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Team members discussing member personas

9 Steps for Building Member Personas

Member personas describe your ideal or average members. Use these steps to build personas for your association members.

How do you decide what content goes in your emails?

The best associations don’t just think up something to say because they know they need to keep members engaged – they use personas to help them find the most relevant, helpful information for each member.

What Are Member Personas?

Member personas are imaginary people that describe your ideal or average members. They group key characteristics of your members together, helping you get to know the people your association is serving.

Most associations have multiple member personas made up of the different demographics or segments that they serve. For instance, you may have both mid-level and advanced-career professionals. These groups want different things, and would be put into two different member personas. If you decided to actively recruit students, they would also be a separate persona.

Why Are Member Personas Important?

Personas help you understand your members so you can provide the experience and benefits that will be most valuable to them. They can also help you improve member acquisition, retention, and satisfaction.

For instance, if you want to increase the number of students in your association, creating a student persona will help everyone on your team understand the students you’re targeting and how your association can help them. Instead of just knowing you have a student member named Sally, your persona will tell you that Sally is probably a 19-year-old freshman in college studying engineering. She’s interested in science and wants to learn about different careers that she could pursue.

That information gives you insight with which to create engagement and retention strategies. The persona will also help ensure everyone is on the same page with what it takes to satisfy and delight each of your member groups.

So how do you create member personas? Here are nine steps to get you started.

9 Steps to Create Member Personas

1. Define Your Purpose

Do you need member personas to help you recruit new members? Provide better marketing to the members you already have? Or are you trying to develop better member benefits?

Clearly explain why you’re building member personas and what you want to use them for. That will help you determine if you’re profiling your current members or prospects who you want to better target to become members in the future.

For the remainder of this article, we’ll assume that you want to target existing members. You can use the tips here to create personas for member acquisition as well, you’ll just need to shift your thinking to the people you want to join your association instead of the members you already have.

2. Review Your Data

Once you know your focus, use your data to sketch a rough outline of who your current members are. In most cases, this information will be mainly demographics. The following questions can guide your search:

  • How old are my members? Start with generations. How many Silent Generation, Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials do you have? What’s the average age?
  • What gender are they?
  • Do they own their own business?
  • Do they tend to be married?
  • What area of the country do they live in?
  • What’s their average educational or income level?

These kinds of questions will help you understand who they are. Combine members into groups, with major groups becoming your main personas. For instance, if half your members are married male dentists in their 50s who live in the eastern United States, that will be one of your member personas.

Expert Tip: At this stage, you can name your personas to keep better track of them. We might call the persona above Daniel the Dentist, a name that’s easy to remember and gives you key information about your members’ careers.

3. Dig into Details

Now that you know who your members are from a statistical standpoint, fill in the details so you really get to know your members. What does their typical day look like? Try to imagine what Daniel the Dentist does in the morning. Does he wake up early and work out to stay healthy, then stay in the office after closing to finish up paperwork? Is his job stressful? Does he try to prioritize spending time with his family?

If you have the demographics mapped out but don’t know anything about this person’s day, search on the Internet and read some social media posts from your members. What are they asking about? What are their struggles? People share quite a bit of personal information online. Look at what they’re sharing on your online community as well.

4. Bring Your Team into the Discussion

Your membership manager will likely drive member persona research, but don’t discount the rest of your team. Event planners may know quite a bit about the members, as will board members and executives who have spent years in your field. Invite key players from multiple departments to help fill in the blanks and provide more details on how your members spend their time and what they’re interested in.

5. What Are They Scared Of?

Fears and challenges are powerful negative internal triggers that drive action. When your members feel these triggers, they do something to relieve their negative feelings. If members are scared of losing their job, for instance, they might join your association for its professional development opportunities, which helps them feel more secure at work.

That’s only one example, so dive into your members’ fears and challenges, making them part of your member profiles. Why does each member type need you? What do you help them with that no one else can? If you don’t have an answer, ask your members. There’s always a reason behind why people joined.

6. Outline Goals

This bright side of fears and challenges are the goals that they inspire. What does your member want to accomplish? How can you help?

Keep in mind that each member persona may have more than one goal. Daniel the Dentist may want to open his own practice but also have more time to spend with his family. Outline your persona’s top goals, then identify which ones your association can help with. Those will be the most useful in terms of crafting better communication and creating valuable member benefits.

7. Find Out What They’re Interested In

Interests play a key role in the member experience. You have to know what your members are interested in to build a great website, write useful emails, and design a fun, entertaining, and valuable annual conference.

You might be able to list some of your members’ interests from past conversations with them, but use your data to get a more complete picture. What discussion forums are they visiting? What pages on your website are the most popular? What about features of your private online community? What does this tell you about your members’ interests?

8. Fill in Unanswered Questions

Even though your member personas are fictional, they’re the best representation you have of the characteristics of your major member groups. By the time you’re finished crafting each person, you should know them like the back of your hand – which will also help you understand your members in real life.

So before moving on to the last tip, take a moment to evaluate what you have so far. Is anything missing? If you have any unanswered questions, now is the time to answer them by going back to your data or asking members directly through an email survey.

9. Find Your Association’s Role

This entire process is an exercise in understanding your members and now that you know more about them, you can figure out how your association fits in.

Why did this person join your association? Why does he or she renew every year or why are they choosing not to? There are no right or wrong answers. Be open to all sides so you can understand how people are relating to your association. Even negative answers will help you grow, so ask member to candidly share their thoughts on how you helped them, or how you didn’t – in a blind survey or exit interview, if you have them.

Use Member Personas to Improve and Personalize the Member Experience

Member personas are not simply a creative exercise. The best personas are built on data and conversations with real members, and can provide incredible insight into your audience. Your association can use that information to improve everything from your marketing and member benefits to your content and conferences.

Member personas can also be the beginning of personalized marketing, where you craft different messages for different personas, each with the information that’s most relevant to them. That provides a better customers experience, helping improve retention, event attendance, content shares and more. Ideally, your members will come away from interaction with you thinking, “I really love my association. They get me.”


Julie Dietz

Julie is a Content Manager & Strategist at Epic Notion. In her past life, she worked her way through Europe and Asia as a freelance writer, editor and English teacher for local and international businesses.