June 22, 2020
One of the things we all have in common these last few months is an uncertainty about the future. When the pandemic crisis subsides, will everything go back to how it was before? Probably not.
The economy is bouncing around. Your industry or profession is dealing with new conditions. Your members are facing new challenges. Your association is reprioritizing projects and resources in response to members’ new needs, interests, and preferences.
But what a moment! Everyone’s tolerance for change has increased. Take advantage of this opportunity to assess and make changes to your association’s membership benefits or even your membership model—as long as your AMS is configurable enough to change. Adapt your membership marketing strategy and tactics to the new zeitgeist or mood of the market.
Now’s the time for listening and getting into your members’ metaphorical shoes. To make sure any changes you make are aligned with your members’ reality, find out what personal and professional challenges they’re experiencing, what they’re learning, and how things are changing for them and their company.
Don’t only rely on the usual suspects for this intel. Reach out beyond volunteer leaders to a diverse selection of ‘regular’ members and even non-members. Try asking a few multiple choice and open-ended questions in pulse surveys and polls—but share the results because members want to know what’s going on with their peers.
Identify common questions, concerns, and topics by monitoring online community discussions, virtual event chats, and social media comments on your page and in other industry groups.
With all this intel in hand, you can start answering these questions:
Assess your membership model.
Nothing is set in stone right now and everyone knows that. Experiment with pilot membership programs—label them as such. For example, people are seeking connections and education—what can you offer in a low-priced membership tier as benefits that would also serve as stepping-stones to future educational purchases?
What does your association offer that people can’t get elsewhere? Even if you’ve done this exercise in the past, do it again. Your membership marketing must reflect the new conditions in your members’ professional and personal lives.
Every association will have a different list but I’d bet these three benefits of membership are up near the top—or should be: community, expertise, and purpose.
Community and Belonging
People crave and appreciate community and belonging but they don’t always know they’re seeking it. In your membership marketing messaging, describe how a member will benefit from belonging to your community, especially during tough times. To clarify, we’re not talking about an online community platform but the professional community of members they will join.
Share member stories about the impact of having access to a peer support network where they can hear how others like them are handling new situations or getting referrals to new jobs or leads. Get testimonials from members about receiving guidance from mentors (official or unofficial) or having the opportunity to contribute as a mentor.
If your trade association serves a competitive industry, peer support might be tricky. In that case, consider establishing a mastermind-style program for groups of members from non-competing markets.
These past few months, we’ve seen an increase in virtual networking. The pandemic has proven just how much members want connection—it’s why they join—and virtual events have made these connections accessible to all members, not just the ones who can afford to attend in-person events.
Even when in-person events return, many members won’t be able or willing to attend. You need to provide a way for them to meet and talk in real time beyond your online community platform, for example, in a virtual venue like our virtual event and networking solution, The Echo.
Supplement conference networking events with exclusive members-only networking events. Host ‘birds of a feather’ discussion groups for people with the same position, specialty, demographic attributes, career stage, or geographic region.
Chapters play an important community role too, especially now that members won’t be traveling as much. You could take a hybrid approach to events: combine a virtual element hosted by your association with small meetings hosted by chapters.
15 minutes of staff expertise might be worth the price of membership. Whether it’s legal, regulatory, business management, or educational coaching advice, access to staff expertise is a valuable membership benefit. If you don’t have experts on staff now, consider hiring them so you can provide these indispensable membership benefits.
With access to staff expertise, members can the impact of membership on their bottom line in ways that non-members don’t enjoy. Expertise can also be delivered via:
Volunteering is a huge benefit of membership that many people don’t consider until they experience it for themselves. But some members shy away from volunteering because they don’t want to commit the time. Identify and publicize microvolunteering opportunities so this membership benefit is accessible to all.
Open up leadership development programs to all members—a valuable membership benefit that employers will appreciate too.
Because needs and preferences have changed in the last few months, you must adapt your messaging. Focus on what makes your association indispensable in times of change. For example, highlight how members help members get jobs. Tony Rossell, senior vice president for Marketing General Incorporated, said in the ASAE Collaborate forum, “Association membership is the best unemployment insurance that you can buy.”
Numbers talk. Survey the financials for the entire industry and show how members have done compared to non-members.
Focus on the impact of benefits, not the features of membership. Be careful not to rely on benefits that non-members can also enjoy, like advocacy. Everyone in the industry benefits from your association’s advocacy efforts, but what do members involved in advocacy get out of it personally?
Non-members can attend your events at a premium, but what do members get that non-members don’t? What’s the member advantage of other benefits, like networking, education, and so on?
Remember that not everyone can or will join. They don’t want to make the commitment or their employer won’t pay. Amp up your email collection efforts so you can add non-members to content marketing campaigns with either membership or program purchase as the goal. Keep these non-members close so they can become customers or help with advocacy campaigns.
Besides the content of your messages, the tone is important too. Given the uncertainty about so much nowadays, people are seeking out reassuring confident voices. Tell members and non-members what to expect in the short term, how they need to prepare, and how your association can help them do that. Share an “association strong” message with your membership and industry that gives them a collective confidence about your future together.