January 19, 2021   |   Vol. 20   |   Issue 1
Rick Whelan, MGI President

A Vaccine for Associations

All the talk about vaccines recently has got me thinking about finding a cure for what’s been ailing many associations much of the past year and, unfortunately, what will follow many groups into 2021.

Spoiler alert! There already is a cure–developed, tested, proven, and being administered across the globe.

We all battled the effects of lost business and lower budgeted revenues in 2020, whether from the cancellation of annual conferences, reduced new member income, fewer renewals, or the loss of predictable non-dues product sales.

And while the red ink has forced many of my association colleagues to make the tough decision to furlough or lay off staff, reduce workweek hours, cancel educational programs, comb already-tight budgets for more expense reductions, and even dip into precious reserves, there is a cure for what ails us now, if we’re willing to take it.

That cure is ongoing smart marketing.

I contend marketing is the cure for what ails us with no hesitation. Throughout my career, it’s propelled associations through economic turndowns, armed conflicts, and past global health crises. Even during the current pandemic and its accompanying economic downturn, many associations are still making money and growing their member and customer counts.

They are doing it, not by retreating or staying silent, but rather by being purposely proactive in the marketplace alongside their prospects and members. They are coming up with new ideas and being flexible and empathetic to their members’ situations. And, they are marketing better and smarter than perhaps they’ve ever had to in the past.

The key to smart marketing is testing new things–whether it’s trying new media channels, copy, offers, formats, pricing, or a dozen other things that can help make or break a marketing effort.

If ever there was a time where “one-size marketing DOES NOT fit all,” it’s now!

Traditional marketers are operating way outside their usual comfort zones. You can too. You’ll find that you can achieve positive and welcome results even now–maybe, especially now.

For instance, several of our clients overcame renewal worries by simply extending their membership year a few extra months for members who had not yet paid to assure their continued membership. Some have given discounts to members who renew early or for multiple years. Others have offered product incentives to new members who join or for lapsed members to entice them back. Many are using installment dues payment offers to help out-of-work members keep current or have introduced partial year memberships to reduce costs.

I even have clients successfully testing a “pay what you want” membership dues model that lets the member pay less than their regular dues based on their financial status, but also allows those who are more well off to pay more than their regular dues. Those extra dues dollars are set aside as subsidies for members who may not be able to afford their annual dues payment due to a job loss or a reduction in salary. One such program has resulted in over 30% of current members adding “extra” monies to their regular dues payment to help others in their profession.

Yes, your prospects, members, and customers may be looking for deals or flexibility in payment terms, but they need the benefits, products, and services your association offers more than ever. There is no better time to acquire or lock-in a loyal member than now.

MGI’s Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey results consistently show that in times of crisis, professionals seek out and are comforted by the three biggest reasons they joined an association in the first place: networking, continuing education/certification, and ready access to current information about their profession.

For associations that test different models, remain flexible, and keep their members’ needs uppermost in mind, now is an opportune time to recruit, engage, renew, or reinstate members and customers.

So take the cure and get marketing today; your competitors already are. If you need help getting started, let’s talk. Contact me: Rick Whelan, President, MGI, Rick@MarketingGeneral.com or 703.706.0350.

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