Growing Membership through Winback Marketing

There are several very good reasons why associations should focus their attention on trying to winback or reinstate former members.
First, a former member is aware of who you are and the basic benefits that you offer.  There is not a need to educate them from scratch.  Secondly, a former member’s previous behavior identifies them as someone who clearly, at one point in time, had an interest in and need for what your association has to offer.  Finally, for recently lapsed members, you have contact information and an established business relationship allowing you to reach out to them through a variety of means including email, phone, direct mail, and for some with texting.
And because of this, it is not surprising that as we track marketing efforts for hundreds of associations, their former members are often up to five times more likely to respond to a membership offer than never members.  This same high level of responsiveness is found in analysis done in the for-profit world.  For example, in a study published in the March 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Winning Back Lost Customers, data was gathered from winback efforts for telecom customers and showed that firms are better off shifting more time and money to getting former customers to come back than relying solely on new customer recruitment efforts.
If this is the case, what are some of the strategies that are most effective in winning lapsed members back?  Here are four recommendations.

  1. Offer a discount or special deal.  For lapsed members from individual membership associations, one of the top reasons for non-renewal is that membership is “too expensive.”  So to win these members back address that impediment to membership.  In a test conducted to former members for one association, lapsed members were evenly split in a direct mail effort.  Half were offered membership at full price and the second half received a $10 dues discount. The group receiving the discounted membership dues offer had a 40 percent higher response rate than the group offered the full dues rate. This added response more than paid for the discounted dues.
  2. Use multiple marketing channels.  Associations report in our Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report that the top three channels to reinstate former members are email, direct mail, and telemarketing.  Because you have had a financial relationship with a former US based member, as long as she has not opted-out, you can continue to engage her in using each of these channels.  Many associations find telemarketing particularly effective because they can start and stop a program very quickly and get real time feedback from former members on their willingness to come back or why they do not want to reinstate.
  3. Tell them what is new and better.  Since a member has lapsed there almost always is some new content, product, meeting, or topic that can be shared with the former member to peak their interest.  Build your marketing copy highlighting these new opportunities.  This can be especially effective if you can personalize the message to focus on the events or activities that the member previously participated in or used.
  4. Do not give up.  In our reinstatement efforts for many associations, we can continue to get a positive ROI going back to former members for as many as five years.  In our benchmarking data, 33% of associations say that they “continue indefinitely to contact lapsed member.”   There are some predictors of who will return and who will not reinstate.  The Harvard Business Review article noted that “The researchers found that customers who have referred others, who have never complained, or who have had complaints that were satisfactorily resolved are the best bets. Reasons for leaving are also predictive: Customers who canceled because of price are more likely to come back than those who left because of poor service, and people who cited both reasons for quitting are the least likely of all to return.”

One of the final advantages of implementing a winback program is that it is a quality control check on your association’s renewal program.  The good news is that if former members do not come back it means that your renewal efforts are airtight and working effectively.  However, most associations find that they get strong response from their reinstatement efforts.  This is a good indicator that renewal efforts are not as effective as they could be and need some attention.
Winback efforts are typically the fastest and easiest marketing programs to get started.  Give it a try to see if your former members will reinstate.  You might just find you have a big marketing win.


Scott Oser, Scott Oser Associates said...

Hi Tony,

This is so true. We just did two win-back campaigns that were incredibly effective. One was a multimedia approach using direct mail and email and the other was strictly telephone based. Both more than paid for themselves immediately and will continue to have positive impact since we expect these members to be around for years to come.

Thanks for bringing this important information to our community.


Anonymous said...

Scott, would love to hear more bout your win-back campaigns!

Kenita Hidalgo