Who are our members? This is the first question I asked when I started working at a national professional association where I led the marketing effort 7 years ago. I mined the data available to me from the AMS, Google Analytics and past surveys. A bit of detective work and some number crunching I knew who our members were. Next came the inevitable and much harder question. Why were our members our members?
For the analytics minded association staff person there is a progression. Quantitative to qualitative. Demographic to psychographic. Data to context.
Quantitative Demographic Data
Most of us start with data and surveys. Quantitative demographic data will tell you titles, levels, tenure, age, gender, region and more. This kind of data will tell you about past behavior. But most powerful, this data will tell you about trends in your membership. Perhaps the average duration of membership is declining. Or perhaps a small segment is exponentially growing. Members are getting older… but, wait, the average age of recently joined members is younger. You may be able to even build an avatar(s) around your member demographics: 42-year old female, working for consumer products companies with revenues over $500 million, living in the mid-west, brand manager with a team of 6 reporting to her, she works on average a 10 hour day, she has been a member for 4 years, comes to every other annual conference and is partial to purchasing benchmarking survey reports. We will call her Joan and Joan is the avatar for our largest member segment representing 35% of the membership.
Think of the strategic, marketing and innovative implications of this data. We could focus our marketing on non-members with the same demographic traits. We could add more member prospecting in the midwest or restrict it to brand managers in companies over $500 million.
This data is great. But this data will only take you so far….
Qualitative Psychographic Context
Quantitative demographic data tells you who is a member. Qualitative psychographic context tells you why they are a member. Understanding why members are members (which is the same as understanding what problem the association solves) is the next step to really understanding how the association is doing and how to steer the association toward doing better.
Why does she go to every other annual conference? Why does she keep renewing? What keeps her up at night? What does she expect from her membership? Why will she eventually leave?
Conduct 12 to 15 phone interviews with members in the Joan segment and we will learn the answers that drive strategy, marketing and innovation. We may learn that she only goes to every other conference not because of the money but because of something else. She has plenty of budget, so much in fact, she hardly has time to spend it. It is the time. Joan has very little time. Between supporting her team, developing and implementing marketing plans, getting ready for line reviews and conducting research her job is sun up to sun down and she’s swamped. She is so swamped she barely has time to do the good strategic work that got her this position in the first place.
Joan rationalizes her membership because the benchmarking survey is value enough to justify the cost of the whole membership. But as good as the benchmarking survey is she wishes it was more applicable to her particular industry. Because the report is more of a general view she spends an annual budget of an additional $500,000 dollars and time she doesn’t have managing a handful of independent external consultants and research agencies to get her the custom answers she needs.
This contextual information starts giving us a deeper more complete view of our members. In some cases it may even shed light on a poor decision we may have made if we only relied on quantitative data. We start getting an understanding of Joan’s problems: a significant lack of time, need for industry specific data and the resources to develop more sophisticated strategic plans. Now think of the strategic, marketing and innovation implications of this kind of information.
Gathering Member Insights is a Progression
Understanding members and gathering member insights is an iterative process. First start with the data you have. Your own quantitative data can tell you who your member is and how they behave right now. Your data will tell you about important trends, growth, declines and alert you to problems. Use that data to take advantage of low-hanging fruit.
When you have more questions than you have answers. When you are growing but your rate of growth is declining. When you are not sure what to improve next then explore how qualitative data can take your association to a much higher level. Qualitative data will tell you why. Why do they join? Why do they renew? What challenges do they have and why? This is the kind of insight we need to really connect with members.
Our job is to get the member insights that fuel your ability to improve our association. Every association is somewhere in the progression of obtaining those insights from no insights, to quantitative demographic data to qualitative psychographic context. Where are you? Do you see a path for getting those higher-level insights?
Are you wondering if your association is helping members in a changing environment? Or what problem you solve for members? Or how to explain the value of your association or if you should change your strategy? Amanda Kaiser, qualitative member researcher, gets these answers for her clients. Find her at SmoothThePath.net where she blogs about member marketing, insights, innovation and strategy.