How Associations Can Use Email to Enhance the “Members Only” Experience

I’m currently working on a complex consulting project for a large US-based membership organization. The goal of the project is to help the client improve engagement with the email program and increase key performance metrics. As I work to finalize my recommendations, I keep coming back to a quote made famous by Groucho Marx: “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”

What does this have to do with email best practices? A lot actually. If associations asked themselves what kinds of email they would want to receive if they were members, the hypothetical answer would likely be very different from the actual email experiences being created. In other words, rather than just aiming to get one more email out the door, the focus needs to shift to creating a strategy whereby email can enhance the member experience, rather than detract from it.

While many associations likely use multiple channels to communicate with their members, the email channel will probably be the most frequently used and frequently abused. Why? For the same reasons that marketers in other verticals abuse it: it’s cheap, quick and immediate, and sending more email often means more revenue (in the short-term). However, this approach inevitably leads to a loss in revenue as email engagement and performance diminishes, followed by ROI.

So how can associations ensure that their email programs provide a tangible benefit to members? Treat them like individuals, rather than a collection of email addresses. Doing so will not only enhance the member experience, but will convey the value of the brand and ensure that members are active, engaged and renewing year after year. Here are a few ways to achieve this:

Content is king for conveying value. For every promotional email message, send at least two content-based messages. When members join an association, it’s usually because the association is viewed as a thought-leader in a particular market space or industry. Members are looking to the association to provide them with information they can use to improve their lives, whether it’s driving safety tips from AAA or pet care advice from the AKC. An association’s email program needs to deliver on these expectations by regularly providing members with useful and relevant content. If the message stream is heavily promotional, members will tune out and lose interest.

Get personal and be exclusive. An association’s email program should recognize the status of its members. New members will need to be treated differently than long-standing members or members who are up for renewal. Use email to recognize variations in lifecycle positioning and send unique content and offers to these key member segments. Email can also reinforce the exclusive benefits a member is entitled to, whether it’s research, special events, industry news, market updates or educational opportunities. The email program should work hard to continually validate the advantages of being a member.

Use data from the application process to target messaging. Most associations require a substantial amount of data from their members as part of the application process. This can include everything from the members’ name, mailing address and telephone number, to their age, gender, job title, household income and marital status. Just this information alone is enough to effectively target email content and offers, however when combined with website activity, email activity and transaction activity, it can create a customized “members only” email experience that subscribers are more likely to engage and interact with. Regardless of the data being collected, always be clear about how it will be used.

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