From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Crafting Irresistible Member Value in 4 Steps

Member Value
Reading Time: 3 minutes

This article first appeared in AssociationNOW as Four Steps to Creating Irresistible Member Value

4 Steps To Creating Irresistible Member Value

Brands like Apple and Amazon have created so much value that consumers can’t get enough of their products and services. Your association needs to offer that same type of value to its members. A look at four ways to do just that.

When we talk about member value in associations, we don’t want members to feel like we just gave them a bargain. We want them to love us. We want them to keep coming back. We want to be irresistible. We all have had that experience with brands. Apple products come to mind. (In fact, chances are that you’re using one to read this right now.) For another example, a client once told me: “If Amazon doesn’t sell it, I don’t need it!” That’s irresistible value.

The question is, how do you create that for your members?

The famous brand evangelist Guy Kawasaki said, “If you provide enough value, then you earn the right to recruit new customers.” Think about that in terms of membership—you have to earn the right to recruit new members by delivering enough value to deserve their membership. You must have the right to win.

Imagine a coach watching a player on the field and saying, “That kid has a right to win out there!” They’re saying that they are the right player, playing the right game with the right skills for that moment. They’re saying she has the right “way to play.” If your association is the player, there are four steps to finding your “way to play” and creating irresistible member value.

Step One: Narrow Your Focus

If you want to be irresistible, you first need to ask yourself, “Who do I want to be irresistible to?” You don’t have the right to win every game, and you won’t have the right to win every member. The more narrowly you define your target, the more member value you will deliver. That may sound wrong to you. You want as many members as you can get, right? But the way to get (and keep) them is by segmenting them as clearly as possible.

One prominent medical association earned the right to win by segmenting its audience based on their interests. Their research and data analysis revealed that doctors care the most about four things: advocacy, education, practice improvement, and patient outcomes. No matter their age or where they worked, at least one of those things mattered a lot to every doctor they spoke to. 

By defining their way to play for each segment, they transformed their membership—and tripled their growth rate—in two years.

Step Two: Find the Unmet Needs

Your audience has many needs, as any member needs analysis will tell you. But one way or another, most of their needs already get met. You will find your right to win in the gaps—the unmet or under-met needs for which there is no other solution. Filling those gaps may be more challenging than it sounds. You must briefly forget your current offerings, have honest conversations with actual members, and listen openly to what they say. 

Their unmet needs may not end up being what you expected.

“The way to get (and keep) members is by segmenting them as clearly as possible.”

An international engineering society did just this. When they listened to their members, they heard that industry leaders needed space to collaborate in precompetitive ways on emerging technologies. In their current state, the society could not legally do this. Stepping up to serve their members’ needs led to the launch of a multimillion-dollar new business.


Every organization has unique assets and capabilities, things they have or do that no one else could easily imitate. It could be your reputation. It could be data or information. It could be your ability to bring people together. Your unique assets are the ingredients of your right to win—your best chance of winning is in places where no one else can play.

One global professional society, struggling with growth, was convinced they needed a new business model. But an inventory of their capabilities revealed that what they alone could do was bring people across their entire industry from around the world together to get things done. Their content and training were excellent but not unique. However, their events couldn’t be matched.

By doubling down on their power to convene, they more than doubled their business.

Step Four: Choose Your Way to Play

The intersection of unmet member needs and your unique capabilities is the key to your way to play. If you meet the unmet needs of the right members, in the right way, when no one else can do it, you will have the right to win their membership. Your member value will be irresistible.

The examples here are real-world stories of associations going beyond giving members a bargain. They provide their members with something they need and cannot get elsewhere. They made themselves irresistible and transformed their businesses in the process.

Unleashing Member Engagement: Overcoming The 3 Biggest Challenges

Member Engagement
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Member Engagement Is The Key to Renewal

What is member engagement? We usually talk about it from our organization’s perspective. However, real growth happens when we start thinking about it from the perspective of a member; as an experience of value. Engagement is a meaningful experience of value by a member.

This takes on a lot of forms. It could be great content, a product, an experience, or interactions with other members. It makes sense that the more of those valuable experiences you create, the more likely people are to renew. They want to have more and more of those experiences.

Why is member engagement important? In all of our research, engagement is the number one driver of renewal. It’s the only driver that really matters.

