Is Your Member Segmentation Strategy Wrong?

Member Segmentation
Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.

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: 

  • Education
  • Patient Outcomes
  • Practice Improvement
  • Advocacy

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.

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. 

  • Lower on the ladder, you want them to engage with the “stickiest,” most high-value things you have to offer (Your data can tell you what the high-value things are, which will be the topic for our next article.) For example, volunteering, free webinars and resources, along with member benefits including insurance.
  • Higher up the ladder, you do not need to drive more engagement; you want to appreciate them and keep them excited. Part of your strategy should be a concerted effort to recognize them and give them special opportunities.

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?

To learn more about member segmentation see 3 Steps to a Great Nonprofit Brand Strategy.

4 Top Takeaways on the Membership of the Future

Membership Of The Future
Reading Time: 3 minutes

4 Top Takeaways On the Membership of The Future

Our new report gives you advice from the top leaders of successful associations on the changes to make right now to create a thriving membership of the the future

The events that unfolded over the last 18 months have brought about extraordinary change for organizations in nearly every industry. Associations in particular had to adapt quickly and assess old ways of doing things and determine the best path forward, while keeping up with evolving member expectations. The lessons associations learned in crisis will guide next steps.

Our latest report, “Ten Ways to Get Ready for the Membership of the Future Now” draws on research conducted with senior leaders of successful associations to highlight 12 changes you can make today to best prepare for the membership of the future.

Crank Up The Content

Speed up your cycle. Are you publishing engaging new content daily? It’s important to deliver content that adds value to your members every day.

Reboot your process. If your content and communications process cannot work at that pace and scale, get a new one. Out with the old and in with the new—go digital with content.

Repurpose, repackage, recycle. Reformat long-form reports, huge PDFs, event content, and other resources into more digestible content.

Let your members create it for you. User-generated content can be some of the most meaningful content you can get. Think beyond guest blogs to other formats and channels to give your members the stage. For example, member-hosted forums (online or hybrid) or member-created video and photography.

“Putting a stake in the ground and marking clear organizational boundaries and goals that the entire organization can rally around will change the game.”

Create Member-to-Member Experiences

Do it small but often. Frequent—even weekly—small group, member-driven interactions have proven to be some of the most valuable things associations can do. The Executives Club of Chicago hosts an informal virtual “Coffee and Connect” for members every week.

Present less, discuss more. The most successful presentation formats now keep the presentation time to a minimum and maximize time for genuine discussion. The American Psychological Association has landed on a winning format of 10 minutes of expert presentation with 30 minutes for open discussion.

Create spaces to connect. What many people love most about membership is the impromptu conversations that happen in between scripted content and events. Members will create connections themselves if you create inviting spaces for them. Monthly discussion sessions for groups of like-minded members, private social media channels you provide but that members can create for themselves, and small, in-person local gatherings that build on your annual event themes are all good examples of how this is being done today.

Keep Your Promise

Lead with brand strategy. A brand strategy is not a vision or mission statement, and it is not a logo or tagline. It is a deeply felt promise about who you are, how you show up in the world, and a solid plan for how you will live it.

Stake your claim. Putting a stake in the ground and marking clear organizational boundaries and goals that the entire organization can rally around will change the game. Name your purpose and stick to it, especially when times get tough.

Walk the talk. Your mission statement might only live on your website, but your purpose should shine through in everything you do.

Build Capabilities and the Outcomes Will Follow

Get real. In each of the areas above, do you have what it takes to execute at the highest level? When the next huge disruption comes will you be able to adapt? Be honest about where you have gaps and get serious about necessary investments you should make for the membership of the future.

Prioritize capabilities over outcomes. This sounds like a break from the traditional “goals and metrics” approach to planning (which still has a place). Organizations that had invested in first-class systems and processes before the crisis found themselves innovating in ways they never thought of and achieving outcomes they could not have hoped for.

One lesson we have all learned: Expect the unexpected. It will not always be a health crisis, but the pace and scale of disruptive events will only accelerate. The most forward-looking organizations think through all the possible scenarios as their primary strategic planning process. The traditional five-year plan has become a directional “north star.” Proactively anticipating disruptions builds agility and financial stability at the same time. The key to survival in the membership of the future, as we learned the hard way, is agility and responsiveness.

To learn more about exploring the future of membership, read our complete report, 10 Ways to Get Ready for the Membership of the  Future Now.

This article was originally published in Associations NOW as Top Takeaways on How Membership Will Survive the Great Reset.

3 Steps to a Great Nonprofit Brand Strategy

Nonprofit Brand Strategy
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Think Fast: What is Your Nonprofit Brand Strategy?

It is not just a mission or vision. A nonprofit brand strategy is how your organization shows up in the world, and how you want existing and potential members to see and feel about you. It is a promise about who you will be to them, and a promise they expect you to fulfill. 

Far more than a logo or tagline, a great brand strategy is a compass by which you navigate your future. 

Our research has shown that most organizations never think about their brand promise, but high-performing organizations are invested in their brand strategy and intentionally orient to it in every big decision they make. 

In fact, our most recent research report found that 4 out of 5 organizations that came through 2020 the strongest did so by explicitly leaning into their brand promise as the No. 1 yardstick of what they would and would not do. 

So, how can you create your own nonprofit brand strategy?

It is not just a mission or vision. A nonprofit brand strategy is how your organization shows up in the world, and how you want existing and potential members to see and feel about you. It is a promise about who you will be to them, and a promise they expect you to fulfill. 

