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3 Ways to Improve Your Association’s Membership Marketing Strategy

How can your association reach potential members + convince them to join? Get tips from the 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report.

Developing a growth strategy for your association takes time. It takes hours of research to find the best methods to use to reach prospective members, and days of content creation and campaign management. It’s stressful. And, without effective tactics, you might not see meaningful growth.

A balanced, comprehensive growth strategy will include an emphasis on both member retention and member acquisition. In this post, we’ll focus on member acquisition strategy and how associations can effectively reach potential members and convince them to join.

Fortunately, you don’t have to test every communication channel to find out the best way to reach your prospects, thanks to recent data from fellow associations.

Want to hear what worked, didn’t work, and what other associations are planning moving forward? Check out our “What’s Next for Associations?” series, available here.

The Top 3 Ways Associations Recruit New Members: Insights From the 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

The Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Inc. reports which recruitment marketing channels have performed the best for associations (professional, trade, and combination). The report is built on survey responses from almost 750 associations. In the survey, associations were asked to select “Which recruitment marketing channels get your organization the most new members?”

Here are the three member acquisition tactics that worked best for both trade and individual associations last year.

1. Word-of-Mouth Recommendations

57% of associations report that word-of-mouth recommendations get their organization the most new members (Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 2021).

People trust reviews, which is why it shouldn’t be surprising that the most effective channel for membership marketing is recommendations.

Your association can use word-of-mouth as a part of your membership marketing strategy through a combination of in-person and virtual advocacy programs. In-person programs might include traditional refer-a-friend rewards, while online efforts could make use of your association’s online community.

An online community platform can be particularly effective for increasing recommendations. Why? Your most loyal members are right there, discussing your industry – and if you leave parts or all of your online community public, interested potential members can browse and participate in discussions. You can choose to restrict full access to members only, or leave it open to everyone.

When you take this approach, you can also boost your organization in Google search results. The Educational Theatre Association took this approach and they have seen a huge boost from their community in SEO, including new organic keywords, monthly SEO clicks, and rankings, all of which help you get in front of new members and become an industry thought leader.

Plus, a community is a great way to showcase networking opportunities to potential members. In the same report from MGI, 63% of associations rank “networking with others in the field” as the top reason members join their organizations.

2. Email

50% of associations report that email gets their organization the most new members (Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 2021).

Email came in as the second-best way to improve member acquisition. To make the most of membership marketing via email, create automated email campaigns that include offers relevant to your prospects.

To find the right offers, however, you have to know what your prospects are interested in. Get started by gathering data, either through web tracking or by browsing the public or prospect-facing sections of your online community. You’ll want to know what kinds of content interest them and where they spend the most time on your website.

This behavioral data will give you valuable insight into your prospects’ interests, and what benefits may appeal to them most. Based on their interests, create your email campaigns for prospective members with the content and offers that are most relevant for them.

For example, if you have a prospect who regularly visits your professional certification pages, you could add them to a campaign that nurtures those interests. To encourage your prospect to join, make sure they know that members have full access to even more details on certification, as well as the certification program itself.

Oh, and make sure you read more about how Professionals Australia is using automated email campaigns for membership marketing. This approach to member acquisition strategy has increased member recruitment by 21%.

Resource: Association Tips: 6 Irresistible Member Benefits that Convince People to Join and Renew

3. Association-Sponsored Events/Meetings

40% of associations report that association-sponsored events/meetings get their organization the most new members (Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 2021).

Not surprisingly, this went down from 46% in 2020. But it’s not as big of a drop as you might expect.

One reason for this might be that although 80% of associations canceled or postponed their annual event in 2020 – 80% of those associations went virtual with their event.

The global pandemic may have put a hitch in your in-person event plans, but your association’s events can still be a prime recruitment tool. Why? Because they clearly articulate your value.

Even if your event is virtual, it highlights your association’s knowledge and relevance with expert advice, professional development sessions, and networking opportunities, offering prospects plenty of incentive to join your association.

Here are some ideas for how to use a virtual event to attract new members to your association:

  • Create an event community. Members and non-members can engage with each other and with experts, experiencing all the valuable content and networking opportunities your association can offer. Additionally, an event community gives you a way to keep your sponsorships – and continue generating event revenue.
  • Use an automated promotion campaign to invite your prospect email list to attend your virtual events. The British Columbia Non-Profit Housing Association used an automated campaign to promote their second virtual annual event, and increased registration by nearly 50% (despite introducing a new charge to attend)!
  • Place a teaser in the public section of your website to nudge prospects toward your event.
  • Make sure your virtual events feature sessions with top experts and your best content in order to clearly communicate value to prospects once they arrive. If you opt for a virtual event community, host exclusive sessions where attendees can ask questions to the experts.

Leanne Ryan, the National Manager, Service Delivery at the Governance Institute of Australia, said this about their event community: “Because we had an event community for our virtual conference, we were able to maintain our sponsorship revenue. We could still offer a space for sponsors to get recognition and drive engagement with attendees – while also generating additional revenue for our event, a critical part of its success.”

If an annual virtual event isn’t feasible for you this year, consider the ways you can use other interactive content, like webinars on hot industry topics, to recruit new members.

Focusing on Growth: Member Recruitment in 2021

We’ll end with these final insights from the Membership Marketing Benchmarking report. 29% of associations were able to increase new member acquisition in 2021. So the report looked into the question, “What differentiates the 29% of associations who saw increases in new member acquisition in 2020 from their peers?”

These associations:

  • Provided a compelling value proposition
  • Offered compelling reasons to join
  • Found a mix of effective channels

This is encouraging because it shows that member recruitment is possible even in tough times – and it gives you a roadmap for how to move forward at your own association.

Encouraging recommendations, focusing on email recruitment campaigns, and promoting your association during your virtual events are a few of the most effective tactics that organizations are using to promote themselves and recruit new members.

Consider incorporating these membership acquisition tactics into your growth strategy, and to make them even more effective, focus on value. The better your membership marketing strategy is at communicating your association’s value, the more likely your prospective members are to join.

Kat Jarvis

Passionate about creating authentic and impactful communications, Kat is an experienced communications and community consultant delivering creative solutions to both corporate and non-profit organizations. Prior to joining Higher Logic, she worked in the association space for a number of years in marketing. She is a CMX Academy Certified Community Professional & American Marketing Association Professional Certified Marketer (PCM). A lover of cultures, languages, and technology, she finds inspiration in art, music, and travel.