Engagement is not just about renewal. We want members to engage because that’s how we execute our mission. We want them to get value from us, we want them to learn, we want them to engage, and we want them to connect. So the mission of an organization is driven by member engagement. But as you know, renewal is where the hard numbers are. So it is the best barometer of association engagement.

There’s a lot of data to prove that the best way to improve retention is by focusing on member engagement, especially early in the membership cycle. a study by Dynamic Benchmarking shows that those focusing on first-year engagement across all associations see a 6- to 12-point lift in their first-year renewal rates.

If you started at an average of 58%, rising to an average of 70% is an enormous lift. The bigger your association, the better those results are.

How Many Associations Get Engagement Strategy Wrong

Many associations are getting member engagement strategy wrong, despite a wealth of data proving that the best way to improve retention is by focusing on engagement, especially early in the membership cycle. So what are associations doing wrong when it comes to member engagement? There are three main things.

1. They Don't Measure Member Engagement

We haven’t defined member engagement well as an industry, so it becomes hard to track. Ideally, the very best organizations have an engagement score. They can score their members on how engaged they are. This is often a very accurate predictor of their likelihood to renew. Unfortunately, most associations haven’t gotten that far. 

They don’t have the data or the metrics to say: are we doing a good job? Are we not doing a good job? What are members engaging in or not engaging in? And how are those things correlated with renewal? Measuring engagement is critical.

2. They Don't Devote Resources to Engagement

This is a real obstacle for a lot of associations. They don’t devote enough money to engagement. The Dynamic Benchmarking study showed that associations only spend 1% of their budgets on member engagement even though it’s the best investment they could make.

3. Members Don't Know What They Really Do

Marketing your existing members about your current resources is as important as recruiting new members. Associations often assume that their members know as much about their work as they do. This is empirically untrue. We did a very successful project with the American Medical Association where we asked that question: what do members think that we do?

Only 20% of the members could mention anything except the flagship journal. Of course, they all knew about JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Still, they didn’t know about the dozens and dozens of other things the American Medical Association does that doctors care about. We have seen this play out repeatedly in our work with associations. You cannot engage your members if they do not know that your benefits exist.

Three Ways to Drive Member Engagement

What can your association do differently to ignite member engagement as a tool for renewal?

These three things should be at the hear of your engagement strategy.

1. Segment Membership by Engagement Activity

Beyond the services and resources you offer, you can engage members in intangible things. Advocacy and volunteering are very engaging. Members want to be involved in grassroots activities for others, know more about that, and know what you’re doing to support it. They want to be a part of it in the world. 

It requires focus and committed investment in communicating that effectively. But associations that can do that see results in their member engagement and renewal.

2. Prioritize Engagement Over Recruitment

Acquiring new members is expensive. It generally costs about one year’s dues to acquire a new member, while it’s much cheaper to renew an existing member. Highly engaged members cost almost nothing to renew. They renew themselves.

New members don’t renew very well. Only about half of them will stick around for the second year. That investment you made to recruit about half of the new member group will be wasted. But if you renew a member once, maybe twice, the likelihood is that they will continue forever. Investing in engagement and retention has a much higher ROI. 

Sit down with your CFO and figure out what the lifetime value of your members is. What is the total amount a member spends on average with you divided by the number of members you have? 

You should be thinking about this number over the tenure of membership. It will tell you the long-term value of a new member, the long-term value of retention, and how much you should invest in membership. How long are they going to stay with you? You’ll likely find it worth investing more in a current member’s lifetime value than in a new member’s annual dues.

3. Focus on the First 90 Days of Membership

The first key is to focus on a member’s first year with your organization. This is the most critical year to help them experience the right value and to have the best experiences with you. Why is that? As we’ve just seen, first-year members are the hardest to renew. In general, 50-60% of them will stay, and the rest will leave. But there’s a tipping point at the second renewal. 

Everywhere we go, we find that they’re more likely to renew after the first year. Once a member has renewed two or three times, they will likely continue. So the best strategy is to engage members right in the first year, to get them engaged with something they want to continue across the years.

The second key is to focus your engagement efforts on the first 90 days of that first year. Research has shown that you only have members’ full attention for the first 90 days and have it to the fullest extent for the first 30. They’ve just joined your organization, are excited, and want to know what’s in it for them. Their attention slowly wanes at 60 days and again at 90 because if you have not engaged them in a valuable experience by then, you probably won’t. You’ve lost their attention.

