Speech bubbles with one that says this is for you

A common marketing mistake that association executives make is that their messages have low relevance to a member or potential member. The messages don't stick in their minds because it doesn't connect with their situation. Critically important marketing where this low relevance issue manifests is in your membership offer. Rather than being intrigued by a highly relevant offer, potential members see an offer that leaves them guessing to whether membership is worth the cost? To fix this, you need to be specific in who you're communicating with by thoroughly considering their context.

The Terrible Two: Generalities and Projection

There are two ways that relevancy is sabotaged in membership offers. The first is by speaking in generalities and the second is by projecting our own value onto the offer.

I once encountered the advice of an executive director to just put every possible benefit the association could provide into their membership offer. He called this, "the menu approach," where a potential member would browse through the "menu" and pick out what they found valuable. The idea that you can persuade someone through volume is a fantasy. Potential members have no interest in taking on the research of discovering why they should join. 

Your association provides lots of value in many different ways, but when you try to speak to all those different points of value, you end up with a generalized offer. There's an oft quoted aphorism that applies here, "When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one." If you have just a single membership offer, it's likely a generalized offer that speaks to no one.

Beyond generalities, we all tend to engage in psychological projection, where we speak to what we see. We emphasize what we think is valuable in an offer, rather than what the person we're trying to reach thinks is valuable. For example, you might believe that the advocacy work you do is incredibly impactful, but if a potential member doesn't value it, it shouldn't be mentioned in your offer.

Context is King

Imagine what you would sell to someone going on a trip? What items would you pitch to them as being valuable? Think about it for a moment.

Got your answer?

Okay, what if I were to tell you that they were going: 

  • On a camping trip? 
  • A sailing trip? 
  • A bicycle tour of Europe?

How easy would it be to sell those items for these different kinds of situations?

Relevancy is all about context. And relevant communication is specific to those contexts.

Your members may all be equally valuable to you, but they're not homogeneous. There are differences in values, goals, and experiences that form natural differentiation. This is why you should have several different membership offers speaking to different contexts.

For each of these contexts, you need to set a foundation for your membership offer by answering the 5 W's:

  • Who are you speaking to?
  • Where are they?
  • When are they. Are they new, veterans, retired?
  • What do they care about?
  • Why do they care about it?

Your offer doesn't need to list this information, it just needs to be informed by the information.

For example, if who you're speaking to is a young professional (who), at corporate office (where), just starting their career (when), they might care a lot about mentorship (what) because they want to grow (why).

You don't need to list all of that information, but your messaging needs to reflect it. They should see themselves in it when they read it.

A Framework For New Members

To sum it up, if you're going to persuade, your offers need to relevant with specific messaging that speaks to a prospective member's context.

At Steward, we developed a three part framework to create more effective membership offers for the websites we build. It's called, "The Member Magnet Framework." Relevance is the foundation and the other two parts are uniqueness and risk. In follow on articles, I'll explore how those build on relevance to craft persuasive offers that convert members. 

John Hooley
President, Steward

John is a graduate of 10,000 Small Businesses, a certified Customer Acquisition Specialist, and a Zend Certified Engineer. He speaks and writes on connecting digital strategy to association goals. Outside of work he's an avid traveler, climber, diver, and a burgeoning sailor. He also volunteers with Rotary and Big Brothers Big Sisters.