Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Albert Einstein said it best...

It's the end of a decade, time to reflect on who I am, what I want, and what I want to be when I grow up. In my personal reflection, I found a wonderful quote that inspired me. I also found it relevant for association and membership marketers.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, "Try not to be a man of success, but a man of value." This axiom is vital for every association - membership, trade and everything between the two. No matter what your association's membership model may be, your success is tied to how valuable your members think you are to them.

We need to leave the build-it-and-they-will-come attitude behind us in this last decade. We now need to focus on the value that we promise and the value that we deliver to each individual member.

And boy is that hard! Every member has their own expectation and definition of value when it comes to their membership. That means we need to understand these expectations, prioritize them (some are more important than others), and do our best to deliver. And add on to this the fact that these expectations and definitions continually change based on any number of influencers that you have no contol over - economy, job, car trouble...you name it.

In looking at this, I'm reminded of the all-knowing Sales Funnel, where we establish specfic criteria to define niche-markets within a specific market. The wonderful thing about technology is that we can do this with our membership database and find those niche markets. We can then test tactics to engage our members and actually measure how well we are doing to satisfy those expectations. The ultimate measure of course is if they renew.

So, as we venture into the next decade, let's once and for all leave behind the idea that one-size-fits-all and embrace the variety and complexity of our members and work to not just satisfy a basic, group's need, but a group of select, individual's need.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Receives Direct Marketing Association of Washington Distinguished Achievement Award

The other night, Rick Whelan, President of MGI, received the DMAW Distinguished Achievement Award. Here is a link to the press release just in case you missed it:


Many of you know Rick at some level, either as a client, vendor, strategist. I've been fortunate enough to know him as this plus friend and mentor. He is by far one of the fairest individuals I've ever had the good fortune to meet and work with. I hope you all have the luck to work with him, or someone like him, someday. It will be blessing.

And as is the holiday spirit, I'm happy to count my blessings and include Rick among them.

Congratulations Rick! You earned it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Have you tried these? 7 Innovative Ideas to Fight this Recession

A few months ago MGI published a white paper I wrote entitled "Seven Innovative Ideas to Fight This Recession." The purpose of the paper is to present seven practical ideas that membership leaders are using now to keep this recession from eroding their membership. Here is a brief summary of four of those seven ideas. You can find the complete white paper on the MGI website at www.marketinggeneral.com under 'white papers.'

#1 - Create Member "Evangelists"
Cindy Simpson, manager of education for the National Society of Professional Engineers, worked for an association that made past presidents Membership Ambassadors, who worked with the membership department in recruiting new members.

#2 - Personalize the Member Experience...Literally
Kimberly Gray of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska told me about how they started a group of assocate members called the Associates Council. They meet with new members when they deliver new member packets, answering questions and personally assisting the new member with understanding and taking advantage of their membership.

#3 - Outrageous Offers!
At an ASAE Idea Swap that I was leading, one attendee state that her association was having trouble getting people to register for a conference. So instead of not filling the rooms, they gave away (FREE) the rooms to attendees.

#6 - Member Relief Programs
Belinda Reutter, director of member services for the National Institute of Government Purchasing, presented the idea of a 'transitional membership...which is an extended, time-bound complimentary membership for those between jobs.' She took this a step further in thinking about creating a similar category for those members who serve in the military.

These ideas are working. If they fit directly into your need, then use it. If not, I hope that they'll lead you to an idea that fits better into your situation. Again, you can download a copy of the original white paper from the MGI website OR simply call/email me and I'll forward one to you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How high is high and how low is low? Steady State Analysis is your "Early Warning Advisor"

Have you ever wondered how much your membership will grow or decrease if you did not change anything?

Well, here is a handy formula that will help you determine "...how high is high and how low is low" when talking about your membership numbers. The formula is called 'Steady State Analysis' and is one of the most important, foundational, formulas you can use to assist you in developing your member acquisition and member retention strategies.

