A strong association marketing strategy is the difference between making attracting and retaining members easy or next to impossible.
With the right plan in place, you can:
- Recruit new members
- Retain current members
- Attract sponsorships
- Increase brand awareness
- Drive non dues revenue
But how can you come up with an effective strategy that encompasses all these different marketing channels? When should you use digital marketing and when should you go traditional? How do you make sure your association stands out from the crowd?
We’ll answer all those questions and more! Read on to learn about:
- The type of marketing your association should do
- The 8 steps you can take to build an actionable strategy
- How to use digital & community marketing to market your membership program
- How to use event marketing for your association
- And several association marketing tools to add to your arsenal!
What Type of Marketing Should Your Association Do?
Your association marketing strategy shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all! Focusing on every single goal possible will just spread yourself—and your team—thin. Depending on your organizational goals, your marketing strategy may differ. Here’s some priorities to explore!
If your organization is in its early growth phase, this can be your marketing strategy’s main goal. If your association has already grown its membership, you might want to focus a greater percentage of your energy on retention rather than acquisition.
Make sure your acquisition marketing strategy highlights the membership value. Upon landing on your website or any other marketing materials, your target audience should immediately know:
- Who you are, and your values
- How to sign up
- What they get (member benefits!)
- What your biggest wins are (annual conference? Huge networking night? Great gala?)
Get familiar with the language (tone, voice, style) your audience uses, and meet them where they are. Find partners, run events, create a social community, leverage SEO and paid media, and create a website that is built to convert potential members.
Retaining members is essential to your organization’s sustainability. You want to nurture the successes from your acquisition efforts!
In this case, your membership marketing strategies should focus on fostering consistent, ongoing member engagement to encourage loyalty. You can do this by:
- An easy-to-access member-exclusive content space
- Member appreciation and spotlights
- A reliable, easy-to-read newsletter (paper or digital!)
- Consistent emails advertising your programs and opportunities
- Offering ongoing networking and mentorship opportunities
- Hosting a must-see job board for members to find new opportunities
- Running certification and continuing learning programs
- Using retargeting campaigns to advertise ongoing programs to members
- Running regular member feedback surveys and sessions
- Implementing automated member renewal programs
- Tracking member engagement and behavior, and comparing that to churn
Your members’ needs are #1, and should be at the heart of your organization’s retention priorities.
As a crucial revenue stream for associations, sponsorships definitely deserve their own marketing strategy! An effective sponsor acquisition strategy should:
- Identify and target the right sponsors (depending on your sponsorship program)
- Have the right sponsorship packages
- Create an outreach strategy that blends your needs with your sponsors’
- Effectively manage sponsor fulfillment resourcing
- Communicate your sponsors’ wins back to them
Make sure you know your sponsors so you can provide them with the best sponsorship packages. A great way to work with their priorities is to offer different sponsorship levels (or even à-la-carte benefits!) for different sponsors.
A strong brand can do wonders for both your acquisition and retention efforts. The more people know and trust your brand identity, the more likely it is for them to:
- Become a member
- Stay a member of your association
- Help attract new members (through word-of-mouth, for example!)
The right brand marketing strategy makes everything else easier. Start by establishing:
- A mission and vision statement
- Organizational values
- Your look/feel (logo, colour palette)
- Imagery style
And then roll out a consistent brand identity on all your public-facing channels. After that, it’s all about the right partners. Make sure you know how to write a press release, develop media contacts, and run awareness campaigns.
Revenue goals (dues and non-dues)
To optimize your revenue streams, you may need to choose whether you’re investing in promoting your dues or non-dues revenue growth.
Maybe you can’t increase membership cost because it’ll push away current and future members, which means you’ll need to depend more on your non-dues revenue sources.
Some ways to increase non-dues revenue include:
- Charging for exclusive content or resources
- Selling branded merchandise like T-shirts, mugs, tote bags, etc.
- Getting sponsors for events
- Offering ad space on your website, mobile app, or events
You can implement your marketing efforts using digital or traditional/community channels, or both! We’ll explore this in more details in the next few sections.
How To Build an Association Marketing Strategy
Now you should know which goal(s) your marketing strategy targets. Ready to create one?
