Advance planning, member research, and clear goals can make all the difference in an effort to increase membership numbers. An association expert offers advice on charting a course for success in your next campaign.
So many things are out of our control right now, and recent research on association membership is not painting a pretty picture. Forty-seven percent of associations reported a decline in membership and 45 percent saw their renewal rate drop in 2021, according to Marketing General Incorporated’s latest Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. One way to create order and regain some footing is a marketing campaign aimed at tangible goals, like increasing member recruitment and retention.
But before launching a campaign it’s a good idea to figure out what kind of campaign is necessary, says Brianna Martin, senior marketing and events manager at Mighty Citizen. Associations often want to focus on a specific campaign, but it doesn’t always line up with what is actually needed, which is why she recommends conducting a needs assessment. “I definitely think it is something everyone should do,” she said.
Gather Member Data
Start the research with stakeholders to get more information about the industry and how the association fits into it. Then conduct member interviews to assess their perceptions, what they find valuable, and where they think value could be added.
“You can’t make assumptions about who you think your members are and what’s important to them—what keeps them up at night,” Martin said.
This process takes time and resources that associations don’t always have. But most associations conduct some type of member interviews, so Martin suggests adding those needs assessment questions to the interviews and surveys you’re already conducting. The good news is, you can use the information culled from that research for purposes beyond just a campaign strategy.
Use the information from the interviews to build out personas that represent the target audience for the campaign. If you don’t have the time or money to create personas, you can still build out an audience profile. Next, determine the crux of the campaign by figuring out goals, strategies, metrics, and more. Martin suggests using a template to keep everything in the marketing campaign straight.
Risks, Strategies, and Buy-In
Another key component is factoring in risks and opportunities. If you are trying to do something that you haven’t done before, or if you anticipate challenges, make sure stakeholders know about it ahead of time. Risks could include launching digital advertising for the first time or making changes to a newsletter, which could result in higher unsubscribe rates. The benefits could outweigh the risks, but it’s wise to be upfront with stakeholders from the start.
Then it’s time to get into strategies about how to reach the goal, keeping in mind that several strategies can be focused on the same goal.
Once you’ve developed strategies, it’s a good time to stop before going any further, Martin said, to meet with stakeholders and anyone else who needs to approve the overall campaign. Make sure you have complete buy-in. “You don’t want to start getting everything in place and scheduling without making sure everyone is on board,” she said.
The last step is to create a schedule. Tools like an Excel spreadsheet, a Word document, or project management software can help you build a calendar. “Just make sure you have one,” she said, “and then make sure it’s all in one place.”
So many associations are scrambling with reduced staff who are stretched thin and wearing several different hats. That’s why planning is key. “The success of anything is having a well-thought-out plan and strategy,” Martin said. “It just keeps you organized, and it helps you for the future.”