Steady State Analysis defines the equilibrium of total membership where members gained will equal members lost.

The calculation: Annual New Member Input/Lapse Rate = Steady State Membership

What is "Lapse Rate?" It is the inverse of your Renewal Rate. So, if your association has an 80% renewal rate, your lapse rate would be 20% or .20.

Here are a few examples of how to calculate Steady State Analysis:

Annual New Member Input: 1,000

Lapse Rate: .20

1,000/.20 = 5,000
5,000 members is where your association will eventually end up if everything that has impact on your member acquistion and renewal remain the same.

"So what" you may say? Here's the kicker.

If your association has a membership of 2,500, your doing well. Or as my soccer coach Mr Spier would say, "Your in like Flint."

BUT, if your association has a membership of 10,000, you (obviously) have a problem.

While this formula does not indicate 'when' your association will end up at Steady State, it does tell you that, given current conditions remain constant, where you will end up here eventually.
THE most important aspect of this formula is that it can help you immediately identify how best to use your financial and talent resources.
If you're growing, reallocate the money that you were going to use in acquisition to other areas that are not doing so well. Or, if you're growing but not fast enough, allocate the acquisition money into testing new channels or doubling your current efforts.
If you're shrinking, then its your 'Early Warning Advisor' letting you know that you have to change something. This gives you the time to diagnose where the problem is and develop a plan and allocate the resources to correct that problem.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Key Elements to Your Association's Personality

Copy and creative are key elements of the personality (brand) your association presents to members, clients, and the world at large. Three key steps should be taken before messaging is developed:
  1. Establish a position - the one message that, if nothing else, the audience understands.
  2. Complement the position with a creative strategy - what the organization stands for and how the message fits.
  3. Confirm that the communication conforms to established (branding) guidelines to be sure all elements are consistent.
It is vital to pay close attention to good creative that properly complements the message. This may not be "pretty" or "interesting," but it won't detract from your brand and erode the trust that your membership has in you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

3 Simple Questions: Developing a Strategy for Social Media

While entertainment companies and a handful of corporations are effectively using social media tools in their marketing, promotions and communications strategies, the majority of associations, our bread-and-butter, still struggle with making the decision "Should we use it and, if so, how?"

First and foremost, lets remember that it is simply a communications channel. Like direct mail, telemarketing, your website, even the corporate water cooler, its a way to communicate your message to someone in a manner and environment that is most conducive to them for listening. I'm reminded of the 'internet craze' of 10 years back when I listen to many people talk about 'social media.' Perhaps, being a one-time dot-comer, I have a jaundiced view. However, it is wise and practical not to base the value of social media (and investment) on what we think it can do.

Taking this approach, we ask 3 simple questions:
  1. What communications need is the use of this channel going to satisfy?
  2. What is my target market?
  3. How are they using social media already?

In answering these very broad questions, remember to think in quantitative, as well as qualitative, terms. Our mantra now is ROI, and as many of us have seen, incorporating social media into your communications and marketing strategies can be costly in both financial as well as human resources.

There is no question that, for a growing number of associations, social media will become an intricate part of their overall membership strategy to increase awareness, drive member acquisition, develop and nurture member engagement, and support member renewal/retention.

But that's not to say it will be for ALL associations.

If you're on the fence, it seems that the best strategy for most is to: see how others are doing it first, then ask your members if they think its important; develop some ideas, then ask your members if they like these ideas or can offer some suggestions on how to make them better; test one or two of the best ideas, then ask you members if they used it and if so when/what/where/why and if not, why; make changes based on their suggestions, then ask your members....

Well, you get my point.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Now for something a little lighter...What not to do when marketing internationally

I'm writing to you from Chicago and just finished a meeting with a dear friend, Rob Nelson. The ultimate 'multi-tasker,' one of Rob's many responsibilities includes expansion of his association into other countries. We talked a little about that and the gentle, prove-yourself-as-you-go approach necessary when an American based association expands into other countries.

