There are obvious differences in the opportunities and challenges member-based organisations and associations face when compared to more traditional commercial businesses. However, there are equally a lot of similarities. A membership organisation’s core goals should be to better engage with its members, improve retention, generate new enquiries and drive revenue growth in order to improve its offer. None of these objectives are diametrically opposed to a non-member focused company but how you achieve these goals does differ and understanding those differences is essential.
Our experience working with member organisations means we fully appreciate the challenges you face. From shifts in member requirements and expectations, to budget constraints and internal resistance to change, the key to long-term success is a flexible strategy that priorities investment in areas that deliver genuine benefits to both your organisation and its members.
The good news is the latest digital technology and marketing strategies are ideally suited to helping you achieve these goals.
Numerous studies, such as MemberWise’s 2016 ‘Harnessing the Web’ survey, have all come to the same conclusion – increasing engagement is the most important objective for member-based organisations. Engagement is vital because it has a direct correlation to relevance; highly engaged members will view your organisations as more relevant (to them) than an unengaged member. Equally, unengaged members are significantly more likely to cancel their membership.
So where do you start? Chances are you have already invested in some sort of CRM. Whether it’s Microsoft Dynamics, SAP or Salesforce, that investment is crying out for integration with your CMS. Tying the two together enables you to use what you know about a member in a way in which they benefit through personalised content recommendations and a bespoke user experience. Thankfully, the latest developments in CMSs means integrating your CRM with your website has never been easier.
Listen and react
One of the additional benefits of increasing engagement is gaining a more detailed and accurate understanding of what your audience is thinking. Whether it’s through their choices of what content to consume, a website survey, email or Facebook, listening to your member’s comments, complements and complaints will provide you with a wealth of valuable data relating to members’ perceptions of your organisation. It is easy to cling onto the positive comments and give each other a collective pat on the back for a job well done but the more important job is to listen to the negative comments and actually doing something about them. Best thing is, once you’ve fixed the problem, you can highlight to specific member groups what you’ve done and how it will make things better for them – directly through your website, email and social channels!
Member Benefits and Millennial Expectations: The Amazon effect
Talking of complaints brings us nicely to member’s growing expectations. This trend isn’t limited to member organisations but is, in fact, is being witnessed across society. Whether you are Vodafone or your local library, everyone is expecting more for less. Retailers like Amazon have revolutionised how we shop online by delivering a step change in process and service. Amazon has a website and buying process which is as simple as anything online and they offer millions of items on next day delivery. This type of shift has far greater an effect than you might realise and is now impacting virtually every area of commerce.
You may not think your organisation has competitors in a traditional sense but your member’s income is limited so there will always those vying for their cash. According to MemberWise, only 4 in 10 organisations say their members are seeing an increase in member benefits in the past 12 months. This highlights the importance of understanding how you are currently providing your members with value and if more can or should be done to improve your offer. That could come in the form of ‘things’, such as securing discounts with retailers, offering free services or ‘money can’t buy’ experiences. However, you should first consider all the areas where you interact with your members and understand if these touch points are meeting and exceeding the expectations of your audience.
Membership organisations generally agree that members expect their online experience to be interactive and engaging but there is an increasing challenge of meeting the digital expectation of members, especially millennials. This generation, and those that come after them, have come to expect easy access information and collaboration using the latest and best funded websites and mobile apps. The user experience they get from these channels is driving up their expectation for digital engagement and your organisation is not immune from these rising demands.
Delivering real personalisation
The latest MemberWise industry surveys reveal that three quarters of membership organisations are finding it difficult to achieve the desired levels of personalisation via their website or other channels. Around three in ten organisations use member name and / or member grade to personalise their content on the website whilst only two in ten use special interests and intelligent learning based on user choices and defined preferences. Personalisation is here to stay and it is essential you embrace it at the earliest opportunity if you are to maximise the benefits.
Currently less than one in ten membership organisations offer the “amazon experience”, but thankfully, there are plenty of analytics tools and third party providers on hand to help achieve real personalisation based on members’ behaviour or engagement history.
Getting serious about social
We no longer have to debate the merits of social media and this is reflected in the stats, with 95% of member organisations using Twitter, 81% using LinkedIn and 28% of organisations employing a dedicated person to look after their social media channels. However, using Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting a good ROI so it’s vital that you benchmark your activity, with defined goals and KPIs and an agreed process to review the impact it is having.
The same can be said for Analytics. Almost nine out of ten organisations now have access to Analytics but as MemberWise reports, ‘less than half are reviewing the analytics in operational meetings’. For both Analytics and social, ticking a box to say ‘we do it’ is not enough, you need to invest the time and resources to understand the results and implement actions based on what you discover.
Now more than ever, member organisations and associations need to adopt a ‘Member First’ approach. There should be a focus on engagement and meeting the current and future expectations of your audience – through the channels and devices your members want to use. Mobile is the future of how your members will interact with you so you also need to embrace a mobile first approach to your digital strategy.
Developing a closer bond with your audience through personalisation and expanded member benefits will be key to long term growth. This will require investment in content creation to engage your members on a regular basis, resources to interpret the data you get from your Analytics and a defined strategy to act on what you learn.
This may sound like a huge challenge and there’s no denying that it will take considerable effort to make it all happen but with the right partners to guide you through your journey and realistic expectations of what can be done with the budget you have available, long term success is achievable.