If you’re in association marketing, you probably have this very common experience – you stay up to date on the latest marketing trends, but they don’t map onto marketing your association very neatly. Sometimes it feels like you’re playing by a different set of rules.
You’d be hard-pressed to find organizations that rely as much on people as associations do. Learn to embrace the unique world of association marketing by following these eight steps.
1. Membership retention is important. No, vital.
When discussing marketing efforts for your association, it can be easy to focus on attracting new members. However, if new members only account for 20% of your membership, then why are you focusing 80% of your time there? Learn to focus on delighting your current members by creating fresh, valuable content for them and engaging them in online forums and communications. Once members see the ROI of their investment, they’ll stick around.
2. Remove barriers to association participation.
When’s the last time you audited the experience for new users to sign up? When’s the last time you audited the experience for current members to access your existing content online? If your members have to navigate complex menu systems to find the information they need, or if new members have to jump through multiple hoops to join your association, you’re going to lose their attention, fast.
Make it easy for new users to sign up with a shopping cart-style sign-up. Keep the sign-up process as simple as possible. Once new members are in the door, then you can spend time doing progressive profiling to get more information on them. Don’t make them feel like they are filling out a census form when they’re signing up. When creating a sign-up form, ask yourself, do we need to know this information from them right now? Or is this something we can find out down the road?
Show current members the same amount of care when thinking about their experience. Sure, you offer them great career assessments, but do your members know how to access them? Are the educational materials easy to digest? Are you facilitating important networking opportunities? It’s not enough to simply have items of value to give to members – you also have to make sure they’re taking advantage of those materials if you want them to renew.
3. Learn how to leverage association volunteers.
Volunteers can be extremely valuable resources in your marketing. Oftentimes members are heavily invested in the success of an association, especially if the association serves to advance their industry or profession, or advances a cause they believe in. However, volunteers can also be difficult to corral – their jobs and careers tend to keep them busy. One way to get volunteers on board and committed is to think about how you can make the volunteer opportunities beneficial to them. Will serving on a committee give them access to networking opportunities? Does the opportunity align to their professional or personal goals? Take the time to align volunteers with opportunities that interest them to get the most results and engagement.
Another way to leverage volunteers effectively is to have a specific ask. “Can you help us?” is vague and unlikely to get a response. “I really liked the infographic on your organization’s website. Can you get me in touch with the designer so we can create an infographic for our association?” is much more likely to get a response.
4. Identify influencers within the association community.
Influencers can help shape the entire community around your association. Association marketers can learn a lot from the way influencers lead the community. What tone do they use? What kind of language do they use? What topics of conversation do they tend to lean toward? These questions can give you insight as to what tone and content to use to engage members of your community.
In addition to providing insight into your association’s personas, you can rely on influencers to help promote important content. Invite them to give a talk to your members, which improves your content offering and gives your influencers a platform. Influencers have access to an audience of people – many of whom could be potential members of your association. Treat your influencers well and make it rewarding for them to be involved.
5. Leverage the association community.
Associations generally have a mission to bring people together to advance a cause, issue, industry, or profession. This sense of belonging and working toward a common goal can have a profound pull for people. Ensure that you are reinforcing the idea of community and networking throughout your communications. In many cases, your association will be the largest or most significant of its kind of community for your area of interest. Give people a sense of belonging to that community, something they won’t be able to experience elsewhere. Also, use the community to gain and retain members – when a member is near the renewal period, have a fellow member reach out. Reward people for inviting people in their network to become members.
6. Use analytics to demonstrate the value of association marketing.
Associations have to be mindful of their budget and how members’ contributions are spent. While association marketers should strive to keep their marketing costs down, you’ll still want enough budget to be able to drive real results. Ensure that your marketing budget isn’t slashed during budget reviews by clearly demonstrating the value of your marketing through metrics where possible. Set up Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager tracking to get a sense of the traffic and conversions to your website. Demonstrate how your marketing efforts are improving those metrics over time. The more you can correlate your marketing efforts to important success indicators like membership recruitment and retention, the more attention you’ll receive for marketing.
7. Keep clear goals in mind.
The input of multiple stakeholders comes with the territory of associations, and I’ve yet to find a way around it (feel free to leave suggestions in the comments). Decide upfront for each year, quarter, and month what your goals will be. This helps to keep discussion and effort focused. Without clear goals, opinions and shiny objects will reign supreme.
Your overall goals will always revolve around membership attraction, retention, renewals, and fundraising. Planning ahead gives you the opportunity to think about how you will go about improving those metrics and creating a game plan that everyone can agree on and adhere to.
8. Associations are the "business" of people – so get to know them.
Finally, no one can give you a better sense of the direction of your association marketing than the members themselves. Get to know how they talk to each other and what’s most important to them. Survey your members, find out what they’re reading, find out what their day is like. Build a community, write content, and talk to your members using those findings.
Association marketing can be more of an art than a science, but you can apply principles from inbound marketing and analytics-based marketing to improve your marketing ROI. While the people-oriented aspects of association marketing differentiate it from other types of marketing, you can leverage this uniqueness and create inventive marketing solutions.