Joyce O'Brien is senior director for membership at the American Pharmacists Association in Washington, DC.
Association membership and marketing professionals have more power to collect and analyze data than ever before, but success still relies on sound data strategy and survey tactics.
Associations typically produce reports on their members regularly, tallying member counts, calculating revenue, counting how many have renewed and how many are new. They also conduct member and customer surveys. What happens to all that data? How is it analyzed and used?
Too often the magnitude of data can overwhelm even the most seasoned membership professional. How can this critical tool be used in understanding, engaging and growing your membership?
Joe Colangelo, founder and CEO of Bear Analytics, a firm specializing in association data analysis, suggests a three-step process to jumpstart your member analysis process.
Like many associations, the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) relies on subscriptions to its professional journals for a large percent of its annual revenues. The association needed to evaluate its traditional business plan in light of changes in government funding related to open access. With 4,000 members, the association also wanted to understand more about its nonmember community (readers, authors, event attendees, and so forth) to determine a new vision and strategy for the organization.
A survey measures what members think they do, but looking at the transactional data shows us what they actually do. Gina Scime, associate director of market research, American Pharmacists Association
Moving toward a robust digital platform to galvanize the plant science community and to connect people and content, ASPB needed to understand its options and potential as a member organization. "We knew our opportunity was in the size of the community surrounding us," says Susan Cato, director of digital strategy and member services. "We have a world of people interacting with us, but we weren't calling them members. We need to figure out how to make our organization more inclusive and build our brand, while at the same time helping to strengthen the plant science community. I needed a hard look at our data."
Combining 19 separate data sources and spreadsheets, Bear Analytics was able to take the most recent 10 years of data from ASPB and, after scrubbing it, identify 40,000 customers who had interacted with ASPB at least twice, such as attending meetings, submitting papers, or reading the journals. "Now that we know we have a community that is 40,000 strong, the next step is to evolve the membership model along with a set of products and tools to meet their needs," says Cato.
Surveying members and customers plays an important role in interpreting existing data and offers a window into perceptions, satisfaction, and unmet needs of your primary audiences. "Survey data represents the respondents' perception," says Gina Scime, associate director of market research for the American Pharmacists Association (APhA). "Is what people think a true reflection of what they do? A survey measures what they think they do, but looking at the transactional data shows us what they actually do."
Scime offers her top five tips to get the information you need through surveys.
One thing that both Scime and Colangelo advocate for is increased visibility of the data collected within associations. "We have budget meetings, strategic planning meetings, but why don't we have data team meetings?" Colangelo asks. "We all have a role in data—from the creation, analysis, generation, and use. Data impacts all of us."
"Increasing the value of research to an organization seems to be a trend," says Scime. "Organizations inherently have their own biases. Even when looking at survey results, staff tends to see the research in terms of what they believe to be true about their members." She suggests making the results available across the organization to spark discussion and to test those internal biases.
"I was listening to a researcher tell a story about how the company sales executives believed that customers didn't buy products during a particular season. Research suggested something different," Scime says. When the company finally marketed products during the "slow" season, it realized an increase of 25 percent market share during those "slow" months.
With increases in technology and the ability to collect data, understanding how to evaluate the data you collect, both transactional and survey data, can play an important role in recruiting, engaging, and retaining members.