Now, as I sit here in Starbucks thinking about our conversation, I'm reminded of a collection of 'international goofs' performed by very well known and respected companies that truly underline Rob's observations.

I'm sure that many of you have heard or read these yourself over the years, but it never hurts to try and learn (or relearn) from others. Here are a few for your enjoyment:

There will never be a mass market for motor cars - about 1,000 in Europe - because that is the limit on the number of chauffeurs available! (Spokesman for Daimler Benz)

I think there is a world market for about five computers. (Thomas J. Watson of IBM)

The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."

In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" came out as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead."

Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off."

The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, "Salem - Feeling Free," got translated in the Japanese market into "When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty."

When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that "no va" means "it won't go." After the company figured out why it wasn't selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.

Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped. The company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals". Ford pried all the nameplates off and substituted Corcel, which means horse.

An American t-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of the desired "I Saw the Pope" in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed "I Saw the Potato."

Japan's second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.

The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a "C," the idea must be feasible. (Yale University management professor on Fred Smith's paper proposing a reliable overnight delivery service - Federal Express)

A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make. (Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies)

Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux".

When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside since most people can't read English.

While this is not directly related to 'membership marketing,' I hope you understand my message...always double-check your work. Like a carpenter, "measure twice, cut once," ask other people to take a look and get their informed opinion.

I hope you enjoyed this and had a 'giggle' or two.

Have a great day!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The "Right Mix" of Direct Mail and E-Mail and Frequency Produces Incredible Results

In the October, 2009 'Tipster," my good friend Tony Rossell, Sr VP of MGI, wrote about the incredible results we're seeing when we combine both direct mail and email together. In Tony's words, here is a quick review of the program and the results.

Working with one client organization that offers institutional membership, we put these principles to the test. We found that when we appropriately integrated these components, response rates and program economics really popped.

In the first test, we developed a split test and measured results using channel integration, connecting with prospective members through multiple media. We split our audience into two segments. One received only a direct-mail solicitation. The second received the same direct-mail package, and then a follow-up email with a link to an online microsite that provided more details about the benefits of membership. The combined mail and email group produced an 87% lift in overall response.

In a subsequent campaign, we based our control on the “winning” mail and email effort. Then, as a test, we added two additional emails to the mix with links to microsites containing exclusive and useful content.The first content microsite featured specfic answers to frequently asked questions prospective members might have on how to access funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.The second content microsite offered a webinar sharing a detailed explanation of how the Act could help prospective members.In addition to providing content, each element of the campaign focused on moving a prospect to a decision to join.The test group that included the additional online content was the decisive winner. Allowing for a statistical margin of error, the test group outperformed the control group by over 300%.

What did we learn? First, just as in an exercise program, intensity is an important component in a marketing strategy. More touches delivering valuable content over a short period of time gets prospects' attention and helps convert them to members. In addition, it is key to have all of the communications push toward a membership sale and not simply provide good information. The proper integration of frequency with content, channels, and intensity clearly produced the greatest ROI.

Please feel free to contact me if you'd like a little more detail.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Upcoming Webinar: MGI's Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey Results

The interest in MGI's Membership Marketing Benchmarking survey continues to grow.

As you may remember, the results were presented at ASAE's Annual in Toronto and were well received. I've reported on them in this blog as well.

Since the show, Tony has also presented the findings at some brown bags locally. Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to attend has been able to in person due to distances. So, given the requests, Tony will be putting on two webinars to share the findings.

The two webinars will occur:

  1. November 5th Thursday: 11-Noonish
  2. November 10th Tuesday: 2-3ish

"Seating" is limited. So if you're interested, please shoot an email ASAP to Jim Doyle at jdoyle@marketinggeneral.com so we can reserve a spot for you, as well as send you the details. If any questions, shoot him those too.

