Building an Integrated Membership Marketing Plan

January 20, 2016   |   Vol. 15   |   Issue 1
By Tony Rossell, MGI Senior Vice President

Building an Integrated Membership Marketing Plan

As the New Year begins, it is a good opportunity to step back and make sure that your marketing plans are taking advantage of all the options available in your marketing tool kit.

As you plan, there may be some who advocate doing away with direct mail and saving money by only communicating with email. Or they may want to solely use inbound or content marketing and stop sending messages to prospective members through traditional outbound efforts.

However, the integration of multiple marketing channels working together has proven to produce the best results in getting and keeping members.

Here are the six marketing channels, when combined, that have proven most effective to support a thriving membership program.

1. Word of Mouth – Sometime opportunities are handed to you that you can capitalize on quickly through Word of Mouth efforts. One client—the American Nurses Association—used a negative comment on a national television show to gain significant exposure and appreciation for defending their members’ professionalism through their social media Word of Mouth efforts. In fact, Word of Mouth and membership referrals are consistently reported as the most productive ways to recruit new members. The challenge is to consistently harness and motivate this people-driven channel.

2. Inbound Marketing – One of the fastest growing marketing channels used in membership is Inbound Marketing. This takes advantage of paid advertising with search engines, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online opportunities to present free content or special offers to prospects. Inbound marketing offers free, valuable content in exchange for the respondent agreeing to opt-in to future communications. Those who show interest can then be followed up with through traditional “push” marketing efforts. And because they raised their hand and demonstrated interest in your materials, those who opt-in can respond to your other marketing efforts at five times the rate of “cold” prospects. Inbound efforts can even be effective in engaging and renewing current members who may not open an email, but will respond to an ad they see from you on Facebook.

3. Email – Once a prospect is added to the database after a lead is captured, a purchase is made, or someone joins the association, email becomes the most commonly used marketing channel. It makes sense because email is fast, inexpensive, and includes links back to the website where a sale can be completed. Email also allows you to read the behavior of the recipient. Did the email bounce? Did the recipient open the email? Did they click through a specific link? There are many tips and techniques that can help to optimize email for even better results.

4. Direct Mail – This channel remains one of the most effective and scalable methods to recruit and renew members because it is easily targeted, trackable, and tactile. In fact, our 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlighted that for organizations with budgets over $5 million or those that have over 20,000 members, direct mail is the most effective tactic for recruitment. And previous research shows that associations with renewal rates of 80% or higher are significantly more likely than those with lower renewal rates to say direct mail is the most effective membership renewal channel.

5. Telemarketing and Telephone Sales – With Caller ID, getting through to a prospect or members on the phone has become a more challenging task, but for a highly qualified prospect, like a lapsed member, telemarketing is very effective. The former member may have long since stopped reading your email or opening you mailings, but a call from another human on the end of the phone to answer questions or encourage a decision can make a difference. Phone calls from a peer or a staff person can be particularly effective.

6. Social Media – By 2015, 91% of individual membership associations have an official Facebook page, 87% use Twitter, 60% have a LinkedIn group, and 56% have a YouTube channel. Clearly social media has been almost completely integrated into associations’ marketing and communications mix. This low or no cost channel allows you to have a storefront on the main street of the internet. The trick is to get prospects and members to move from window shoppers into the store as buyers. This can be done by presenting regular value-laden content that demonstrates your relevance to prospects and members.

In addition to these primary membership marketing channels, there are others that can be considered when they are backed up by a clear strategy and economic model. These include earned media, radio and TV, exhibiting, chapter initiatives, and print advertising.

Each of these channels is a marketing tool with strengths and weaknesses. Some of these such as Word of Mouth, Inbound, and Social Media can be most effective in starting a relationship with a prospect and getting the conversation started. Others such as Email, Direct Mail, and Telemarketing are tools that are particularly effective in closing a sale and taking an order. But none of them can be fully effective without the support of the others.

As you plan your membership marketing efforts, think through how each of these channels might best be used to help accomplish your goals.

For more information on building your membership marketing plan for the year ahead, please contact MGI Senior Vice President Tony Rossell at or (703) 706-0360.

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