Follow these 8 steps to build an effective marketing strategy for your association:
1. Define your mission and/or vision
Your association’s mission and vision statements help guide your strategy. This means that your marketing strategy and campaigns should strive to reflect your mission (what you are) and make your vision (your ultimate goals) come true.
Don’t have a mission or vision statement yet? No sweat—here’s an example to get you started.
Most associations only have mission statements. The American Heart Association’s (AHA) mission is “to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.”
Of course, you could still come up with a vision for your association, and it could change over time. For example, The AHA’s 2024 vision is “to advance cardiovascular health for all, including identifying and removing barriers to health care access and quality.”
All set with your mission and vision? Now you can build your strategy!
2. Create your brand
The sooner you build your brand, the better. After all, we know that a strong brand helps immensely with getting and keeping members or sponsors.
Make sure your brand elements (logo, fonts, colors) are consistent across your marketing channels. Let’s revisit the AHA’s website:
Notice how the website strategically uses the red-black-white palette. The logo is also in those colors—plus, it’s relevant and impactful. The torch and heart not only emphasize “heart health”, but reflect how the AHA is a leader in their field.
3. Define your member personas
You know your members best! Think about who they are and what it is they’re looking for. Take this persona, for example:
Description: Candace is a 25-year-old marketer working in a SaaS company. She works from home, and goes to her local café for a change of scenery from time to time. She enjoys using her free time to learn new skills or volunteer for her local animal shelter.
- Gender: Woman
- Age: 25
- Location: New York, NY
- Education: Bachelor’s degree
- Job title: Social media specialist
- Income: $70,000
- Relationship: Single
- Needs: opportunities to improve her copywriting skills
- Motivations: results of her marketing efforts (new customer sign-ups), and acknowledgement from her boss
If you’re hosting a copywriting conference, Candace will most likely be attending.
Creating personas like these can help you understand…
- Who your members are
- What motivates them
- What they need
- And how you can give them what they need.
And: you can do the exact same thing with your sponsors!
4. Find out where your members are
Let’s revisit Candace. Where do you think we can find her?
As a social media specialist, Candace is very familiar with different social media platforms. She’ll be on major social channels the majority of the day.
Using paid social ads and creating a social media campaign on a platform relevant to late-millennials (E.G. instagram) is a surefire way to advertise your conference to Candace.
Same thing applies with your members. Being present where your members are—both online and offline—will bring them to you. This could mean social media platforms, industry forums, networking sites, or niche publications. This could also mean your local cafe, subway station, or community event.
5. Examine your competitors
Examining your competitors lets you know what they offer and how they’re marketing their products or services. That’s how you’ll know how to make your association stand out from them.
When researching your competitors, look into:
- Their products or services. In particular, the unique selling points (USP) of their offerings.
- Their target audience. Are they the same as yours, or do they differ?
- The problems that their products/services solve for their target audience. Does your audience have the same problems?
- Their marketing efforts—both online and offline. Identify what works and what doesn’t work for them.
6. Market across channels
The channels you need vary depending on your sponsor or membership marketing strategies. For example, if you’re marketing your membership program, email is a great channel to both recruit new members and keep current ones.
According to the 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report:
- 48% of associations chose email as the channel attracting the most new members
- 79% used welcome email(s) to onboard new members
- 48% used monthly email series to engage more tenured members
- 82% chose email as the channel generating the most membership renewals
In terms of member recruitment, the two most impactful channels—besides email—are association-sponsored events/meetings (30%) and member referrals (28%). But don’t forget about your website, paid media, paid social, SEO, partnerships, and PR, too. Just make sure to prioritize based on results.
Once you’ve chosen the channels and implemented the tactics, make sure you…
7. Get feedback and analyze results
Regularly check for feedback from your target audience to know if your marketing strategy works. You can:
- Monitor your social media channels
- Conduct quantitative research (e.g. surveys)
- Conduct qualitative research (e.g. focus groups, online feedback tools)
Of course, to optimize your marketing strategies, you need to analyze their results as well. Check out this section for different analytics software to use for your association marketing strategy.
8. Automate everything
Don’t stop at the analytics report. Go one step further: use marketing automation tools to streamline your processes, save time and effort, and increase the efficiency of your association marketing.
Automation can include email marketing workflows, member onboarding sequences, event registration processes, and more! If you’re organizing an event, for example, you can use lead retrieval software to make it easier for exhibitors and sponsors to collect attendee data. Those are potential members you could be following up with!