Have a great day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Master Strategist Gives Us a Successful Strategy

John Day, the Director of Membership Development for IEEE, is most likely one of the best membership pros that I'm fortunate enough to call a friend. A real "strategist" in every sense of the word. We met a few years ago at CESSE and have exchanged ideas for a while now. Recently he related to me that he has had tremendous success this past year in growing membership. I asked "how?" The following is what he wrote back . I hope that you'll find it useful information.

"The growth came from different channels, and fortunately compensated for the decline in year-over-year recruitment in professional grade members. We instituted a massive and well-coordinated reinstatement campaign, that returned about 3,000 members more than the prior and uncoordinated year (a large proportion professional grade members).

We instituted a campaign for members who did not complete the online application, which brought in 16,000 members (a large proportion students). And, through an intricate and expansive renewal campaign, we increased professional grade retention by 1%.

Between e-mail and postal direct outreach, 3+ million contacts - furthermore, we concurrently mobilized our Volunteer ranks worldwide in ways we hadn't before. All messaging reinforced career-related benefits, job site, and reduced-dues assistance provided to unemployed members. Our thought better to keep them, albeit at a lower amount, than lose them."

John, thanks for sharing this.

I think that we can agree that this was a well coordinated, multi-channel strategy that took into consideration several different niche-markets within a pretty expansive base. What's important to look at here is that, while John does work for a power-house of an association, his strategy could be implemented by any one of us who has taken the time to understand the markets he is serving and develop the offers, tactics and channels to attract and effectively communicate with them.

If you'd like to communicate with John, I'll be happy to forward your information to him.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Job Post for AHDI MTIA

For those of you looking for a new position or know of someone looking, here is a lead. I was talking with my good friend Linda Brady of the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity and the Medical Transcription Industry Association during a conference call for the ASAE Membership Counsel, and she is looking to hire a "Member Relations Technology & Social Media Coordinator."

Here is the job description:

Position Hours: Monday - Friday, 8:00AM - 5:00PM

Supervisor: Linda Brady, CAE
Director of Member Relations
Position Overview:
Provides the technical coordination and administration of Member Relations programs and services, including webinars, electronic communications, and database reporting, with the goal to enhance Member engagement and communicate the key role of the medical transcription profession and industry.

Skills Required:
Ÿ Experience working in a fast paced environment
Ÿ Strong attention to detail, including organizing a multitude of activities and ensuring complete follow-through.
Ÿ Professional oral and written communication skills.
Ÿ Expertise in MS Office Suite, Crystal Reports, HTML, database management software use. Experience using Personify is preferred but not required.
Ÿ Total comfort in the online world and a high degree of familiarity with social networking tools and protocol.
Ÿ Creativity and innovative ideas and concepts
Ÿ Association experience preferred but not required

Here is Linda's contact information if you are interested or know of anyone who is interested:


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Are Your Member Communications Relevant?

In discussions centered around the Membership Lifecycle, a key ingredient from the perspective of the member is 'relevance.' I know that this is a "blinding flash of the obvious" as an old friend from my Tyson Foods days would say, but I'm always astounded by how quickly marketers forget about it in their promotions.

If we follow the Membership Lifecycle, starting at "Awareness," the only reason we become aware or acknowledge an association or a product is that, at that point in time, it became relevant to us - in either a good OR bad way. We continue to grow that awareness by continually proving the relevance of the membership or product to the individual.

At some point, we "ask for the sale" but not until we usually demonstrate one final point of relevance to the now member/customer. They "Join."

We then ask them to "Engage" with the association by filling out surveys, buying more product, attending conferences or participating in delivery of some value that the association provides to its membership (committees, articles, etc.). Again, relevancy is key to continued engagement. If the Annual Softball outing is not relevant to me, why would I participate?

At "Renewal," we ask the member/customer to continue our relationship. But, if we're not relevant to the member, why would he/she? Therefore, many of the most successful renewal programs continually remind the member of why they are relevant to them.

Now to my point...