How can your organization employ this member attention “sweet spot” to your advantage? We call the first 90 days a “no-fly zone” for member communications focusing on anything other than engagement. While all of your partners want to market to your new members, and everyone in your organization wants to talk to them about what they have to offer, we often recommend that associations put a quiet zone around these 90 days. 

The only thing your members should hear from you about during this time is engagement, i.e., things they can get value from. So you should focus on getting them engaged in something they want to be engaged in first, and then talk about all the other things they can get involved in.

How to Increase Member Engagement

To sum it up, member engagement strategy holds the key to unlocking untapped potential within your organization. The evidence speaks for itself – prioritizing member engagement, particularly in the early stages of their membership, is the most effective strategy for improving retention. By addressing common challenges head-on and implementing targeted solutions, professionals can create an environment that fosters active participation and long-term commitment. 

So, seize the opportunity to unleash the full potential of member engagement, and watch as your organization thrives in ways you never thought possible.


To learn more about our proven member engagement strategy, listen to our recent podcast Member Retention: Engaged Members Retain Themselves.

Is Your Member Segmentation Strategy Holding You Back?

Member Segmentation
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Is Your Member Segmentation Strategy Wrong?

Most associations segment their membership in the same way: by career stage. So young professionals might be one segment, mid-career folks another, and so on into retirement. They do it this way because it seems obvious, and it’s easy – but is there a chance it’s wrong? When determining whether or not your member segmentation strategy is helping increase member engagement, ask yourself: Do our different segments act differently?

The Problem With Career-Stage Member Segmentation

If career stage has been the category used for your member segmentation, it’s likely been difficult to spot any trends or changes. For example, do mid-career and late-career members respond to different messages or engage with different things? They probably don’t.

Career-stage segmentation does not work because it doesn’t tell you how to treat people differently to get the best response – It is not actionable.

What you need to know are the ways your audience is different, which often falls into two distinct categories: what interests them and their relationship with you.

These groups were very distinct. For example, many physicians were not interested in advocacy, but those who were were extremely passionate. So, talking about advocacy to the wrong people may have led to unsubscribes while talking about advocacy to the right people got an enormous response.

Segmenting By Interests

One of the most effective ways to segment your audience is by interests – after all, people will always respond better to things that interest them. Moreover, some things your association does are far more interesting to certain people than others. So how can you know which things and which people? For starters, let your email be your guide. Cluster your email by topic and look at which members respond to what. You will begin to see patterns and that’s where your member segmentation should start. In an analysis we completed at Sequence for the American Medical Association, we found that there were four principal areas that physicians responded to:

Understanding Interests Through Action

How do you know what people belong in which segment? If you know what emails and content a member responds to, that will tell you. If you don’t, you can analyze your data for “look-alikes.” That is, members likely to respond to advocacy because they look like advocates in other ways. For example, they may open the same emails or visit the same pages. They may even have similar demographics. Taking it one step further, an outside data shop can help you use consumer data to segment non-members by interest, too. For example, the medical society in the story above doubled its member growth rate in this way.

The Loyalty Ladder

The other member segmentation strategy that always applies is how engaged your members are with you. Picture a ladder with your most engaged members on the top. These are your Super Fans. They are longtime members active in everything you do. They are your governance and volunteers. You wish every member were like them. On the bottom are the unengaged. They joined but have not done anything. These are your Window Shoppers. In between are increasing levels of engagement. Members have more lifetime value at each level and become more likely to renew, which is why your goal is to move your members up the ladder. Members at each rung of the ladder will react to different things. But, more importantly, you want them to respond to different things.
This approach allows you to concentrate your resources where they will do the most good and engage the members methodically to increase loyalty.

Don't Ignore Non-Members Either

You can also extend this approach to non-members. People come to your events, subscribe to publications, and contribute to journals – yet they aren’t members yet. More often than not, these non-member “constituents” make up a larger group than members.

For example, you can look at non-members who attended your event and infer their interests from what they did there or how they are similar to members whose interests you know. Once you have that information, your segmentation strategy can be to send more of those resources via email with a call to action aimed at turning them into members.

