When a prospective member asks you or someone from your membership association “why should I join” – what do you say?
If a prospective member visits your website to check your association out before deciding to join, as most will do these days, what does your website say about why they should join? What does your membership brochure say?
Confusing the ‘what’ with the ‘how’
If you are like most membership associations, then you will recite a list of the key member ‘benefits’. Typically, these include discounts to your association’s professional development or networking events or other services plus access to online resources and the programs etc that are included in your membership offering.
But I will bet you a coffee (or better still a champagne) next time we meet that these membership benefits are not the main reason why your members sign-up – regardless of how fantastic your membership offering is!
Instead of rattling off a list of membership benefits, you need to think about what your members really want from being part of your association.
You need to think about what your members really want from joining your association. And understand that your membership offering simply represents how you deliver this to them.
What your members really want
Membership associations are not alone in the struggle to develop clear and compelling ‘value propositions’ – a promise of value to be delivered to the customer in return for purchasing the product, service or membership. It is hard work, that requires a sound understanding of your members and what they value.
To get the conversation started at your association, get your colleagues together to complete the table below:
What Your Members Really Want
- To meet other people like them
- To find a new job
- To find new clients or win new business
- To meet people who could help them professionally or personally
- To learn about things they don’t know or need to know
- To protect their interests
- [Add in more things they really want]
You get the idea. Once you have done this, next to each item list how your association delivers this to members.
When you have completed this process, you will probably see that your association actually delivers on some of these items in multiple ways. For example, your annual conference will probably tick off a lot of items on the ‘what members really want’ list. If it doesn’t, then it might be time to revamp this event!
If there are items on your ‘what members really want list’ that you are not currently delivering, then this represents a potential opportunity to add a new program, service or resource.
Most likely, the things that your members really want from your association will stay pretty constant over time – although new things can crop up, for example if there is disruption or change in your industry.
It is the ‘how you deliver on this’ that varies year on year.
Vibrant associations are always looking for new, more efficient and more effective ways to deliver what members really want. For example, implementing a webinar or livestreaming program is a new way to deliver your events program – which exists to teach your members the things they need to know and provide them with opportunities to network.
Do the research
If you are not sure what members really want or you want to test the validity of the list you have put together with members and get a better feel for what is at the top of the list, just ask! (Remember, what is true for your board – your most engaged members – might not be true for all members).
Most members will happily tell you what they really want from joining your association. Use the list you developed above as a starting point for your research, and ask them to add anything that is missing, then rate the list from most to least important to them. If you are feeling brave, you can then ask them to tell you how well you are doing on delivering on each item. If you are not sure how to do this, then get in touch.
Formal member engagement research (like that conducted by Association Matters or Beatons) will also identify the key drivers for joining (and a whole lot more).
Develop Your ‘Promise to Members’
Once you have a solid understanding of what members really want from your association, you can develop what we call a ‘Promise to Members’. This is a statement that clearly states what you promise becoming a member of your association will do for the prospective member.
Here is an example of a promise, that I developed with the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) board five years ago. This promise remains true today.
You can see that this approach is much more powerful than rattling off a list of services to prospective members.
How compelling is your promise to members?
The next thing to think about from a marketing perspective is how compelling is this promise to your prospective members?
Are you the only organisation that can do this for your members? Who else can do this (or parts of this?). How do they compare to you? How can you prove that you deliver on this promise?
But that is the subject for another day!