Marketers sometimes categorize products as either "push" or "pull." In a ‘pull’ system the consumer requests the product and ‘pulls’ it through the delivery channel. On the other hand, in a push marketing system the sales efforts are initiated by the producer and information is ‘pushed’ toward the buyer.
Membership in a trade or professional association has traditionally been defined as a "push" product. Most people do not wake up in the morning and say "hey, I really need to join an association today." Instead, they need to be actively sold.
However, we live in a time of exciting change and the paradigm for membership recruitment is changing with it.
Today, effective membership recruitment often includes a pull strategy as part of the marketing plan by taking advantage of online opportunities and social networking tools.
In fact, in MGI’s most recent Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 35 percent of association executives reported that prospective members learned about their association through association-sponsored social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. At the same time, 12 percent of associations said prospective members found them through paid banner ads and 8 percent through paid search engine ads.
This obviously does not equal the power of channels like direct mail which was ranked in the same survey as the most effective source for attracting new members. But it shows that these newer channels are becoming more effective.
If this is the case, how is a membership pull strategy deployed?
We are effectively implementing a pull strategy through what we call trading content for contact. Instead of selling memberships, we allow potential members who are seeking specific content to find us through the very content they seek.
The first step is to present valuable information and resources that prospective members can find. This concept takes portions of an association’s content and offers it for free through a host of online tools. These include:
- Co-Registration Submissions
- Ad Networks including LinkedIn and Facebook
- Online PR Releases
- Article Submissions
- Social Media Ads
- Affinity Media
- Search Engine and Content Advertising
As prospective members access the valuable content, they also are given the opportunity to opt-in to receiving additional communications from the association. These prospective members who have raised their hand to a relationship are cultivated and given the opportunity to join the association and take advantage of all the products and services available.
In some cases, this ongoing cultivation is built around opting in to an online newsletter.
For example, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has established an electronic newsletter over the past few years that now includes over 260,000 non-member subscribers. The newsletter – NSTA Express – is automatically provided to members and is also offered free of charge to non-members. Subscribers come from visiting a range of education and science web sites along with the NSTA home page and through the "forward to a friend" button in the newsletter.
With the opt-in email relationship, NSTA gains some important opportunities.
1. Express builds awareness and allegiance to NSTA by informing and orienting prospective members to the services, activities, and resources available from NSTA.
2. Express allows NSTA to build a database of those who are interested in science education and since subscribers can self-select the content from three versions, it helps NSTA to know audience interest areas.
3. Express allows NSTA to take the pulse of what topics and issues are most important by reading click-through reports.
4. Express provides a platform for NSTA to promote products and upcoming events … and yes, sell membership.
In a very real sense, by using this pull strategy, the association opens a very large funnel to allow potential members to pull themselves into a relationship at their own pace and as their needs dictate.
And because of the traceability of each stage of the relationship, it can continually be monitored and optimized to make the movement into a full membership relationship as simple and easy as possible.
Is it time to put a little PULL into your membership recruitment efforts? If it is, give me a call and we can talk about how these concepts can be applied to your membership marketing. Contact Tony at 703-706-0360 or Tony@marketinggeneral.com