If we agree on the importance of relevancy in our on-going, ever increasing, communications with our members/customers, why do we continue to offer up one-size-fits-all tactics? While many don't have the technology necessary to subset their data based upon buying behavior, age, sex, length of membership...or the like...that doesn't mean that they can't do some level of personalization using simple overlays (that don't cost an arm-and-a-leg), or by source, or other ways. It simply takes a little imagination and some time.

If doing this will increase your renewal rate a few points, isn't that 'relevant' to you?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Be Prepared: Your Domain Names May Increase Next Year!

September, 1969, (40 years ago), a group of American teachers sent the first message over the ARPANET, the precursor of today's Internet. Since then America has exercised control over the Internet - primarily in the area of addresses. But this is about to change.

As reported in the 26, September issue of The Economist, a substantial portion of America's influence over ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) will be transferred to oversight committees that "include representatives of foreign governments to conduct regular reviews of ICANN's work in four areas: competition among gereric domains (such as .com and .net), the handling of data on registrants, the security of network and transparency, accountability and the public interest..."

This could mean trouble for many associations: the money spent to establish an online brand could be 'lost;' more addresses means more to keep up with which means spending more time to plan, implement and maintain your on-line marketing and membership campaigns; additional political barriers that must be overcome by associations you want to expand their reach into other countries; new system protocals and equipment to maintain your e-business strategies; and much more.

The saving grace here is that more addresses may also equate to greater revenue opportunities. I could envision new addresses that help us better target potential members and customer. Whatever happens, forewarned is forearmed. Consider this a wake-up call as we go about our 2010+ planning.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Define "Social Media"

In a post dated today, a good friend of mine, Roger Harris, social media consultant and a pretty smart guy, posed the question on his blog Twitter Thoughts: "What is Social Media?"

If you're in need of a definition, a great place to start would be Roger's blog.



Take a note from Amazon. If you want to build your brand, make it easy for your members to use you!

We all understand that member engagement drives retention. We also understand that this works with customers and/or those prospects who don't join but keep coming back to us for the products and services we provide. This 'brand building' best positions our associations to repeatedly receive a member or customers 1st choice purchase.

One of the core uses of web-marketing in the Membership Lifecycle is in enhancing member/customer engagement.

As corporations and for-profit entities have been putting billions of dollars into web-marketing for the past 15 years (or more), we in the association world can learn from their successes and failures.

In today's posting on DigitalNow community. Don Dea, Co-Founder of Fusion Productions, shared with us a great article from Newsweek about a success...the power of the web to build brand without a huge marketing budget.

In this economy, facing cutbacks and budget reductions, membership and association marketing professionals should take notice.

He write's that the "...world's best-known companies typically spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on advertising and marketing to build their brands."
But not Amazon.com (AMZN).

Instead of slapping their brand on everything that moves, Amazon invested in technology and customer support that makes their website easy to use, promotes cross selling, and in the end results in providing the customer with a "...smooth shopping experience that burnishes the company name."

But the proof is in the pudding as they say...or in this case the growth. Amazon jumped 13 spots in this year's ranking of the Best Global Brands. It is the biggest jump in this year's ranking. And we're in a recession! "By investing back in the user experience, you get high loyalty and repeat usage," says Sebastian Thomas, head of U.S. technology research for RCM Capital Management, an investment firm with a stake in the company.

As was shown in MGI's recent 2009 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey Report, of the 599 association and membership executives surveyed, 85% stated that members become aware of an association through the association's website.

The question now is, as engagement is the key to renewal rates and repeat customers, how positive of an experience do you want your prospective and current members/customers to have?

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Networking" v.s. "Self-Promotion" through your Social Networking Sites?

I just read an interesting article from the ForbesWomenCommunity on Facebook which talked about the difference between 'networking' and 'self-promotion.' In the example presented, if you were to meet someone at an event, they sounded intelligent, dressed nicely, etc., why would you run screaming away from them within the next 5 minutes?

The answer is that they only talked about themselves. We've all been caught in those conversations.

