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How Market Penetration Shapes Associations’ Success

Of all the data we gathered for Greenfield Services’ 2013 Pulse Report, here’s the segment that says the most about the challenges and opportunities for Canadian associations:

Nearly one in five survey respondents had no idea what proportion of their potential members had actually joined their associations, and another 41.5% reported market penetration rates of 50% or less.

This problem isn’t new. But it’s hard to think of a more troubling statistic for anyone who has set out to build a strong, member-centric organization.

An association is most effective when it can legitimately claim to be the voice of its community, whether that community is an industry, a group of professionals, or a collection of like-minded individuals.

The most effective associations are most likely to retain enough members to build a solid financial base.

And the most financially stable associations are the ones with the time and resources to focus on long-term strategy and member return on investment (ROI), rather than short-term survival.

But if your organization hasn’t reached a large enough share of its prospective members, or hasn’t even defined its membership base, you’re back at the beginning of the curve.

A Familiar Problem

Greenfield first documented associations’ market penetration problem in its 2012 Pulse Report. Last year’s survey found that:

  • 20.6% of associations had market penetration rates of 25% or less
  • 22.1% had signed up 26 to 50% of their potential members
  • Astonishingly, another 22.1% were unsure of their market penetration rates.

Market Penetration Rates, Canadian Associations, 2012–2013


With two years of Pulse Report data, the changes in associations’ market penetration rates show good news and bad.

We tracked a five-point drop, from 22.1% to 17%, in the number of associations that didn’t know what proportion of prospects they’d reached.

The proportion of associations with market penetration above 50% increased from 35.3% to 41.5%.
But the organizations that were hurting were in worse shape in 2013. A nearly identical proportion—42.7% in 2012, 41.5% in 2013—reported market penetration rates of 50% or less. But within that group, many more were reaching no more than 25% of their potential members.

Ask the Right Questions

If your association has low market penetration—or even worse, if you don’t know how to define your market—it’s time to invest in the in-house time or external resources to solve the problem. Not because we say so, but because your organization’s health and survival depend on it.

Here are some of the questions to ask:

  • What are the top four, five, or half-dozen audience segments that make up your membership?
  • Are you missing other audiences that should be a part of your membership base?
  • What is the total size of each audience within your geographic territory?
  • What is your current market share for each group?
  • What additional percentage of each audience is already known to you—as prospects, subscribers, workshop or e-learning participants, lapsed members, or in any other capacity?
  • How can you assemble a comprehensive prospect list, and what’s the best strategy for reaching out?
  • Do you have the in-house resources to conduct an integrated membership marketing campaign, or do you need outsourced support?

Greenfield Services Inc. will release the 2013 Pulse Report at the National Conference of the Canadian Society of Association Executives, September 18-20, 2013 in Winnipeg. Contact us today to receive your own copy by email.