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Small Companies
If you’re like most associations, your member recruitment strategy probably goes something like this:
  1. Work very hard to get the largest companies in your industry to join, because their dues are the highest.
  2. Work even harder to get the medium-sized companies in your industry to join, because they are your reliable base.
  3. Let the small companies just find you, because the combination of lesser dues + resources needed to serve them doesn’t always feel worth it.

We understand this approach. We also know that associations must do a delicate juggling act. You need to make your payroll to stay viable, but you’re also nonprofit, charged with representing the industry.

In other words, you’re supposed to be doing it all, but your staff lacks the time and resources. So, you adopt a triage mentality, and focus your efforts on what seems like it will produce the greatest rewards.

But what if we told you there was an easily available opportunity that didn’t make your life harder and wouldn’t add more work? One that would allow you to better represent your industry AND grab a boatload of dues-paying members?

The answer is behind door number three, where the small companies are hanging out.

We’re going to show you exactly WHY you should grab them and HOW to make it worth your while.

Why Your Association Should Actively Recruit Smalls

One of our clients is a large association in the human resources industry, with about 36,000 members, and an 88% retention rate. After some discussions about their membership goals, we helped them create a campaign that would specifically target smaller businesses in the industry.

They got more than 50 new members in a matter of two months.

Here’s what the Senior Vice President and Chief Membership Officer of the association told us the other day during our weekly check-in.

“Right now, we have so many applications coming in from new members that we can’t even process them all. And we are on course to set an all-time revenue high.”

There are so many things that are great about this. First, they have an influx of new people. New people bring new blood and new opportunities. Because the CEO of that $4 million company you just recruited might be the decision maker at a $25 million company in a few years.

You never know the energy and possibility that can come with ANY new member—and that includes one that is 10 times smaller than the largest organization on your roster.

Plus, when you have a rich blend of large, medium, AND small organizations in the mix, you’re much better able to uphold your mission of representing ALL voices in the industry.

And then there’s the most obvious thing: Smaller organizations are low-hanging fruit. No-brainer revenue. The benefits of belonging to your association far outweigh the dues for most of these smalls. You just need to take the time to articulate the right message to them.

How to Handle Smalls? Automate!

We know what you’re thinking: This all sounds good, but it takes effort to recruit smalls. And if we don’t put in the effort to retain them, they’ll leave after the first year and blow our retention rate.

We hear you, and you’re right. That is a challenge. Fortunately, there’s a great answer: Automation!

You know how we helped our HR industry association client get those 50 new members? We ran multiple digital campaigns for them throughout the year. That’s it. No heavy lifting required.

We helped them craft a targeted message. It required a modest initial investment, and then it ran itself—and it continues to run itself.

That same automation can work for onboarding and retention workflow. You probably can’t afford to hire a member representative who is solely dedicated to the smalls. But you can use modern technology to streamline the process.

Targeting small organizations allows you to grow your association, thoroughly represent the industry, and plant seeds for future growth.

We understand the challenges. But we truly believe this is one of the least-accessed, BEST opportunities right now for associations.

We’d be happy to bounce ideas around with you, and help you envision what a targeted campaign to the smalls would look like.

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If one of the main benefits of your association or your annual conference is “networking” you have a problem. LinkedIn was made for networking. Sure it’s not industry specific and it’s not as personal, but it is free. Nearly every industry is represented there, so there’s bound to be individuals from your sector who are eager to connect and collaborate. There’s probably a special interest group too.

If another big benefit of your association or event is “thought leadership,” guess what? LinkedIn is giving you a run for your money there as well. LinkedIn is loaded with great ideas, insights, strategies, tips and tricks that could apply to your members’ businesses. Again, this content might not be 100% tailored to your specific space, but it’s free and it’s somewhat helpful.

What Am I Paying For?

For both networking and thought leadership, your potential members can invest precisely $0 and get a huge return in the form of somewhat relevant contacts and information. By comparison, your membership dues and event registration fees will seem like a big investment. People will want to know: “What do I get in return for investing so much money?

Quite often, an association will answer this question by saying, “We’re focused exclusively on our sector! We’re unique and customized to our space!” Also quite often, that same association will host a conference featuring big-name experts from other industries. Suddenly your argument of “we’re unique and focused” doesn’t hold up.


People will want to know: “What do I get in return for investing so much money?”


Payton Manning Won’t Cut It Anymore

A celebrity keynote speaker like Payton Manning, Erin Brockovich, or Steve Wozniak draws a crowd. They leave audiences feeling inspired and uplifted and, quite often, entertained. People go back to the office bragging about how they saw an A-lister live in the flesh. They might even have a notepad full of motivational quotes and pithy one-liners to share with their team. They likely also have a mittful of business cards from networking sessions and cocktail receptions.

Prior to 2020, these might have been reasons enough to invest time, money, and travel into your annual event. But they just don’t hold up any more. When faced with health and safety considerations, serious budget constraints, and a dire workforce shortage, your members and prospects are forced to prioritize their time and money. They simply can’t justify expensive entertainment, generic insights, and networking opportunities that they could get elsewhere—for cheap or free. 

