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Put Members First: Become More Member-Centric In 2021

Associations, Retention, Revenue Growth // How you approach your members moving forward will impact your association’s future outlook. Aim to be the Slack or Amazon or Netflix of associations in 2021 by taking a member-centric approach.

Jeff Horne
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Some companies have a way of pulling you into their universe. It might start small. In fact, you might not even notice it at first, but little by little, you’re drawn in. Then, before you know it, you’ve woven their products into your daily routine, and you’re a vocal advocate, chatting up the brand to all your friends.

For example, I’m an unequivocal believer in Slack, not just to communicate with my team, but because of its beautifully seamless integrations to all my productivity apps and alerts. I’m still baffled by Amazon’s uncanny ability to convince me to buy things I didn’t even know that I always needed. Or the way that Netflix always recommends the perfect docu-series when I need to check out for a few hours.

How do these companies keep us coming back, while others drop out of our daily routines?

They give us what we need, when we need it. They anticipate what we are going to need next without us even having to ask. And they personalize our experiences with relevant, useful information. They are customer-centric.

Now think about how your association treats its members. Are you acting like a Slack, an Amazon, or a Netflix? Or are you sitting idly by, waiting to send that once-a-year renewal alert?

If it’s the latter, it’s time to rethink your approach or risk stunting your growth. To grow in 2021, you need to put your members first. You need a member-centric approach.

But first, what exactly is a member-centric association, and why do you want to be one?

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of how you can become more member-centric, let’s first clarify what “member-centric” really means.

In short, a member-centric association is one that prioritizes their members’ experiences above all else. They give members what they want and can anticipate their needs. They provide value and personalize the right communication to the right people at the right time in their member journey. These associations are ones that members actively engage with and want to work with. They are to members what the Slack/Amazon/Netflix brands are to consumers.

The benefits of being member-centric are aplenty. Despite a slowing economy, these associations are more likely to experience growth in the coming year, not just in new member acquisition, but also in retaining current members.

After all, associations that nail their member experiences will drive engagement. And, member engagement drives retention – lack of engagement is why 43% of members don’t renew. High engagement also creates more advocates, a stronger referral network, and can help you win industry accolades/recognition.

Sounds great, right? Right. Here’s even better news: taking a more member-centric approach isn’t complicated. Here are four steps to get you started.

4 Steps to Becoming a More Member-Centric Association

1. Eliminate your data silos

There’s one thing that all those aforementioned brands have in common: they’ve connected a lot – I’m talking terabytes worth – of data to understand and segment their users and to automate the user journey. You need to do the same.

You probably already have a lot of the data. You’re probably overwhelmed with data. The problem is that the answers are sitting in dozens of disparate systems that don’t connect to each other.

Piecing together all the information into meaningful insights is nearly impossible. It takes tons of time and manual effort, and by the time you’re able to make any sense of it, it is already outdated. Useless. Imagine if Amazon took months to analyze your product search and purchase history. It would miss out on AI-data-driven recommendations, which make up 35% of its business.

To know your members and engage with them effectively (and, in some cases, automatically!), your data needs to be connected. It needs to flow seamlessly across all your systems.

This is made possible when connecting all systems in one, unified Member Data Platform. Sounds like a massive undertaking, right? It doesn’t have to be. With the right solution, you can migrate all your member data and onboard your team quickly and painlessly. Wicket, for example, is straightforward and integrates with all the tools that your team is already using, minimizing the initial learning curve to get up and running. One sign-on, and all member data is accessible and flowing across all your systems.

2. Fill in missing gaps to really get to know your members

Connecting all your data is the foundation for creating truly exceptional experiences. Once your data is flowing, it’s time to get to know the people behind the numbers. Start off by doing an audit of the data that you’ve already collected. You need to understand things like:

  • Who are your members (age, demographics, values)?
  • Why did they join your association? What do they expect from you?
  • What types of content do they engage with? And when do they engage with it?
  • How active are they?
  • Are they reaching any milestones that you could celebrate?
  • When are they up for renewal?
  • How do they connect with other community members?

Define the types of information that you want to know about your members in order to enhance your member communication strategy. Are there any gaps in the information that you want versus what you already have? If so, find relevant ways to fill the gaps (e.g. surveys, 1×1 phone calls). The more insights you can gain, the better.