So with that said, the question now is are you doing the samething with your social networking sites? To some degree we need to, but there is a fine line. In our drive for ROI, lets not forget that the primary use of these sites is to create a relationship, driven by supporting the needs of our members, non-members and industry stake holders - and yes to ultimately convince them that they should join, purchase a product/service or financial support the organization. But that's the end game...the long haul. And we must be patient.

As we've seen over and over again, especially looking at 1st year member conversions versus ongoing renewal rates, we need to first create awareness, then create trust by thinking first of our "site participants" then about ourselves. If we push to hard or to fast, we create suspicion and loose credibility.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Integrated member acquisition strategy

Many of us appreciate the positive impact that an integrated marketing strategy can have on driving member acquisition and retention. But for those of you who may still question its effectiveness, I want to bring your attention to a program we recently executed for a client here at MGI. The person who oversaw this program is Tony Rossell, a dear friend and mentor. On today's installment, he summarized his findings in his blog the "Membership Marketing Blog" http://membershipmarketing.blogspot.com/

"We tested...recently using mail and email simultaneously to prospective members. We split our audience into two groups. One group only received a direct mail membership solicitation. The second group received the same direct mail package, but also received a follow up email. The mail only group produced a 1.23% response rate. The combined mail and email group produced a 2.08% response rate. This represents a 69% lift in overall response by adding the email."

For over 50 years, the mantra for advertising has been repeat, repeat, repeat again! Any 'sale' is oportunistic by nature. It is the measureable result of multiple exposures of an organization or product to a specific prospect. What is often the question is the "type" of exposure (Trump has often said he does not care what people say as long as they are talking about him), over what time period, and the "personal impact" it carries on the prospect (this is also covered a bit by Tony's posting so I really really really recommend that you take a peek at it).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

All E-mail Addresses R Not The Same! A New Variable When Selecting Your Promotion Lists?

There is no doubt that a multi-media approach to membership acquisition is the preferred methodolgy. Here at MGI we've found that the use of e-mail in conjunction with direct mail, increases overall response rate by as much as 50%.

That's why its interesting to note a recent post by Don Dea, Co-Founder of Fusion Productions and the Chairperson for the ASAE Membership Section, on DigitalNow Community.

In short, he cites a recent study by MailChimp (aren't these names great?!) that points out that the users of specific email services have greater open and click-thru rates than teh users of other email services. He writes that..."A study of success metrics for marketing e-mails sent throughMailChimp’s distribution service showed that Gmail users were most likely to open and click on e-mails."

He continues "Open rates varied from a low of just over 20% for e-mail sent to AOL users to a high over nearly 31% among Gmail users. The click rate on e-mails sent to Gmail accounts was more than 7.4%, compared with rates between 4% and 5% for Yahoo!, AOL and Hotmail users. "

The implication is obvious...all email addresses are not the same! While some of you may be saying that this is nothing more than a "blinding flash of the obvious," have any of us actually started looking for different response metrics by email account in our email campaigns or are using different response metrics by email account in your forecasts? And, if we are using email in conjunction with direct mail, are we selecting lists by this new variable? I believe the answer is obvious as well...most likely not.

While this is simply one more thing on our plate, I believe that it will turn out to be somewhat important. Not so much as the actual number of members generated, but in helping us to better understand our markets and refine our overall on-line tactics to maximize awareness and support our association's membership acquisition and marketing strategy and ultimately its mission.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Taking a good lesson from the Auto Industry

I had a fun conversation with my good friend Tony Rossell this morning. The focus was on the marketing savvy of the auto industry and how we as association marketers could learn a little something from them.
Granted, the auto industry has not done well of late, but when it comes to effectively developing and offering a specific car to a specific market, they really have shown their "metal." Just look at Toyota. It has looked at the "Car Buyer Life Cycle" (remember the "Membership Life Cycle"), and developed product, and targeted marketing, to each phase of that life cycle. From first car - possibly a Scion - to luxury sedan - if one can imagine, a Lexus - Toyota provides a product for every phase.
Carrying this thought to associations, since membership is in essence a "bundled product sale," couldn't associations do this? Yes, we offer student memberships and that is certainly a first step. But perhaps we need to take a closer look at our own Membership Life Cycles, and identify other niche's than the simple "student, regular member, retired" that we almost always rely upon.
After all, Toyota offers the Prius, to those environmentally conscious car buyers who might have gone to another company if they could not get an environmentally friendly auto from them.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Social Media and the Membership Life Cycle

