Word of Mouth and a Value Proposition You Can Embrace Will Propel Growth, Says New Survey

The data in Marketing General’s 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report for associations indicates that the top reason leaders think members join is to network (63%), followed by continuing education (46%), accessing specialized information (32%), and learning best practices (30%). It shows that in-person events remain a huge goal.

The other major takeaway is that just more than half of associations believe their value proposition to be compelling or very compelling (52%, up from 48% in 2020 and 49% in 2019). While another 40% consider their value proposition to be somewhat compelling. That 52% just isn’t enough.

We spent a long time working on the value proposition for our Associations, Media & Publishing Network to get to the point where we all stand proudly behind it.  For those organizations that saw an increase in new members over the last couple years—which is just 29%—they reported that providing a compelling value proposition was critical to their success. Makes sense.

Here are more trends for association publishers to take note of. The report which can be downloaded here.

Word of mouth is still a huge driver. When it comes to which recruitment marketing channels get your organization the most new members, word of mouth was number one at 57%. Email placed next at 50% followed by organization-sponsored events/meetings at 40%. There’s a big drop after that before you get to personal sales calls (19%), member get a member (18%) and organic social media (17%). Chapter engagement can also be a big driver—perhaps volunteer committees could be the B2B media company equivalent to that.

Work on your value proposition. Echoing findings from both 2019 and 2020, the two biggest internal challenges to growing membership are difficulty in communicating value or benefits and insufficient staff. About one-quarter of associations struggle to identify/contact prospects (26%, up from 22% in 2020) and attract and/or maintain younger members (24%, up from 17% in 2020)—that’s obviously a growing problem as core audiences age.

Consider a first-year dues discount. This was the number two most effective offer for recruiting new members for associations. Also high up were giving additional months free, multiple year discounts and free trials—which is the only initiative gaining traction. I just received an email concerning my year-old New York Times digital subscription, saying that my introductory rate is going up to support their “journalists as they seek the truth and help people understand the world.” I’ll probably stay with it.

Use a mix of channels to reach your audience. Said one association leader: “Multi-channel, surround-sound offers (direct mail, email, paid ads)…they work together to increase overall response rate.” Another leader advised, “Use a multitude of channels. There are no silver bullet ‘one channel’ strategies for membership.”

Perfect your welcome letters. I recall one open-rate survey that had welcome letters far ahead of any other type of communication. When it comes to onboarding, welcome emails were by far the most effective at 77%. The more value you can throw into a welcome letter, the better. And the more people you can get involved from a member/subscriber will also help you come renewal time. Two other places where onboarding has become effective is career services (37%, up from 33% in 2020) and book or directory purchases (26%, up from 23% in 2020).

Ask and you may receive. Speaking of renewals, 39% start the process 3 months prior to expiration, 18% start 2 months prior and 22% report they do not stop contacting lapsed members. “With hope on the horizon for a better year ahead, lapsed members may now be in a better position to reinstate their membership, but will not do so unless asked.” Don’t assume people have read all your renewal emails. (Phone contacting went from 37% to 50% last year.) Organizations reporting renewals of 80% or higher are significantly more likely to consider staff phone calls an effective tool for reinstating lapsed members.

Build better dashboards. The top data challenges for membership growth include a lack of marketing results to track and analyze reporting (37%, down from 39% in 2020), inadequate membership dashboards and reporting tools (34%, same as in 2020), and a lack of skilled data professionals to manage and work with the association’s data (33%, down from 34% in 2020). Finding data analysts has become a big challenge for media companies.

Become more innovative. Associations report that they have focused more on innovation, which could lead to a stronger value proposition. They have accomplished this by focusing on communication and collaboration (62%, up from 53% in 2020), providing encouragement to innovative employees (52%, up from 38% in 2020), and driving innovation from the top down (45%, up from 41% in 2020). However, only 20% of association executives report that their association has a process in place to encourage innovation and new ideas. More than half (54%) say they do not.

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