Why do you need an association marketing strategy? It has a direct impact on your member growth and retention!
An effective association marketing strategy:
- Helps you acquire new members
- Reminds your members of who you are—and why they’re members
- Strengthens your brand recognition and community
But where do you start? There are so many marketing channels and strategies! In the past, you might have relied on word of mouth or print advertising. These can be great avenues, but in isolation, they’ll limit your reach. To unlock growth, you’ll need to dive into online platforms.
In this guide, you’ll get a game plan of nine association marketing ideas you can use to reach new audiences and grow your organization.
These strategies include:
- Segment your email audience.
- Create member personas.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Enhance your association’s website.
- Partner with similar organizations.
- Diversify your marketing channels.
- Incentivize referrals.
- Track member data with your software solution.
- Save time with automated messages.
Read on to jumpstart or refresh your association marketing strategy today!
1. Segment your email audience.
In the marketing world, you’ll hear a lot about the benefits of segmenting your audiences, but what does that really mean?
Segmentation is the process of grouping audience members based on shared characteristics. For example, your association could create different segments—or specific email lists—for:
- Prospective members
- New members
- Long-time members
- Members on committees or in leadership positions
You could also divide members based on demographics, such as:
- Educational background
- Income level
- Past donation amounts to your cause
Once you’ve created your segments, you can craft marketing materials personalized to each segment’s interests. Since these messages are targeted to specific groups, they’re more likely to resonate with their recipients than a generic message sent to everyone.
For example, segmenting can let you easily send a new member welcome series to your new member segment and background information on your organization to prospective members.
If you’re soliciting support, you can also send emails with a higher suggested donation amount to your top-tier supporters and ones with a more budget-friendly amount to members who may be students or earlier in their careers.
There are a few different ways you can create segmented lists and use them to send personalized messaging to each group. Some of these include:
- Manually using Google sheets to create lists of emails based on different member characteristics. You’d simply copy and paste these emails into your email marketing system.
- Leveraging the mail merge features in Microsoft Office to personalize bulk sends to different groups of members.
- Using association management software, like MemberClicks, that stores all of your membership data and specific tags for different member characteristics to allow you to automate message sends.
Pro tip: Don’t over-segment your audience. If you create too many specific groups, you might find yourself having to craft highly tailored content that ends up taking you too much time to create.
2. Create member personas.
Custom member personas let you take your segmentation and personalization a step further. A member persona is a fictitious example person that represents a cross-section of your membership or a target prospective group.
To start creating your own personas, use your member database to analyze the characteristics of your current members. Look for the most common:
- Age ranges
- Certifications and training
- Referral sources
- Membership benefits used
You can then use this information to craft a few different profiles that best represent your current members. Give each profile its own name, such as “Kim,” rather than “30-something female.” Doing so helps with remembering to humanize your association marketing strategy as you grow.
For example, let’s say you’re a baking association. Your top member profiles might look something like this:
- Kim: 34-year-old small business owner who runs a cake shop and learned about your association through a women’s leadership conference. She’s interested in meeting other young professionals in the industry and supporting efforts to create opportunities for bakers from underrepresented populations.
- Lamar: 45-year-old pastry chef interested in networking with fellow bakers and participating in workshops to learn new baking skills. He learned about your association online.
- Jules: 21-year-old culinary student looking for internship opportunities and mentorship. They heard about your association from their career center.
Once you’ve determined your main member personas, you can create marketing messages you think would resonate with each person and use these in your outreach efforts.
Make sure to treat your first few outreach messages as tests. After your initial sends, review data on response rates and overall engagement to see if your persona assumptions are accurate or need additional tweaking.
Pro tip: Be sure to update your audience personas as you learn more about prospective members.
3. Show, don’t tell.
Rule number one: show prospective members what your benefits look like in action.
Whenever possible, share photos, videos, and testimonials from your members who are already seeing value from your organization’s offerings.
For example, you can:
- Share video clips of speakers from your most recent conference
- Include photos of members interacting at a networking event
- Highlight members receiving certificates after completing an ongoing education program
Examples like this make the payoff feel real—it isn’t just a promise, it’s something people are getting value from right now.
Pro tip: Make your communications fun! Share light-hearted updates from staff and members, such as cool projects individuals are working on, or an insider’s look at a day in the life of your team members.
4. Enhance your association’s website.
Your website is your central hub for engaging both prospective and existing members. Did you know it takes less than a second for visitors to decide whether or not they’ll stay?
You need to design your website to make it as easy as possible for prospective members to find what they need. Streamline their experience by removing any barriers you uncover, such as superfluous sign-up steps or text-heavy pages.
