Association marketing strategies must adapt during COVID

We’ve been here before

During the last recession, associations struggled to retain and attract members. However, while 48% of associations experienced a decline during those tough years of 2008 and 2009, by 2011, many were growing again. By 2013, 63% of associations reported membership growth (MGI). So how can associations rebound similarly this time, and come out of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than ever?

This year, many in your industry may be recognizing the value of your association for the first time. If they were not previously involved in your advocacy efforts, they now see that the stakes of these policies could affect the very survival of their business. Frontline workers and those in the service industries watched as associations fought to protect their livelihoods on Capitol Hill and in statehouses.

If they previously felt they had all the professional development tools they needed, they now are seeking a one-stop shop for webinars, education, certifications, and networking to advance their careers in a competitive labor market. As the economy contracts, many put a renewed emphasis on laying the groundwork to accelerate their career or make a career pivot.

At this unprecedented time, devising an effective marketing and communications plan will require a new approach, including shifting your costly push marketing tactics to pull marketing – strategies to help these new prospective members find your organization and become involved.

New prospects may be unwilling to pay for full membership

The last thing you want to do is scare away these new prospective members with a hefty membership fee that they cannot afford during this difficult time. By resisting the pressure to deliver membership revenue in the short-term, associations can set themselves up for long-term success.

For example, cost has been a considerable barrier for younger professionals joining associations. These digital natives are accustomed to finding information for free on the internet.

CommunityBrands found that while 62% of older association members joined within the first five years of their career, that is becoming much rarer. 37% of Millennials find association membership too expensive. In fact, according to AssociationTrends, less than 1% of association members are less than 35 years old.

So, how to get them in the door?

AssociationsNow suggested three innovative models to attract new audiences without requiring them to pay more than they can. “Pay-as-you-go” is a concept that Millennials are quite familiar with – from fitness, to coworking spaces, to the cloud-based services they use.

If there is enough differentiation in the value proposition so as to not compromise your full membership, this can entice prospective members to dip their toe in the water. A “free preview weekend,” in which they can see member benefits for themselves, can be more convincing than simply reading about the benefits on your website.

Finally, a free career-stage membership recognizes the budget realities of young professionals and acknowledges that building a relationship with them early on can lead to a sizable lifetime value (LTV).

How to cultivate these prospects?

Traditional drip campaigns can lead to promotional email fatigue and drive them to unsubscribe. Instead, consider offering a free way to stay on top of the breaking news and trends of their industry, while learning more about your association.

SmartBrief offers email newsletters of the most relevant news for your specific audience. Subscription is free, so this can be a no-cost option to foster prospective member engagement.

The AssociationofNationalAdvertisers has partnered with SmartBrief since 2014 to engage their non-member audiences through four custom email publications. Over 40,000 non-member subscribers read the newsletters for the insights (20% unique open rate), while driving 18,000 clicks to ANA initiatives each year (events, webinars, thought leadership, etc.).

“SmartBrief is an important daily touchpoint between the ANA and our prospective members,” said Ken Beaulieu, ANA’s SVP of Marketing and Communications. “The ANA SmartBriefs have driven many readers to become more involved with our organization.”

2020 has turned the association landscape upside down. Those who are able to rethink previous constraints and reimagine their prospective member communications strategy will be able to connect with new audiences during their time of need, and come away with lasting relationships for years to come. These associations are poised for success in 2021 and beyond.

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