You’ll then want to stay on the pulse of your members’ wants, needs, and expectations. That’s why you should develop a regular, ongoing feedback loop. With in-person events canceled, face-to-face meetings will be scarce, so your strategy for the foreseeable future should rely heavily (possibly solely) on digital activities, online group events, video conferences, and community interactions (whether it’s an event community or an online community members can use all year long).

3. Build an effective communication strategy

You’re now sitting on a wealth of intelligence about your members. Don’t let that intelligence go to waste! Use it to build a targeted, personalized, and highly effective communication plan.

Start by defining a few member personas/segments based on their common values, reasons for being members, challenges, and needs. Segment them accordingly in your email marketing software so that you can target them with relevant, personalized content later.

Within each persona, you’ll want to define the messaging that resonates best with them. Your messaging needs to be catchy and consistent. To craft it, you need to talk the way they talk. Use their lingo. Get on their level.

Personas, check. Messaging, check. Now let’s layer in personalization, which is key to increasing engagement with your communications. It also can’t hurt with your renewal rates – associations with renewal rates of 80% or higher are significantly more likely to have increased the personalization of member communications (60% vs. 49%).

Personalization goes far beyond doing a mail merge that throws a member’s first name into an email. It is about delivering relevant content in the right way to the right people at the right time (again, think about Netflix’s recommendations – that’s the kind of personalized precision you want).

To do this, you’ll want to create the right types of content for each persona based on their stated preferences and the content that they have previously engaged with. One persona might love whitepapers, while another might prefer podcasts. One persona might prefer short, weekly email communication, another expects a lengthy monthly newsletter, and another might prefer text notifications.

Give each of them the content in the format, channel, cadence, and time of day in which they prefer to receive it (pro tip: automated email campaigns can help!).

As your communication ramps up, make sure to use your email communication software to track open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribes. These metrics will help you identify what works and what doesn’t so that you can continuously optimize and adjust accordingly.

4. Connect with your community

Your member-centric strategy goes beyond how you connect with your members. Your members need an environment where they can interact with each other. An online community is a great place to foster these interactions.

Using an online community platform, you can create a vibrant community that goes far beyond forums or social media. Your members can find support, best practices, peer-to-peer connections, resources, events, and networking, all in one destination.

Because you’ve already identified member personas for your communications strategy, and all that data is nicely integrated, you could consider tailoring your members’ community experiences based on their persona. For each persona, consider the following:

  • When they first log in, what do they see?
  • Who and what do they typically interact with?
  • What content are you recommending? How do you help them discover other relevant community benefits that they aren’t yet using?
  • Are there certain forums, threads, areas of your community that are overly active? Can you leverage these discussions?
  • Where are your super users? Can you reward this segment is some way? Encourage them to drive referral traffic?

Your community not only adds value to your members, but your community data is a goldmine that helps you become even more member-centric. In a community, you can actively get insights by asking members about their preferences (e.g. through surveys, polls, and feedback-specific threads within your community), as well as passively collect information based on behavioral, demographic, and transactional data within the community, such as search history, most popular threads, common questions, and community usage.

The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) uses their online community data to put together useful programs, early. For example, they were able to create a GDPR program after seeing members discussing it:

“When we started aggregating data, GDPR was strongly searched and frequently discussed in the community. So, we created a group and started pushing more GDPR content and resources based on the data we had collected. This was well before the regulation went into effect – we knew we had to be proactive. We put together a GDPR program much faster because we saw it growing early.”

Reggie Henry, Chief Engagement and Information Officer, ASAE

You can populate your Member Data Platform with these insights for more precise member segmentation and use it to enhance your future programs, content strategy, and communication plans.

Become More Member-Centric in 2021?

How you approach your members moving forward will impact your association’s future outlook. Aim to be the Slack or Amazon or Netflix of associations in 2021 because, let’s face it, that’s what your members want and expect from you.

Put your members at the forefront of your strategies by connecting member data to communicate effectively and foster meaningful, value-add communities. By taking this kind of a member-centric approach, you can drive engagement, retention, and provide an all-around better experience.

Jeff Horne

Co-Founder & CEO, Wicket

Jeff Horne is the Co-Founder & CEO of Wicket, and a passionate advocate and change agent for software solutions available to member-driven organizations. Jeff speaks regularly on the power of modern technology for associations and nonprofits and how it can be leveraged to better engage with members, increase member acquisition and create operational efficiencies. Jeff has been working with digital technologies for associations for over 20 years through his work with Industrial, the digital agency he founded in 2000. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jeffhorne and Wicket at @wicket_io.

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