Look Back Five Years

Look back at your annual conference agendas for the last five years. How many keynote speakers were from other industries? How many sessions featured presenters from other sectors? If a lot of your content isn’t specific to your industry, you will need a stronger answer to the question “What am I paying for?” If your strongest benefit is networking, then we’re back on LinkedIn where we started.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 3: Marketing Assets

PART 3: Marketing Assets

This is the third post in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. If you missed our earlier posts, you can read about your cause and your marketing plan to catch up.

How to Attract Prospects and Members with Marketing Assets

People are more likely to engage with your brand in exchange for something tangible and beneficial. That’s why a good content-based digital marketing plan requires supporting assets to maximize outcomes.

What is a marketing asset?

A marketing asset, often referred to generally as “content,” can be almost anything from your association that offers value to your audience. Traditional marketing assets include whitepapers, infographics, how-to guides, e-books, webinars, videos, checklists, podcasts, survey results, industry reports, and many more. Thanks to new technology, marketing assets also include interactive content, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, chatbots, apps, and others.


What’s the right asset?

With so many types of marketing assets to choose from, how do you know which ones will work for your audience? The answer: the ones that give people what they need when they need it. Personalization is key to a successful content-based digital marketing campaign.

Here are a few considerations when determining your marketing assets:
  • Where are individuals in the customer journey? New prospects need different information than long-term members.
  • What’s going on in your industry? Tailor assets around current trends, technology, and industry events.
  • What are their goals? Offer tools that enable goals, help them develop professionally, or assist in planning for future growth and success.
  • What are their pain points? Provide information that will save them time and money, make their lives easier, or help them overcome obstacles.

How to personalize marketing assets

To effectively personalize your campaign, you may need to segment your list into two or three meaningful groups. For example, members, nonmembers, and sales reps. You can also use marketing automation to determine who gets what. For example, a workflow based on a series of if-then statements could trigger various marketing assets and follow-up communications depending on user behavior.

While personalization requires a little more work and forethought, the results are well worth your time. One research study from Experian showed that personalized email campaigns receive 29% higher open rates and 41% higher clickthrough rates than generic emails. Personalized marketing improves customer experience, which ultimately drives membership, non-dues revenue, and member engagement.


When in doubt, go visual and be quick

While your audience will have its own preferences, the current trend in marketing assets is to lean heavily on visual components. Additionally, keep in mind that time is always a concern for your members. Resources that save people time and are quick to digest are the most likely to generate outcomes.


Gated or ungated?

Gated marketing assets are those you give away in exchange for an action, such as providing an email address or starting an account. Gated content is a great way to build your prospect list. However, people won’t hand over their email address to just anyone. First, they need to trust that you offer value and that you won’t just spam them with more time-consuming emails.

When you give away your marketing assets with no strings attached, that’s known as ungated content. Ungated marketing assets demonstrate to your audience that you’re here to help, that you offer credible resources, and that you’re worthy of their trust. A good strategy to is to give away ungated content initially and eventually gate content to capture contact info.


How to get started

To get started using marketing assets to attract prospects and members, take a look at your existing materials. You might already have a stash of articles, interviews, infographics, podcasts, and more that can be used as-is or repurposed to support your cause and your marketing plan. If you need to create new materials, be sure they’re aligned with your existing brand’s look and feel for consistency.

Need more ideas for marketing assets? Download the checklist for 50+ ideas.

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Part 2: The Plan

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How to Create a Digital Marketing Plan

Save time and money while boosting your marketing results with a quick and painless plan

So you know your cause, and you want to tell the world about it. You’ve got resources to share plus events to promote and products to sell. It’s tempting to blast your members and prospects with all these valuable things at once. But hold on a second…


Why you need a marketing plan

Getting attention and moving people to act involves a balance of timing, frequency, relevancy, and format. You need to meet your audience where they are or they won’t engage. Even a simple marketing plan can help you achieve better results while saving you time, money, and effort. Before you launch another promotion, stop and sketch out a plan.


Why your plan needs digital

You can’t improve results if you keep doing the same old thing. Now is a great time to embrace digital tools. Digital advertising and email automation enable precise audience targeting and follow-up based on actual user behaviors. With digital, you can customize each user’s experience with your brand to improve outcomes.


How to create a digital marketing plan

Planning a year of marketing might seem daunting, but it takes just seven steps.

1. Establish goals.

Set specific goals. If you want more members or event attendees, how many? What is your non-dues revenue target? Other goals might include web visitors or social media followers, email performance metrics, or improved member satisfaction. As much as possible, express your goals in hard numbers and concrete terms.


2. Get to know your audience better.

Dig deeper into your audience to improve your marketing like never before.

Consider three categories of data:
  • Demographics: age, gender, household income/company revenues, geography, years in business or profession, political affiliation, hobbies or special interests, etc.
  • History with your association: past purchase history, events attended, years as a member, volunteer positions, etc.
  • Data gleaned from online behaviors: web pages visited, articles or e-books downloaded, email opens, clicks etc.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a ton of data. With digital marketing, you will gain data as your campaigns progress. You can use what you learn to solidify and improve your efforts going forward.


