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.

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

The 4 Most Important Questions to Up Your Content Game Now

Association Content
Reading Time: 3 minutes

How Can You Up Your Association Content Game? Four Big Questions to Ask Now

The online content your nonprofit creates tells a story. It highlights the importance of your work and accomplishments. Done well, it can further your mission by attracting new members and inspiring constituents to action.

Now that the pandemic has moved so much of our lives online, your association content strategy is more important than ever. And your audience expects more than ever: a static website, monthly newsletter, and occasional Facebook post are not enough..

Sequence Consulting recently conducted a survey of national and Chicago-area associations to find out how the pandemic had changed their members’ expectations for online content. What we found almost certainly applies to most nonprofits, regardless of size and mission: the demand for timely and useful information is increasing and will likely remain high in a post-pandemic world. To decide if your nonprofit needs to level up its content strategy, ask yourself the following four questions:


1. Do You Publish New Association Content Often?

If not, you need to! In the past year, organizations that prided themselves on highly-produced, in-depth publications learned that this content style no longer worked for their members.

Todd Unger, chief experience officer of the American Medical Association, said that members were now asking for more frequent contact, and cared less about the production value of content than its timeliness. “‘We want to see you more and hear from you more,’” members told the AMA.

All nonprofits should make new online content a priority, but the frequency depends on your goals. If your mission. like the AMA’s, includes being an up-to-date source of relevant news, then you should publish new association content daily. Advocacy organizations which aim to inspire members to immediate action on important issues should produce content daily, even if just through a social media post or a tweet. Even the smallest nonprofits shouldn’t neglect to communicate weekly if they want to be remembered. Fortunately, frequent communication has never been easier, and you no longer need to spend time and resources on perfectly polished content—members and contributors prefer content that meets their immediate needs.

2. Are You Taking Full Advantage of Technology?

Thanks to the unprecedented use of web conferencing platforms like Zoom, you now have the opportunity to secure higher-caliber speakers for digital events. Speakers and members can attend from anywhere, providing opportunities that would be impossible with in-person events. Whether virtual or in-person, there is significant value in live events. Margaret Mueller, CEO of the Executives Club of Chicago, finds that having high-quality speakers interact with members live allows “the connection to become more raw and real.”

These events don’t need to be elaborate to be effective. One of the hallmarks of The Executives’ Club’s new content strategy is Coffee and Connect, where members can log on at the same time a few mornings a week to get advice from an expert in residence about the issues their business is currently facing. 

Ask yourself what information would be most engaging to your constituents, and what experts they would most like to hear from. Find a way to deliver that information to them quickly, in a live format. 

3. Are You Publishing Your Events As Association Content?

When the pandemic hit, many nonprofits had to quickly abandon traditional event formats and go digital with their conferences, trainings, and fundraising events. One benefit: any online event, large or small, can be recorded and repackaged as content. Quick highlights from a longer video can be excerpted and shared via social media, email, and your website. Key points can be summarized in a blog post or a great quote shared with a tweet. The recorded event itself can be made available online. By taking your event content, repackaging it, and distributing it online to those who couldn’t attend live, you can provide significant value. Again, video doesn’t need to be highly produced to be engaging and effective.

4. Are You Highlighting Constituent Stories?

Ultimately, people want to be part of organizations making a difference. Members of professional associations want to read stories about colleagues who have excelled while simultaneously making an impact. Supporters of any nonprofit would value hearing from staff and those they impact talk about challenges and victories.

Some highly successful associations have already adopted this approach. For example, the AMA publishes a short-form digital magazine that focuses on members who are moving medicine forward. Some of the American Bar Association’s most popular content consists of members telling stories about other members. The Executive’s Club of Chicago shares members’ stories online through short video segments.

There are many ways to incorporate personal stories into your association content strategy. Find the strategies that work best for your nonprofit. You will see engagement, membership, and revenue grow when you do.

For more information on how top associations are using lessons learned during the pandemic to transform content marketing for associations, read our complete research report, Ten Ways to Get Ready for the Future of Membership Now.

This article was originally published by the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits

The 3 Best Ways For Mission To Drive Membership

Drive Membership
Reading Time: 3 minutes

How Can You Make Your Mission Drive Membership?

Associations are “mission first” in word and often in deed. Yet many lead less and less with their mission to revitalize their membership. Instead, enhancing member value and experience have been the guiding lights for association growth. Rightly so. We often reduce the mission to believing that “what’s in it for me” is the only key to nonprofit marketing success in membership messaging. Guided by research, many organizations have sought to imitate for-profit marketers. They promote “features and benefits” and enticing offers that often disappoint expectations and don’t drive membership.

Some of the best-performing associations are doubling down on their missions. They know that personal alignment with the mission creates feelings of belonging and influence, which drive membership in ways that no transaction can. It builds increased relevance and growth. Your mission is the one competitive advantage to drive membership for which there is no for-profit alternative.

This is a shift in thinking, to be sure. However, our research has found three interconnected causes for this trend. We developed actionable insights on how associations can take advantage of this.

Adopt the Millennial Mindset

Millennials are skeptical, with a very high bar for trusting a brand. They demand authenticity, consistency, and shared values. They want opportunities to participate[1]. Brands that meet these requirements get rewarded with emotionally invested, long-term customers. Aspects of this mindset cross generations. A recent survey found that:

  • 78% of people want companies to address social justice issues
  • 87% of consumers would be willing to buy a product or service based on a company’s advocacy for a social issue
  • 76% said they would decline to do business with a company if it supported issues that conflicted with their beliefs.[2

Your association can drive membership by recognizing the millennial mindset and adopting it in your marketing strategy.

Appeal to Self-Directed Consumers

It’s never been faster or easier to research products and brands before buying. Comparison shopping extends beyond price and reviews. It now includes corporate practices on a host of social issues. There are even apps developed to help consumers do exactly that. Good on You rates fashion brands’ impact on people, animals, and the environment. Good Guide scores over 200,000 products on health, environment, and social justice. The power to buy based on beliefs is at consumers’ fingertips.[3]

Self-direction also extends to charitable giving. In response to the 2016 flooding in Louisiana, GoFundMe users raised more than $11M through more than 6,000 flood-related campaigns. The Salvation Army only raised $4M, in contrast. These micro-campaigns were about individuals and families with compelling, relatable stories. They dovetail perfectly with the Millennial mindset.

Market your mission, then act on it. Doing so will prove to the self-directed consumers of today that your association is serious about their beliefs.

Leverage Technology to Drive Membership

Technology makes it possible to research purchases and choose causes with great specificity. It also allows consumers to shift allegiances immediately. Providing a consistently positive brand experience has never been more critical. The growing adoption of voice assistants forces businesses and nonprofits alike to figure out yet another way to connect. Google awarded $25M to a proposal to use AI to tackle some of the world’s most significant social, humanitarian, and environmental challenges. With moves like this, we can only expect the rate of change to increase.[4]

Connecting with members through the channels they use most will allow your association to more effectively highlight your mission and encourage members to be an active part of it.

Your mission — to advance a field, protect your people, and make the world better – is your most powerful platform to connect with members. It should be an emotional rallying point that inspires action and invites belonging. The best way to do that is to attune to the Millennial mindset. By highlighting real people and their stories, you put a human face on how you serve them. That lets members see themselves in your picture.