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Thursday, July 20, 2017


Establishing a Knowledge Base for Membership Marketing Success

In today's rapidly changing world, the modern association executive frequently faces a variety of challenges. For many of us, the predominant challenge is guiding our organizations into new stages of growth.

Four primary challenges are predominant:

  • Over the years, associations added program after program to address specific problems. As a result, the program/service mix resembles a Christmas tree of unrelated, disconnected activities.
  • Both staff and leadership recognize a variety of potential opportunities, but lacked focus in prioritizing and attacking one particular issue.
  • New staff or volunteer leadership takes over and attempts to change the direction of the organization.
  • Staff or volunteer leadership has been in place for many years, as a result, there is programmatic or other stagnation.

The solution to these problems is to create a guiding sustainable strategy. This strategy is designed to provide a consensus focus on the desired outcomes and methods of the association.

The creation of strategy involves three broad steps.

  1. Identification and definition of the potential market.
  2. Identification of the market's need.
  3. Creation of a strategy to address the need.

This article deals with the area too often ignored by associations, identifying valuable target markets and assessing market needs. This information is vital to the creation and successful implementation of marketing strategy.

Market Definition

Before you can target a specific membership market you must first define this market.

It is important to create a definition of your market that accurately describes the characteristics of the individuals or companies you intend to target. This step is important for several reasons:

  • It allows you to prioritize limited staff and financial resources.
  • It allows you to target the most lucrative markets.
  • It allows you to understand the changes in your market over time.

A market definition establishes the beginning or base point for all your subsequent activities.

There currently exist two separate, but equally valid, perceptions of the marketplace.

The first perception is association-based. Simply, this means the market as perceived by the association.

The second perception is by the market itself. While your association may believe it's products serve the needs of a particular group, this group may not see itself as a potential market, and thus ignore the efforts of your association.

The true market is where the desires and goals of the association and the needs and perceptions of the potential member intersect.

The key to defining your market is to identify unique market characteristics. Market characteristics are variables that are unique to your prospective member and important to decision making. They are objective and indicate what you know versus what you believe.

Market characteristics will vary by whether you target companies or individuals. Some examples of market characteristics for companies include sales volume, number of employees or SIC code. Some examples of market characteristics for individuals include education, professional setting or income.

When you have defined a particular market you can determine the size of this market.

To begin focusing your strategic efforts, you must then create a market segmentation strategy.

Market Segmentation Strategy

A segmentation strategy is the method by which you divide your global market universe into individual sub segments for specific marketing programs.

You segment your market universe by variables that are important to decision-making. While it might be interesting to have a particular piece of information, it might not be particularly helpful in determining the direction of marketing strategy.

To determine your market segmentation strategy you must consider the following steps:

  1. Analyze your association's marketing history so that you can identify individual member markets were you have been particularly successful.
  2. If possible, identify where other associations similar to your own have been successful in targeting a particular member prospect universe.
  3. Identify specific impactors that help determine the potential value of a membership market, for example:

      a. Demographics
      b. Buying habits
      c. Geography

When you have collected and analyzed this information, you can prioritize specific market segments for your efforts. When evaluating individual market segments consider some of the following:

  • Areas of strong association membership sales.
  • Market segments with high awareness of the association and its products and services.
  • Market segments with high positive attitudes regarding the association and its activities.
  • Markets that represent a high potential for unit or dollar sales.

At the end of this process you should have identified, understand and prioritized the primary target market for your membership marketing efforts.

Identifying Market Needs

Once you have identified and prioritized the market, you must now identify the specific need of this market you hope to address through your association's products and services.

Before you begin, it is important to consider the following:

  • Focus on member needs not member satisfaction when targeting new markets.
  • Focus on addressing the specific problems of your prospective membership instead of the symptoms of these problems.

When determining what your target market needs, there is no substitute for quality research.

There are many different types and combinations of research methodologies designed to identify and analyze market needs. Review all the different tools and determine the best package that creates an optimum methodology balancing the following:

  • Data quality
  • Direct costs
  • Professional fees (if applicable)
  • Timeframe

There are two broad types of research, primary and secondary. There are two broad research methods, qualitative and quantitative.

Primary research is custom designed specifically to answer your unique research questions.

With secondary research you identify and evaluate the results of research conducted by other organizations related to your association's target market.

Research methods that do not statistically represent the target market universe provide qualitative data. Qualitative research is used to add depth and richness to quantitative findings.

Quantitative research is data and information usually obtained through surveys, with results gathered from a representative sample of a given universe.

The integration of qualitative and quantitative methods is the optimal research strategy for collecting the highest quality data for decision-making.

When considering the specific needs of your target market do not look at these issues as specific products or services. Instead, address the concept of market need as a problem to be solved.

For example consider the following:

  • What is the most important need within your industry?
  • What is the most important professional need for your membership?
  • What is the most important personal need of the individuals who buy your products and services or make the decision to join?

If you can answer these questions, you will gain tremendous insight into the potential opportunities your association can address.

At the end of this process you should have identified, understand and prioritized the primary needs that might be addressed within the market. Compare these needs to your association's mission so you understand whether or not they are relevant to what the association is attempting to achieve.

Strategy Development

Your strategy is the guiding direction to your marketing efforts. It is a clear, concise statement identifying how a specific marketing objective will be achieved. This is vital to focusing your resources and making sure you and other members of your staff keep their "eye on the ball".

Now that you understand the specifics of your market and the unique needs of your market, you can begin crafting strategies to address these needs within the context of your association's mission.

Your optimal strategy for addressing specific membership needs is subject to many parameters but should consider some of the following:

  • Staff parameters, including number of staff and expertise
  • Financial parameters, including total available financial resources and estimated cash flow
  • Internal and external politics
  • Association's ability to adapt to change
  • Nature and quality of activities of your competition

The unique characteristics of your market and their specific needs will determine your strategic options. Use the above parameters to prioritize and focus your selection of an optimal membership marketing strategy.

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