3. Focus on value.

Go beyond networking, education, and certifications to focus on value. How will your association make people’s lives easier, save them money, or advance their careers? Brainstorm tangible benefits of your membership, events, products, and certifications. Calculate ROI whenever possible to prove you’re worth people’s time, money, and effort to engage.


4. Choose an engaging format.

Choose a format, platform, or channel based on your audience, goals, and budget. Some of the most effective strategies are email drip and nurture campaigns, social ads paired with helpful content (ex: whitepapers, e-books), and web retargeting. But you’ll need to test and track to see what works for your audience.


5. Create a marketing calendar.

Timing matters. Consider what else might be going on in your audience’s lives: holidays, industry events, competitor messages, other comms from your organization, etc. Schedule your promotions when they will have the least competition from other sources. Then make sure your team is aware of launches and prepared to field responses.


6. Execute.

Don’t fall victim to analysis paralysis. At some point you have to put your best foot forward and launch your initiatives into the world.


7. Track performance.

You must track performance and analyze results to know if your plan is working. From there, you can make adjustments on the fly or learn from past efforts to improve in the future.

Your cause is the driving force behind your organization, but without a plan you can’t reach your full potential. Adding digital marketing to your plan can further improve your results while saving you time and money. Ready to get started on your marketing plan? Download the free Sample Marketing Plan below to guide your efforts.

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Is Your Association Putting Off Creating a Lead Gen Funnel?

If you’ve ever procrastinated on giving the-birds-and-the-bees talk to your kid or having an uncomfortable conversation with a friend, you know that we tend to put off difficult things.

We avoid difficult things in business, too. Often, we do the easy-to-understand thing over and over again, even if it produces poor results. The hard-to-understand thing promises better results . . . but it can feel so complicated!

We run into this thinking with associations when we talk about lead generation funnels and customer journeys. While no association executive has ever held their ears closed and said, “La la la, I can’t hear you!” when we talk about lead gen, we can tell from their frightened looks and body language it’s what they want to do.

If you’re afraid of a lead generation funnel, you’re afraid of the wrong thing. A lead gen funnel is the only thing standing in the way of your association becoming obsolete in the next five years. Tactics like random fishing on LinkedIn and buying lists to import into your database may have been effective once, but they no longer work.

You have to be smarter.

The good news is, we make it easy for you because we’ve done the hard work of engineering smart funnels that guide prospects along the journey they choose, so they wind up at your landing page, clicking “Join Now.”

Download the Lead Generation Customer Journey to view larger >

What is a Lead Generation Funnel?

Lead generation funnels solve a big problem for member organizations: They help you increase membership and event attendance. They do this by expanding your prospect pool, turning your prospects into qualified leads, and then turning your qualified leads into members.

A lead generation funnel is essentially a holistic, digital map that guides your prospects along a journey. It’s fully automated and built out using an “if/then” system.

For example:
  • IF a prospect clicks to watch a Facebook video, THEN they are taken to a landing page with a simple call-to-action to stay connected.
  • IF they enter their email on that page, THEN they go into a drip/nuture email campaign with its own set of “if/thens.”
  • IF they don’t enter their email, THEN they are re-targeted on Facebook, or perhaps another platform, and the process repeats.

A good lead generation funnel engages with multiple social media platforms and uses responsive list management software that ushers prospects through the journey.

Because it’s automated, after you create your funnel, all you have to do is hit “go.”


Know Your Numbers: Prospect Pools, Qualified Leads, and Conversion Ratios

A lead generation funnel helps you get clear on your numbers.

For example, do you have any idea how large your prospect pool is?

This is often the first stumbling block for associations. They have no idea what number they are starting with. Is it 500? 5,000? 50,0000?

This math matters, because you need to know how many people you’re starting with so you can keep track of the percentage of those people who become qualified leads, and then the percentage of qualified leads who become members.

These are your conversion ratios.

If you don’t know these ratios, you’re just guessing. And while guessing is a legitimate strategy on a standardized test when you don’t know the right answer, it doesn’t tend to hold up as a sustainable marketing strategy.

Your funnel will help to determine your ratios. You’ll be able to track how many people you are talking to each step of the way, so you know your numbers.


Conversion Assets: High Quality Content That Inspires

Your automation has to be spot-on, but your funnel is only as good as the content that feeds it.

You always need high-quality, sticky content, including captivating videos, well-written stories, and compelling graphics.

Though your prospect pool is large, you still need to think carefully about what will catch a prospect’s eye and hit their pain points. At each point along the way, you need strong conversion assets. These assets include landing pages, emails, videos, blog posts, social media posts, newsletters, webinars, and direct mail pieces.

Just because you’re introducing math into the mix, it doesn’t mean you can stop focusing on inspiring people. In fact, you need to focus even more strongly on inspiring people.

More than anything, you need to shift your thinking from one-off campaigns to a holistic approach that blends extraordinary storytelling with the best that marketing automation can offer.

Why put it off when it can make all the difference for the future of your association?

Instead of spinning around in overwhelm, let us walk you through what a lead gen funnel could look like for your organization. Contact Us Today >

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