businesswoman measuring progress with tape measure

Why Your Metrics May Need a Second Look

Your members’ post-pandemic behaviors are different. Measuring their engagement will have to be different as well.

How committed are your members to your value proposition? It might be shakier than your numbers are telling you.

I’m thinking about this in light of an article I wrote on meetings metrics for Associations Now’s latest batch of Deep Dive articles. Rich Vallaster, DES, CEM, director of marketing, trade shows & events at A2Z Events, explained in the article that these days a person registering for a conference isn’t the evidence of commitment that it used to be. Since the pandemic, associations have lowered prices and made it easier for attendees to cancel without serious penalties, making it easier for people to opt out later.

One solution to this issue, of course, is to increase prices, and penalties for cancellation. But being aggressively punitive could be a missed opportunity to understand what your members are thinking.

When it comes to meetings, Vallaster says, the new registration environment is an opportunity to experiment with different kinds of pitches, to see what resonates. “We have to think about messages like ‘You should come,’ even if we know you’re signed up,” he said. “You need to stay front and center to make sure they see the event’s value.” 

An empty seat at an event, even if you keep the money, isn’t delivering value.

“You need to be continually engaging them along the way,” Vallaster said. “Yes, maybe you got the revenue. But the person there didn’t connect and get value and they weren’t part of the community.”

This concern can extend well beyond event registration. What message will connect with low-engagement members who don’t do much beyond paying dues and are less likely to renew? How will you encourage volunteers to take part in your committees, run for board seats, and use the tools that support their professional development?

You need to be continually engaging them along the way.

Rich Vallaster, A2Z Events

As I point out in the article, there is now a wealth of affordable design and messaging tools that make it much easier to experiment. (With the caveat, of course, that too much email messaging tends to be a turnoff.) But the fickleness of member and attendee behavior ought to be a prompt for looking at more sophisticated data-gathering tools. The Deep Dive article, for instance, spotlights some of the work that the Plastics Industry Association has been doing recently to better personalize and segment its attendee groups, with marketing directly targeted to them.

That means the old messaging that associations have used for meetings, membership—well, everything—needs more of a rethink. “The challenge is, what is it going to take to get me off the couch?” Vallaster told me. “You’ve got to look deeper into affinity groups. Retirees and those close to retiring don’t care about your certifications. But career-changers and 24-year-olds who are new to the industry are different. Traditionally, we’ve just blanket marketed to people, and we’ve got to dive deeper.”

In that light, a “sign-up”—whether for a webinar, meeting, volunteer slot—shouldn’t be taken at face value. It’s a reflection of a person’s background, career status, ambitions, available time, and more. But it’s not an absolute statement about how much interest that person has in your association. Assume that level of engagement is fickle, if only to prompt your organization to better understand why they’ve connected. From there, you can find a way to deeper bonds.


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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