Association Membership Marketing: 12 Steps for Success
Member acquisition is a constant challenge and a top priority for most trade associations. Who do you target? How do you reach prospective members? And how do you convince them to join your organization?
Here’s how the American Advertising Federation-Cleveland (AAF-CLE) developed a successful membership marketing strategy and campaign that exceeded its goals and laid the foundation for future member acquisition.
Why AAF-Cleveland Focused on Membership
AAF-CLE is a regional chapter of the American Advertising Federation and the unifying voice of advertising and marketing in greater Cleveland. Though AAF-CLE was thriving, the Board believed there was opportunity for growth. The membership committee decided to make a major push for new members. I led the effort as V.P. of Membership.
We started with some big advantages: An established brand and a long history in Cleveland; a great value proposition: The region’s best marketing education and networking; supportive members willing to donate services and provide testimonials; and strong communications channels: A website, email, social media, events, and an e-newsletter.
But like most associations, we faced big challenges: A limited budget, limited prospect data, and mostly volunteers as leaders.
How AAF-Cleveland Achieved Success
AAF-CLE Executive Director Dan Leibundgut and I recently shared the story of AAF-CLE’s approach to membership marketing with the Greater Cleveland Society of Association Executives. Here are the steps we took:
- Approach membership strategically. Member acquisition is a marketing challenge that requires a marketing strategy. We wrote a marketing plan detailing objectives, prospects, messages, channels, and tactics. The plan included an integrated three-month campaign.
- Identify the value proposition. Find out what members value about your organization. Surveys showed our members valued education, networking, and sharing ideas.
- Build a prospect database. Create a database of prospective members with contact information for mail and email marketing. Ours included event attendees, former members, Board referrals, LinkedIn group members, and prospects identified from committee research.
- Make a compelling offer. Give prospects a deadline and a reason to join now with an offer that’s better than your standard membership deal. We offered two free tickets to future luncheons and a chance to win a “Golden Ticket,” free admission to all club events for a year.
- Choose your channels. Most associations have established marketing channels they can use for free, like email, a website, social media, events, and publications. We used all our free channels and added one paid channel—direct mail.
- Develop a creative theme. You need a theme to unify your campaign and build recognition. Our theme, developed by the brilliant creative team at Wyse Advertising, was “GetFED: Feed your network, passion, mind, and creativity with AAF-CLE.”
- Ask members to tell the story. The most powerful messages are from current members. Video testimonials became the heart of the campaign and the focus of our email, website, and social media marketing. Virginia Marti College of Art & Design students created the videos under Wyse’s direction.
- Develop marketing tactics. Create the tactics and tools to deliver your marketing messages. We developed postcards, emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter posts, displays, table tents, buttons, and ads in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. We also created a #GetFED hashtag for social media promotion.
- Personalize the invitation. Membership marketing works best when the message is one to one. We personalized the direct mail and email to targeted prospects and our Board members wrote personal notes on postcards to their referrals.
- Capitalize on events. Every live event is a membership marketing opportunity for an association. We spoke from the podium, wore buttons, created signs and displays, and played videos at luncheons. At our ADDY awards gala, we gave away candy bars wrapped with a membership message.
- Target best prospects with a “Wow!” promotion. We hand-delivered “GetFED” lunchboxes filled with treats and a personal invitation to our top corporate member prospects.
- Launch with a splash, end with a bang. Kick off the campaign with activities in multiple channels to get attention and end with an event to celebrate results, thank supporters, and welcome new members. We launched at our January luncheon with direct mail, email, and social media hitting at the same time. We concluded at our April luncheon with the Golden Ticket drawing.
The Results of a Smart Marketing Strategy
The AAF-Cleveland marketing strategy was a big success. We nearly doubled our goal for new individual members and added three new corporate members during the campaign. We built a strong foundation for future membership marketing. We even won a national award from AAF: First place for membership for clubs our size.
Why was this membership marketing campaign a winner? Here are my thoughts as a marketing strategist:
- We had an organized, integrated plan with the right offer to the right prospects in the right channels;
- We used the voices of our members to tell our story;
- We had deep engagement and support from the Board;
- We had a passionate committee that made it happen, especially Julie Telesz and her team at Wyse Advertising.
Many thanks to all who helped AAF-CLE achieve success!