Thinking about non-member interactions as rungs on the ladder gives you a pathway to walk them up to a membership.

Member Segmentation In Action

You do not have to choose between these approaches. Some of the most successful associations combine these segmentation strategies to attract new members and increase loyalty as effectively as possible. A winning acquisition and retention strategy allows interests to guide messaging and loyalty to inform offers.

It used to be that only the largest, data-savvy associations could achieve this kind of member segmentation. That is not true today. Better technology makes data analysis easier and less expensive every day, even in-house.

Could you be doing your member segmentation wrong? There is no reason not to start doing it right.

This article originally appeared in Sidecar as Is Your Member Segmentation Strategy Wrong?

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Crafting Membership Offers They Can’t Refuse

Membership Value Proposition
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Make Your Membership An Offer They Can't Refuse

Are your members finding your membership value proposition irresistible? Well, if you ask association members why they choose not to renew, you’ll find that two out of three of them point to a lack of perceived value for the price they pay. And guess what? Half of them also mention their lack of engagement with the organization as a reason. Some even admit, “I just forgot.” These are clear signs that members are voting with their feet, indicating how they perceive the value you provide.

Our research has confirmed that an organization’s membership value proposition is the key driver for membership renewal. So, how can you ensure that you reinforce this value through marketing that truly makes membership impossible to resist?

Discover our top four recommendations on how to craft an offer they simply can’t refuse, and make your membership value proposition undeniably compelling.

1. Add Member Value, Don't Discount Dues

Discounting dues by 50% or more may seem like a tempting option for some organizations, but it comes with risks. Just because something has no value at $100 doesn’t mean it suddenly becomes valuable at $50. By going down this path, organizations end up sacrificing significant dues revenue without much to show for it in terms of membership growth.

A smarter approach is to lower dues for specific segments like students and young professionals who may be more cost-sensitive. This strategy helps to “fill the hopper” with potential future members who will eventually pay full dues. In fact, one large society saw a 15% increase in young professional membership within just one year after implementing this strategy.

However, lowering the cost alone doesn’t automatically make your membership more valuable in the eyes of potential members. To truly attract them, you need to offer a compelling membership value proposition that makes them want to join. Remember, the perceived value of membership is always more important than the cost.

Remember, the perceived value of membership is always more important than the cost.

2. Bundling Benefits Builds Member Value

Increasing awareness of the most significant benefits is crucial; otherwise, it holds no value for members. Some organizations have taken a smart approach by bundling benefits together. This not only makes high-value opportunities more enticing and accessible but also allows for the removal of outdated benefits that clutter communication with members.

Instead of developing new products and programs, many organizations have successfully implemented this strategy with existing offerings. By reframing the concept of “products” to encompass all the ways the organization serves its members, it opens up opportunities to highlight the value proposition of membership and why potential members should be interested. 

With the right insights, this approach can yield impressive results, with some organizations experiencing a membership engagement increase of over 40%.

3. Make The Member Value Crystal Clear

Ensuring that the benefits of membership are lucid, easy to comprehend, and well-defined may appear straightforward at first glance, yet our research suggests that it is an indispensable component in maintaining members. Prospective members, as well as existing ones, are unable to fully appreciate and take advantage of the value you offer if they aren’t clearly aware of what they receive through their membership. 

Every organization that offers membership encounters a challenge in renewing first-year members. However, our studies have shown that member retention rates grow exponentially beyond the initial year. When first-year members realize the value that comes with membership early in their tenure, they are more likely to remain lifelong members. As a result, it’s crucial to emphasize this to your first-year members in your communication.

With the right insights, some organizations experience membership engagement increases of over 40%.

4. Offer a Grace Period

Our team has found that offering grace periods is an excellent opportunity for your organization to provide additional value and support to your members. By providing these grace periods, you give members a chance to rectify any oversights in renewing their membership while still being able to utilize all the benefits and perks associated with their membership. 

Based on research, we have found that organizations who offer grace periods tend to have higher member retention rates than those who do not provide them. Generally, grace periods can last around three months, and organizations with 80% or higher renewal rates tend to offer them. By extending this value proposition, you can enhance member satisfaction and loyalty. 

