What Do Wine and Membership Have in Common?

By: William Lessley

002A few years ago, I tried desperately to get “into” wine. Wine was the new thing that everyone was suddenly all about. There are so many choices when it comes to the vino; where do you begin? There are opinions on whether white wine is better than red, what pairs best with fish, beef, pork, or dessert, and if wine under $10 a bottle is even worthy of being considered “real wine”. If you ask 20 people which wine is the best white or red wine, you’ll get 50 different answers.

Right about the time I was about to give up entirely, I received the best piece of advice. “The best glass of wine is the one you’re enjoying now.” That’s it – no games, no dilemma – the one you like is the best wine there is. What does that have to do with membership? Merely the best piece of advice I have for anyone struggling with creating the “best” membership retention, recruitment, and engagement plan.

The best membership plan is the one you execute.

Forget, for a moment, about what everyone else is doing or saying you should be doing when it comes to membership and focus on executing your existing membership plan. If your membership plan looks a little scrawny and you’d like a little advice, read on for some great ideas on how to beef it up.

Physical mail isn’t dead. Don’t buy into the hype – email will never fully replace the beauty of a physical mail piece in our lifetime. Recent survey data has revealed that Millennials crave printed materials! Millennials reported that they learn better and that when it comes to on-site meetings, you better print that program guide. Remember, members and prospects may have 3 or more email addresses, but only 1 or 2 physical addresses (home and work). Their inboxes are full but their mailboxes are not.

Try a two-pronged approach to your messaging. One of our clients recently mailed a postcard advertising the benefits of membership. 001About two weeks later, after we were sure the prospects had time to receive the postcard, we followed it up with an email containing similar messaging. Before I tell you the results, let me assure you we had sent similar messaging via postcard and email as standalone efforts in the past. We received 1 or 2 new members from these previous efforts. With this two-pronged approach, however, we received our first new member within 45 minutes. We got our second new member within 6 hours. Within 72 hours we had 6 new members!

Your two-prong approach can be any combination. Maybe you could try a big social media campaign combined with a self-mailer or e-mail campaign paired with an event at your annual conference. The variety of combinations is quite vast. Don’t get over whelmed – remember the best plan is the one you execute!

Are you tailoring your message? The 2014 Naylor Communications Benchmarking Report found that the majority of associations are not customizing their communication efforts for their important member subgroups. This is a huge mistake as all members, and prospect members, are not at the same point in their careers and most likely do not care about the same issues. Whether you are communicating with existing members or attempting to convince prospects to join, develop subgroups of your lists based off of criteria you have access to. Some examples for subgroups are: by age, by how many years in the field/industry, by the membership type, by past purchase history, or by some previous interaction with the organization.

Once you have your subgroups, make sure you take the time to change the messaging to suit your audience. Members new to the industry, for instance, are probably very interested in networking with more experienced members. They’d be the perfect group to advertise your mentoring/networking events to. Big business uses “customer profiles” to target subgroups and market their products and services. Associations can do the same thing.

Remember that whatever you decide to include in your membership plan for the year, you must execute it in order to measure your effectiveness. Failure is an option as long as you learn from it and constantly tweak and refine your plan each year. Our industry may have been more insulated in the past but we all know how quickly technology is advancing and what worked last year might not work in the future.

Here are some tips and tricks for dealing with prospect lists and some examples of how you can update your membership materials. Please use the comments feature to ask any questions you might have – we’d love to help!

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