Tony Rossell, a dear friend and mentor, explained that The Membership Life Cycle is made up of 5 steps: Awareness; Acquisition; Engagement; Renewal; and finally, Re-instatement. How can associations effectively use social media to drive this cycle?

This is a huge topic full of peaks and valleys. For the sake of simplicity, I plan to address each of these 'levels' one at a time, begining with "Awareness" and hope that you readers will chime in with your thoughts.

Awareness is the first stage of the Membership Life Cycle. An association obviously has no hope of any individual becoming a member without first that individual's awareness that the association even exists. And, once the individual is aware of the association's existance, the individual still needs to become aware of how the association applys to his/her professional and/or pesonal life before he/she is ready to become a member.

Historically, associations have counted on word-of-mouth or personal recommendation as the basis awareness. Individuals, who have a personal experience with the association, talk about and/or recommend the association to their associates and friends. This experience takes many forms from simply reading an article, to saving money, to enhancing a career. The bottom line in all of this is how that individual benefitted from knowing about the association.

The use of social media in this process is obvious. At no other time has the flow of personal experience been so open as it is today. Almost unbridled by geography and language, social media allow individuals from around the world to freely communicate with each other.

The key to effectively using social media as a tactical marketing tool lies in the establishment of a clear goal and the measureable steps necessary to move a prospect from unware, to aware and ultimately to becoming a member. But as we've seen with word-of-mouth, the content placed in the social media must be dedicated to delivering a positive, and more importantly "personal", impact. Therefore, the goals that you establish to measure the effectiveness of social media must be based upon measuring the positive, personal, impact it has had on the potential member.

Therefore, your goals may not only include the number of 'hits' or 'views,' but the number of solicited or unsolicited responses from those individuals who have read the content. To take it a step further, perhaps you also measure the number of personal success stories that resulted from individuals who read and acted in someway on the information they read.

You can then use these 'responses' to further your impact by distributing them throughout other channels to include your website, direct mail, as well as additional social media.

I'm interested in your opinions.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Are Associations really a picnic?

It's 10:00 A.M. and I'm watching one of my favorite shows, Sunday Morning on CBS. The story I'm watching is really a pitch for a new book on picnics. The author of the book presents picnics as the opportunity to break out of your normal life and enjoy the company of friends and like-minded people over food in a different environment.

I suppose that's what we offer to our members. A picnic of sorts, where we give our members the opportunity to break out of their normal life to enjoy the company of like-minded people. Yes there is training, networking, papers, blogs, websites, committees, elections...on and on. But perhaps it all starts as a picnic? You may even think that all of these activities are simply picnics in a larger picnic? What the heck, it is Sunday morning. Have a wonderful day!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

For my trip to the ASAE Annual Conference, I picked-up and started reading a great book entitled "The Prime Solution" by Jeff Thull. It is a great read. While I'm still in the middle of it, I wanted to share something from the book that I am already finding useful in my own work with clients - a long-term look at how product development has moved from almost a level of 'cooperative play' (my words, not the authors) to a level of 'integration'.

'Era 1,' ("Obvious Value") - In the 1950's, sellers in the b-to-b world built an marketed products based upon basic needs fulfillment - the idea that the product will sell itself. It was either bought or not.

'Era 2' ("Augmented Value") - This period spans the '70's to the '90's and is characterized by providers building products which had a 'range of possibilities.' "There was the generic product...the expected product...augmented product' (p.28). This was solutions selling. The problem was that the solution typically was too difficult for the client to maintain or integrate into their business - in many cases due to the client's not fully understanding their needs and limitations (a result of a client's lack of introspection and the vendor's lack of helping the client to fully explore and understand their needs).

