5 Tried and True Association Marketing Ideas

For associations, marketing is generally all about growing membership. Of course, you also need to market your programs, your meetings, and your events. But membership is the key driver for everything within an association.

Marketing Context

In the headline above perhaps I should have said “contest” rather than context. After all, as you well know from experience, it is a contest. You’re competing for your potential member’s time and attention. You’re also competing for time, attention, and dollars within your own organization. All that is the “context” for your marketing efforts.

Internal Alignment

team.jpgWithin that context you’re not only making every effort to reach potential members, but you’re also working hard to make sure everyone in your organization is supporting that same effort. Here’s a quick list of actions you and your association should take before even considering marketing ideas:

  • Make membership growth a priority for everyone. It can be evangelical—your association and the benefits of membership are too precious not to share with others.
  • Set realistic goals and measurable objectives. Look at your past membership numbers and the patterns over time. Based on this context, set realistic goals. You and your staff need to realize that you can’t turn things around overnight. But you still must have targets to hit.
  • Fund your priorities and provide the necessary staff time to achieve your goals. You’ve set priorities, goals, and objectives. Put your money and time where they are most needed to make your objectives happen. This is the true test of your intentions to grow membership.
  • Measure your results and make needed course corrections. Use the objectives you’ve set earlier, along with their measures, to clearly examine progress. If progress isn’t happening, find out why—and do something about it.

I like to use the funnel metaphor to describe making things happen or to understanding complex concepts. We’ve just covered the top of the funnel—making sure everything is aligned within your organization to ensure marketing success. Now for the nitty-gritty.

Marketing Channels

In a post titled “The State of Association Membership Growth and Retention,” I discussed new member growth and retaining existing members, but I also covered the findings from the 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Here’s what they found to be the best membership recruitment channels based on a survey of nearly 900 membership associations:

  • Word-of-mouth: 49% ranked it their top recruitment channel
  • Email: 32%
  • Website: 23%
  • Direct mail: 21%
  • Cross-sell to non-members: 19%

Marketing Ideas

That’s where the “tried and true” statement comes from in the title. It’s always our most trusted marketing channels that make things happen. So how can we best leverage those channels?

1. Member-Get-A-Member Campaign

As noted in the survey results—with 49% stating that this was their best membership recruitment channel—peer-to-peer word-of-mouth communication that provides a personal perspective is hugely effective in bringing new members to your association. With a member-get-a-member campaign you’re leveraging existing member enthusiasm to reach new potential members. You’ll need to provide well thought out materials to current members that fully promote the value of your association as well as actually ask people to join. While we stated that this is a word-of-mouth campaign, you’ll really need to be activating all your marketing channels—particularly your website—for supporting materials. But also email, direct mail, and social media. For example, one excellent touch is to build testimonials to support your campaign via your website and social media channels. It’s all about activating your members, providing the tools they need, and as a result driving new member recruitment.

2. Inbound Content Marketing

blogI mentioned website testimonials and supporting materials for your word-of-mouth recruiting campaign above. This is just one aspect of building online content that serves to attract members and potential members to your organization. Blogs from your leadership team, discussion groups, white papers, case studies, and research reports can all serve to attract potential members to your website. It also serves to demonstrate your thought leadership and expertise, which can further support a decision to join your organization. For your in-depth your content consider allowing access in exchange for email addresses, opening up your reach to and impact on those outside your member base. Look at the blog post titled “New Membership Marketing Ideas for Associations,” which essentially makes the case to reach as many people as possible (members or not) with your content, LinkedIn groups, etc. This can be the opening to first demonstrate membership value and second to deliver the invitation to join.

3. Event/Meeting Marketing

For many associations there are one, two, or even more big meetings and/or events during the year. Of course, you’re going to get your members to attend, but you should also take advantage of the event to attract new members before, during, and after those events. After all, this is where your association is really demonstrating its big value to members. These are also superb times to bring potential members to your website. Your promotion should be reaching not only your association but your entire industry. For just a bit more effort, you can really drive the hoopla around your event and attract far more people who will consider joining. While one or two meetings per year can serve to attract new members, don’t forget the rest of the year. Develop webinars from your leadership and industry experts and invite everyone. This is a superb and cost effective way of generating interest while serving your industry. Also, give twitter chat sessions consideration as one more way of involving members and potential members with your organization.

4. Direct Mail Campaigns

In the membership marketing study noted above, 21% of associations found direct mail to be their best recruitment channel. Back this up with the fact that 46% of all Americans have purchased as a result of direct mail. Targeted mailing lists with spot on messaging and special offers can really generate results. With direct mail, you have complete control of who gets your message as well as the message itself. It also gets in their hands and is often saved, something that no email message can ever accomplish. I’ve written further on this topic under the title “Increasing Donations with Direct Mail Campaigns.” It’s a good starting point for digging deeper into the big advantages of direct mail.

5. Contests and Recognition

Contests are great ways to engage your members and draw further attention to your association. Online photo, video, or caption contests can surface some fantastic content that can then be used to attract new members. Plus, your current members will often discover things about your association that they had either forgotten or just didn’t know about. The miniature version of contests is to conduct online polls regarding issues of the day within your industry. This engages both members and potential members and provides still more content for your inbound marketing program. Recognition programs can be simple efforts such as branded badges for use on social media profiles. You can provide unique badges for volunteer efforts, leadership posts, membership levels, and even for your certification programs. People love to show off their accomplishments and this is a great way to show off your brand while attracting others to your association.

New Member Welcome Kits

I’m calling this bonus content, since you came for the five marketing ideas in the title. Even though this idea is a bit further down on the sales chain, it needs to be considered up front as you’re building your marketing campaigns. You’ll be attracting lots of new members. Given that, you need to have a well-constructed plan for what you’re going to do with them. After all, they are used to the very best marketing programs and customer service in the world, from Amazon to Zappos, and they will be expecting the same from your organization. One option is to pull together a comprehensive welcome kit that covers all the aspect of your organization and how the new member can take advantage of them. It also needs to include a personal touch. Someone who can be called on to help the new member get connected. Give this aspect of your marketing program some serious thought and action as it will pay off in actually retaining those new members you're bringing into your association.

There’s More

There’s always more. Think up five marketing ideas and you’ll find at least five more if not 25 more. You can find a great deal more on the web. I like Marketing General’s Membership Recruitment articles along with IntrinXec’s article “New Membership Marketing Ideas for Associations.” While you can find a great deal of insight online, I recommend reaching out to the experts. Campaign Now has substantial experience and expertise working with a wide range of associations. They can work with you on membership campaigns with data, contact services, text message marketing, direct mail, email marketing, digital development, media advertising, as well as public and media relations. Leverage their expertise for engaging your current and prospective members. Give them a call. Contact us at (855) 329-4327 or info@campaignnowonline.com.

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Jim Wilson

Jim Wilson

Jim Wilson is the founder of PathForeWord, a freelance writing and communication consulting service. He has over two decades experience working for the largest youth membership organization in the USA as director of communication services. He’s written on nonprofits, associations, journalism, technology, and the job search process.


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