Digital Marketing for Associations: The Essentials
Plan on having a digital association marketing strategy? Consider these channels:
It goes without saying: your website’s important. It’s where
magic conversion happens! It’s also the first checkpoint for your brand’s visual identity.
To optimize your website, you can:
- Make sure your tagline clearly communicates what your association is
- Include clear benefits of joining your association (e.g. answer the question “what’s in it for me?”)
- Make sure your website reflects your brand well
- Use a user-friendly CMS (e.g. WordPress, Webflow, etc.) to host your content
- Read up on UX, or user experience, design
- Incorporate analytics tools (e.g. Google Analytics) to your site to track performance
- Include clear CTAs to explore programming or sign up for a membership
For a great example, check out PCMA’s website! It’s super easy to learn, connect, sign up for events, or join the association.
Email is essential for both member acquisition and retention. To have an effective email marketing strategy, you can:
- Segment your audience according to your member or sponsor personas
- Send emails regularly to keep members engaged
- Send different types of emails (e.g. newsletters, event invitations, industry updates)
- Personalize your emails (e.g. address receivers by their names)
- Create reports that let you track success against each email’s goal (e.g. member renewal emails)
Organic search (SEO)
Invest in creating high-quality, informative content that speaks to your members’ needs. This can also help position you as a thought leader in your industry.
To improve your association’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs), make sure you apply SEO best practices to both your content and your website.
Organic social media is the second most popular channel to recruit new members, and for good reason. With social media, you can:
- Engage with your potential and current members
- Attract new members to your association
- Build a community
- Cross-promote different valuable content
Paid digital advertising can help with your member or sponsor acquisition. To expand your reach and drive targeted traffic to your association’s website and events, consider using:
- Paid search (e.g. Google Ads)
- Paid social media ads (e.g. Facebook Ads)
- Display ads
With an online community, you can keep your members engaged year-round. They can connect, collaborate, share knowledge or opportunities, and more. This fosters engagement and strengthens the sense of belonging within your association.
Offering educational resources or certifications helps attract and retain members. In fact, 36% of associations believe members join their organization for the continuing education/professional certification!
You can also make this a non-dues revenue stream for your association.
Superpath, for example, offers Superpath Pro—a $500/year membership where you get access to:
- Structured courses on content strategy, management, reporting, hiring and more
- Exclusive content on strategy (including examples, templates, and checklists)
And tons of other perks!
Digital events are essential to your member and sponsor acquisition strategy. These events double as networking opportunities—which is actually the most common reason members join an association! You can also establish yourself as a thought leader with these events.
Examples of digital association events include:
- Online networking events
- Hybrid conferences
- Virtual trade shows
Make sure you find the right event tech partner. For example, EventMobi’s platform is built to host annual conferences and become an online community center for year-round events and meetings.
Other Marketing Strategies for Associations
Digital marketing isn’t the only channel you can use to market your sponsor or membership program. Consider the following approaches for your association marketing strategy:
Referrals or member-get-a-member remain in the top 3 channels that get the most new members. To encourage member referrals, you can offer incentives like:
- Membership dues discount for first year or multi-years
- Gift or premium
- Product discount, coupon, or voucher
- Conference or convention discount
Establishing partnerships is another tactic you can look into. This can help achieve your marketing goals, and offer more value to your members. You can collaborate with complementary organizations, industry influencers, media publications, or sponsors.
Merch & swag
Selling brand collaterals like merch and swag contributes to your revenue goals—and acts as marketing tools for your association. It’s a win-win!
Besides traditional sponsorships, you can also look into in-kind sponsorship with media partners. Building partnerships with local newspapers or industry publications will help grow your brand visibility. This is also a great way to promote your association’s events and initiatives.
In-person events have regained their popularity post-pandemic. No matter what industry your association is in, you can organize conferences, seminars, or networking events to:
- Bring your members together
- Foster personal connections
- And advertise your association’s brand and expertise
Let’s revisit Superpath and Superpath Pro. Besides the courses, Superpath Pro members also have access to monthly 1-1 calls and a private Slack channel. These benefits are clearly communicated on the Superpath Pro landing page.
Like this example, make sure the value of your membership is crystal clear on your website and other marketing materials! This could mean exclusive resources, discounts, professional development opportunities, networking opportunities, and more.
