August 12, 2019

4 Steps to Defining Your Association’s Value Proposition

4 Steps to Defining Your Association’s Value Proposition

How compelling is your association’s value proposition? If you think it could use some help, you’re not alone.

When Marketing General Inc. (MGI) surveyed associations for its 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, only 11% of them said their value proposition is “very compelling.” And the rest?

  • Compelling – 38%
  • Somewhat compelling – 41%
  • Not very compelling – 9%
  • Not at all compelling – 1%

Slightly more associations fall in the “somewhat compelling” or less categories than in the “compelling” or “very compelling” categories—that’s troubling.

MGI sees a correlation between value proposition and membership health. Associations that reported increases in membership growth, new members, and retention are “significantly more likely to report that their value proposition is very compelling or compelling.”

You can also see the impact of a weak value proposition in other survey data. Associations could choose three reasons for why members don’t renew. The #1 reason (41%) is “lack of engagement,” but the other top reasons are related to membership value.

  • Could not justify membership costs with any significant ROI - 27%
  • Lack of value - 25%
  • Employer won’t pay or stopped paying dues - 21%
  • Too expensive - 17%

The words “ROI” and “value” are missing from the last two reasons, but aren’t they related to value too?

Features vs. Benefits

Even if you do have a compelling value proposition, it’s not so easy to demonstrate it. MGI survey participants said their biggest internal challenge in growing membership is the difficulty in communicating value and benefits. Many of these associations struggle with their value proposition because they’re making one of the most common mistakes in membership marketing—focusing on the features, not the benefits, of membership.

A feature is a statement about the product or service you’re promoting. The problem is, when you promote features, you force the prospect to figure out why they would want the feature. Features don’t entice prospects to join and they don’t entice members to register for a program, volunteer, or renew.

But benefits do. A benefit answers the question, “What's in it for me?” A benefit focuses on the results and impact a feature will make. Here are two examples of typical features and benefits of membership.

Feature: Enjoy networking opportunities with your peers.

Benefit: Deepen existing business relationships and make new contacts on a regular basis. As you attend events and meetings, or participate in online discussions, you’ll forge lasting ties with fellow members who have the same professional interests and business concerns as you.

Feature: Attend cutting-edge educational programs.

Benefit: Build the skills that help you improve your job performance, move forward in your career, and make you even more valuable to your business and employer.

4 Steps to Defining Your Membership Value Proposition

Association staff are usually the ones who define the value proposition. But, your value proposition is what members believe, not what your association says.

Here are four steps to defining a better value proposition.

#1: Know Your Prospect (And Member).

Do your market research. Don’t rely on survey findings from a few years ago. Everything is changing much too fast for that. Analyze the data in your AMS and other systems. Conduct new surveys and interviews with both members and non-members.

Remember, not all membership prospects are alike. They have different levels of engagement with you and different types of jobs, business sizes, career stages, etc. They will value different benefits of membership.

#2: Change Your Point-of-View.

It’s easy to rely on assumptions and conventional wisdom about the type of benefits that will appeal to members. But, this is an inside-out perspective, instead of what it should be, outside-in.

You believe membership is a great value because you fully understand what you're offering. But the prospect knows little to nothing about your offerings. They can't make the same connections about it that you can.

Start looking at membership from their perspective. Find out why it matters to them. How can membership change their work performance, their professional relationships, their career, and their business?

#3: Think About Impact.

Once you start seeing membership from the prospect’s point of view, you can better imagine the results it can offer. We’re now moving beyond “features vs. benefits” to “features vs. results.”

Look at your membership features and benefits, and then take each one into the impact or results phase. What results does a member get from benefit X? What impact does benefit X make on a member’s job, career, business, and life?

#4: Sell Emotional Benefits First.

Emotions influence purchasing decisions way more than we’d like to admit. Think about that when you write about benefits. Benefits use the language of emotions—what could happen to you, what you’ll feel and experience. Features use the language of logic—what it is, period.

An especially relevant and emotional benefit of membership is connection and belonging. Talk about becoming part of a community where people “get” you and your work, where you can find support, advice, inspiration, and answers. Inspire the prospect to think about a community where everyone knows their name or where they can make a name for themselves.

Negative emotions often have even more power than positive ones but tread carefully here. Allude to the fear of missing out, not getting ahead, becoming obsolete, losing your edge, or losing business to a competitor.

Put Your New Membership Value Proposition in Action

A few more tips before you get started…

  • Use segmentation in your membership marketing so you can tailor your value proposition to different groups in your target audience.
  • “You” is the most persuasive word in copywriting. Make your appeal personal and relevant by using “you” liberally. Be conversational, not institutional.
  • Add testimonials from members “like them.” Testimonials will turbo-charge your marketing.

A very compelling value proposition isn’t only for prospects. You have to keep selling your current members on the value of their membership too.

Since you have extensive data on current members in your AMS and other integrated systems, you should be able to craft a very compelling and relevant value proposition that convinces them to deepen their engagement and renew their membership. Find out how MemberSuite helps associations better understand and engage both members and prospects.