Conclusion: A Membership Value Proposition They Can't Refuse

In conclusion, consider the possibility of a membership value proposition that professionals simply can’t refuse. With the potential to restructure your current model and create an irresistible offer, your association has the opportunity to capture the attention and loyalty of members. So don’t overlook this chance to provide a value proposition that stands out and keeps professionals engaged.

To learn more about irresistible membership value propositions see Maximizing Association Value: Unleashing 3 Powerful Membership Pricing Strategies and Two More Views on Member Value

Mastering Member Focus: Unlocking the Power of 2 Essential Questions

Member Focus
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Is your association member focused? Ask yourself these two questions.

Unlock the power of member focus with these two essential questions. This blog post will dive into the strategies and techniques professionals can use to master member focus. You can create meaningful connections and deliver exceptional value by understanding the importance of putting your members at the center of your efforts. 

Question One: Who is your association for and how clearly can you describe them?

I once talked with a marketing expert who shared her marketing philosophy: “More is more.” They meant that having more prospects, more offers, and more communications could lead to success. While this may hold true when resources are abundant, the reality is that resources are always limited. So, we must ask ourselves: When can focusing on our members and doing less result in more?

The Member Focus "Vision Tests"

There are two key ways to focus and two “vision tests” to gauge your level of focus. The first is understanding your target audience and how well you can describe them. The second is determining if what you offer them is unique and difficult to replicate. To assess your member focus, ask yourself, What sets your members apart from non-members? Can you accurately predict who is a member and who is not just by looking at a list of people? If you can’t, it’s time to sharpen your focus. What does that entail?

What sets apart your members from non-members? Can you accurately predict who is a member and who is not just by looking at a list of people?

Do you know what makes your members and non-members different?

In the past, we used to rely on a combination of research and instinct to create our members’ profiles. We often created personas, but they didn’t accurately differentiate between joiners and non-joiners. However, in the age of big data, we can improve our understanding significantly. The key is to shift our focus from who people are to what they genuinely care about. By leveraging data, we can uncover valuable insights.

Let me give you an example. A well-known medical society combined their internal data with external data sources. This helped them identify four distinct “attitudes” or interest areas that accurately described their audience. They even went a step further and used this data to predict which segment each individual belonged to. By aligning their content and messaging with these segments, they achieved a remarkable triple growth rate in just one year. 

You might think that such advanced methods are out of reach for your organization, but that’s not the case anymore. Today, we have access to tools and resources that make what used to be considered impossible a reality. So, let’s shift our focus to member-centric strategies and embrace the power of data to drive meaningful results.

When considering your product focus, ask yourself this question: How quickly could a well-equipped competitor replicate what you do?

Question Two: Is what you do uniquely valuable?

When considering your product focus, ask yourself this question: How quickly could a well-equipped competitor replicate what you do? If the answer is anything other than “never,” then there’s room for you to narrow your focus. You can outperform larger competitors by becoming the go-to authority in a specific niche or area of interest. By truly understanding and catering to the needs of your members, you can build a devoted following and attract new members, even from different specialties. Some smaller medical societies have grown remarkably and expanded their membership by prioritizing member focus overbroad descriptions.

The key to getting focused: JUST SAY NO

Larger organizations, with their broad mandates, often face difficulties in catering to the diverse needs of their entire audience. However, it is essential to understand that the best way to serve your constituents is by focusing on those who actively engage with you. By prioritizing and narrowing your focus, you can increase engagement and make a more significant impact. Switching gears and reallocating resources can be pretty challenging, but it is a crucial task that requires careful consideration. In a previous article, I explored this topic in detail. The key takeaway is that by embracing a member-focused approach, you can harness the power of concentration and discover that doing less can yield greater results.

Focusing on your member focus

In conclusion, when it comes to being member-focused, it’s crucial to ask yourself two essential questions. First, do you truly understand your target audience? Can you vividly describe them? This knowledge will help you tailor your offerings to their needs and preferences. Second, you must ask yourself what sets your members apart from non-members. If you struggle to answer this question, it’s a clear sign that you must sharpen your focus and find unique ways to differentiate your association. 

Continually reassessing your member focus and making necessary adjustments will ensure that your association remains relevant, valuable, and enticing to professionals.

To read more about the power of member focus, see How to Make Membership An Offer They Can’t Refuse and “Focus on Members Who Love You Most.”