For decades, association marketing departments have used traditional methods such as direct mail, advertisements, and promotional emails in an attempt to capture the interest of membership prospects and increase member recruitment. But these “spray and pray” outbound tactics are easily ignored by prospects and difficult to measure by association marketers.
Many associations have discovered a more effective method for demonstrating their value proposition to membership prospects—inbound marketing. This permission-based marketing strategy is transforming the way associations approach membership recruitment. In fact, Tony Rossell, author and senior vice president at Marketing General Incorporated, predicts, “In 2017, in order to build worldwide awareness and demonstrate relevance, associations will rapidly adopt inbound marketing as part of their existing marketing mix.”
Inbound marketing encourages membership prospects to move through your recruitment funnel by attracting their attention, nurturing their interest, demonstrating value, and, ultimately, converting them from prospects to new members of your association.
Inbound Marketing: The New Playbook for Associations
The inbound marketing methodology uses content marketing to attract potential members to you. Instead of blasting sales messages at prospects, you share relevant, valuable content with them. The inbound methodology relies on the four stages of the recruitment (or sales) funnel: Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight.
Come along for a ride through the recruitment funnel. Watch how one association nurtures a membership prospect, Millennial Max, with inbound marketing.
Attract the attention of membership leads
The most critical success factor of inbound marketing is how well you know your target audience(s). “Seek to understand their most important goals and most pressing problems, and provide solutions that make [your association] vital partners in their personal and professional success,” said Elizabeth Engel, CAE, CEO and Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting LLC, in our report, Top Association Management Experts Predictions for 2017.
- What do membership prospects want to learn about? What interests them?
- What are their goals and aspirations?
- What problems can you solve for them? What worries them? What frustrates them?
- What’s a typical day like for them?
- Where do they get information online?
Associations use a combination of research methods to gather this information: Google Analytics, member and non-member surveys, individual conversations, focus groups, as well as monitoring social media and online communities.
Once you understand what your target audience needs to know to do their job or advance in their career, you can develop blog posts and other resources for them. You might first focus on content that helps young professionals, like Millennial Max, prepare for networking events, interviews, and new jobs. This type of content positions your association as a trusted resource who can help young professionals navigate the challenging job market. Your focus remains on the prospect and his problems, not on your association’s features and benefits.
Convert website visitors into membership prospects
Millennial Max was led to the association’s website by a link he saw shared on Twitter. Once there, he saw a promotion for a tip sheet about preparing for job interviews. How timely, he had an interview scheduled next week. To get the tip sheet, all he had to do was provide his name and email address.
Now the association has permission to send Max a series of emails they developed especially to help young professionals like him. He received a curated selection of articles on recent industry trends, an offer for another tip sheet to help him prepare an “elevator pitch” for networking events, and an executive summary of a report on the job skills most wanted by top employers.
By now, Max eagerly opens any emails he sees from the association. With what he’s learned so far, his approach and attitude about finding a job have completely changed. After reading a few membership success stories the association sent him, he’s inspired by the example of young members who are only a few years ahead of him in their career. By following their path, he knows he can develop the relationships and knowledge to help him get ahead in his career.
Close the deal with your new member
When Max first visited the association’s website, he wasn’t ready to join. He didn’t even think he could afford the dues. He was a “cold” lead.
But it’s a different story now. His relationship with the association has changed. They’re not another institution out to sell him expensive conferences and webinars. The information and advice he’s received from their content has helped him deepen his understanding of the profession and helped him excel in interviews. Plus, he’s seen examples of how association membership can transform a young person’s career.
He’s made a decision. He has a second interview with one of the association’s members. If he gets the job, he’ll negotiate for an association membership as part of his professional development budget. And if he doesn’t get the job, he’s going to join anyway.
Max has already agreed to a 20-minute call with a membership person at the association. He expects they’ll ask him to join. He’s ready—membership is a wise investment in his future. And, it will show prospective employers that he’s serious about his profession.
Delight and engage members
Max got the job and his employer agreed to pay for his membership. Even though his new position is keeping him busy, he makes time to open up the orientation emails he’s getting from his association.
Don’t drop your hot prospect like a hot potato once he becomes a member. Continue to learn more about his needs and interests so you can continue to deliver valuable information to him and other members like him as they progress through their career. This not only delights your members, but will increase member engagement. For example, Max receives email newsletters and event announcements based upon his self-declared interests as well as his online behavior—what he clicks and downloads.
Lead Generation through Inbound Marketing
What do you need to get started with inbound marketing? Identify your target audience(s) and understand what each of these audiences needs to solve their problems, do their jobs, and advance in their careers. Find or develop content that suits prospects at each stage of the recruitment funnel. “Review the people, processes, and technology [you] currently have in place, to ensure that all three will support this new paradigm of selling,” said Wes Trochlil, founder of Effective Database Management.
Your content serves a greater purpose than simply driving prospective customers into—and through—your association’s sales funnel. If done well, content can:
- Deliver value to the marketplace over and above your association’s products and services.
- Demonstrate your organization’s goodwill and commitment to the community.
- Validate in the minds of prospects, members, and influencers that your organization is the genuine go-to source for industry-related information.
Creating a Successful Lead Generation Strategy
A lead generation strategy uses three components to nurture (or move) membership prospects along the funnel—turning them from infrequent website visitors into enthusiastic association advocates: lead capture (or lead magnet), landing pages, and lead scoring.
Max first visited the association’s blog by following a link he saw on Twitter. At the bottom of the blog post, he saw a “call to action” graphic promoting a tip sheet about preparing for interviews. He provided his name and email address to get the tip sheet. Lead captured!
The association offers this tip sheet as a lead magnet in the hopes of attracting prospects to the “top of the funnel.” The lead magnet’s purpose is to help the association begin to develop a relationship with the membership prospect, and to earn their trust and earn their permission to enter their inbox.
When Max clicked the “call-to-action” promoting the tip sheet, he was taken to a landing page where he entered his name and email address to get the tip sheet. Later that week, Max (now an existing lead) saw a promotion for another tip sheet, this one on perfecting an elevator pitch. Landing pages serve a dual purpose of capturing new leads and tracking re-conversions of existing leads.
Thanks to the magic of browser cookies, the association knows Max is engaging again with their content. They now have better intelligence on Max’s behaviors and activities on their website—knowledge they can use during subsequent emails and sales calls.
Pretty quickly the association’s staff determined Max was a “hot” lead. Unlike many website visitors, he downloaded several tip sheets, opened nearly all their automated emails, and, most importantly, clicked on the membership success stories.
Staff isn’t going to follow up with every person who downloads a tip sheet —many of them are not “qualified” leads, i.e., they haven’t behaved in a way that shows sustained interest in the association’s offering. How does staff determine how qualified leads are? Lead scoring prioritizes leads according to their levels of engagement with inbound marketing content. You can figure out who is ready to consider membership, when they’re ready for the recruitment call, and how likely they are to convert from a prospect into a member. Learn more about lead scoring for associations with this eBook.
Build Recruitment and Relationships with Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing helps your association develop a personalized approach to membership lead generation—one that focuses on building a better relationship with every prospect who engages with your content. The key is offering content that provides the value prospects are seeking and solves problems they didn’t even realize they had.