The Best Way to Boost Association Marketing Results: Think Like a Prospect

Think Like a Prospect
Raise your hand if this sounds like your association…

You need more prospects. So you offer up a nice piece of content in exchange for an email address. Congratulations, you found some interested people! Next, you fire off an automated drip campaign with three or four “canned” emails as follow up. The majority of your interested people promptly delete these emails and unsubscribe from your list. Very few engage further, and even fewer convert. Your association continues to struggle with membership numbers, and you are very tired of marketing that just doesn’t work.

But Why Doesn’t It Work?

Literally no one wants to be spammed with a bunch of emails just because they needed some information. Would you?

There’s a better way, and it starts by thinking like a prospect. If you yourself wouldn’t want a bunch of impersonal emails, irrelevant offers, or jargon-filled sales letters, your prospects won’t either. It’s time to imagine life from your prospect’s point of view so you can improve your marketing and get the results your association needs to thrive.

Here are four steps to get you started.

Quit bombing people with communications you wouldn’t want yourself.

In addition to the prospecting example above, your association might be guilty of some of these other marketing missteps:

  • You send members 20 or 30 emails about your annual event every year.
  • You continuously email 8,000-10,000 people when you only need a few hundred interested parties.
  • You send 20,000 direct mail packages and get less than 30 sign-ups.

Instead, let your people tell you what they want. Look at their online behaviors. As follow-up, create multiple workflows based on how people have engaged with your messages and offers. Personalize the customer journey as much as possible.

For example, if 50 people downloaded your content, send those 50 people a thoughtful direct mail piece. Don’t mail more than 300. Look at your list and whittle it down to the most likely prospects.

Shift how you think about your events and membership.

Thinking like a prospect means acknowledging that there’s a lot to be worried about right now. Things like war, Covid, and the economy add to the pressures of daily work. People might not have money or time to join your association or travel to your event, and they might have other concerns as well.

More importantly, they’ve figured out how to live without your event for the last two years and they’re still doing fine. Online resources have effectively taken the place of your association for many people. It’s not realistic to think that everyone will rush to your event simply because it’s once again occurring in person.

You will need to be patient as you entice people to attend or join. Given all of today’s challenges, it will take more time than you’d like to nurture your leads in a logical, thoughtful, personalized manner.

Make a dramatic change in what you say.

Speak in a conversational tone. After all, that’s what you prefer when others talk to you. Ditch abstract, overused words like “thought leadership” and “strategic connections.” Swap those for concrete terms that promise benefits. Focus on what sets you apart from competitors.

Communicate in words an eighth grader would understand. Yes, you are a professional organization with in-depth, complex information and resources. But your marketing has to be simple. It has to engage people quickly or they will hit delete and move on.

Rethink your use of marketing automation.

Marketing automation isn’t a “set it and forget it” tool. To be successful, you must set up multiple workflows based on your audience’s goals and pain points, your organization’s resources, and your users’ actual behaviors. Then you need to make adjustments as you go based on performance.

Ideally, marketing automation captures data that you can use to customize future communications and improve your numbers. It helps you reach more people with personalized messages and offers. Too often, however, associations use automation as a way to put their marketing on autopilot. At that point, it’s just more spam.

For every campaign you launch, stop and ask yourself what a member or prospect would want. Is it really another email? Or is it a phone call from a helpful human? Additional useful content? A direct mail piece? Something else?

Start Making Changes Now

Giving people individualized attention is hard to do, and there is no “golden ticket” that will instantly improve your numbers. But you have to start somewhere, and you have to start now. As the last few years have shown us, anything can happen. Better marketing now means your association will be poised to thrive no matter what the future holds.


Think like a prospect is No. 3 in our ebook, 3 Action Steps Associations Can Take to Achieve Goals. What are numbers 1 and 2? Download it and see.

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