One of the most important players in your association marketing plan doesn’t have a place in the org chart, doesn’t have an office, and doesn’t even get vacation time. You take this player for granted as long as they assist your marketing efforts. But when they don’t, it’s time to think about a replacement.
This silent supporter is your association management system (AMS), the hub of your association’s data. Thanks to its integration with other software in your technology ecosystem, your AMS helps you move prospects, customers, and members through the four stages of the marketing journey: attract, convert, close, and delight.
But is your AMS up to this job? Does it support your association marketing plan in a 21st century way? Or is it merely chugging along, doing the same old things it always has—and not the things you need it to do today? Let’s look at how a 21st century AMS supports association marketing to find out if you could benefit from an AMS upgrade.
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Increase awareness and attract your ideal audience
The first goal of a marketing plan is to attract the attention of your different target audiences: prospective and existing members, attendees, learners, and customers. Your target audience includes existing members because you must continue to persuade them to register for a conference, enroll in an online course, and delve deeper into your online resources.
But how do you attract your audience’s attention and interest? You do it by being present in the stream of information passing over their screens every day, and by being on the first page of Google results when they’re searching for something. If you accomplish these two goals, you’ll be top of mind when your audience need answers, advice, and inspiration.
Your website, blog, and content must be optimized for Google search so members and prospects turn to you first for information. Fresh content is an important factor in search engine optimization (SEO) because every time you publish something new on your website and blog, Google’s "crawlers" find new keywords to display in search results.
When your website and blog answer your audience’s questions and keep them informed, both Google and your audience benefit. You need content that helps your audience do their jobs, make decisions, solve problems, and prepare for the future. Your content demonstrates your association’s thought leadership in your industry and proves you’re an authority and a trusted resource.
A content marketing strategy guides your decisions about the type of content you’ll provide to your different audiences. The more you know about these audiences, the more relevant your content will be—and this is where data comes in. Your AMS and its integrated systems contain information about prospect, customer, and member behavior and preferences. Use that data to better understand your audiences so you create, publish, and distribute the right content for them.
Convert visitors to customers and members with an inbound marketing strategy
After attracting your ideal customer or member, the second stage is to convert them from a stranger to a warm lead. How do you get them to consider your offer seriously? Your “offer” could simply be more attention in the form of return visits to your website or blog, or perhaps subscribing to a newsletter. Or, the offer could be purchasing an on-demand webinar, registering for an online course, or joining your association.
An inbound marketing strategy helps you convert visitors into customers and members. The inbound marketing methodology uses content marketing to help you develop a stronger relationship with your audience. For example, inbound marketing helps you move a prospective member through the recruitment journey by first attracting their attention, nurturing their interest, demonstrating the value of membership, and, ultimately, converting them from a website visitor to a new member.
By integrating marketing automation software with your AMS, you can guide prospects through the recruitment journey (or sales funnel). The prospect is lured to your website with SEO-optimized content, perhaps a blog post about a problem commonly faced by professionals in your industry. At the bottom of the post, they’re encouraged to download a tip sheet that provides more in-depth solutions for that problem. This downloadable content is called a “lead magnet”—it attracts leads. But to download the content, they must provide their email address.
Now that you have their email address, you can take your budding relationship further by emailing them additional related resources that they will find relevant and valuable. Your reputational stock rises.
Close the deal by making it easy to join
The third stage of the journey is to close the deal: to get the prospect to join your association. Although money is exchanged, this is not merely a transaction but rather the deepening of your relationship. You’re no longer dating, you’re making a commitment to each other.
How you handle the joining process will set the tone for your relationship. Provide a good experience with a simple, quick membership application process.
Keep the application short. Don’t complicate the joining process by asking them to fill in dozens of fields. The longer it takes to complete the form, the more likely they’ll abandon the process. You’ll have time during the onboarding process to learn anything else you need to know. Test the process: is it as easy to join using a phone as it is using a computer?
The membership application is the first step in the member onboarding process. An onboarding process has two purposes: the member learns more about the ways your association will deliver value, and you learn more about the member.
Many associations use marketing automation software to power their onboarding campaigns. Notice the word “campaigns” is plural, not singular. Onboarding should not be a one-size-fits-all experience.
You may already know some things about your new member based on their website behavior during the "sales" process and the information they provided on the membership application. Use that information to determine which onboarding path is most relevant. For example, you may put them into an onboarding campaign based on their career level, specialty, or type of membership.
During onboarding, you learn more about your new member, their reasons for joining, and their needs by asking them questions and tracking their email and website behavior. Base the content you send in subsequent onboarding emails on what you learn.
Onboarding is ideally a mix of touch points: automated emails based on their member profile and a phone call or two (if possible). During these calls, follow up on what you learn from tracking their email and website behavior, dig a little deeper, and establish a more personal connection.
The more you listen to members, the more you delight them
The marketing journey doesn’t end when someone joins your association. You need to continually delight your members—the fourth stage of the journey. Listen to them by collecting feedback. There are many ways to collect feedback from members—some they will notice and some they won’t.
You do want them to notice that you’re listening. A Member Loyalty Study by our partners at Community Brands found that members feel more connected when they know you’re seeking and listening to their feedback. Start listening during onboarding, and then later with informal member polls, more formal member surveys, and random calls or emails to learn more.
Collect feedback in ways they don’t notice by tracking their behavior with website analytics, marketing automation, or email marketing software. We all know that members often say one thing but do another. That’s why it’s important to learn from their behavior: see what emails they open, links they click, website pages they visit, and documents they download. The more data you collect about a member, the better you will understand their interests, and learn how to better deliver value to them and others like them.
You must continue to learn about your members because their interests and needs will continue to change over the years. Staying relevant and, therefore, indispensable is a never-ending process.
Leverage your AMS to increase member retention
Content marketing never ends because you must continue marketing your value to existing members. The longer you delight them, the longer they will remain members and customers.
Use your AMS to track their participation with an engagement scoring method. A scoring method will help you see what kind of membership experience they’ve had so far and what that experience is missing. It will also help you identify which members are at risk for not renewing.
Your AMS sits at the center of your understanding of members. By integrating it with other systems that track member behavior—website and email activity, event participation, education, advocacy, and more—you can deepen your understanding and your relationship with members. If your existing technology doesn’t support these kind of marketing and analytics efforts, it’s time to bring in a stronger team player—a new AMS.