Additionally, make sure your:
- Webpages are mobile-friendly
- Text is easy to skim
- Imagery is compelling and shows off how great membership is
- Brand recognition is consistent by following a style guide for fonts, colors, and logos
- Hyperlinks navigate to the correct URLs
- Registration forms don’t have too many required fields and allow for auto-filling
Pro tip: Your web design should be accessible so everyone, regardless of ability, can use it. Add alt text for images, captions for videos, and contrasting colors in the foreground and background. You can learn more about website accessibility in the 2010 Americans With Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design.
5. Partner with similar organizations.
Partnering with an organization that has a similar mission allows you to expand your audience and share resources.
Using the earlier example of a baking association, you could partner with:
- Culinary schools
- Local distributors of baking products
- Nonprofits supporting workforce development efforts for new bakers
- Bakeries or catering businesses in your area
Partnering with these organizations can provide access to interesting speakers, event spaces, prospective members, raw materials for workshops, and more.
What type of event can you partner on? Here are some examples:
- Educational events
- Volunteer opportunity
- Social event
Of course, you’ll also partner via social media and other channels during the promotion of your joint event. Talk through how you’ll tag each other, share one another's posts, use event-specific hashtags, and maintain consistent branding. You might even consider writing up a contract!
But remember: it doesn’t matter if you’re partnering with a business, nonprofit, or another association. Your fellow organization should share your values and have similar marketing priorities. You want your partner events to feel organic, so your members are drawn to them!
Pro tip: You can offer discounts or other perks to your partners to show appreciation for their support.
6. Diversify your marketing channels.
Multichannel marketing. It sounds complicated, but it’s really pretty simple. While some channels work better than others, you’ll want to leverage as many as possible to make sure you’re reaching the widest audience possible. That said, always measure your marketing success, and cut off channels that are more work than they’re worth!
Here are some channels you could consider using:
- Social media platforms (like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) for interacting with your audience—like members, prospective members, or partner organizations
- Video platforms like YouTube, for hosting engaging content on the second-biggest search engine out there (only after Google!)
- Email marketing, to send key messaging and invitations directly to your members
- If you have the budget, you can also invest in paid channels like Google Adwords or paid social, to retarget and re-engage folks who’ve visited your website or events
Your audience consumes content in different ways and in different places. Meet them where they are by getting creative with which platforms you use and the types of content you share there.
Pro tip: Make sure your messaging across different platforms is consistent. This will reinforce your communication goals with current and prospective members as they interact with it across your various channels.
7. Incentivize referrals.
Word-of-mouth is tried and true for a reason. But how can you take a more strategic approach?
When you incentivize referrals, members will have a reason to recommend your organization to their friends and colleagues. Their network becomes your network.
Reward those who successfully bring in new members by offering:
- Membership discounts
- Free gifts
- Branded association swag
- Raffle tickets
- Other prizes
Pro tip: You can even shout out your top referrers on your social media platforms or email newsletters to thank them for their efforts. This keeps your referral program top-of-mind, and acknowledges your members’ engagement with your program!
8. Track member data with your software solution.
Once you’ve started marketing, the next important step is measuring your program’s impact. Otherwise, you might be pursuing tactics that aren’t yielding any results!
Use your association management software to track your marketing and audience-building progress against goals you’ve set for your organization.
For instance, you can track:
- Email open rates
- Event registrations
- New member acquisition rates
- Member retention rates
- Referral rates
- New member demographics
These metrics will reveal what’s going well with your strategy and where there’s room for improvement.
In addition to using your association management software data, you can leverage other free tracking tools. Some of these include Google Analytics, HubSpot, and Clicky.
Pro tip: Adopt proper data hygiene techniques to ensure your member database stays clean and effective.
9. Save time with automated messages.
Sometimes you just don’t have time to send another email. Automated messages make sure your members get the information they need, on schedule, without you having to sit down and press send.
Your association management software can facilitate this by sending automated:
- Dues renewal reminders
- Event updates
If your staff are stretched thin or juggling several tasks, automated messages can help make their jobs easier. You keep marketing, even when they don’t have the time to be out there on the front lines!
Pro tip: Review your engagement data to determine the best time of day to send your automated emails.
Work With MemberClicks to Refine Your Marketing Strategy
You might be a marketer who already has other projects on your plate, or maybe marketing is entirely new to you.
If you need support while marketing your association, MemberClicks is built to help you organize your marketing efforts with user-friendly features, including:
- Automated messaging
- Website creation and management
- Targeted email marketing
- Reporting and analytics
Hungry for more marketing and membership growth information? Make sure to check out our additional resources:
- What is an AMS? Understand Association Management Systems: A comprehensive article on everything you need to know about association management systems, from top benefits to the best solution on the market.
- Growing Your Organization's Membership: A Beginner’s Guide to Inbound Marketing for Associations: A free guide covering the basics of inbound marketing, and how you can take some easy steps to implement it for your association or chamber (and reap some serious benefits).
- Best Membership and Association Management Software: A digestible, yet comprehensive, side-by-side review of the pros and cons for 20 different association management software options.