Send the Right Message About Membership ROI

Your messaging on membership’s return on investment is often as important as the benefits you provide. Consider whether you’re striking the right tone.

Recently, I have become a bit of a podcast addict. I like one in particular, not only for its content but also because of its promotional strategy. It’s the New York Times podcast, The Daily.

I’ve become such a regular listener that recently I started a monthly subscription with the Times, largely based on an advertising appeal The Daily makes in between segments. In the ads, The Daily turns the mic over to journalists who explain how subscribers support their work—whether it’s reporting on a story from the frontlines of Syria or doing the legwork required to file a hefty Freedom of Information Act request.

Meanwhile, in the New York City market, the Times recently started a pretty slick location-based ad campaign centered on two themes: “The Truth Is Local” and “The Truth Is Worth It.” Both of which are very good at telling stories that connect subscription dollars to the important journalistic work that the newspaper does daily.

That could be a lesson for the Los Angeles Times to learn. In a memo first reported last week by Poynter, the newspaper said it added 52,000 digital subscriptions in the first half of the year but saw significant cancellations, netting only 13,000 subscribers so far. In other words, the paper has a retention issue.

Your association may be facing that challenge too. No matter how many valuable benefits and services you provide, you could be failing to send the right message, using the right tone, about membership ROI.

The team at the National Automatic Merchandising Association has been reevaluating the way NAMA communicates with members on this critical issue. Specifically, it’s reframing how NAMA promotes education programs, focusing its message on the theme of problem-solving.

“We’re reframing how we talk about the value that membership brings because NAMA has a ton of great content and tools, but we need our members to think of us as that number one place to come,” says Education Coordinator Eric Larson.

He offers three tips to consider when developing messages that promote membership value:

Talk like your members. Study up on how your members speak. Many times, the tone or language members use can help determine a central theme or message on member recruitment or retention, Larson says. You might even conduct an audit of how you write and talk to members. An audit helped the Society for Vascular Ultrasound remove self-promotional language, characterized by ‘I’ or ‘we’ statements, from its marketing materials.

A campaign can also harness diverse member voices. The American Medical Association’s recruitment campaign, featuring a theme of “Members Move Medicine,” gives prospects a look into the lifesaving work that AMA member doctors do daily.


Make it fun. A campaign featuring fun elements or humor can leave a lasting impression on members, Larson says. At NAMA, the theme of “problem-solving” is literal. “For example, we may send a postcard to training managers with a heading that says, ‘Let NAMA do the heavy lifting!’” he says. “[It’s] a pun, as we offer education for truck drivers who need to move heavy items.”

Spread your message far and wide. Your message about membership ROI should be broad enough that it applies across the entire association, no matter the program, benefit, or service being promoted. NAMA’s problem-solving theme “can easily be used for things beyond our learning program,” Larson says. “We plan to use this message for the speaker engagement and review process. And we think it will strike a better tone that NAMA is here for its members, and we’re the tool to get the job done.”

Have you reframed membership value or ROI messages recently? What types of messages did you use, and were they effective? Post your comments in the discussion thread below.

The New York Times podcast “The Daily” effectively uses its platform to highlight the newspaper’s value. (avdyachenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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