Membership organisations such as unions, professional organisations, businesses and community groups promote their services in an entirely different fashion to most other categories of business.
These organisations have the relative luxury of having an ‘installed base’ of customers – essentially groups of people who in their numbers create new benefits for one another.
Instead of having to spend considerable sums on identifying a market and then working out how to persuade it to consider your offering ahead of the competition, the role of the membership organisation is to essentially promote two key enticements: up-selling and retention.
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Different promotional objectives to most business
The up-selling objective revolves around persuading members and/or prospects to increase their membership level for additional benefits and of course higher fees. Whereas the retention objective is to prevent them dropping to a lower membership level or even no membership at all.
From a promotional perspective, the web has benefited membership organisations as much as any.
Because organisations usually have direct contact with their markets (ie. they have their contact details), email marketing has cut a swathe through membership communication expenses.
What was once a relatively time consuming and expensive exercise gathering, creating and distributing printed and other content has been made relatively simple via online communications.
Now, email, websites and extranets (password protected areas) have combined to provide a combination of cheap communication and information on demand.
Administration expenses slashed
But the benefits don’t just stop at promotion. The web has also revolutionised membership operations.
What once took many staff hours to coordinate the complex and labour intensive task of enrolling members and renewing their memberships can now be completely automated via clever membership management solutions.
This in turn has meant that more membership revenue is being allocated to providing membership benefits instead of administration.
Listed below are the key eMarketing techniques with a rating of how effective the technique is likely to be to operators of membership organisations. High = high effectiveness, Low = low effectiveness and so on.
Selling online: HIGH
Selling online is one of the revolutionary capabilities that the web has introduced to membership organisations. Smart membership systems can not only facilitate online transactions – in itself providing massive savings in administration, but actually automatically manage the entire regular membership enrolment and renewal procedure with once-only activation.
Benefits include greater productivity and cashflow and better still – more bang for your membership buck.
Search engine optimisation: LOW
While it’s important for membership organisations to be prominent on search engines for all the usual reasons, this form of promotion is far less important than for other businesses for two key reasons.
The first is that the membership space is much less competitive than other goods and services meaning it will be easier for it to be prominent on search engines for its relevant keywords.
Secondly, because membership organisations usually have the contact details of their members and prospects, chances are they have already communicated with them via another medium prior to their search – meaning less reliance on search engines for promotional purposes.
Search engine advertising: LOW
As for SEO – the presence of membership organisations is so strong among its members and prospects, there is no need to spend additional funds on what is essentially redundant advertising.
Email marketing: HIGH
Email Marketing is the membership organisation’s manna from heaven. Cheap, reliable and effective email communication hits the spot when it comes to timely information and promotion. It has slashed the cost of membership communication like no other medium before it and as such is invaluable to all who employ it.
Online directories and portals: HIGH
These intermediary websites hold a completely different purpose for membership organisations, predominantly because they are the ones publishing them. Many organisation websites offer a comprehensive directory of members which not only provides a great way of finding members but also assists their search engine optimisation with a highly relevant (and therefore highly regarded by Google et al) link to member blogs and websites.
Banner advertising: MEDIUM
Again, the websites of membership organisations provide great opportunities to serve banner advertising rather than place them. So banners, buttons and panels located throughout their own website can be a cheap and effective way of promoting membership offers and events and even third party advertising.
Social networking: HIGH
Of all business categories, membership organisations receive one of the highest returns on investment possible for social networking. In addition to providing a cheap way of disseminating both news and promotional information, there are willing participants due to a high “Whats In It For Me?” (WIIFM) factor.
What’s more, many social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook provide a range of fantastic communication tools that would otherwise be too expensive to implement on their own websites.
Affiliate marketing: MEDIUM
Because affiliate marketing is so affordable due to its pay for performance (ie. commission) capabilities, it’s a ‘why not?’ as far as membership organisations are concerned.
In addition to memberships, affiliate marketing provides a very cost-effective way of promoting merchandise and event tickets.
All in all it’s fair to say that the web really has changed the face of promotion, communication and operations for membership organisations – whose members are equally well placed to be a major beneficiary of ongoing development in the web and mobile space as their valuable fees go towards communication and benefits instead of administration.
Do you agree or disagree with these ratings? Either way, tell us why below. We’d especially love to hear from membership organisations who have tried the techniques described.
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Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.