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The Permanent Campaign: Member Renewal Begins the Day They Join

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You can always spot the associations that value their members the most. They’re the ones that kick off the member renewal process the day a new recruit joins.

But here’s the key: They don’t do it by launching a non-stop marketing blitz that only ends when the member renews, asks them to stop the cascade of outbound messaging, or quits in dismay. They make themselves a continuous, unique, irreplaceable presence in their members’ working lives by understanding why they joined and how they define an outstanding return on their membership investment.

Some day, I hope we’ll reach a point where every Canadian association can see itself in this picture. But we aren’t there yet. When Greenfield Services produced its 2012 Pulse Report, the survey results showed that:

  • 47.1% of respondents have no membership marketing plans in place.
  • Only 31.9% of associations retain more than 90% of their members through one renewal period.
  • 71% of associations begin the renewal process no more than three months before a membership expires. 

Most worrying of all, 52.1% of associations follow up with only one to three member touchpoints as renewal deadlines approached, when marketing practice calls for eight to 10 touchpoints to break through the clutter of competing media and priorities.

As the Pulse Report states: “In a relationship-based approach, the renewal effort begins the day a member joins, but it probably goes by a different name: with the right engagement strategy, members are so engaged and receive such visible value from their association that it would never enter their minds not to renew.”
Here are some of the elements that should be right at the centre of your membership renewal and retention plan:

  • Listening more than talking: Yes, associations need to be on their members’ radar, despite an unprecedented din of competing content. But how can you plan your next wave of communications if you don’t know what your different audiences need to hear? With a deep understanding of why the people in each of your membership segments decided to join, you can tailor programs, content, and messaging to their needs.
  • Reaching out monthly: Your members should hear from you 10 to 12 times per year, more often if one of their priority issues or topics has suddenly “gone critical” for your profession or industry.
  • Varying your touchpoints: Don’t use the same medium every time. A single touchpoint might be an email, a phone call, a text message, a direct mail letter or post card, a survey, a contest, a magazine ad, or social media messages. And you can select or alternate the contact members receive from staff, board members, volunteers, or other opinion leaders.
  • ALWAYS deliver more than they expect: Your members will see value if you offer it. Every touchpoint should delight them with a product, a service, or a piece of information that makes their day, or at least makes them stop and think. By relentlessly building value, you pull them into a closer relationship with their association, rather than pushing out a messaging campaign that quickly gets tired, then annoying.

We’ve also been talking about a step beyond that might be a focus for a future Pulse Report, and certainly for a future blog. The U.S. election was won with micro-targeting techniques that combined careful definition of different target audiences with a deep understanding of their demographics, interests, and consumer preferences. The techniques came out of the world of marketing, and could open up a whole new world of analysis for associations. We expect we’ll be pondering this point for the next little while. What do you think?

If you would like to receive a copy of our 2012 Pulse Report's Executive Summary, click here.  Or, for a list of member retention best practices, click here.