Karin Tracy is vice president of marketing at Fíonta in Washington, DC.
While there is no perfect way to create a marketing strategy, there are three tactics that can help. To position your association for success, conduct market research, demonstrate value, and build community.
You can tackle association marketing in a variety of ways. While there is no one-size-fits-all method, there are several strategies that most organizations can use to build a successful strategy. Before you begin crafting your new marketing materials, however, ensure you know who you’re marketing to and what types of appeals are likely to yield the best results.
Effective marketing begins with research, including answering a few core questions about your audience and association. Ensuring you know who your audience is, what they want, and how your organization can meet their needs will make creating targeted, effective marketing materials much easier.
To conduct your research, survey current members and analyze competitors to find answers to these three questions:
Who is your audience? The ideal new member you envision may differ from the potential members most interested in joining your association. To ensure you know who you’re marketing to, collect data from your current members and use it to create personas that represent each segment of your audience. These will serve as stand-ins for each segment of your audience, allowing you to tailor your marketing strategy to each group. For example, your younger audience members may frequent social media and be most responsive to marketing messages there, whereas working professionals may prefer receiving a referral through a friend or family member.
What are your competitors offering? What audience are your competitors marketing to? What benefits do they offer, and how can your association differentiate itself? Take a moment to review both your competitors’ membership program and their most recent marketing materials.
Are there any current trends in your industry to be aware of? Has your industry changed enough in the past few years to attract a new audience? If this is the case, consider how you can adjust your current marketing strategy—and potentially even your association’s offerings—to align with this shift.
Gathering, storing, and leveraging your member data is essential for learning why they joined your association, and this information can be leveraged to attract more members. Ensure your association has a robust association management system, that is also flexible enough to accommodate your unique member base and manage all of your data as your association grows.
What problem does your audience have that your association’s offerings can solve? The answer to this is your value proposition, and it will help guide the direction of your marketing efforts. Your marketing materials for each segment of your audience should address that group’s specific concerns and present the unique solutions your association can offer.
To demonstrate the value of a membership at your association, it could be useful to provide some content for free. However, consider how your content model will affect both your marketing and potential revenue. Associations that switch to a free model tend to see more traffic than gated membership organizations, but they can also experience a significant reduction in revenue.
Additionally, consider the role your website plays in presenting your association as professional and valuable. The best association websites are easy to navigate, clearly state the organization’s value proposition, and entice visitors to learn more through calls to action. By contrast, an outdated or hard-to-use website may turn away potential members who would otherwise be interested in your content.
The most useful marketing tool your association has is your current membership base. NPOInfo’s charitable giving statistics found that 57 percent of associations report word-of-mouth referrals were the most effective method for attracting support.
To encourage word-of-mouth recommendations, some associations create paid referral programs. However, the most effective way to get your members talking about your association with their friends, family, and colleagues is to simply create a great membership program.
To build a dedicated community around your association, continuously offer high-quality content that aligns with your members’ interests. You’ll also need to have strong membership management tools and practices in place to provide assistance and resolve problems quickly. Lastly, cultivate many opportunities for members to interact with one another, whether in-person or online.
Association marketing is a necessary but resource-intensive process, even with the right strategies. Begin your marketing campaigns by researching your audience, allowing you to communicate the value of your memberships clearly. Then, follow through on that promised value to encourage your current members to market your association even further through word of mouth.