If you’ve ever tried marketing for an association, you know how tough it can be. Most associations don’t have a robust staff and resources at their disposal, so they must utilize the limited resources they do have to effectively market their association and attract members. What are the best tips for marketing your association to increase membership?  We’re sharing a few ideas below in hopes that you’ll find a nugget or two to inspire you. Read on!

Association marketing is a balancing act

We mentioned at the beginning of this article about limited resources. When it comes to marketing your association, you must not only figure out how to do more with less, but you need to be sure your marketing is serving several purposes. Your marketing needs to attract new members to the organization, but also publicize the good works of the organization so that existing members will continue to appreciate the benefits of membership. In other words, you need to attract new members and keep your existing members happy with your marketing efforts. Throw in the need for overall brand awareness, and you’ll see why association marketing is a bit of a challenge.

Marketing through a variety of channels

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to marketing, regardless of whether you’re marketing an association or managing small business marketing. People consume information in different ways and reaching out to your target audience requires you to market where they are at when they’re searching for information. That might be on social media platforms, at trade shows, searching online, or reading emails. It’s important to diversify your marketing efforts and be consistent in your messaging. Let’s take a look at a few of those channels and how to best utilize them to increase membership.

Website

Your website is the face of your association. You need to make sure that it’s serving its current members effectively and enticing enough to draw in new members. First and foremost, how easy is it for you to get found online if people are searching for a group like you, but may not know your association exists?  Search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial to a successful website to ensure that you can be found online. Make sure that your website content uses keyword phrases that people will use to search for an association like you. Also be sure that your site is local search optimized; people (and search engines!) need to easily find your name, address and phone number (NAP) on the site. Check to see how your website looks on a mobile device; sites that are not responsive a significant amount of traffic. Keep your content fresh, up-to-date and varied. People consume information in different ways, so leverage blogs, images, videos, etc. to engage all kinds of site visitors. Don’t forget the user experience: is your site easy to navigate? Can prospective members easily find membership information without having to hunt for it?  Do existing members have a place to easily find resources they need? Make sure your website effectively serves both existing and prospective members.

Email marketing

Consistent, engaging and useful emails are one of the best ways to stay in front of members and prospects. There are a variety of email platforms that you can use, and most have sufficient tools to help you organize your content, segment your lists so you’re emails are targeted more specifically to the audience you’re trying to reach, and create visually interesting emails. Find out what kind of information prospective members will find useful and create emails around that. Discover what information current members find engaging and email that to them. Again, make sure your email content is useful and interesting, not self-promotional, and your emails will enjoy a much better engagement.

Social media

Social media is about creating a community online, creating a sense of familiarity by seeing on a regular basis what an association is all about. Again, don’t be self-promotional or salesy in your social media marketing. Instead, speak to topics that interest prospects and current members. Talk about funds you’ve raised, resources you offer, events you’re hosting, or legislative accomplishments that will benefit those in your industry. Promote your blog or other onsite content. Solicit engagement and ask for feedback. Engage your audience in two-way conversation and you will create a very effective resource for new members while keeping your existing members involved. Better than that, you’ll nurture those people to be brand evangelists for your association.

Word of mouth marketing

People buy from people. More importantly, people are willing to do business with people who other people they know do business with. Those brand evangelists from your social media presence?  They can be your best resource for bringing in new members. Word of mouth advertising is the most effective marketing tool an association can have. At the very least, people want to be around people they know, so happy members will encourage other people to join the association simply to be surrounded by people they know. Need a little nudge to encourage them to talk up the association? Consider a referral program that offers perks for bringing in new members. It doesn’t take much, but the gesture can go a long way.

A few last thoughts on association marketing

The above are just a few suggestions. There are many, many different marketing tactics out there, but the above are the tried and true tactics that work for associations. Just remember that it takes time for your marketing to work. Be consistent with your marketing. It takes numerous marketing messages before something resonates with a prospect. Always try to weave in a value statement about your association so prospects and existing members understand the value of your association to them. Associations must communicate their benefits on an ongoing basis so that their members feel connected to the cause. Member motivation is based on a messaging that makes people feel positive about belonging.  Last, be strategic. Jumping into marketing efforts without a plan is a waste of time and money. Put together a basic marketing strategy so you know who to target, how to find them, what makes your association valuable to your audience, and how you should present that information to your audience. Marketing your association to increase membership is challenging but following these suggestions will greatly increase your chances of success.

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Patty Hughes

Patty Hughes is President of Strategic Marketing Services and has over 20 years of experience in marketing and sales strategy.Having been fortunate enough to develop exceptional business relationships with both customers and colleagues throughout the years, she has been honored to help small businesses grow and has enjoyed being a part of their successes by partnering with them to establish a well-developed marketing strategy and assist in managing their ongoing marketing needs.
Patty Hughes
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