'Era 3' ("Complex Value Networks") - Started in the mid-1990's due to the increasing "speed of change" (p.30) and the increased complexity of problems. In short, Thull states that "...value complexity is the primary feature of the b-to-b landscape. Customers need more help than ever in diagnosing their problems and in designing, evaluating, and implementing solutions and achieving the complex, customized, and unique value they promise" (p.31).

While this model was presented in the context of technology solutions, I think it also describes the changes in marketing association memberships and associated products. In short, we can no longer just 'build it and they will come'. We need to help our members understand what they really want and need, then help them integrate these tools into their professional (and maybe personal) lives. That will foster engagement and we all know what that means to our renewal rates.

Let me know what you think...

Friday, August 21, 2009

In follow up to yesterday's post, as a membership geek, I'd like to share the formulas which provide a numeric way to help us track the effects of our membership marketing. Typically, these formulas are pulled together to create a Membership Dashboard which provides a 'snap shot' of these activities in a quick and easy to read format (if you'd like one I'd be more than happy to share the one we use at MGI).

As a quick reference, when talking with a CFO on membership activity, I usually find the following benchmarks to be most important:

  • Promotion Response Rate (PRR): The percentage of people who responded to a promotion.
    Total number of responses / Total number of prospects contacted X 100.
  • Renewal Rate (RR): The average percentage of membership that remains in a year
    (Total Number of Members Today - 12 month new members) / Total
    Number of Members in Previous Year
  • Membership Tenure (MT): The average time a member stays a member.
    1 / Reciprocal of Renewal Rate = .10
  • Lifetime Value (LTV): The economic value produced by a typical member.
    (Dues + Non-Dues Revenue) x MT
  • Maximum Acquisition Cost (MAC): An estimate of the maximum investment that can be made to acquire a member or customer at a profit.
    ((Dues + Non-Dues Revenue) - (Total Servicing Costs)) x MT

    Present these to your CFO to find out if they represent the metrics he/she is interested in. This is a great way to at least kick-off the dialogue.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Effective communication between Membership Leaders and CFOs

We can all agree that there will ALWAYS be some level of disagreement between CFO's and Membership/Sales. While CFO's deal with the daily business of running an organization, Membership/Sales leadership are ensconced in the future business of the organization...and there in lies the rub.

How much do we invest today to keep the organization going tomorrow? This is a tough question at any time, let alone now when we face 9.6% (and increasing) unemployment, increasing gas prices and much more.

In a session I presented with my good friends Andrew Goldschmidt, Rob Batarla and Susan Medick at the ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership Annual Meeting & Expo held earlier this week in Toronto, ON, in a room of over 40 CFOs and Membership VPs, Directors and Managers, we discussed how CFO's and Membership could better communicate.

It was a great conversation which brought out many important points but the most important one is transparency. Here are a few highlights I took away from the session:

  1. Let membership know about every decision that impacts their department. Sounds silly but many participants shook their heads "yes" when this came up.
  2. Talk with the membership. Many CFOs at the session strongly recommended that ALL CFOs should take the time to speak directly with as many members as they can. Everyone agreed that this can be difficult, but every CFO said it helped them to better understand what the members need, how to better help membership, and how to - in the end - do their job a little better.
  3. Try to clearly explain your decisions to your membership team/leader. They do not see everything that you are involved in so if they ask for money for a campaign or a promotion, and you decide that the money will be put to better use somewhere else, explain that (to the best that you can).
  1. Ask your CFO how to present ideas to him/her. What kind of numbers and explanations do they want? What makes a compelling argument to them?
  2. Timing. Month closing is a difficult time. If you have a request, perhaps it can wait until after month closing.
  3. Offer alternatives. If you have an idea, come in with several ways to accomplish the goal - Plans A, B and C.
It was great session and thanks to all who attended and participated.