Insights Article

How to attract new members to an association
11th June 2021

How to attract new members to an association

Unrivalled networking opportunities, career development and improved professional status are just some of the reasons why people join a professional body. Simply being part of an association can boost client relationships by showcasing a level of understanding and commitment to your craft – so much so, that the Association of Accounting Technicians recently called for the Government to introduce a “mandatory membership” to safeguard the sector’s customers.

An association needs a strong and growing membership base in order for its benefits to be truly realised. However, turnover can be high, especially for long-standing professional bodies with legacy members. As one generation of members approaches retirement, it’s important to keep attracting the new wave of talent without alienating your existing, loyal base.

Using segmentation techniques it’s possible to gain a deeper understanding of how to attract new members to an association, while also improving membership engagement.

What is segmentation?

Segmentation is a powerful marketing tool that uses data and trends to uncover new and actionable insights. Audiences are grouped together according to aspects such as their values and motivations, rather than simply age, location or gender. Using these advanced groupings it’s possible to understand how to cater your offering specifically to them or indeed, to learn if resources and time are being wasted delivering messaging to certain groups. You can learn more about the benefits of customer segmentation on this dedicated blog.

Customer segmentation can work well in a number of areas, including professional bodies. At Clusters we’re experts in this technique and have worked with businesses including the Institute of Directors to help them to test their price and proposition.

Ways to Encourage New Membership of Professional Bodies

Review your current member cycle

Analyse the process that your current members go through, focussing on the steps they take before joining. Look to explore areas such as:

  • How did they find out about you?
  • What made them join?
  • Are there any factors that influenced them?

Then, learn if they are planning to renew their membership and if not, why not?

This can be done through both qualitative and quantitative research. Speak to your members online, through a customer survey or even on the phone to uncover what’s important to them and where their priorities lie. Often, the value that your association provides will be more important than the price point.

Back up this knowledge using the data you already hold. Refer to your own database to find out the average length of a membership, and if there are any trends on when, why and how members leave the association. This all helps you to understand which members need more attention. Some groups are more likely to leave than others and some – especially if they joined as part of a mandatory membership or via a promotional offer – will only ever be short term members, so using resources to encourage them to stay isn’t sustainable.

With this starting point it’s possible to identify groups and begin customer segmentation. Now you know how your customers behave, segmentation can tell you where you need to focus your marketing efforts for improving membership engagement. Make changes such as:

  • Try some new communication channels

If you found out that your most loyal members discovered you via LinkedIn, then spend time refining your strategy here. If word of mouth was more influential for new members, work hard on encouraging a strong ambassador programme to drive that element forward.

More and more, social media is an important tool that’s used by younger generations, even in a professional setting. With quality segmentation you can learn exactly which channels to use and why.

  • Rebrand or redesign your offering

Run your segmentation to the wider market. This is what we did for the Institute of Director (IoD), which helped to confirm the success of its new three-tiered membership offering.

It’s important to know what appeals to current members, but also why you’re currently not attracting a group of people that with small changes or raised awareness, could be encouraged to join. For younger professionals that are working their way up in the career ladder, there may be a subconscious assumption that an association isn’t right for them – if you can communicate the value they will gain from joining, and make it accessible, then you could soon reach a whole new audience.

  • Events

Physical or virtual events are a core element of many professional bodies. Traditionally, they are important to lots of people, but not everyone, particularly as culture around working and travelling has changed through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Understand which segments value events the most, as well as the types of events they like and what they want to gain out of going. Networking may drive membership of professional bodies for some, while others may want an opportunity for professional development. This insight can inform the way you market your events but also, change the way you structure them entirely.

How to Engage and Retain Existing Members

When refining your marketing strategy to reach new audiences, it’s essential not to alienate existing members – coming up with a solution that understands the needs of both groups is key to maintaining a healthy membership cycle.

Maintaining a good membership of professional bodies requires a deeper understanding of all of your members, which is where customer segmentation can help. If you can do this, you know exactly who you are attracting and why – and this is almost never solely focussed around one audience group.

Know what is important to your core members and how can you serve them, while staying relevant to new members. Often, introducing new membership products can help with this – this was a key element of our work with the IoD.

Whether you’re actively looking for ways to attract new members to an association, or if you’re already hitting targets and are striving for improved efficiency in your communications, lots of professional bodies still don’t fully understand the true motivations that affect their members’ actions. By asking the right questions and taking action on insight, you can craft an effective and segmented communications approach that appeals to all membership groups, throughout the membership cycle.

Learn more about customer segmentation here.

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