Is our association’s membership marketing the problem?

In the normal distribution of associations, there is always a significant percentage with flat or declining membership levels.  At some point, the executive director, president, or board of directors will realize the gravity of the situation and issue the order:  “We need to improve our association’s marketing.

In many cases, the association leadership is correct.  The marketing may be unprofessional, misdirected, or irrelevant.  In those cases, hiring a savvy director of membership or marketing, or seeking outsourced help from a company that understands associations can make a world of difference.

But just as often, the association leadership is overlooking or glossing over the real problem:  the association lacks relevant, compelling member benefits.  It’s an easy mistake to make.  After all, the association might have once been a thriving, growing organization, and the benefits haven’t changed since that time.  Therefore, the association’s problem must be its marketing, right?  Maybe.

It may not be fair to blame all of the association’s membership woes on the benefits.  Marketing is often responsible for part of the blame.  But benefits escape detection as the main culprit often because the leadership of the association consists of long-term, older members who still see value in the benefits, or who are so loyal to the association that they are blind to the declining value/superiority of those benefits.

For example, many associations thrived in years past because of the insurance programs they offered.  These programs provided real savings and were of huge value to the members. But those programs may no longer provide a compelling reason to join the association due to competitive for-profit options.  Because the insurance benefits were so powerful, other benefits were either not developed. Or the other benefits were not developed to the point that would make them compelling stand-alone reasons to join the association.

Is your association’s marketing to blame for poor membership levels?  Perhaps, at least partly.  But maybe not.  Always start first by examining your member benefits to determine if they provide a compelling reason for today’s new member prospects to join. If they do not, member benefits is the place you need to start to get your association membership growing again.

Is your association facing flat or declining membership levels?  Is it possible that the association’s membership benefits are the culprit? If so, look for an association member benefit that leverages your association’s unique information.

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