membership.
What is holding back growth for these associations?  Much of the problem lies in not following sound marketing practices.  
Here are six bad marketing habits that are killing membership growth.

  1. Lack of Innovation – In the 2018 Association Innovation Benchmarking Report only 26 percent of associations reported that they were “very” or “extremely” innovative.  Yet with the marketing world changing at an exceptionally fast pace, breaking the habit of not innovating is more important than ever.  New and effective marketing and research innovations like paid digital ads, data modeling and analytics, online focus groups, and texting are emerging as best practices in the association marketing mix.  Taking the risk to move beyond traditional marketing efforts and trying these new opportunities can empower growth.
  2. Lack of Testing – In the 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, only 32 percent of associations report that they do A/B testing in their marketing efforts.  This bad habit is particularly disappointing because for a century, testing has been in use by marketers.  Claude C. Hopkins is acknowledged as the great grandfather of direct marketing. In 1923, Hopkins wrote the book Scientific Advertising in which he declared: “The time has come when advertising has in some hands reached the status of a science.”  But for many associations, the science of testing messages, special offers, and market segments is not a part of their marketing efforts.  As a result, bad marketing continues and good marketing is not identified and repeated.
  3. Lack of Tracking and Analysis – When asked in the benchmarking research what the most significant data challenges associations face, 51 percent said they lack “marketing results tracking and analysis reporting” and 48 percent said they had “inadequate membership dashboards.”  Here is the challenge, as one survey respondent wrote, “You can’t improve something if you don’t measure it.”  And the reality is that most associations are holding a treasure trove of information in their database that can highlight who are the most profitable members and customers, who are not engaged and likely to lapse their membership, and what content members most want and value.  As ASAE shared in the book 7 Measures of Success “If there’s one phrase that sets remarkable associations apart from their counterparts, it’s ‘Data, data, data.’ They gather information, analyze it, and then use it to become even better.”
  4. Lack of Spending – In a recent edition of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, individual membership associations reported that they spend on average $24 to acquire a new member while the mean basic dues revenue is $175 and the average renewal rate is almost 80 percent.  In other words, associations are spending $24 to obtain a dues income stream for five years totaling $875.  Plus these members become customers for the association’s products and services.  Most businesses would jump at that ROI.  Associations need to break the habit of underspending on membership marketing and take advantage of the very positive economics of the long-term, lifetime value of a member.
  5. Lack of Frequency – Studies vary claiming that the average consumer sees between 5,000 and 10,000 brand messages a day.  That is a lot of competition.   And whether you like it or not, it means your infrequent marketing messages will not get the attention you desire.  Some associations, for example, still rely on one or two renewal efforts to keep a member or do not use mailed renewal notices.  Others limit membership recruitment campaigns to once a year.  The day when this low frequency of contact will effectively communicate your important messages is over, but the habit persists limiting the effectiveness of the mission and a member or prospect's understanding of the value provided by the association.  One survey respondent summed it up well, to be effective, “Communications have to be frequent and through a variety of channels.”
  6. Lack of Volume – Admittedly there is an upper limit on how frequently an association can ask a prospective member to join or current member to renew and maintain a solid response rate.  But the bad habit of some associations is giving up on lapsed members or former customers too soon.  These opt-in records of former purchasers remain buried in their database, but many might respond to a periodic email or could be upload as a custom audience to be shown digital ads.  If the email address is no longer valid it can be deleted from the database and if the person does not want communications they can unsubscribe.  But not reaching out as broadly and deeply to people in your database will assure a non-response.  As one membership director noted in our research, “If you never ask them to join, they won’t join.”

Of those associations, in our research, reporting an increase in membership, 40 percent reported that their membership grew 11 percent or more this past year.  Membership growth is very possible.  But growth is realized by breaking the persistent bad habits that stop effective marketing. 

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