Friday, February 13, 2009

Keep the Membership Recruitment and Retention Engine Running

Posted by Princess Eva Angelica at 1:22 PM
Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

I have particularly noticed this tension of late in conversions with membership marketing people over building a strong membership product against getting the current product out into the marketplace.

Here is the kind of conversation I have had.

Membership: “I cannot do any membership marketing until I fix the value that I provide to my members.”

Tony: “How do you know that this needs to be fixed?”

Membership:” We see members’ lapsing each month and our research shows that they want more value.”

Tony:” Are members still renewing at a good rate?”

Membership: “Yes, but all we give members is a magazine and newsletter. We need to do more.”

As you might imagine, I have some concerns with this thinking. First of all, I will never argue against adding more value to a membership package. But be aware that sometimes we are our own worst critics. We hear negative comments from a few members, but forget that the vast majority of members vote with their pocket books and renew year after year.

In fact, the research that drove the book, Decision to Join, says that most members leave for reasons other than value. “Approximately half of them [lapsing members] indicate their reasons had more to do with career and other life changes than with the performance of the association. This means that those who worry about their retention rates get a 50 percent discount on their current distress levels.” (Page 3)

This level of leaving an organization is akin to what the economist call the natural rate of unemployment. People will come and go at some level each year.

The good news is that even in a changing market where membership value continues to be enhanced and recast, many members and prospective members will vote for membership through properly executed acquisition and retention strategies.

Here is one example, Association BisNow reports, “Membership in the American Occupational Therapy Ass'n grew from 32,000 to 39,000 the past four years. Fred Somers has been CEO for five and implemented new recruitment and retention methods that helped win back members who suddenly viewed membership as discretionary spending.”[1]

In keeping with full disclosure, AOTA has been a client of my firm, Marketing General, Inc. for the past four years. Membership came to be viewed as more “discretionary” when certification and membership were separated.

So what is the take away from not letting the good become the enemy of the perfect? Don’t believe that the product you offer is inferior until the market clearly tells you. Keep recruiting new members. Keep renewing members. But never stop listening and improving your membership product. Marketing and product development is not an either/or. Both are needed, now.

[1] Association BisNow, An IOTA from AOTA, February 4, 2009.


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