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Improve Your Trade Association’s Member Personas with 3 Data Sources

Associations, Revenue Growth // With great data, your member personas go from guesswork to precise tools, powering more revenue for your trade association through better marketing and sales.

Kristin Bednarek
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What’s the common ingredient that makes all great marketing personas alike?

Great data. 

With robust, accurate data, your member personas can go from guesswork and suppositions to precise tools that will guide your trade association’s entire marketing and sales strategy.

Having strong personas are key to increasing your non-dues revenue. On average, trade associations derive over 50% of their revenue from sources other than membership dues, according to the 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.

Building those strong personas all starts with strong member data. Take that data and use it to fuel targeted email promotions and advertising. The more you can take observed member behavior and turn it into personalized and relevant promotion, the more you’ll grow your revenue.

Let’s dive into 3 places you can go to get the data you need to strengthen your member personas.

1. Bring the Data to You with an Online Community Platform

When you build an online member community, you’re gaining an entirely new source of member data. And it’s not just data about one individual from each company – it’s a way to deepen your understanding of your entire member base.

The Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) launched an online member community and discovered that 93% of the members participating were members they hadn’t interacted with before. Now, they’re accomplishing their goal of connecting with more members. They’re using the online community to showcase member value to many more members than they could before.

The conversations, activities, searches, logins (and countless other metrics) provide invaluable behavioral data that can help your trade association get to know a broad group of members – and what they want and need.

“When creating member personas, behavioral data is almost always more illuminating and accurate than user-reported data.”

– Jenny (Taylor) Morse, Manager of Sales Enablement & Engineering, Higher Logic 

With an online community platform for the member companies in your trade association, you can easily collect the data you need to build out or refine your member personas.

Community is created by inviting people to share their thoughts and interests with other members. Whether they are filling out their profiles or participating in expert AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions, members are providing you with a comprehensive picture of who they are. The platform is sitting there, generating this data, and waiting for you to harvest it.

With Higher Logic’s online community platform, thread reports can show you exactly what people are talking about in your community, and how often. The thread reports provide aggregate data for each community’s discussion and question activity, such as the percentage of discussions/questions with a best answer, the average time to response, and average time to best answer.

Plus, with an online community, you have built-in ad space you can use to promote products and services to members – another smart way to grow your non-dues revenue.

2. Gather Data from Email Marketing and Email Campaigns

Your members give you data all the time through their digital activity. This is how big companies like Netflix create personalized recommendations – they track what shows we click on, how long we watch them, whether we watch them on our phone or laptop or TV – and you can use this same principle to personalize your marketing and sales efforts.

Email campaign software like Higher Logic’s has the tools you need to understand your members’ interests and habits: Web tracking and engagement scoring. Learn how they work.

  • Web tracking

Web tracking uses cookies to provide insights about visitors interacting with a website. For example, do you have a high bounce rate on your website homepage? Your visitors may not be finding what they want or expected, which is why they left so quickly.

Good web tracking goes beyond these initial visits. Web tracking can actually determine the identity of some of your web visitors. If they already subscribe and are listed in your database, the use of cookies can now pinpoint exactly which of those subscribers are going to your website, and what they did once they got there. Once you have this data, you can start to glean insights, like identifying what pages are most popular with website visitors.

  • Engagement scoring

Engagement scoring helps you tell a story about your members. How engaged are they? What are they most interested in?

One way to build these engagement scores is through a point system. The idea is to assign points based on their level of involvement. For instance, you may assign 5 points to someone who opened an email, or 100 points to someone who attended your annual event. You can also add points based on other variables such as member tenure, organizational involvement, and whether people are responding to emails.

This exact science of your point system depends on the unique dynamics of your organization. It’s up to your team to determine what’s considered “highly engaged, moderately engaged, minimally engaged, or disengaged.” Once you have this data, you can use it to tailor your personas to understand who’s engaged and not engaged.

Eventually, you can use engagement scoring to identify which topics your members are most interested in. This allows you to tailor email subject lines and content based on targeted member segments. It makes your communication more relevant — which boosts engagement and revenue.

That’s what happened with the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA). They had useful educational courses, but their promotional emails didn’t reflect that. All their courses were listed in a single newsletter, with a generic subject line. After overhauling their communication strategy, TIA used Higher Logic’s Communications software to create a more targeted approach. The result: Course registrations increased by 49%, and education revenue increased by 32%.

Tip: Integrate Your Tech Stack

Integrating your software back to your association management system (AMS) or customer relationship management (CRM) software will also help you in your pursuit to refine your member personas. You can send data back to your source of truth so that data can be easily accessed.

3. Reach Out to Members

Along with digital activity data, reach out directly to members. Try surveys, focus groups, or 1:1 member interviews to get different and detailed perspectives. Think of this as good, better, best – surveys are good, focus groups are better, but 1:1 member conversations are the best because you can get such in-depth information.


Try running a survey to get feedback on the overall member experience, what they enjoy, what could be improved, what challenges they face that your association doesn’t currently assist with. Make sure that your survey questions are designed to provide you with valuable information while being concise enough to make it easy for members to complete.

Focus groups:

You could select members who have similar roles and titles for a focus group or choose a mix of members to get different perspectives. Either way, conduct enough focus groups so that you hear from a wide range of your member base.


Interview members who represent a wide range of your audience – both active and inactive. Pick a selection of young professionals, retirees, board members, committee members, etc. When you start hearing the same feedback, you’ve conducted enough interviews.

Bonus: Review Existing Purchase Data

Which of your events, courses, or offerings has been the most popular among member companies and their staff?

This information can help you match up different segments of your member base to specific areas of interest. Maybe your CEOs prefer high-level trainings while the manager-level staff prefer certifications to help advance their career. Identifying this information will help you evaluate likes and dislikes, interests, and insights to build your strong member personas.

Putting Your Member Personas to Work

What will you find when you start to dig into data for your member marketing personas? You’ll be able to use the data to help you refine and specialize your current personas, and you may even find that an unexpected new member persona surfaces from your research.

With research-backed, extensive member personas, your marketing team will be able to precisely target your campaigns and content, and create stronger sales pitches that will resonate with members, improving your non-dues revenue growth.

Kristin Bednarek

Consultant, Strategic Services

Kristin is a Consultant on Higher Logic’s Strategic Services team. She works with a wide range of corporate and association customers to develop and grow their community and communications strategy. Kristin graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Business Administration. Outside of work, Kristin loves watching sports and traveling.

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