How To Use Events To Market Your Association
Events are a popular channel to engage members, attract new ones, and build brand awareness. In fact, most associations report increased attendance at virtual events over 2022! To market your association using events, consider these aspects:
Have a solid event branding strategy to:
- Make your event memorable
- Set clear expectations for attendees
- Create meaningful connections
- Introduce new folks to your organization
- Distinguish you from competitors
For new members, your event is their first impression of your association. For existing members, it’s a core value add for their experience. Ensure every interaction your audience has within your event is well-designed and smooth-sailing, with your members in mind.
Create networking sessions or 1-1 meetings within your event to help attendees connect, build relationships, and meet their goals.
Organize educational sessions to offer valuable insights and actionable takeaways for your attendees.
Collaborate with other associations to co-host sessions, take turns speaking at one another’s events, or cross-promote events.
Position your association as a thought leader by featuring influential speakers and subject matter experts in your events.
Use your event to connect with existing members and provide exclusive benefits like special discounts, early event access, VIP experiences, and more.
Provide incentives to attract newcomers like a discounted membership fee or product discount.
Develop press releases and reach out to journalists to generate buzz and excitement for your event. If you’re providing any community value, make sure to get in touch with local news: they’re always looking for new stories!
Word of mouth
Encourage attendees to share their experiences with a referral program or referral incentives for future events.
Ready to make your association’s next event a marketing success?💰 EventMobi can help you attract members and sponsors alike with our event management software for associations.
Association Marketing Software to Help Execute Your Marketing Strategy
To ensure the success of your strategies, here’s some handy association marketing software you can use:
Analytics marketing software for associations
The upside of digital marketing for associations is that you can get a clear picture of how your marketing strategy is working, as long as you use the right tools. To ensure you’re reaching your marketing goals, track key analytics using the following software.
Keywords Everywhere is a browser add-on for Chrome & Firefox that shows search volume, CPC and competition on multiple websites.
Pricing starts at $1/month for the Bronze plan.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console helps you measure your site’s search traffic and performance, fix issues, and optimize it for Google Search results.
Google Analytics helps you track and report your association’s website traffic, as well as your mobile app traffic and events.
Email marketing software for associations
As a key membership marketing strategy, email marketing is crucial to every association! Use these email marketing tools to craft attractive emails, segment your audience, and track engagement rates.
Mailchimp is an email and marketing automations platform for growing businesses and organizations.
Pricing: Free. Paid plan starts from $13/month.
Hubspot is a CRM platform which offers a suite of marketing tools, including email marketing.
Pricing differs between individuals & small teams (starting at $0/month) and businesses & enterprises (starting at $800/month).
Emma is an email marketing platform for marketers with any level of technical skill. Features include analytics, email editor, automation, segmentation, user permissions, and brand controls.
Pricing starts from $99/month.
Association management software
Association management software can do more than lighten your administrative load—it can also be an excellent marketing tool! Use these tools to:
- Collect your member information in a database for easy reference
- Monitor member behavior to inform your future strategy
- Track retention campaigns to ensure your strategy is working
- Maintain continued engagement and contact with your member base
Glue Up is an all-in-one engagement management platform to streamline operations for associations, event organizers, agencies, and more.
Pricing starts at $125/month.
YourMembership is an association management platform to help organizations manage membership activities, boost member engagement, and increase non-dues revenue.
Pricing: Contact sales
WildApricot is an all-in-one management solution for nonprofits and small to medium-sized associations.
Pricing starts at $60/month. Discounts available for 1-year or 2-year subscriptions.
Association Event Management Software
The right event tech partner should cut down administrative work, get you the analytics you need, and make navigating your events super easy for members. Look for:
- Annual conference engagement
- Central year-round event community
- Ongoing education for members
- Tracking member behaviour based on content viewing
- Event marketing success using social media tracking
EventMobi is an all-in-one event management platform that helps associations of all sizes. The platform makes easier to create, hold, and market association events. EventMobi can help you:
- Customize and automate your event email marketing
- Create branded event websites that convert
- Design a smooth attendee experience from registration to post-event surveys
- Track your event’s social media footprint to maximize your reach
- Promote you and your sponsors through banner ads and sponsored messages
- And more!
To learn more about EventMobi’s services for your association, you can request a free demo.