Far more than a logo or tagline, a great brand strategy is a compass by which you navigate your future. 

Our research has shown that most organizations never think about their brand promise, but high-performing organizations are invested in their brand strategy and intentionally orient to it in every big decision they make. 

In fact, our most recent research report found that 4 out of 5 organizations that came through 2020 the strongest did so by explicitly leaning into their brand promise as the No. 1 yardstick of what they would and would not do. 

So, how can you create your own nonprofit brand strategy?

Step 1: Build a Pyramid

When building your brand strategy from the ground up, think about it taking the shape of a pyramid, with a line drawn in the middle from top to bottom. 

On one side of the pyramid, you have the rational aspects — the “thinking” reasons a member would join. That is, your value exchange of benefits. Most organizations stop there with a list of what members get for their dues; that’s important, but it is only half of your brand story.

On the other side of the pyramid, you have the emotional aspects of your strategy — the “feeling” reasons members are drawn to you and want to belong. These are harder to think about but they are actually the first reasons members are drawn to you. It is why they even consider the benefits you offer. People want to belong, to connect, to have a sense of identity, to feel influential. How does your organization feel for potential members? How does it feel to belong?  

The way the rational and emotional converge at the peak of the pyramid is your brand promise. It should boil down to one clear, compelling umbrella statement that ties everything you do together. 

For example, Subaru tells us that “Love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru.” Everything they say and do shows they don’t only care about making you love your Subaru, they care about supporting you in loving your family and community, as well. Subaru owners know that and they feel that. As a result, Subaru has some of the most loyal customers in the world. 

Great association brands have that power, too.

Step 2: Show, Don't Tell

Think about your brand promise and ask yourself, why should members believe you? 

What do you do every day that “pays off” on that promise? Our research shows that for more than 80% of associations, the overwhelming majority of members don’t really know what the organization does. But when they do learn about it, their feelings are far more positive and they are much more likely to belong.

Think about your “proof points” – strong, simple examples of how you deliver on your promise to your members. The most powerful proof you have is the great work you do. Most organizations underuse it. Tell stories about how you make a difference. Don’t just tell them who you are, show them.

Let’s go back to our Subaru example. Subaru shares not just their safety awards but stories of how their cars have protected real people. They show you examples of people doing what they love because their Subaru made it possible. They show you that love really does make a Subaru a Subaru. 

Highlighting your proof points makes your brand tangible and relatable. It helps your members “get” you and makes them feel drawn to know more.

Step 3: Live It

How do you put your promise and your proof points to work? 

Sure, you show it on your website but it goes much further than that. Your brand is not just about how you talk. It is about the things you choose to do. A great brand lives its strategy. Their people feel it and believe it and put it to work every day as they serve their members. This becomes crystal clear in times of crisis when tough choices must be made. The strongest organizations ask themselves out loud “what is the best way to keep our brand promise?” 

Before the crisis, the American Medical Association rebuilt their nonprofit brand strategy around the promise to be: “The Physician’s Powerful Ally in Health Care.”  They have 20 clear and compelling proof points of how they do that in their work fighting the opioid crisis, reducing hypertension, advocating for physician confidentiality and fair reimbursements, and much more. They make sure physicians hear them and give them reasons every day to believe them. Their renewed brand focus has led to a massive shift in physicians’ perceptions of AMA — and their strongest member growth ever.

The power of a strong nonprofit brand strategy is just one of the success lessons in our most recent research. You can read more about nonprofit brand strategy and other lessons in our full report.

This article originally appeared Sidecar as 3 Steps to a Great Nonprofit Brand Strategy

How to Make Membership an Offer They Can’t Refuse

Membership
Reading Time: 2 minutes

How Can You Make Membership An Offer They Can't Refuse?

Ask association members why they don’t renew, and two in three will say lack of value for the price. Half of them also say lack of engagement or “I forgot,” which are another way of voting on your value with their feet.

Value Trumps Dues Discounts Every Time

Member Value

Some organizations jump to discounting, slashing dues by up to 50% or more. This path is fraught with danger — the expensive kind. After all, something that has no value at $100 may have no value at $50, either. They end up sacrificing significant dues revenue with little to no growth to show for it. 

Others have lowered dues for cost-sensitive segments, including students and young professionals. This can be a wise strategy to “fill the hopper” with future full-paying members. One large society that adopted this strategy increased young professional membership by 15% in one year.

The perceived value of membership trumps cost every time.

Bundling Benefits Builds Perceived Value

Even the greatest benefit is worthless if members do not know about or understand it. Some organizations have attempted to increase their perceived value by “bundling” benefits. This practice can make high-value opportunities for members more exciting and accessible. At the same time, it is a chance to weed out outdated benefits that only clutter your communications.

Many times, organizations do this with products and programs that already exist. There is often no need for extensive new product development. You can reframe the idea of “products” to include all the work the organization does on behalf of members. This creates opportunities to talk about how you serve members and why they should want to join you. With the right insights, this approach can reap dramatic insights. Some organizations have seen member engagement jump over 40%.

Membership Bundle

Do You Have A Membership Offer They Can't Refuse?

Could you already have the makings of an offer they can’t refuse within your current dues structure? Our experience says you could. And it’s an opportunity your association should not pass up.

Learn how we can help make membership and offer they can’t refuse for you here

For more on the value of membership see Two More Views on Member Value