August 5, 2019

The Benefits of a Marketing Segmentation Strategy for Your Association

The Benefits of a Marketing Segmentation Strategy for Your Association

Who knew that reading a benchmark report could make you feel sad for someone…

“We have so many great ideas but our database is not centralized, we don’t collect enough demographics, and we can’t use any of it to personalize our messaging. Every great idea we have ends up stalled because we don’t have the data in place to make it work.”

You can sense the disappointment in that survey comment from the 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report by Marketing General Inc. Every association wants to personalize messaging these days so imagine the frustration when yours can’t do it. Or, maybe you don’t have to imagine.

Members, customers, attendees, and prospects expect some level of personalized or, at least, relevant messaging and content from every organization they interact with—that’s the standard these days. But you need data and technology that allows you to segment member communications so you can send relevant content to different target audiences.

Segmentation: The Most Important Element in Marketing and Communications

Segmentation is the art and science of splitting your target audience or market into groups based on their behavior, interests, demographics, or other characteristics. One of the most basic examples is “registered” and “not registered” for a particular event. But, sadly, many organizations still can’t even manage this simple segmentation. Does this experience sound familiar?

You’ve registered for an event. However, the hosting organization keeps sending you promotional emails for that same event. You start to wonder, I did register, didn’t I? So you check your inbox and, sure enough, the registration confirmation you received weeks ago is there. The next time an email comes from that organization, you delete it without opening since it’s probably just another promotion for that same event. Or is it? You’ll never know, and by now, you don’t really care.

This scenario should never happen, but data segmentation is a challenge for many associations. According to the MGI report, one-third of survey participants lack the ability to segment members and customers.

When you segment your email marketing lists and, therefore, tailor your marketing messages and other communications to different segments, it proves you understand the email recipient: who they are, what they do, what they’re interested in, and what they need. The member (or non-member) realizes over time that you are a reliable source of relevant content. They’re glad to have you in their life.

Other benefits of using a segmentation strategy include:

  • More email opens
  • Increased email engagement
  • Higher response rate
  • More clicks on embedded links and calls-to action
  • Increased appreciation of your association’s value

You can segment by past behavior, for example, registered for the upcoming event or not, attended last year’s conference or not, and volunteered this past year or not. Or, you can segment by other attributes, such as vendor members, first year members, C-suite members, and inactive at-risk members.

Identifying Member and Non-Member Segments

As with any strategy, start with your goal and work backwards. For example, you can use segmentation to help you achieve goals related to:

  • Recruitment
  • Retention
  • Engagement
  • Leadership development
  • Event marketing
  • Product marketing

What type of segmentation would help you target messaging and increase the chances of you reaching a particular goal? What data do you need to identify and segment those different target audiences? Do you have that data now or do you need to start collecting it?

The three most common segmentations, according to the MGI report, are:

  • Membership level/type, for example, regular, vendor, and student member. Per the MGI report, this segmentation is used by 59% of associations.
  • Demographic segmentation, for example, age, geographic location, and gender, is used by 36% of associations.
  • Job/occupation segmentation, for example, position or job type, department, specialty, career stage, and company size, is used by 31% of associations.

Other commonly used segmentations are:

  • Membership tenure
  • Membership status, for example, member vs. non-member
  • Non-member prospects’ level of past engagement
  • Member engagement level (history, activities, behavior)

Segments vs. Personas

Are segments the same as personas? Well, kind of. The marketing term “persona” refers to a fictional representation of an ideal customer or member that’s based on market research and data about existing customers or members. Personas represent segments of your target audience or market.

Some marketers really get into their personas. They give them names, like Young Professional Yasmin, and create a long list of personal details about the persona’s job, income, hobbies, and work challenges. The theory is this approach helps the marketing team see the persona as a real person.

Association professionals may have an easier time seeing personas as real people. In fact, some of you may see them regularly in real life, so you might not have to go into that much detail. What’s most important is to understand the particular needs, challenges, interests, aspirations, and membership goals of a persona or segment so you can craft marketing messages and content that will attract their attention, hold their interest, and help them achieve their goals. That’s a long sentence but it’s the most important one in this blog post so go ahead and take a moment to read it again.

For example, you would communicate differently with longtime members who regularly volunteer at events than you would to first-year members who haven’t yet experienced the benefits of volunteering.

Getting to Know Your Segments/Personas

How do you gain an understanding of your persona or segment’s needs, challenges, interests, aspirations, and membership goals? You look for patterns and trends in your member data. You analyze behavioral metrics, such as downloads, email opens and clicks, web page visits, registrations, and online community activity.

You also use market research, for example, surveys and interviews, to gain insights. Talk to members and non-members about their:

  • Typical day at work
  • Business goals and career aspirations
  • Pain points, frustrations, concerns
  • Interests
  • Needs
  • Membership experience
  • Information and education routines and preferences
  • Networking routines and preferences

Remember, segmentation is both an art and science, based on educated guesses, really. You will learn as you go and make adjustments to your original hypotheses.

Another factor to keep in mind: people change. Young professionals “graduate” into another segment. Or, a member from a large global company strikes out on their own and becomes a small business owner.

It’s not that easy to keep track of members and their changing interests and attributes, but your association management system can help you make the best possible effort. A member portal is a huge help because it allows members to update their profile and keep their data accurate and complete. Learn how the MemberSuite Member Portal can help you increase member engagement and learn more about your members—and non-members too.