It will come as no surprise to leaders at professional associations that a common concern we hear from our clients is the challenge around growing and sustaining membership.
Associations with a consistent and growing membership can focus on delivering value to members. Those with a declining membership, who are not consistently attracting new members, spend more time worrying about how they’ll keep the lights on.
Associations are achieving better results by investing in research and technology that helps them better understand their members.
Member journey mapping is a popular approach, adopted from the business world, that is being used to tackle this problem using common sense methods to understand member needs.
Most of what we’ve seen published on the topic attempts to boil member journey mapping to its essence and make it a simple exercise that anyone could do. The oversimplification is a way to avoid scaring people off, but inadvertently diminishes the difficulty and importance of getting it right.
In this post, we give a realistic view of what’s involved in creating a practical membership strategy with realistic resources.
Member Journey Mapping – a quick overview
Member Journey Mapping is about understanding your users at a more granular level. It’s likely that everyone on your staff could name all the things that your members have in common. But what are the consistent differences among member groups? Identifying these patterns and grouping your members based on these criteria is what makes journey mapping a useful tool.
To begin piecing together a member journey for your association, you’ll want to consider the following:
- Benefits and Values – understanding the benefits you provide and how that translates to value for different types of members.
- Member Profiles – member groupings based on discernable characteristics and needs.
- Member Paths – identifying how members find you, decide to join and renew.
There are a number of ways to uncover this information at your organization. We’ll identify some of the more common ways we’ve done this with our clients based on their needs and means.
Benefits vs. Values
The information, accreditation, education, networking opportunities and everything else you provide your members are the benefits of your association.
Many organizations will use their list of benefits as a cudgel to show every prospective member what they can gain from joining. The problem with this is that not all members need all the benefits all the time. It’s hard to absorb a large amount of information all at once and prospects may go away not understanding what value any of those benefits would hold for them.
To make a benefit turn into a value for a member you need to explain the benefit in terms of how they might use it in their daily life. To determine how to show value for groups of members, you first need to identify your member profiles.
Member profiles, or personas, are a description of common groups of ideal members. While there are many ways to profile members, a consistently helpful way to look at them is based on where they are in their career.
For example, early in their career, a member may need your association to network, learn about the industry, or research some of the more basic aspects of the industry they’ve just joined.
Later, as a member is more rooted in their work, they may need your help to keep up with new trends and best practices. They may also come to you for supplemental training, professional development or new job opportunities.
Other benefits you provide, like research, standards and accreditations will likely apply to all members, regardless of their career stage.
By understanding when a member will need certain benefits over others, you can better message the value you provide to each prospect and existing member without diluting it.
But how do you determine your profiles and how do you communicate to the right person at the right time? Ask your members.
Every time we begin work on a new client project, we inevitably focus on research to ensure that our decisions are based on defined business objectives and our target audience’s needs. Using surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews helps us learn specifically how different groups of users find value in what our clients’ organizations offer.
Based on this information, we can begin to develop suggestions for identifying profiles, marketing plans and website structure. This ensures that all the work we do will help express the right benefits to the right member at the right time.
Once you have identified the groups that your members fit in, it’s important to go through the process of audience segmentation. This can be done by adding questions to your new member sign-up and renewal processes.
Smaller organizations can manage the information they collect in their Association Management System (AMS) along with all other member information. Larger groups have begun moving to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems or using a combination of the two. CRM platforms have tools to help you manage more than just the personal data of your members. They can help you track all your interactions with them and store other information that’s critical to understanding who they are. They also make it easier for different departments in your organization to use the data you’ve collected.
Your leadership and financial teams can use the data to plan and forecast performance. Your marketing teams can segment their approach to gain new members and retain existing ones. Your membership development staff can use the analytics you capture over time to gauge member engagement, participation in events and educational programs, and ultimately to calculate member lifetime value.
Once you understand the different member groups that make up your constituency, you can begin to develop a larger picture of how they come to your organization and make membership decisions.
As you research your members to develop profiles, you should include questions that will help you gain a better understanding of how they found you and how they prefer to interact with you.
Older members may prefer to receive information and communicate by more traditional means like receiving a renewal notification in the mail. Younger members may be happy to receive all communication digitally. Perhaps all members want the ability to call and speak with someone in person when they have questions.
Understanding these preferences is an opportunity to optimize for the best conversion rates on both new member sign-ups and renewals.
Consider these three sample paths:
- Joins on your website.
- Receives a welcome package outlining all the relevant benefits they can now access and how.
- Clicks tracked links in the email leading to pages on your website with more information.
- Receives a phone call after being a member for 90 days to see if they need help finding anything or if they have any questions.
- Receives renewal notice in the mail, with a self-addressed stamped envelope.
- The renewal notice comes as part of a renewal package that mentions upcoming events, recent industry data and other information relevant to the profile of an older member.
- There is a personalized URL leading to your web site where more member benefit information is available as well as payment options.
In each of these cases, you are targeting a specific known group with the information that is most relevant to them in the medium they are most likely to consume it. This not only makes your messaging more relevant and more actionable, but also helps cut costs on sending irrelevant communications to those unlikely to respond to it.
Despite how carefully you plan your initial research, you may not get a clear picture on paths. Often members themselves don’t recall how they found you or know how they’d prefer to interact with you. So, asking them can lead to false-positive data.
You can validate your conclusions by supplementing your member survey and interview data with other data sources. For example, your web site may not be the source of all the benefits you offer, but you will typically describe them all there. By analyzing the number of visits you get to these pages and the amount of time people spend exploring them, you can identify patterns of interest. Similarly, engagement with emails or personalized urls in printed materials can help to paint a picture of member preferences and paths.
Our clients have used a wide variety of free and paid resources to help them track and analyze these data. Based on their goals and budget, we have been able to establish systems that help to organize their data, communicate benefits to appropriate members and see improvements in both new member acquisition and renewals.
Because of the high cost of acquiring new members – about 150%-200% of annual dues for most associations – organizations are moving toward a more calibrated approach to membership strategies. Making these best practices part of standard operations has helped them focus more on their missions and less on recruitment.
We’d be interested to hear how you are using information about your members to make decisions for your association. I look forward to hearing from you at email@example.com.
- Member Journey Mapping: Walking a Mile in Your Members’ Shoes
- Membership Memo: Map Their Journey
- Managing the Membership Journey
- Renewal or Nurture – Mapping your Member’s Journey
- Improving New Member Retention with a New Member Journey Program
- How to Create Content to Serve Each Stage of The Membership Journey