Recently, an association leader who was on a call with our team re-stated the challenge of association member communications with a baseball analogy. His take: the majority of communications sent to members are “Home Run Emails,” or emails with calls to action that ask a lot of a member. Here are a few examples of these emails:
- The conference email to “register now” (for the never-will-be-lower price of $1,099).
- The member renewal reminder, telling the member that they are expiring soon and need to renew today.
- The pricey educational course email, sent one month after a member joins, with a special member discount.
- The “our big event is coming up very soon and we don’t have enough volunteers” email. A.K.A. Help!
What do these communications have in common? Each of them asks the member to hit a home run… for the association. The association needs volunteers. The association needs to make money. The association needs to hit their member renewal goal before the next board meeting. While presumably, the member receives some kind of value from each of these activities, this style often feels association-centric.
Inevitably, some members respond to home run emails. They can see through to the value of an activity, or they’re feeling particularly charitable, or they need continuing education and the offer fulfills their need. But when this communication style is the majority of how your members are interacting with the organization, they begin to tune out, no matter how great your copy is written and call to action is worded. It all looks and feels the same after a while, literally.
There is a phenomenon we talk about at PropFuel often called Pattern Interrupt. The idea is that in order to get attention, affect behavior or alter one’s assumptions, you have to shake individuals from their typical experience. This approach isn’t just a sales tactic; it’s backed up by psychology. There is a great opportunity for organizations to interrupt typical communication patterns to garner engagement.
Associations tend to get into communication patterns that persist for years. Take the e-newsletter for example, which is sometimes produced by a third party. Associations have little control over that type of communication, because of fixed layouts that reserve space for various sized advertisements. They’re often limited in possibilities for variation; each section is an image and text combination, for example. And, they tend to be incredibly copy-heavy. While it goes without saying, the attention span of humans today is incredibly short, and even shorter when a communication doesn’t deliver value for the recipient.
There are so many ways for association marketers and membership staff to get creative with communications. Easy fixes, like changing up graphics that have been the same for months or even years at a time, is a great start. Video is incredibly popular right now; consider communications you can evolve from being in written copy to video format. Or, try something more drastic: how about a one to two line email that looks like it was written by an individual (such as your president)?
Creating communications that look fresh and new is a great way to signal to your members that you’re not asking too much of them. You just want them to look (hit a single)!
Shifting the Purpose of Communication by Asking Questions
In the spirit of hitting singles, it’s not only a particular look and feel that should be considered for a communications strategy; it’s diversifying the purpose of the communication. Because associations are asking for home runs, communications have a sense of “talking at” members. Instead of just informing members about what is happening at the association, asking members to consider the upcoming conference, or asking them to buy the new educational program, associations can invite members to be a part of the conversation to increase engagement.
At PropFuel, we’ve found that one of the best ways to encourage two-way interaction between an individual member and the association is to ask questions. There is a significant difference in outcome between sending an email to a member saying, “Your membership has expired. Renew Now!” versus, “Are you planning to renew?” The former is a one-way interaction. The latter allows the member to think about it, answer accordingly, and even give the association new information about why they haven’t renewed yet.
This approach of asking questions is different from the function of a survey - it’s a real-time question with the ability for you to act - and incredibly effective. PropFuel associations that implement a member renewal campaign consistently see a 2-5% weekly increase, year-over-year, on membership renewals. And, members renew earlier in the membership cycle. The conversational approach is more effective because:
- It looks different (Pattern Interrupt).
- It is brief and consumable.
- It is about the member, not the association.
Asking your members to answer a single question is akin to asking them to hit a single. Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, you know that a lot of singles can add up to as many runs on the board as a few home runs. By asking your members to engage in micro-interactions instead of with big gestures that often involve more money, you’re inviting them into the whole game, not just one play. This way, they see every play, have a chance to act and become a member of the team (your association) for the long haul.